Monday, June 25, 2007

ALA 5 -- Lincoln, Reference, Learning Commons, and Ambassadors

Monday, and we are in the home stretch. this seems to have been a long conference and I am ready to be home. I enjoy Washington as a city, but four days of ALA is quite enough!

About Washington. I try to run every day when I am at a conference. It helps make up for the inevitable high-fat, low-fibre eating out or being fed conference diet. This morning I ran with Sue and we visited the Lincoln Memorial and reading the Gettysburg address gave me goose bumps all over again. The short declarative statements, the memorable phrases ("Four score and seven years ago,""last full measure of devotion," and "a new birth of freedom") the patterns of three ("dedicate ... consecrate ... hallow." "Little note... long remember ... never forget." And of course, "of the people, for the people, by the people." It is the greatest piece of American rhetoric ever written.

The two sessions today were the best I have participated in at this conference. The first considered the question, "Is Print Reference Dead?" As in the print reference collection. The general conclusion was that if it is not dead, it is dying and we need to move on to electronic reference. Not just librarians but also publishers. Librarians continue to buy reference works, publishers continue to publish them, it is just library users (particularly students) who are not using them. Segregating them in the Reference Collection and in the OPAC (where they tend to not even come with the same summaries, and table of contents info that many of our other books come with) makes them almost invisible to users. Publishers need to develop open standards of cross platform searching for their online reference tools (like journal publishers have done with OpenURL for instance.) Librarians need to bite the bullet, shift most print reference books to the circulating collection, spend the money on online reference, and find ways to link reference works together and with the rest of their offerings (see products like Reference Universe) and find solutions to archival, permanent access, and preservation issues (like Portico.) Finally, we need to consider the future of the reference collection as just one part of the wider discussion of the future of reference service.

The second one concerned Learning Commons. I had to leave early, but I am really interested in this idea of moving beyond the library as "box of books" into a shared space emphasizing learning, where all the various services and functions that support the educational mission of the college -- information technology, the library, tutoring services, the writing center, etc. -- all come together in one space to provide coordinated services and also collaborative and contemplative spaces, facilities, and technologies for student learning.

Now I am staffing the ALA Ambassadors' Desk here to help new ALA attendees with questions and a friendly face. Luckily the desk also has a chair and power outlet so I can get this blog written over the wireless connection the Conference provides.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

ALA 4 -- Directors, and Govt. Relations,

Today was the ACRL College Library Directors' Discussion Group, one of my favorite sessions at ALA. It is great to talk with other directors who are struggling with many of the same issues we are. Topics that came up included: Technical Services for the 21st Century, staffing (inspiring, hiring, retaining, new skills needed), the future of Reference, learning commons, and space. Unfortunately, I had to leave early because the ACRL Government Relations Committee met that same afternoon.

The Legislative Advocates program seems to have got off to a good start, with 40 + Advocates, but we agreed we needed more -- preferably one in each Congressional district. The Judiciary Committees in the House and Senate (that oversee and develop legislation in the area of intellectual property) have been otherwise occupied so there have not been too many developments in that area,but take a look at the latest ACRL legislative Agenda for details.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

ALA 3 -- federated searching, RFID, and supervision

I took in the new developments at Webfeat over breakfast. They are building on their core of federated searching to add remote access and ERMS. As you know we have gone with Serial Solutions for our initial foray into federated searching, but Webfeat remains the market leader in this area and it is interesting to see what they are doing. I am getting a real sense of convergence at this ALA. In the exhibits I visited the OCLC booth because I am interested in Worldcat Local and the beta test at the University of Washington. OCLC is thinking about this as a single interface that sits on top of your Integrated Library System (ILS, in our case think Sirsi) and it can do the same for multiple databases. I also took a look at AquaBrowser because so many people are talking about it. It is a web based search interface that sits on top of your ILS and can also do the same for multiple databases. See a pattern here.?

Bibliographic and inventory control is being decoupled from discovery and access. The former will remain with traditional ILS vendors (for now, though look for more generic database vendors to step up in this area and also for open source solutions to appear) and the latter will be dealt with by these new single interface solutions. So our job in the library becomes both simpler and more complex. Simpler because we no longer have to compromise between control and discovery in selecting just one integrated library system, and more complicated, because -- well -- we can no longer rely on just one integrated library system.

