Saturday, December 09, 2006

Warts and All

The title of this post is attributed to Oliver Cromwell, but Walpole quotes him as actually asking Lely to paint his portrait, "roughnesses, pimples, warts, and everything." Lely was asking how Cromwell, the new Protector of England, wanted to be portrayed in what was to be his official portrait. It was an important moment. Cromwell could follow in the footsteps of his predecessors; Charles I, Elizabeth I , and Henry VIII (amongst others) and be portrayed in a way that both flattered him and emphasized his majesty as a form of propaganda. Instead, he wisely chose a different, new image that had even more propaganda value -- Cromwell as the "plan russet-coated captain."
Any Irish readers will by now, I am sure, be grinding their teeth. Cromwell is no hero in Ireland. His actions at Drogheda and Wexford would make him a war criminal today, but were not so unusual during the Wars of Religion of the 16th and 17th centuries.
The reasons Cromwell remains a hero to me are, first his overthrow of the English monarchy, and secondly his words to the Scottish Assembly, "I beseech you in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken." Those words were used by Joseph Bronowski during his TV series "The Ascent of Man" (Olin Library Q175 .B7918 1974) to make the point that utter certainty is a dangerous thing. To quote a reviewer on the Amazon site for the book, "JB walked fully clothed and shod into a pond at Auschwitz in acknowledgment of family and friends and fellow countrymen whose ashes were dumped there by fascists who laid claim to a handle on absolute certainty." I saw that scene on TV in the 1970's and remember it to this day.

So why this essay on 17th century English history? Sorry, I got carried away. The Olin Library just completed the LibQual survey and we have begun using that data in our planning process. On Friday I sent a message to the Rollins community announcing that we had posted our results -- warts and all -- on the website. I have been heartened by the number of responses I have got from students, faculty, and staff, complementing us on doing this and openly and honestly communicating not just our strengths, but also where we can improve.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


I have some catching up to do.

There was an article in the NY Times on 11/5/06, "The Silent May Have Something to Say." It was about the importance of, and techniques for, gathering input from people who may be reluctant to speak up in meetings. I remember hearing the Provost of the University of Pittsburgh -- James Maher say once that in some ways academe was way ahead of the corporate section and that engaging its personnel in the management of the organization was one of them. It may not always feel like it and it may not always be pretty, but if you compare it to what happens elsewhere it's not bad.

Still, this article was a useful reminder to find ways to try and listen to the less vocal members of our organization, and that includes the library. As the VP for Human Resources at Intuit, Jim Grenier, was quoted as saying in the article, ''It's not about a consensus culture. ... You're looking for more input so you can make a better decision. Employees know that we are serious about asking for their feedback, and we listen and we do something about it.''

This is not something that I always do , or always do well, so it is good to be reminded.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Thinking About Librarianship

My defense has led to another long break between entries on this blog. I am glad to say that I am now ABD -- all but dissertation.

Two books that I have been reading have made me think about librarianship (beyond my monomaniacal interest in librarians and the Copyright Act of 1976.)

The first is William Patry's "The Fair Use privilege in Copyright Law." (1985.) I have been aware of this title for some time but it has been on my list of second tier titles, one of those titles that I should get round to reading but not a core text for a couple of reasons. First, not many copyright histories refer to it, which is probably related to the second reason, the title is ahistorical, and third the Library of Congress subject headings are

Fair Use (Copyright) -- United States
Fair Use (Copyright) -- United States -- Cases

Nothing about this leads the researcher to suspect that Patry wrote a legislative history of the development of the doctrine of fair use and included quite a detailed history of the evolving text of section 107 and 108 from 1955 through 1976. It is so good in fact that for one awful moment I thought he had written my dissertation! He hasn't, but his book is going to be very useful.

So why does this make me think about librarianship? Its all about precoordinate description and post coordinate searching. Precoordinate description is when an indexer creates ways in which an item can be retrieved and hopes that they have considered all the ways future researchers might search for the book. In this case, Patry and his publisher titled his book in a way that they thought would most interest their core audience -- copyright lawyers. Then the cataloger (or maybe even the publisher again, since the subject headings were part of the "Cataloging in Publication" record) created the subject headings, neither of which refer to "history." Post coordinate description happens after the event. A good current example of this is the Google Book Search program in which a researcher can search the fulltext of a book in ways that make sense to them. If I had been able to do that, Patry's book would have quickly appeared in my retrieved sets and, I hope, I would have recognizes its usefulness.

I am not suggesting we do away with pre in favor of post coordinate searching. I think that the most powerful information retrieval comes when searchers have access to both. Since precoordinate description is so expensive we should reserve the combination only for those most important items and rely on post coordinate searching for the rest. Of course, as my example shows, it is tough to know ahead of time which are those "most important items".

The second book that made me think about librarianship will be the subject of a later entry.

Sunday, November 26, 2006


I have just spent Thanksgiving at home with my family. I think Thanksgiving is my favorite American holiday. First, it is such a great concept: a day just for giving thanks. Every country should have one. Second, it's all about food and not about shopping. All the shops close and there is no wild potlatch of gift giving. Though that later aspect is spoiled by the recent rise of "Black Friday" and its spread into the late hours of Thanksgiving.

This year I got to bring back from Florida:
  1. Fresh pecans to bake into a superb pecan pie using John Thorne's recipe in Richard Sax's "Classic Home Desserts." They really do make a difference.
  2. Key limes for a chiffon key lime pie. A perfect feather light ending to the meal.
  3. Kumquats that I boiled in a syrup and tossed into roasted sweet potatoes.

In return I am coming back from Pennsylvania with half a bushel of magnificent empire apples from Soergel's to share with our student employees.

I have a lot to be thankful for this year. My family seems to be coping fine without me, my move to the Olin Library has proved to be very professionally rewarding, and I am enjoying becoming part of the Rollins community.

Next year I hope I can be thankful for the Miller-Hicok clan being together again and happily esconsced in sunny Orlando.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Future of the Library readings.

Here are a series of readings I gathered for our Library Advisory Council to help them think about the future of this library as they become more involved in our planning process. You might find them interesting.

Thanks to colleagues on the newdirector-l listserv and the Oberlin Group listserv for their suggestions.

Peggy Seiden "Forecasting the Future" 9(1) (Fall 2006) p1, 4.

OCLC "Perceptions of Libraries and Information Resources: A Report to the OCLC Membership." OCLC 2005 [excerpts]

Jeremy J. Shapiro and Shelley K. Hughes. "Information Literacy as a Liberal Art: Enlightenment proposals for a new curriculum." Educom Review. 31(2) (March/April 1996)

The Horizon Report. NMC & EDUCAUSE (2006 Edition.) [excerpts]

Taiga Forum Steering Committee. "Taiga Forum Provocative Statements" March 10, 2006.

Jerry D. Campbell. "Changing a Cultural Icon: The Academic Library as a Virtual Destination." EDUCAUSE Review (January/February 2006) p.16-30

Joan K. Lippincott. "Net Generation Students & Libraries." EDUCAUSE Review (March/April 2005.) p.56-66

Isn't it interesting that they are all openly accessible on the web. What does that say about our professional literature? Or maybe my searching preferences.

