Friday, April 27, 2007

OK, so what next?

So, the furniture is popular. It is getting used and changing the way the space outside the library is used. Jane Wright told us it would slow people down and make the space more social. She was right. The new hours and offerings of the Bookmark Cafe have had the same effect inside. Our experiment with 24 hour access during exams and the lead up to exams is also changing how students think about the library. This is all good, but it is not enough.

These are all good things and they change students' perception of Olin Library -- they are ready to give us another look. But now we have to make some more fundamental changes to the library and, of course, when I say library I don't just mean the building that houses the personnel, the print based collection, and lots of study space. I mean the library as a physical space, an online presence, a collection of information resources, services, and relationships -- both online and the physical world. OK. So what might those changes be?

  • Integrating the library's educational role more effectively into the curriculum so that we work in partnership with the faculty to help students become more information literate by the time they graduate, and doing that online (synchronously and asynchronously) and in the physical world.
  • Continuing the hard work of making sure our customer services are consistently excellent and that our personnel are not undermined by poor planning, space, or procedures.
  • Linking all our digital resources so a document in one database is accessible from any other.
  • Linking our digital resources and services out from the library to digital places where the users are: Blackboard, the College website, Google, Facebook, their cell phone, campus plasma screens, etc.
  • Building alliances with other academic support organizations (IT, the Writing Center, TJ's, etc.) so that the truly integrated nature of research, writing, and dissemination is supported by our services, not hindered by them, and making sure such alliances are happening both online and in the physical world.
  • Creating extra-curricula reasons for students and faculty to spend time in the library, or online at the library: poetry slams, reading groups, exhibits, workshops, seminars, events of all kinds. At the same time, when it is useful, integrating the library's resources into other events happening around campus.

All of these are more difficult to do, are more expensive to implement, and in some cases mean a change in our mindsets. It is like a row boat. With the furniture, cafe, and hours we kicked off from the shore. Now we have to set the oars in place and bend our backs to rowing. It is hard work, but you get further.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The new furniture has arrived

At least the outside rocking chairs and cafe style tables and chairs are here and were set out today. This picture really doesn't do them justice. They are an elegant green and the space is much sunnier. The inside furniture will be installed before the start of Fall term.

It all looks great and is getting used already. At least three students have complimented us on the furniture. One told me it was great to have when she brought her dog to campus, another said he had thought about this idea years ago, but never told anyone. I told him to let me know of any other great ideas he has. That goes for everyone, don't keep them to yourself.

We have put no smoking signs on the tables to try and set that as an expectation for the space. We shall see if it works. When I took this photo, it was.

The Cult of Barbara

Some time ago I wrote about the Bookmark Cafe, amongst other things. We have been trying out some changes over the last semester with food offerings, extended hours, and new personnel. According to Dining Services these have so far been very successful. A big part of that success is due to Barbara a tireless source of energy, ideas, and good cheer who just makes the students want to come back, spend some time in the cafe, and buy another coffee. As Jim Collins says -- its all about the people. As Gerard Short of Dining Services said, "Barbara seems to have a cult following."

Monday, April 09, 2007

Library of Congress

The Madison Building has this magnificent relief of tumbling (or are they flying?) books above the main doors. I am happy to say that I managed to get all the way through all 64 boxes of unprocessed materials in the ARL collection. Now I just have to digest everything I learnt.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Research in the Library of Congress

I am lucky enough to have another week in the Manuscript Reading room of the Library of Congress buried in the ARL archive once again. I am still working my way through the 64 boxes of unprocessed materials, but it is going reasonably quickly this time, since most boxes don’t have anything about copyright in them or cover the period after the passage of the 1976 Act. It is only Tuesday and I have already passed the half way mark on the final collection: box 32 of 64. The thing about working in an unprocessed collection is that you have to open every box because no one has done so before.

Things are getting a bit clearer now. I am contemplating organizing my findings around a series of key documents in the revision process. Perhaps the following:

  • The early study of photocopying practice and the report of the Joint Committee in 1961
  • The Joint Committee’s acceptance of Fisher’s strategy.
  • Rutherford Roger’s testimony before the House Subcommittee in 1965.
  • The joint ALA/ARL proposed amendment to S597 in 1969
  • Joint ALA/ARL proposed amendment to §108 (d) in S1361 and Philip Brown and Stephen McCarthy’s testimony on 7/31/73.
  • The ARL response to §108 (g) (2) in 1974.