Then I caught a session on recent developments (standards, security, minturization, etc.) in RFID for libraries. This session was packed which surprised me, but this is one of those issues that libraries are very concerned about and, according to some people, are very actively implementing. RFID helps with logistics -- check in, check out, stack maintenance, and inventory control. A library really gains from economies of scale so it makes lots of sense for large consortia or systems with high circulation and many locations. It doesn't make much sense for low volume, high-touch operations like Rollins College. The start up costs are too high. I would contend that we have to move in an almost diametrically opposite direction. We need to find ways to squeeze costs out of our print operations so that we can use those resources on digital resources.

After that it was a session designed for new Technical Services supervisors. Not that I am one, but we now have one, Darla Moore, and I wanted to see if I could pick up any tips that might help her. I didn't, but I did have an idea I want to pursue when I get home. Or at least float it by the managers in the Olin Library and see what they think of it. I am wondering if a monthly supervisors' discussion group might be helpful. Over coffee we could discuss a particular issue a manager is facing in our library and solutions we might have. It would have to be very open, non-evaluative, and strictly confidential, but it might help us overcome what I am coming to think of as our "management deficit" and enable people to concentrate on the skills of management and learn from each other.

Finally it was dinner at Kanlaya Thai Cuisine with friends. John Pollitz has become Director of Libraries at UW Eau Claire and shamelessly copied my idea for a blog. Steve Ostrem has cut off his pony tail (the sixties are over!) Sue O'Dell continues to prosper at Bowdoin. It was good to see them all.

Friday, June 22, 2007

ALA 2 -- Advocacy

I spent all to day in the Advocacy Institute. The morning was a bit of a bust, but in the afternoon Stephanie Vance of Advocacy Associates, a lawyer and an ex Hill staffer led a lively and very practical workshop on lobbying Congress. I have always wondered whether I should visit, call, write or e-mail a Representative or Senator. Calling is for urgent issues, visits can really show you care, but what about e-mail versus a letter? I always thought that a letter showed more effort and therefore concern. But it turns out that since the anthrax scare of 2001 all mail to the Capitol is first sent to New Jersey where it is irradiated. This not only delays the mail, it also turns each sheet of paper brown, brittle, and leaves it with a strange smell. Vance therefore suggests e-mail or fax.

However, the particular mode of correspondence matters less than the content of your message: be specific, keep it short, and personalize it.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

ALA -- Corcoran

As with ACRL I am going to blog the 2007 ALA Annual Conference in Washington DC. I arrived today and just registered. So, with nothing substantive to write, you will have to excuse the following dyspeptic outburst!

Why is it that conference organizers always give you so much stuff? This conference is a little better than ACRL. At that one they tried to give me a great big, elaborate messenger bag with a vendor's name plastered all over it. Here they just attempted to foist a cheap nylon tote bag with the Conference logo on it on me. Honestly, why would I want either? Do they think I didn't bring a bag with me? Do they imagine I like to be instantly recognizable as a tote bag wearing, overloaded tourist/librarian? Why are they wasting my money on such things? Needless to say, I gave the bag back to the nice, but mystified, lady behind the registration counter.

Inside the bag was the obligatory badge holder. These have become more elaborate over the years. We can no longer have a simple plastic sleeve that fits the badge and no more with a choice of a simple clip or thin cord to either attach it to our clothes or hang it round our neck. Oh no, we have to have a great big sleeve, twice as big as the badge, connected to a thick blue ribbon so that I am forced to hang it round my neck. "Hang" being the operative verb. This thing is literally substantial enough to hang oneself with! Why so robust? Because lord knows we cannot miss another advertising opportunity; a vendor's name is emblazoned multiple times on the cord. Now I know where all our library subscription money goes.

The Corcoran Gallery is open late on Thursdays, so I took the opportunity to go and see their exhibition, "Modernism: Designing a New World 1914-1939" Brilliant.

Keep it simple.

The librarians got their first group look at the link resolver on Wednesday. Bill Svitavsky took us through a basic run through of how it works (take a look at any of our databases if you want to test drive it yourself. Look for the "find fulltext?" button.) We then discussed the format of various pages and wording choices etc.
Dorothy Mays did a great job of keeping us on track with keeping it simple and focused on what the technology is supposed to do: enable a user find fulltext of an article they are interested in. All library software packages come with lots of bells and whistles and the temptation is to make use of all of these options. As librarians we can all think of situations in which a particular feature may be useful for our own work with users or for one sophisticated user. The trouble is that as you add those features the screen fills up, obscures the main purpose of the page for most users, and confuses more people than it helps.