I feel the need to explain my silence ...

on this blog. Until last night's post I had written nothing here since October 20th. Steven Bell told me that the rule of thumb was to post a couple of times a week to give people some reason to keep on coming back to the blog. So, why did I suddenly go silent?

You may now I am completing my PhD at the School of Information Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh. I defend my proposal on November 27th and have spent the weeks since October 21st writing my methodology section and editing the whole document.

So, I have been writing, just not on the blog.

Events in the Library

It's 12:30 a.m. on 11/8/06. I am the last one left in the library. We organized an Election Results Viewing Party in the Bib Lab. Cable TV on the big screen, some websites, cookies, chips and soda.
We did it at the last moment, after checking to make sure that we were not stepping on the toes of the College Democrats or Republicans, Student Life, or the Poli. Sci. department, and I am pleased to say we got quite a good turn out -- probably forty people in all. Students and faculty came in and out all evening. Some stayed for quite a while, others for just a short time. But everyone seemed to enjoy themselves (though based on the results, the Democrats amongst us probably felt better than the Republicans.)
Another interesting aspect of this was that when I sent out the e-mail notice about the event I got at least a dozen responses saying how happy they were to see that we were organizing such an event. In my experience, an interesting feature of liberal arts communities like Rollins is that people may not show up for events on campus, but they like to know that events are taking place.

Friday, October 20, 2006

The shushing librarian

We all know the stereotype of the librarian as middle aged woman with glasses and a bun shushing the noisy users. I am having great fun today watching Les Lloyd, our Associate VP of Information Technology. Les enjoys teasing me about librarian stereotypes as much as anyone. Today his RCC class is building a sculpture in the library foyer illustrating how much paper Rollins uses every week (about eighteen trees if you are counting.)

As you can imagine, this is a noisy business and every so often Les has to quiet things down -- with "amazing shushing action." I love it

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Here is another idea

I saw this entry in Gary Price's Resource Shelf (great resource for keeping up to date by the way even if you aren't lucky enough to be a librarian!)

It is about some of the excellent support that libraries offer to businesses in the community and quotes a BusinessWeek article that makes the same point.

So this got me thinking, what if a college like Rollins supported its business programs (in our case that would be two very different programs, the various Crummer MBA programs and the International Business department) in a similar way?

Business education is increasingly emphasizing entrepreneurship and group work. Could we model our assistance to these students as support for small businesses rather than the traditional academic reference/instruction model? The physical collection would be housed in a separate "center" and specialized assistance would be available for this group of users and organized around focused, user-centric, problem solving and information gathering. Online support would be organized in the way that some of the sites Resource Shelf list do it rather than as part of a larger academic whole.

Maybe it is a crazy idea, but it is Friday afternoon. A perfect time for crazy ideas.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Transforming the physical experience of visiting the Olin Library

One way libraries will remain important in higher education in the 21st century is as places of study, interaction with others, and relaxation; rejuvenating physical spaces in an increasingly digital world. At Rollins we have to build on the work that previous librarians have created in the Olin Library. It is a beautiful building that offers some great opportunities. It should be a destination for students and faculty on campus.

A number of things about the second floor of the library have been floating around in my brain and they recently came together so I thought I should record them and see if they make any sense. Let me know what you think.

This list is organized as though you are entering the library through the main doors.

  • If you visit the main library of the Orange County Public Library in downtown Orlando, the first thing you notice as you approach the building is the soothing music wafting from above the entrance. With a gorgeous entrance way at the Olin Library we could do something similar.
  • Rollins is looking for spaces like the courtyard between Orlando Hall and Woolson House that can be designed as relaxing gathering spots on campus. The loggia that runs along the front of the Olin Library would be a perfect spot for benches. A lovely spot for taking a study break with friends and wireless accessible too.
  • Fire regulations mandate that both the entrance and exit doors be designated as exits as you leave the Olin Library. But both doors are solid wood. If someone leaves via the entrance there is the potential to inadvertently hit a person trying to enter at the same time. If we put glass panels in the doors this problem would be solved and more light would be brought into the main lobby of the library.
  • The lobby contains our main exhibit cases, but frankly they don’t really improve the feel of the place. We have some people on staff who enjoy creating exhibits but no one with special skills or training in creating professional grade exhibits and programming that link the library to events on campus.
  • Our Circulation services are located behind a rather imposing counter of wood and glass. The glass lets you see a lot of rather messy shelves and workspaces but not to interact with the staff. The wood paneling darkens the whole lobby, and users are funneled into one relatively small space for service.
  • As some of the staff in Circulation have noticed, users often come to this desk with computing questions rather that library circulation requests and, because staff are not trained to handle these issues, are sent downstairs to (or directed to phone) the IT Help Desk. The library’s Video/DVD collection could be moved elsewhere and the IT desk moved upstairs (conveniently nearer the labs), physically integrated with streamlined circulation services, and some cross-training provided so that users questions about any aspect of information – the technology or the information itself – can be answered from one location. If we want to get really ambitious we can integrate the reference desk (currently located far away from where users first encounter the library) into this space as well for truly “one stop shopping.”
  • This would free up a rather nice space on the ground floor, in what is now known by some users as “the tombs,” for a pleasant group study/conference room.
  • The current Bookmark café offers coffee from 7-10 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Pretty inadequate hours if you ask me. I am working to increase those hours. But I also think that the space can be made more like a coffee shop and less like a library. Warmer colors on the walls, more funky furnishings with a few sofas and low tables, moving the McNaughton books into the café instead of having them block the café from the entrance, adding food to the menu, and scheduling some events in that space and the Bib Lab next door (poetry readings, music, etc.) It is already wireless accessible, so it can be a lovely little cyber café.
  • The computing lab next to it is pretty forbidding as well. The IT master plan calls for upgrading technology teaching spaces around campus. Perhaps that space could be next.

Physical spaces are only one piece of the picture. We need to get our services right and our customer service needs to exceed our users expectations every time. But physical space matters. I think what I am suggesting here could transform our users’ experience of visiting the library and, combined with the right services, collections, and customer and educational service from our librarians and staff, could make the Olin Library a destination on campus – somewhere people immediately think of when they think about spending time on campus.

What do you think?

Sunday, October 01, 2006

To praise or not to praise?

An interesting management issue arose this week. Part of our strategic planning involves getting input from our users, so I am spending a lot of time attending various faculty (and I hope soon, student) meetings. I want to make sure everyone in the library hears what our users are saying so I send the notes to the whole library. I am also thinking about ways to keep these available, may be a website. Obviously some of what we hear is positive and some is negative, but the point is to get outside our box and listen.

I think this is new for the Olin Library, and it is a little challenging for some. It is made more challenging by a very different style on my part. As you may have noticed if you read this blog, I believe in open communication and sharing lots of information and multiple perspectives. I think you generally end up with stronger decisions even if it can be a bit messy getting there. Traditionally the Olin Library seems to be a low-conflict, high-consensus organization. To avoid conflict and achieve at least the appearance of consensus information and communication has been carefully managed by everyone in the library. Kinda the Thumper's mother school of communication -- if you can't say nice, don't say anything at all.

