Wednesday, May 30, 2007

I was reading Harper's Magazine (June 2007) in the airport on my way back from Pittsburgh. As I write, it is only available online to their subscribers and our subscription at Rollins only makes the May 2007 issue available. If you have read the magazine then I am sure you know about Harper's Index, a mind bending list of weird stats, ratios, and numbers about life that generally amaze and appal. (e.g. "Number of the sixteen states of the South where more than 25 percent of adults are clinically obese: 12. Number of all other states where this is true: 5." Yikes!)

The ones that caught my librarian's eye this month were the following:

  • Minimum number of different books sold in the U.S. last year, as tracked by Nielsen BookScan: 1,446,000
  • Number of these that sold fewer than 99 copies: 1,123,000
  • Number that sold more than 100,000: 483.

I am not sure you can define 99, as published,as in "make generally known" and over 100,000 is a definite bestseller; that leaves 322,517 in the middle. Olin library buys about 1.25% of those. It is a tough task the librarians and faculty have to do: which one book out of eighty belongs in the collection now and for decades to come?

More importantly, about 1,000,000 books get written, but hardly read. Yet another factoid that lead me to the conclusion that we are writing more books, but reading fewer, which is another way of saying we are more interested in talking than listening. (Kinda like the bloggers amongst us.) A liberal education should attempt to rectify this situation.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Academic Library Success

This is a really interesting post from Steven Bell on ACRLog. So interesting that I intend sending it to everyone in our library to help inform our strategic planning process.

Steven's formula is "Greater Awareness + Usable Websites + Flawless Authentication = Better Results."

Here at Olin, we have made great strides with authentication, and some progress in terms of greater awareness, but need to do better on both of those and we still have a long way to go with a usable website.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

What is Mapstats?

If you look at the bottom on the right hand column you will see a link to Mapstats. This is a free way of keeping stats on the (depressingly low) readership of this, or any, blog. The cool think about this (apart from it being free) is that it also maps the usage so I can see where usage is coming from and which specific post is being read. As a visual person anyway, I am increasingly interested in the various spatial ways we can display data, interactively and in real time.

You can see my readers are all in the US, not even my mother reads it!

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

NITLE Liaisons' Summit

I am just finishing the NITLE (National Institute of Technology in Liberal Education, pronounced "nightly") Summit. My first since becoming NITLE Liaison at Rollins. Rollins is the first NITLE school I have worked at so this is also my introduction to this group of liberal arts colleges. NITLE is a child of the Mellon Foundation and is run out of Ithaka. You can learn more than you ever wanted to know at those three websites.

I have a few take homes from this summit:

  1. We still need to be involved in NITLE as it transitions from "2.o" (a fixed fee with effectively unlimited opportunities for participation) to "3.0" (a low membership fee and a pay as you go model of participation.)
  2. We need to make greater use of NITLE professional development opportunities particularly in relationship to curricula renewal/reform at Rollins and our in involvement in general needs to be more more planned and strategic. As liaison I need to plan who I will invite to participate and try and pair interested faculty members with IT staff and librarians so that participation is more productive when participants get back to campus.
  3. We have a lot more to do at the interface between IT and the Library in supporting the use of technology in teaching and learning if we are to match the activities at our peer and aspirational institutions.

Information Literacy

In a recent post on the AHA Blog Peter Townsend reviews Google Book Search and finds it wanting. His entry has been discussed elsewhere so I will not enter the fray. But I do want to say that his original post and the associated comments are a perfect example of an information literate discussion. Of course, this is to be expected from the Assistant Director of the American Historical Association and readers of the AHA Blog.

Townsend's original post was not perfect, he misunderstood a particular aspect of US copyright law concerning US govt. publications and the public domain and did not know all there was to know about serial cataloging rules (I can only sympathize with him!) But both of those issues were quickly dealt with in the comments and did not affect his basic argument.

I want students to graduate from Rollins with the kind of information literacy competencies exhibited by everyone involved in this discussion -- the ability to be able evaluate information resources and compare and relate them to similar resources, to be able to understand information in context, to appreciate the long term implications of aspects and context of information resources, and to be able to discuss these in a civilized manner. They are going to need them if they are to thrive in the information, and misinformation, rich world that we live in and become more than just consumers of ill digested corporate pap.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

An age of irrationality

I rarely read the Financial Times, but one of the peculiar things about living in Winter Park is that one finds papers like the FT abandoned on tables in my favorite coffee shop -- Palmano's. This says something I am not prepared to explore here about the particular mixture of acquisitive luxury that seems to be a feature of life in Winter Park.

Still I had left the Times at home, so I read the FT while enjoying my delicious cappuccino. This quote from an interview with Francois-Henri Pinault (owner of YSL, Gucci, et al.) caught my eye. "We are entering what I think is an age of irrationality." OK, I thought, this is going to be about fundamentalists, creationism, Al Qaeda, a retreat from science and the Enlightenment, or perhaps a comment upon a Presidential Debate in which someone can ask whether or not the candidates "believe" in evolution and be taken seriously! I expected Pinault to be against irrationality.

But I was wrong. Pinault continued, "and a return to luxury. We are at the beginning of a social trend, change in values that could go on for years -- the age of rationalisation, after all, lasted for more than a century. The question we all have to resolve is how big can these brands grow?"

So the previous century was the age of rationalization and is now over. We can now all return to the Gilded Age, or perhaps the Ancien Regime. How awful.

As someone who works in higher education, and libraries in particular, I am a big fan of reason.