At each case I will show how the association developed these documents and the positions they represented and what actions flowed from these positions.

You come across the most wonderful things while doing archival research. It is fun to see that Robert Bork, as Solicitor General, was involved with the government’s case in Williams & Wilkins, to see letters form Fred Kilgour (founder of OCLC) agreeing to talk to the ARL librarians about library networks in the early 1970’s, and to see letters signed by Robert Maxwell. On a more post-modern self referential level, I have come across files concerning the funding for the building in which I am now doing my research, the letter in which L. Quincy Mumford invited the ARL to deposit its papers at the Library of Congress, and the minutes of the ARL Board’s decision not to publish Frank McGowan’s dissertation on the history of the ARL from 1932 to 1962, a dissertation that I read before coming here.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Rollins Colloquy

I live in the vain hope that someone may be paying enough attention to this blog to notice the large gap between my March 7th and March 31st posts. My aim is to post two or three times a week (ha!) So what happened?

Well a number of things. Spring break was crazy busy with the librarians' workshop on March 12th when we worked on the Olin Library's strategic directions, then the 13th was spent at St. Leo University with Brent Short , Director of the Library, who I am working with as part of the ACRL College Library Directors Mentor Program, and then I also participated in an online SOLINET workshop on Web 2.0: Social Software Applications for Libraries. More on that later.

Then a couple of weeks after Spring break, Les Lloyd, George Herbst and I went to Tacoma, WA for a NITLE workshop on Learning Spaces and Technology. More on that later as well.

But what really had my attention was the Rollins College Colloquy. I was asked to facilitate a panel with Duane Ackerman, Sally Ride and Anna Deavere Smith and the follow up Q&A. You can imagine this was a little nerve wracking. But it seemed to go off quite well because these three people are consummate professionals with some fascinating experiences and plenty of well articulated thoughts about the future of liberal education in the 21st century. Some of the things that came from them and from other panelists and speakers that most struck me include:

  • American parochialism in terms of language, geography, and cultural literacy is unacceptable.
  • In an age of fluid cultural production and ubiquitous access to (mis)information, some body of shared knowledge, a core curriculum, is necessary.
  • The ability of people to critically engage with information, data, and the media, to find, evaluate, and use information in their own work is only going to become more important in an age of disintermediation, and information overload, and technology is not going to solve this problem. Our students need to learn the skills of critical thinking and information literacy.
  • At least two speakers mentioned the importance of memorization. Particularly in an age that actively works to enable us to stop using our memories.
  • Predictably, C.P. Snow's Two Cultures got a good workout.
  • Many of the faculty were very concerned with how to create the conditions in which our students can take risks and learn from failure.

ACRL 3 Usability testing

Perhaps the most interesting session was on usability testing with Nora Dimmock from the University of Rochester. They have a usability program that works with programmers and designers on digital projects. The usability group deals with 5-6 projects each year; new homegrown digital products, evaluating and suggesting changes to vendor products, and revising existing systems. The workshop went through a number of usability techniques including card sorting in which you give 21 users cards with one element from your website in each card (for instance a library website might have journals, books, articles, hours, staff, news, events, ask-a-librarian, departments, and policies) and ask the user to group them in a way that makes sense to them. Also the reverse, when you put flip charts on the wall with headings and ask users to put postit notes with when they would expect to find under each heading on your website for instance. Both these tests reveal the users’ mental model of the service. Heuristics, when you ask expert users, like librarians, to critique a digital product based on specific criteria. This latter one has the added advantage of enabling librarians to have input into web design etc. something that is politically useful since librarians have very strong, but usually conflicting, ideas about website design and like to be consulted. Finally, she took us through assessment, when you have a user complete 5-6 tasks on a website (e.g. "Find a book on fish farming.”) and see where they click and how long it takes them. This can be combined with the Talking Out Loud Protocol in which the subject articulates their thinking while they are working on the task.

Rochester used to then write copious reports on the results of the tests. Now they just record them using Morae and send the file to the designers and programmers.

Oh, one final point. They often save expensive programming and designer time by creating paper mock-ups of the website and having users work through those. This means that big problems can be fixed before it ever gets to the programming stage.

OK, I lied: one more point. In a few years Rochester may not even have a stand alone website. They are considering moving to widgets to be inserted in appropriate places, often at the users discretion, through the users’ personal “infosphere.”