I disturbed this culture by giving everyone the unedited notes from the meeting I attended, but -- and this was worse -- by specifically singling out certain individuals who had been mentioned positively by those at the meeting and thanking them for their contribution.

Naturally, those who were mentioned are those that the faculty interact with. There are many people working in the library who do excellent work without which the library would not function, but that work is not seen by our users. This is a persistent problem in libraries. Public services get thanks, technical services do not, reference librarians generally get to help users find stuff and so users think they are great, while circulation folks have to fine users for overdue books etc. and are often seen as the bad guys. As a director I have to find ways to overcome this and make sure that everyone's contribution is recognized.

However, the way to do that is not to praise no one. If individuals do good work that is noticed, I intend to let them know and let everyone else in the library know as well. But I also need to find ways to reward excellent work that is hidden from our users but makes a real contribution to our operations.

I also need to get people used to the idea that "a full and frank exchange of views", as the diplomats would say, is a good thing as long as it is done in a constructive and respectful manner because it will eventually lead to stronger shared decisions and purpose. These kind of organization culture changes take time, but are worth doing.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Why I work at Rollins

Around 11 today I found myself in one of those Kafkaesque moments when you have to have a paper receipt from someone to show someone else and find yourself shuttling from office to office in what, in the Florida heat, seems like an endless circle. Everyone is very nice, but it all gets a bit exasperating.

At one stage I was leaving the Olin Library when I met a first year student I had helped on the reference desk a couple of weeks ago. I asked her how her research had turned out and she happily told me how well it had gone and how helpful my assistance had been. She then told me she wanted to get a photo of me for a class project about people on campus who had helped her during her first week, so she is coming back later this afternoon to get a photo of me on the desk. How sweet!

I became a librarian because I love to help people find and use information. I came to Rollins because this kind of relationship with students is possible, or rather encouraged, here.

Suddenly my Kafkaesque moment evaporated.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Interlibrary loan (ILL)

A staff person at Olin recently asked me why we had to proceed quickly in terms of, as she put it, overhauling ILL. Here is an edited version of my response to her. Of course, what I think is not necessarily what will end up happening, there need to be a lot more people involved than me.

Parenthetically, isn't it interesting that we always refer to the service as interlibrary lending not borrowing? My philosophy is that we lend our materials to other libraries so that we can borrow material for our users. Getting stuff that our users want is the real core service here

One of the services I heard about that our users, at least the ones who spoke to me, thought needed improving is ILL. I heard about it at my interview and I heard about it as soon as I arrived on campus. I have learnt that when this happens, you listen. One of the big issues most liberal arts college libraries face is that their collections are too small to satisfy their active faculty and student users. ILL can be one of the most effective ways to alleviate this pressure.

Here are some of the things we should be thinking about:
  1. Our policies regarding fees to users, limitations on the number or type of requests, how they place requests, and what we loan to other libraries. We need to think about whether what we do now best serves our users and if it does not can we change it.
  2. Are we making the best use of technology in ILL and in connection with ILL? Some of the things we have to think about here are an ILL management system (currently we use Clio) that will enable our users to request materials they find in a database without having to retype the bibliographic information (.i.e an Open URL compliant ILL system like Clio Advanced or Illiad. To implement that we would also need a Link Resolver that would enable our users to find licensed fulltext anywhere in our system. Take a look at Article Linker for an example. We need to consider ways of increasing borrowing turnaround like RapidILL We also need to think about ways to enable our users to track their own requests online, again take a look at Clio Advanced or Illiad to examples. We also need to maximize our use of Ariel so that we are not printing out articles for our users but posting them to a web server where our users can get them when they want them and sending our users a notifying e-mail. Finally, we need to think about ways we can maximize our use of the OCLC ILL subsystem with systems like custom holdings, direct borrowing etc.
  3. We need to think about why we lend twice as much as we borrow. We have a small collection and a smart student body and actively researching faculty. Why do we lend more than we borrow? My intuition tells me there are a number of answers to that question that include borrowing service level in ILL, direct cost of borrowing from Rollins for partner libraries, quality if not quantity of our collection, etc.
  4. Improving our resource sharing relationship with UCF. At the moment they are an active ILL partner and our users travel to UCF to borrow. We should think about a shared patron initiated borrowing service in which our users can borrow from the partner library quickly and easily without having to travel.
  5. Over the long term, the next decade, I want Rollins to be linked into statewide borrowing systems that rival OhioLINK and I-Share.
  6. The most important thing we need to think about is our customer service. We have to look at this from our users perspective. Are we giving them the service they want? LibQual will help answer some of this, we will also have to find other ways to answer this question.
Much of what I describe above can be investigated over time and implemented during the summer or at various breaks. There are some small things that I hope we can change quickly, others will take longer.

ILL is an important part of the array of library services. Just remember: what do our users want? Our goal should be to get it for them, with no hassles.

Weekend Post

I spent the weekend back in Pittsburgh with my family. We had a great time, but it is hard on both them and me when we go back to being apart until we get back into the routine.

I am sure I can hear the gnashing of Floridian teeth as I tell you that I went for a gorgeous run on Sunday morning on a beautiful cool and misty fall morning. The trees are just turning, the geese are preparing to migrate. The run was cool and dry and so much more pleasant that running in the Orlando humidity.

Anyway, back to work!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Qualitative Research into User Needs

Naomi Harrison recently shared a couple of interesting pieces from SirsiDynix OneSource with me. They are about seeing the library as the user sees it, something that is of great interest to us in the Olin Library at the moment.

The author, Mary Lee Kennedy of TKG Consulting advocates using persona, "characters created from a composite of data that emerges from traditional market research, the collective experience as narrated by users and non-users themselves, and observations of user and non-user behavior to understand groups of users." (Kennedy.) This makes me think that a persona is more than the mean of a particular demographic segment. It contains that kind of information, but also a lot of qualitative information that makes it richer and deeper than demographic statistical data. I am sure it is not incidental that it probably also makes TGK's market research more accessible and palatable to a statistically unsophisticated audience.

Kennedy's second article focuses more on what she has learnt from her market research. I particularly like this list.

"Users expect the following:
  1. Easy access using their library or government issued ID.
  2. Friendly conversation with a library staff member who knows how to help them.
  3. Materials found easily where they are expected to be, including easy access online.
  4. Use of as many items as needed.
  5. Collection and building in good physical condition.
  6. Web site that is easy to use.
  7. Lots of choices, including diversity in format, language, and topics.
  8. Awareness and advisement of upcoming events.
  9. Friendly, personable staff." (Kennedy.)

Kennedy's research was conducted in the context of public libraries, but I don't see much on that list that does not apply to an academic library like the Olin Library. So, how do you think we are doing at meeting those nine expectations? Are there other expectations that you think a library like Olin should meet?

Monday, September 11, 2006

Chinese Libraries

I mentioned in an earlier post (7/15/06) that I had a couple of opportunities to travel to China in recent years. In 2002, while I was Library Director at Augustana College, I spent a month or more as a guest of the Department of Library and Information Management at Central China Normal University (CCNU) in Wuhan. I gave a number of presentations on library consortia, digital reference, and information literacy. Then in 2004, while working at the University of Pittsburgh, I returned to Wuhan, again for more than a month, this time as the guest of Wuhan University Library.