I was reminded of this when I read James Surowiecki's piece called "Feature Presentation" on the Financial Page of the May 28, 2007 issue of the New Yorker. Surowiecki makes the point that, "although consumers find overloaded gadgets unmanageable, they also find them attractive. It turns out that when we look at a new product in a store we tend to think that the more features there are, the better. It's only when we get the product home and try to use it that we realize the virtues of simplicity." (p.28)

This is another view of Christiansen's "disruptive technologies" argument. Successful corporations design products and product enhancements to meet the needs -- or requests -- of leading established consumers with whom they have a relationship. Those consumers ask for bells and whistles to enhance their sophisticated use of the product. This adds complexity and cost and thus leads to a disruptive market entrant creating a simpler, cheaper, paradigm shifting product that attracts users frustrated by the cost or complexity of the market leader. Peter Murray maintains a good blog about this

In our implementation of the link resolver we are determined to resist this and stay focussed on the needs of the majority of our users to just find the article. Our deadline is July 25th, when the Crummer School "begins" its ceaseless round of programs again. So you can judge whether we have succeeded then.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Our Strategic Plan

Earlier in the spring I told you that the library had written its mission statement. At a series of meetings in the Spring semester we developed a series of "Strategic Directions." The Library Advisory Council and the Provost had an opportunity to comment. Here they are:
  1. In partnership with the faculty and through the curriculum, educate all Rollins students – in groups and individually -- in the skills of critical thinking, research, and evaluation of information.
  2. Improve our users’ experience of the library; with exceptionally good, consistent, friendly, and professionally competent customer service to users, both online and in person.
  3. Develop, organize, and provide easy access to the best possible information resources in the most appropriate formats for the Rollins community.
  4. Find new and more effective ways to provide services and information resources beyond the library building so that the user need not come to the library, but the library services and resources are where the user needs us to be.
  5. Develop the Olin Library as a welcoming and well organized space, in the building and online, that fosters the love of learning through services, programming, and exhibits.
  6. Effectively communicate with and learn from the Rollins community and consistently use quantitative and qualitative evidence in decision making and development.
  7. Support professional development and engagement aimed at continually improving all library personnel ability to implement this plan and improve library operations.

These are all priorities for us, but they are also in priority order. Maybe in years past collections(3) would have been number one, but that now comes below our educational (1) and user (2) services. The others, particularly six and seven are aimed at helping us achieve those top priorities.

All of these are situation and time specific. We decided on these for the Olin Library, at Rollins College, in 2007 (and hopefully for a few years hence.) We fully expect to have review them and change them as conditions change.

We are now actively engaged in the next level down of our strategic plan: determining the projects, action plans, and responsibilities that actually take us over the next year (or two) in the direction we think we need to go. After that we will incorporate those items into individual people's annual goals and begin measuring progress.

In the meantime, I would love to hear your comments on these strategic directions. Are we on the right track? Wat have we missed? What is not clear?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

More from the Cornell Fine Arts Museum

Luanne McKinnon, Director of the Cornell Fine Arts Museum, has created another really interesting series of exhibits that if you are near Winter Park are worth taking a look at this summer.

"Diverse Africa" continues from the Spring with some striking examples of African sculpture. "Winslow Homer: Joys of the Day" is a wonderful exhibit of
engravings of Homer's work that were originally published in various magazines (library trivia: libraries lucky enough to have collections of original printed 19th century magazines like Harper's Weekly or Appleton's Magazine have to be very careful to make sure that these engraving are not razored out by nefarious visitors.) The sense of movement Homer was able to achieve in prints like (don't quote me on the title) "The Dance at the Music Academy" is astonishing. "15th - 20th Century European and American Painting" is perhaps my favorite because I was struck by the number of early British modernists represented. These are not the greatest art from the period (the British visual arts, like composers, are rarely the very best or most avant garde in any period, why is that?) but I enjoy them as examples of the familiar.

The Cornell really is an incredible resource for us to have on campus and we are luck to have Luanne to show it at its best.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Blogs at Rollins College

In an idle moment I was wondering what other blogs exist at Rollins. Here is a list, feel free to add any blog to this list that is created or maintained by anyone at Rollins, or is about Rollins.

These seem to reveal some interesting aspects of blogging. First, there are not all that many. A school of 3,200 FTE students and only fifteen blogs (including yours truly.) Some are more current and more active than others, some are clearly moribund, but they stick around for a long time. Only two seem to be course-related, it is clear that a number of teachers are discussing and using blogs in teaching, but not necessarily creating them (unless they are keeping them below the radar of the search engines, which is perfectly possible.) Some are corporate and institutional in nature, others are very personal. Some are well designed, visually interesting, carefully written, others are a mess. Finally, some are concerned with communication about specific time limited events others have no obvious limit.

