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.