Both trips were amazing opportunities. Frankly, the first was a bit overwhelming. Everyone was very kind but things were so foreign, my Chinese was virtually non-existent, and I tended to withdraw into my room. CCNU grew from a teacher training college, but is now a large university of 20,000 students. I suppose a local US equivalent would be something like UCF, in the sense that an institution with a limited mission has grown with the local economy into something much larger.

The most impressive thing about China is how quickly it is growing and changing. I was able to revisit CCNU when I returned to Wuhan and in just two years the campus had changed significantly. Chinese librarians are also very impressive. I certainly did not feel as though I was the foreign expert bringing enlightenment to the backward Chinese librarians. They are struggling with exactly the same problems that librarians face in America: how to negotiate this hybrid infoWorld of print and digital information, how to teach students, who are facile with information technology, to be information literate, how to maximize a library's and the wider society's investment in information resources, and how to preserve the best of the past and embrace the promise of the future. The difference is that they are doing it on a much bigger scale, with far fewer resources, forcing them to react far more quickly, and without the same (at least modern) history of a cadre of professional librarians and a culture of open information access.

But I would never bet against the Chinese. I heard a story when I was in Wuhan about the first bridge across the Chang Jiang built in the 1950's. They brought in a series of foreign engineers and each group told they it could not be done, so they decided to do it themselves. The second time I flew back from China my flight was full of American engineers. They stood around in small groups with shell shocked expressions on their faces as they discussed the prospect of trying to compete with Chinese businesses that could now, or would be able to soon, do what their American companies could do but for a fraction of the cost. Like their Indian counterparts, Chinese business people and academics are very polite and do not seek to scare their foreign guests, but I think it is clear they are not aiming to be a second class economy or system of higher education that happily services the US. Their standard is pre-modern, when China was the center of the intellectual and economy world, even if we in Europe were only dimly aware of it. There have been studies recently that have downgraded the quality of Chinese engineering graduates, but as I say, I am not going to bet against the Chinese.

My second trip to China was far more enjoyable on a personal level than the first. Wuhan University is very highly rated and the librarians I worked with there were even better than the ones I worked with at CCNU. I worked with people I would hire in a minute if I had the opportunity. It is also renowned as a a beautiful campus (remind you of anywhere?) But it is even bigger than CCNU with 45,000 students. The scale of operations in China is breathtaking. Wuhan itself has about 7.2 million residents and I had never heard of it! I am reasonably geographically literate. How can there be a city of 7.2 million people I have never heard of? The really mind blowing thing is that there are lots of multi-million resident cities in China that I have, or had, never heard of and they are growing rapidly as the population moves from rural to urban.

Chinese libraries don't have the history of high quality, proactive public services that is the great gift of American librarians to the world, but they are keen to learn and discriminating in what they adopt and what they do not. They are interested in information literacy and in digital reference services. In the latter case, most are convinced, unlike US librarians, that digital reference can grow into sophisticated knowledge management and expert systems that can reuse the content and form of a response to a previous query to assist a future user. Most American librarians would say that the interaction between user and librarian is individual and so ephemeral that once stored the value is lost. But, as I say, I wouldn't bet against the Chinese.

One of my goals when I finish the PhD is to learn Pu tung hua, the Chinese common tongue.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Rita Bornstein and Legitimacy

I met Rita a recent event and was struck by how closely she engaged with me. She certainly understands active listening and I can see why she was such a successful fund raiser, amongst other things. I hope I get the chance to get to know her better as I spend more time at Rollins.

When we talked about my plans for the library she recommended her book, "Legitimacy in the academic presidency : from entrance to exit." We have it in the Olin collection at LB2341 .B596 2003, but I have it checked out at the moment -- sorry. It is available at the Winter park Public Library in both print (3rd Floor - Adult Nonfiction 378.111 Bor) and as an e-book.

Reading this book is an eye opening experience for me. I am only part way through, but each page has at least one of what I think of as intellectual depth charges. Ideas that sink into your mind and then explode making links to current and previous experiences and spawning ideas that I am finding really fruitful.

There are so many differences between an academic president and a library director, but they are both leadership positions and as a new director I am finding the points that Rita makes, and those that she quotes from other writers on academic leadership, to be really useful.

I also think this concept of legitimacy can also be a useful lens through which to view an institution like a library. Libraries enjoy an enormous reservoir of legitimacy in academe and in our wider society. There is a reason why everyone and his brother wants to call their newest Internet start up a "library." This institutional legitimacy is something that has been built up over the decades, perhaps centuries, by diligent librarians working in the print environment, building collections and services that met the long term needs of their users. As we move further into this hybrid world of print and digital collections and services, we need to make sure that we retain this legitimacy and built it anew as information providers in the digital environment. As Rita points out it is easy to lose legitimacy and hard to regain it.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Reference Evaluation

Well my post on websites (8/23/06) has resulted in the most comments (both posted to the blog, sent to me in e-mail, and mentioned to me in person) so far and I think we will return to that issue a bit later. Rollins is closed today as hurricane, not wait, tropical storm, no wait, depression Ernesto trundles our way so I am getting some much needed time to work on my diss.

In the meantime, here is a presentation I made at the ALA Conference in New Orleans in June on reference evaluation. It is best viewed with a recent version of IE.

Ongoing evaluation and assessment of library services is only going to become more important as colleges like Rollins continue to think about how to maximize their investment in resources that help them fulfill their educational mission.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Let's talk about websites

Specifically college library websites. What do you like about the Olin Library's website and what do you not like? Are there sites out there that you really like? Not because of the content of the site or the library, but because of how you navigate through the site, what you can do at the site, and the look and feel of the site?

Here are a few that I think are worth looking at, for either good or ill.

Middlebury College. I like the cool photos, the white space, and the san serif script (I am a sucker for san serif.) I really like the integration of IT and the library, but that is a topic for a different post. I like the navigation route thingy (I forget the technical term) that shows you what route you took to get here and enables you to get home or to any intermediate page easily. I like the quick links on the right. But the whole page has too many links. It is overwhelming.

Oberlin College. This is a sorry excuse for a website. Overstuffed with a weird mixture of services etc. and buttons with mixed fonts on the left. But hold on, what is this? A new and very definitely improved website. Changing images, the cool news blog, san serif and white space (of course), the integration of the catalog into the website, the quick links drop down menu. Perhaps still too many links (news and newspapers? Dictionaries? Do they really belong on the opening page?) I also had to scroll down to see the whole page, but overall, a huge improvement.

Smith College. It is fussy on the left hand side, but I like the menus that appear when your mouse floats over the, mercifully few, choices in the middle of the page.

Gustavus Adolphus College. I don't like the color scheme, but I rather like the Mondrianesque arrangement and the spare three column menu arrangement. Another OPAC search feature integrated into the home page, I like that.

Bowdoin College. Notice how it is integrated into the College home page via the top frame. The tabs in the middle are an interesting solution to the volume of information libraries have to convey. As well as my preferred elements that I have talked to death earlier in this list, I like the way your eyes are drawn to the center of the page where the real business links of the library are laid out.