These are in the order I found them. So thank Google. (a short lived experiment in communication by the 4C's Committee?)
FoxBlogs (Ken Posner's test, only a test ...)
Welcome to the Wonders Blog (certainly the most visually stunning blog at Rollins.)
Rollins College Alumni Association (is this official?)
IMFourPlay (David Charles being wacky again, as only a Kiwi can.)
Economics Broadly Writ (Ben Balak and Charlie Rock are contributor to this course related blog.)
R-Journals (do these count?)
I.T. Lab Assistant Report (This is so cool! IT keeps a blog of problems in the lab, but how do I add to it?)
Morocco for the Professors (Sounds like a great trip.)
Annie Russell Theatre (As they say, Blog with Annie.)
No Hassles (the Olin Library's internal blog aimed at improving service.)
Moody Meow (a recently graduated student?)
Activism 101 (another course related blog.)
Kenneth J. Posner (Ken's personal blog.)
Rollins China Journey (Another great trip. Wenxian told me about this blog)

So that's it for now, do you know any others I can add to the list?

Friday, June 08, 2007

Rollins Undergraduate Research Journal

You may have seen the link to the RURJ on the library's home page or elsewhere on campus. Here is a bit of background.

Fay Pappas, a remarkably energetic student at Rollins, didn't think that there was enough scholarly research going on at Rollins, at least amongst the students, and what there was didn'tget enough airtime. She thought about starting a research journal for students. She kept on talking about this idea with friends. Some said it would never take off, but others encouraged her. She got involved in Brushing, the long-standing student literary journal at Rollins, met Clay Ferrara, got him interested in the research journal idea, and became the Brushing Editor. Even this was not enough work for her and she still kept on thinking about the research journal. She met with President Duncan who found a little cash to help her get it going. She gathered a group of interested students and looked around for faculty sponsors. Ben Balak from Economics was interested and I offered to help with the journal side of things. Fay and Clay got excited about the idea of an online journal, tussled with the issues of copyright and with peer review, website design, and the submission process. They now have it up and running. It is really quite impressive.

I am proud that the library was able to help with the journal management issues, with copyright, and by archiving the articles. This is one of the things academic libraries should be doing these days. We should be a locus of expertise on systems of scholarly communication, intellectual property, and institutional repositories for digital objects.

The RURJ is a great example of student entrepreneurship, scholarship, and engagement at Rollins and one of the reasons I thoroughly enjoy working here.

Libraries make you fat.

I have written about link resolvers before. In case you are not au courant with the latest library jargon a link resolver is software that makes a link between an article citation in one database and the fulltext of the article in another. It helps libraries maximize our investment in online information. How many times have you found a reference to an article and been frustrated to find that the database you are searching does not have the fulltext available? Perhaps you have given up, perhaps you have asked a librarian for help, perhaps you have placed an interlibrary loan request and been chagrined to find that the article was available all along -- just not where you were looking. Well no more, if we have it in fulltext, you will find it. Even better, if we don't have it in fulltext the software will guide you to search our holdings of printed journals to find a copy and if we do not own a copy will guide you to interlibrary loan (more on that in a later post I hope.) Link resolvers do more than that, but that is enough for now.

Olin Library just signed a licence with a company called Serials Solutions to use their link resolver and Bill Svitavsky is feverishly working on customizing the software as I write. In another example of the synergies possible when information, and particularly "metadata" (information about information) becomes digital we licensed their link resolver as part of a suite including monthly updates of MARC records of the online periodicals we have access to, which will be loaded to our catalog thus making that database a much more attractive option when you are trying to find out what we have access to or own. The suite also includes a federated searching software that will enable you to search more that one database at one time; helping to overcome the eternal question of all library users, "where do I start?" Finally the suite includes an Electronic Resource Asset Management System or ERAMS. This is a piece of backroom software that will enable us to better manage all this digital information we have licenced. All of this is based on the fact that Serials Solution has a knowledge base of the databases and the fulltext journals the Olin Library has licensed. This knowledge base underpins each one of these softwares.

I have been trying to come up with a metaphor to describe what is going on here. Time was, if you wanted to use a library, you entered the building, searched the card catalog, consulted printed periodical indexes, and than walked from floor to floor collecting the books and journal articles you needed. Along came networked computers, the Internet and the web. You entered the library website, consulted the online catalog and the periodical databases and moved from database to database collecting and printing the items you needed. With a link resolver, federated searching, and an enhanced online catalog you still enter the library website, but you no longer need to move from database to database. The next step is to put library resources where you are -- in Blackboard, Google, departmental websites, Second Life, etc. so that you do not even need to take that first step.

And people wonder why there is an obesity crisis in America. It is the librarians!