Look, there are lots more. None are perfect. I don't think any college library website can fully satisfy all the needs of its constituents, but some do a better job than others. Which ones would you recommend? For even more fun, tell me which ones are truly appalling and why.

Monday, August 21, 2006

The Book of Lost Books

I am reading Stuart Kelly's The Book of Lost Books: An Incomplete History of All the Great Books You'll Never Read and thoroughly enjoying it. I am afraid we do not have a copy in the Olin Library, but it is at the Winter Park Public Library, though checked out at the moment. It consists of many short chapters, each one about an author who wrote at least one work that is lost, no copies are known to exist, was never written, or not finished . It is fascinating, funny, heart breaking, and thought provoking.

You can imagine what a horribly delicious read this is for a librarian.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Opening Libraries to the World

If you look to your left you will see a new feature of this blog. I have added some code (beta by the way) that enables anyone to search the WorldCat database (which includes at this writing more than 67 million bibliographic records and 1 billion individual holdings in 9,000 libraries around the world, including the Olin Library.)

One of the issues librarians have struggled with over the past decade is how to make their collections as visible to web users as openly accessible websites. WorldCat on the web is one way to do this. It enables you to search for an author, title, or topic and the use a ZIP code to find out if local libraries have what you want. Of course, you still have to be bona fide user of an owning library to be able to borrow something, but you can even buy a title if you prefer.

One thing that I think we in the Olin Library have to consider doing is finding more ways to take the library's collections, services, and professionals to the user, rather than waiting for the user to come to us. This means proactively getting out of the physical library, but it also means being proactive and taking the library to our users online, on the web, in Blackboard, in Facebook, throughout the Rollins website, and anywhere else our users might be when they want to use the library or have, what we call in the trade, an information need.

All you need is something to search for and a ZIP code. Give it a go and tell me what you think.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

The world is full of surprises. The big question is how you react to them.

The title of this post comes from an article on today's New York Times ( "Get Out of That Rut and Into the Shower" by William C. Taylor. Business section, New York Times, August 13, 2006. From Rollins, you can find it here.)

It is all about unusual ways to collect information on how customers use products and services. For instance a hedge fund that invests in banks etc. spends a day using bank branches throughout Manhattan and gets a very different view of customer service and operations than the one it hears from the head office. Or an industrial design firm that films people taking showers instead of just asking them about how they shower. Taylor's conclusion -- and my title -- is a quote from Jana Eggers.

At the Olin Library, we certainly need to find a variety of ways to assess and evaluate our services, facilities, and resources as we develop a plan for the future, but what really matters is how we react to what we learn.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Presentation to Rollins

During my interview I was asked to make a presentation and chose to talk about the Role of the College Library in the Age of the Universal Library. So I load it here in case anyone who was not able to attend is interested. It is best viewed with recent versions of Internet Explorer.

Monday, August 07, 2006


One of the things that struck me when I interviewed here and that has been reinforced by the contact I have had with the Olin Library and Rollins College since then, including my first day here, is that this is a well run library that has the support of the Rollins community.

There is no big crisis that I need to come in quickly and fix. (If you disagree, please let me know!)

What this library does need is a new strategic plan. The present plan is dated 2003 and much of it has either been successfully completed or superseded.

President Duncan was right when he was asked what his immediate plans were, ""My plan is to listen. I'll listen and ask questions ... and actually those are two very different things." A wise librarian once advised me on becoming a new director, if at all possible, to listen for the first year and really get to know the campus community.

Listening to students and faculty, as part of a thorough environmental scan, should be the first stage of an good strategic planning process. This can be done through general surveys like LibQual, through focus groups, and also through personal meetings, either individually or in groups.

There is a lot more to successful strategic planning and I hope to write about that soon, but in the meantime, expect to see a lot of such listening and questioning this year.

If you want to jump the gun and tell me what you think now, be my guest. Send me an e-mail or post a comment to this blog.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Arriving on campus

I arrived on the Rollins campus today after a long but uneventful trip from Pittsburgh. I don't have much time to write today, but I did want to note a few things I noticed on arriving here. No, not the heat. I think it has been hotter in Pittsburgh that here for the last few days!

Facilities and Campus Security staff helped me get settled in the Sutton Place Apartments. Despite being very busy with preparations for the begining of term everyone was unfailingly polite, helpful and friendly and I dealt with individuals with names -- Sharon, Phil, Duane, Ken, Kim, Laura. This is a huge difference from a place like Pitt, where you rarely get to know someone's name and only deal with offices, not individual people.

Another difference: no forms. I am sure there will be some, but so far I haven't had to fill in a form. Lovely.

Finally, the campus is as beautiful as I remember it.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Traveling to Orlando

I am going to be moving over the next few days so don't expect an entry until next week.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Congratulations to Yvonne Jones

Our own Yvonne Jones has just published her article "Oversized and underused: Size Matters in Academic Libraries" -- gotta love that title! -- in the July 2006 College & Research Libraries (you can find it here via Rollins.)

It is a useful study of how college libraries define and shelve oversized books, which are in my experience surprisingly vexing problems, and whether this impacts the overall level of use. She found that how the library handled these materials didn't make too much of a difference, probably because users are now often browsing and finding such books in the OPAC rather than by browsing the shelves.

College & Research Libraries is one of the top journals in academic librarianship, so congratulations to Yvonne.

Fred Kilgour 1914-2006

I learned that Fred Kilgour died yesterday. He was one of the great librarians of the 20th century. One of the first librarians to recognize how useful computing technologies could be to libraries, he founded a computerized system that enabled academic libraries in Ohio to share cataloging records called OCLC. Sharing online cataloging records meant that only one library had to originally catalog a book, all the others could simply link to that record and download the record to their own catalog. This was a huge saving in terms of labor. The system also improved how libraries found out what other libraries owned, and enabled libraries to borrow and lend those materials. This union catalog has grown into what we know today as WorldCat.

A great librarian; creative, effective, visionary. He will be sadly missed.

Friday, July 28, 2006

To Be Literate is to Possess the Cow of Plenty

I have loved the title of this post since I first picked up S.R. Ranganathan's "Five Laws of Library Science" back in library school in the early 90's. It is the motto of the Madras Library Association that first published Ranganathan's book back in 1931. A good image of it and the seal of the MLA has been scanned by a librarian at the Colorado College Tutt Library.

As a reference librarian, I am embarrassed to say that I am not sure what it means exactly or where the MLA found it (brownie points to the first reader who can provide the answer) but I am sure you get the point. My guess is it is another, far more poetic, way of saying knowledge is power (and I do know that is a derived from Francis Bacon's Meditationes Sacrae.)

Ranganathan was a remarkable man. A mathematician who became India's most famous and influential librarian. He promolgated his five laws in the context of a manual of library service. They are simple yet profound and I have found them to be important guideposts throughout my career.

Books are for use.
Every reader his or her book.
Every book its reader.
Save the time of the reader.
The Library is a growing organism.

The book (especially the 1931 edition) is now difficult to get hold of. I am afraid it is not in any local libraries and unavailable at any of the big online new and used book sellers. Copies are available in Florida State University and the State Library's collections. But I would wait for dLIST's digital version.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Take a look to the left.

I have some links to various online open access journals in the left hand bar and a few things caught my eye this evening.

The first is a whole issue of "First Monday" devoted to papers from their 2006 First Monday Conference on the Open Access (OA) movement. Open Access is already having a major impact upon scholarly communication, and therefore libraries, and this will only grow in the years ahead. Access that is free to the end user via the Internet has great potential for relatively small libraries like the Olin Library. These papers indicate that the potential of OA goes far beyond libraries and U.S. higher education.

The other is an article in the current issue of "Ariadne" on the history and future of search engines by Phil Bradley. His conclusions bring me straight back to a point I seem to never escape from: one role of the library, in partnership with the rest of the faculty, will be to help students understand and think critically about how these commercial search engines relate to the wider information environment and how individuals want to interact with these search engines.

Disaster Plans

As you might imagine, I have a growing list of things I need to find out about when I get the Olin Library. With hurricane season upon us and the library's beautiful location right next to a lake, one thing I am interested in finding out about is what kind of disaster plans exist on campus and in the library.

American Libraries Direct (a newsletter from the American Libraries Association) had a brief item today about D-plan, "a free online program to help institutions write comprehensive disaster plans. dPlan provides an easy-to-use template that allows museums, libraries, archives, and other cultural institutions of all sizes to develop a customized plan" from the Northeast Document Conservation Center.

Fire, flood, earthquakes, negligence, war, theft, pests, mold ... the list of things that can damage or destroy a library seems endless. Two books that give you a good sense of the impact of disaster on libraries and thus on the wider society (and perhaps more interestingly, the impact of societal collapse on libraries) are Matthew Battles' Library: An Unquiet History (not available in Olin unfortunately, but it is in the Winter Park Public Library at 027.009 Bat and in UCF Main Library General Collection at Z721 .B28 2003) and Lionel Casson's Libraries in the Ancient World (available in the Olin library General Collection at Z722.C37 2001)

No plan can cover every eventuality and, to paraphrase Moltke, no plan survives contact with reality. But a thorough disaster plan, that everyone who needs to know is aware of, can save you from a "world of pain", to quote another great strategic thinker.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Where will the next generation Web take libraries?

The OCLC newsletter "NextSpace" has published an interesting piece on how libraries might change with the next generation of Web development, called "Web 2.0: Where will it take libraries?"

Tom Storey overstates his case when he writes that with this next generation of web development, " the Web moves from simply being sites and search engines to a shared network space that drives work, research, education, entertainment and social activities—essentially everything people do." Of course he means everything we do online. Admittedly a big part of my work life and a considerable part of my life, but by no means everything.

Other contributors make thought provoking points though. Here are some quotes.

"We need to focus our efforts not on teaching research skills but on eliminating the barriers that exist between patrons and the information they need, so they can spend as little time as possible wrestling with lousy search interfaces and as much time as possible actually reading and learning. Obviously, we’ll help and educate patrons when we can, and when they want us to, and the more we can integrate our services with local curricula, the better. But if our services can’t be used without training, then it’s the services that need to be fixed—not our patrons. " Rick Anderson.

"This librarian bases all planning and proposals for services, materials and outreach on user needs and wants. User-centered libraries breakdown barriers and allow users access wherever they are: home, work, commuting, school, or at the library. This involves users from the get go in planning and launching services based on their needs. " Michael Stephens.

"Without a firm foundation in the mission and goals of the institution, new technologies are not implemented for the sake of coolness and status. " Michael Stephens.

"Libraries should welcome the submission of reviews, assignment of keywords (“tagging”), addition of scholarly commentary, and other forms of user participation. ... Libraries should get much greater mileage out of the metadata they create. For example, if geographic names embedded in the middle of subject headings are mapped to latitude and longitude coordinates, it becomes possible to present users with graphical means of searching by place, new ways of easily asking for materials about nearby places, and hierarchical browsing by place." John Riemer.

" Libraries are not just collections of documents and books, they are conversations, they are convocations of people, ideas, and artifacts in dynamic exchange. Libraries are not merely in communities, they are communities " Wendy Schultz.

Friday, July 21, 2006

The City of Brotherly Love

We are all off to Philly for the weekend. Trying to extract every ounce of pleasure from Pennsylvania before I leave. My son wants to visit the "disturbingly informative" Mutter Museum. I am just looking forward to some good food, good company, and a historically interesting city.

So, no blogging this weekend. The real world beckons!

Network or Internet Neutrality

Congress is considering the issue of "net neutrality" this session (HR 5252 and HR 5273 amongst others.) Despite the slightly Gibsonesque sound of the phrase, this is an issue that we should all be concerned about, or at least aware of.

Net neutrality concerns the rules that govern transmission via the Internet. A good summary and a lot more information can be found at the Center for Democracy & Technology. The CDT is one of the best, and most respected, policy organizations active in the area of technology and public policy. It is well worth consulting on Internet policy and various digital privacy issues.

When you begin to try and fight your way through the thicket of information out there about net neutrality from competing organizations, it can get very confusing very fast. A couple of analogies help. One way to think about net neutrality is to compare the internet to roads. Our system of public roads are neutral. Anyone with a car, gas, and who meets the legal requirements, can travel on any road. If they were not neutral, in the way that some of the pending legislation in Congress proposes, then it would be as though Walmart had an HOV lane that its customers could travel on from home to the local Walmart, but that bypassed the small shops downtown. Of course, the difference between our roads and the Internet is that our roads are largely publicly funded, the Internet is no longer publicly funded.

Another analogy would be to the phone network. Once you have a phone and have paid for service your calls to anyone on the network are all treated equally. There is no difference in sound quality or ease of connection between calls. Again, the system is neutral. If it were not neutral then it would be as though your bank could pay to make sure that your calls to them were clearer and connections easier to make than your calls to your mother.

As you might expect, this policy development process in Congress is shaping up to be a classic battle of industrial interest group politics. In some ways it reminds me of some of the history of Florida's development detailed in Grunwald's book that I mentioned in my 7/16/06 post to this blog. The telecommunication industry and their supporters are proposing the move away from net neutrality because they own the wires etc. upon which the Internet runs and they could make a lot of money by selling tiered access to digital content providers. They say that this revenue will enable them to continue to build the network and to fund innovation. The content providers, user groups, and the software industry tend to oppose the move away from net neutrality because they don't want to pay those increased costs. They could use that money to fund their own innovation in digital content etc. and worry that the telecomms will simply use the extra money as a windfall profit. Of course, the telecomms are also very interested in becoming content providers and one way to look at this is an attempt by those industry players to gain an advantage over their rivals in this field. Thus a classic battle of industrial interest group politics: who gets to pay and who gets to profit?

User groups think they are paying enough already and worry that a tiered system of access will continue a trend towards the consolidation of power on the Internet amongst the wealthiest corporations. Educational and library groups are, of course, both users and content providers, and so have come out for net neutrality and against the proposed legislation. Libraries are concerned that users will be even less likely to begin their research at a library website if that site is slow to load and tough to find because they know that they will not be able to pay for top tier access. They also fear that they will be forced to pay a premium for access to online database vendors (like Proquest, which the Olin Library licenses a number of databases from, or EBSCO) who will pay for top tier access and pass the costs onto their library customers. This tiered access will also have the effect of steering users towards resources with top tier access and away from other resources based on access, not some other measure of utility. Educational institutions are concerned that they too will not be able to afford top tier access and thus traffic to, from, and between research institutions will be hampered. Transferring information between research institutions was the very raison d'etre of the Internet, so they are naturally concerned.
But there is a real issue here that the telecomms are forcing us to consider; who pays for innovation? If we truly think that a for-profit, market driven model will produce the greatest innovation then why shouldn't the for-profit providers of the networks be allowed to profit in new ways from their investment? We could all potentially gain from their innovation. The old monopolistic and highly regulated Ma Bell telephone company or the old power utility companies were very reliable, but not innovative. Is it fair to consign a particular industry to a highly regulated role so that others can profit?

I tend towards the neutrality side of this debate, you might not. In any case, it will impact your life over the next decades. Love them or hate them, the Internet and South Florida, both came to be how they are today through these kind of policy battles. You should keep informed.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Managers -- who needs them?

An article in the business section of the New York Times ("Maybe We Should Leave That Up to the Computer" New York Times 7/18/06 C4, available from Rollins here) got me thinking. Chris Snijders, a Dutch sociologist, thinks that routine managerial decisions are best left to computers and he has the research to prove it, at least to his own satisfaction.

Mr. Snijders studied the decision making of experienced purchasing managers in over 300 corporations and compared the quality of their software and hardware purchasing decisions. His home page gives more details about his findings but basically he found that experienced managers used less data and more of their intuition to guide their decisions and were outperformed by relatively simple computing algorithms.

I like these kind of articles for a couple of reasons. First they can be viewed as just another step in the long de-centering of humankind. Starting with the Copernican revolution which placed the sun instead of the earth at the center of the universe all the way to recent studies of animal behavior that are showing more and more traits that we thought were uniquely human are shared with various other species. It is bracing to be forced to consider what is really unique and important about what, in this case, a manager brings to an organization.

Secondly, and this is where librarians and the wider educational mission of the college comes in, how do we prepare students for a world in which as the NYT article notes, "humans becom[e] increasingly peripheral in making routine decisions, concentrating instead on designing ever better models"? Issues of critical thinking and information literacy, as well a technical capabilities, are key here and I think librarians -- in partnership with the teaching faculty -- need to play a part in preparing students for this new work environment. However, we must also remember that most decisions that we take (whether as managers or not) are not routine. Education (and reading widely and deeply in literature and non-fiction) should help us recognize the difference between the routine and extraordinary and help us act accordingly.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Federated Searching -- fad or future?

A colleague of mine, an instruction librarian in an academic library, is writing an essay on federated searching and asked my opinion of such applications. I know this is something that people at the Olin Library have been considering recently, so I thought you might be interested in my thoughts on this issue.

The University of Pittsburgh Libraries have been using a federated searching application from Webfeat for a couple of years and that is the only application with which I have any experience. Other vendors include the Open Source DBWiz, MetaLib, SirsiDynix's partner MuseGlobal, and Central Search. This is a fast moving field so I am sure there will be others and by the time you read this some of these vendors may have gobbled each other up. Welcome to the wonderful world of library systems software!

When I explain federated searching to library users I usually start by saying, think of it as Google for libraries. An easy way to search multiple databases with one search and get relevant results all in much the same format. The user can quickly and seamlessly move from search to fulltext, avoid doing the same search multiple times, using different search techniques for different databases, and then searching again for the fulltext of the articles they seek. Sounds great right? What could possibly be bad about such software?

Before I tell you my opinion you must realize that I am a librarian. That makes me very different from the vast majority of library users. I think it was Roy Tennant who said, "Librarians like to search. Everyone else likes to find." I have made a career out of understanding how to search for information and how to help others search, and I hope find, what they need. I understand how to search a variety of databases and interfaces. I even read the introductions to reference books. The bottomline is that my opinions about federated searching are probably very different from a normal library user, so take them with a pinch of salt. This is something that I find librarians forget too often.

That being said, I find that federated searching software feels like a scrim in the theater. It makes everything slightly hazy, and softens the definition of the individual information objects I seek. I am left with the feeling that I want to tear the curtain away to get to the real information in the databases below.

Information is complex, in format, content, and in the relationships between information objects. Federated searching makes each piece seem very similar to every other -- the record of a book chapter, a journal article, a video, a government document, etc. All look alike and it takes extra effort to work out what you have retrieved. The implementations of federated searching in libraries usually strive for simplicity and exacerbate this homogenization problem.

The current versions of federated searching cannot cope with the most sophisticated elements of library databases; the niceties of controlled vocabulary, or the tree structure of MeSH. Searching is reduced to relevance and keyword searching, and thus ends up being quite blunt.

I often see the results of these problems at the reference desk. Users come to the desk frustrated that they cannot find what they want after having tried a federated search, or unable to interpret the results of a federated search. I find that the most common solution for these users is to show them how to go directly to the most appropriate database for their information need, where a more directed search quickly retrieves what they want. However, only the most persistent and confident users will come to the reference desk after an unsatisfactory search. Many others will seek help from a friend or colleague, try a very different approach, or just give up. Presumably many others are perfectly happy with the results of their federated search. Librarians must be careful not to draw conclusions about the average library user based on the minority who seek assistance from a reference librarian.

I do like the ability to search multiple databases simultaneously and to quickly see which databases might reward further searching when a federated search system tells me how many hits I get for a search in each database. Selecting a database to search has always been a mysterious task for novice library users and anything that helps them with this task is to be
welcomed. I also see that my criticisms make me sound like the experienced Dialog searchers in the generation of librarians just before my own. I would listen to their war stories of finely tuned, cost-effective searches in arcane databases and their grumblings about the younger generation of wasteful searchers and secretly think that their expertise had be superseded. Perhaps, like them, I am just getting old and curmudgeonly.

One final point, I am not convinced that federated searching will not turn out to be a transitional technology, like CD-ROM jukeboxes, more an expression of a temporary limitation in the technology available in libraries than a transformational technology that fundamentally alters how people interact with information.

Still the technology bears watching and the answer for libraries probably lies in implementing such search capabilities while maintaining access to individual databases and continuing to do what we have always done, work with users individually and in groups to help them understand the many ways to search for and find information.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Michael Grunwald's "The Swamp."

Continuing with the weekend theme, here is a book I have been recommending to friends recently: Michael Grunwald's "The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida, and the Politics of Paradise" from Simon & Schuster (2006.) It is available in the Olin Library at call number F317 .E9 G78 2006. It is about the fight to first develop the Everglades, and later to protect them. Along the way Grunwald provides a lot of Florida history for a newbie like me. He also makes clear that development in the United States (and I am sure we are not unique in this) has proceed more often on the basis of greed, hubris, and a cozy relationship between political and economic power than manifest destiny, the invisible operation of market forces, or reasonable stewardship of our environment.

I came away from the book not knowing whether to lament how much of Florida's natural environment has be degraded and destroyed or to be heartened by how much has been saved. As someone who grew up in a country that had pretty much banished wilderness before the United States even came into existence, I am always astonished by the environmental richness that remains in this country.

I can't wait to explore.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Running, Geographic Information, and the Power of the Collective.

It's the weekend, so let's have something less serious. I took up running in 2003 and even though that is rather late in life I have really caught the bug. This is me with my son after Pittsburgh's Great Race in 2004.

As many runners will tell you (usually ad nauseam if you let them) it can be very relaxing and a cheap and easy way to get and stay fit. I started running because cycling wasn't enough of a workout. I was about to visit Wuhan, China for a second time and needed a convenient way to exercise in a foreign land. I am looking forward to running in Winter Park, though I am guessing that I will forego my Pittsburgh lunchtime runs and instead run in the early morning. If there are any runners out there who are looking for a partner, let me know (8.5 minute pace, 27 miles per week.)

One of the best sources for new running routes is America's Running Routes from the US Track & Field Association. Finding a reasonable route to run in a new place used to be very hit and miss, maybe you could ask the Concierge at your hotel, or be lucky enough that Runner's World would feature your destination in On The Road. The USTAF site changes that. America's Running Routes is also a good example of the convergence of two digital information trends: geographic information and collective development of resources. Sorry, I couldn't resist bringing this back to libraries and the information economy!

At the consumer end of geographic information systems (GIS) we are seeing things like Mapquest, Google Maps and Earth, and cell phones with GPS ("With a Cell Phone as my Guide" New York Times 6/28/06 C1 go here for access from Rollins) that enable users to link spatial information to other types of information and services in realtime. In the academy GIS is having a major impact not only in the disciplines one might expect, like geography and geology, but throughout the social sciences, archeology, the health sciences, and beyond.

A well known example of the collective development of resources is Wikipedia an encyclopedia that has been written, edited, and constantly re-edited, by those who visit the site. Another example is the open source software movement that seeks to harness the collective wisdom of the group and open access to, in this case, software without added licensing costs.

The USTAF application brings both of these trends together. Users are able to create (by marking routes on maps or satellite images of an area provided by Google Maps), describe, and share their own running routes, which is valuable to them because they can see how long the route is (if they don't already know) and gain prestige by adding good routes. Other users can rate and review existing routes. Each route, rating, and review adds value to the database as a whole, which becomes far more than the sum of its parts by harnessing the power of the collective. As of this date there are over 49,000 routes, up from 30,000 at the start of June. There are 25 in Winter Park alone. Rather than relying on the experts at Runner's World to develop, evaluate, and publish routes, interested individuals create and evaluate routes themselves and are able to do so at a much faster rate.

Actually, this is nothing new in the world of information. What is a scholarly journal if not a collection of individual articles selected, written, edited, and critiqued by a community of scholars that are far more valuable as a collection that as individual articles?

Friday, July 14, 2006

Happy Bastille Day

As a republican Englishman, this is always one of my favorite days, along with January 30th.

The Library Catalog

Many librarians, not to mention library users, have been unhappy with the online public access catalog, or OPAC, since the inception of such systems in the 1970's and 80's. Steve Bell, in a recent post on ACRLog, questions whether users are unhappy with OPAC, but I think he mistakes users' low expectations of OPAC functionality for satisfaction.

The explosion of web-based systems aimed at consumers (think, e-bay, or Google and their easy to use and powerful search interfaces) has led to a recent intensification of the debate, at least amongst librarians, about the future of the OPAC. Practical changes in system design and functionality arising from this debate will come from the commercial vendors of such systems and their competitors in the software industry. For a quick intro to this debate take a look at Roy Tennent's Digital Libraries column in the 6/15/06 issue of Library Journal (go here to access it via Rollins.) For a more in-depth, and controversial, treatment read the Calhoun Report.

These changes will be driven by the demands of large libraries. Frankly, college's like Rollins don't have the market power to make much impact at this level, but we do have a great opportunity to take advantages of the changes that do come along. Rollins' Olin Library catalog runs on a system supplied by the SirsiDynix corporation. As SirsiDynix responds to the demands of librarians, library users, and their competitors, we need to be ready to implement those enhancements that better meet the needs of our users (a recent report from the University of California system recommended things like "provide direct access to an item; provide recommender features; offer alternatives for failed searches, such as with spelling errors; and find new ways to navigate large sets of search results." (as reported in Library Journal 2/15/06 p16.)

As a smaller and more nimble institution we also need to be ready to consider radical changes that meet the needs of our users in very different ways. If we are to be ready we need to keep up with the debate concerning the the future of the OPAC, but more importantly, constantly listening to our users and this is where Steve Bell and I agree.

So tell me, what do you think of our Olin Library catalog?

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Robert Pinsky's Library Scene

I heard Pinsky read at the American Library Association conference mentioned in my 7/12/06 post and asked him about his poem "Library Scene." If you don't know it, you can find it in "The Figured Wheel" which is unfortunately not owned by the Olin Library (perhaps we can change that), Winter Park Public Library, or the University of Central Florida Libraries, but can be purchased on Amazon.

This has been an important poem for me for quite a while. As a librarian I have often used it, particularly the last two lines.

Because you are somehow someone that they need:
They come to you and you tell them how you read.

To make the point that librarians should not just provide access to information but we should be models of passionate readers for our users.

Most recently I quoted it during my interview at Rollins. I argued that we need, as Stanley Wilder of the University of Rochester noted (Chronicle of Higher Education 1/7/05, from Rollins you can find his article in Single Journals, Off campus access through OneLog for Windows), to move beyond information literacy to model the activities of scholarly reading and writing that are discipline specific and so much more nuanced and complex than the rather mechanistic tasks of information literacy. In a world in which information is going to be so readily available librarians and faculty need to help students and show them how to move beyond information to knowledge and understanding.

The college library, with committed personnel, embedded in small institutions, working closely and individually with faculty and students, is uniquely well placed to play this role and I contend that this can become one of the great selling points of a liberal arts education: students are not set adrift in a sea of information, but become part of a community of scholars seeking knowledge.

In a wonderful case of synchronicity, Pinsky said that the poem is inspired by the story a colleague of his at Wellesley College in the 1970's, Patricia Myers Spacks. As Pinsky remembers the story, she grew up in Deland, less than forty miles north of Winter Park. As a girl she read all the books in the town library and was given a budget to buy more and act as the town librarian. Each week she would read the New York Times Book Review and order books she felt like reading.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The golden rule

On my way to the ALA Conference in New Orleans I read the latest issue of Wired (a great way to keep up, by the way, and get beyond librarianship even if the magazine's gee wizz factor is sometimes too high.)
I was struck by Larry Brilliant's quote from Eric Schmidt,

“If you are kind to everybody, then you will make good decisions because people will give you good information, and if you are truthful to everybody, they will be truthful to you.”

It has a Chauncey Gardiner feel to it, but it really makes a lot of sense. I have had lots of opportunities to see managers and leaders in action in libraries and beyond. One of the hardest problems an organization leader faces is getting accurate and timely information from the people you work with. People tend to try and "game the system" and tell you what they think you want to hear, or what they think will get them what they want. Honest and open communication, and transparent, collaborative decision making is the key here. As with most things it comes down to consistent application of the golden rule, do unto others as you would have them do unto you.