Monday, September 24, 2007

A Strategy for Academic Libraries in the First Quarter of the 21st Century

It is rare that I enthuse about the professional literature of librarianship, except for Ranganathan. However, there is an article in the September issue of C&RL that articulates pretty much exactly what I have been thinking about, writing in this blog, and discussing with the librarians and faculty at Rollins. David W. Lewis is the Dean of the University Library at IUPUI and he has outlined an ambitious "strategy for academic libraries in the digital age or at least in its early stages." (p419)

The core of the article are five elements that Lewis contends will maintain "the library as a vibrant enterprise worthy of support from our campuses." (p.420) I will summarize them here, but I hope you go and find the article (the link above will only work for ACRL members, and our online version has not caught up with September yet -- so much for Open Access! However, it is downstairs in the paper periodicals.) It is worth reading.

  1. "Complete the migration from print to electronic collections."
  2. "Retire legacy print collections."
  3. In partnership with other campus units, "redevelop the library as the primary informal learning space on the campus."
  4. Embed library and information tools in teaching, learning, and research.
  5. Refocus collections from "purchasing materials to curating content."
Obviously, how a research university library system like the one that serves IUPUI pursues this strategy will be different than how a library like Olin at Rollins College does so. For instance , "curating content" will be a far more complex proposition at, and be more central to the mission of, IUPUI than Rollins. On the other hand, Rollins has the ability to move more quickly and in a more focused way to migrate from print to digital and to partner with others on campus. I would contend that we have already begun to make substantial progress on (1), a little progress on (2) and (5), and we are at least talking about (3) and (4.) But we have a long way to go. "We" being both the library personnel and the faculty of the College, the stakeholder groups that are most anxious about this transformation. If there is one thing I would highlight for the library personnel at Rollins to think about it is this,

"Library staff will need to recognize that they are unlikely to be doing, ten or even five years hence, the same things they are doing now." (p.430)

By "staff" I think Lewis means all library personnel. If we do truly recognize this, then we have to begin now planning for what we will, and will not, be doing five years hence and preparing ourselves for that future.

Late addition: I sent a copy of this to David Lewis. Here is part of his response, "thanks for the good words. By the way open access does work. There is a final draft version of the paper at:" My rather flip comments above was more a criticism of ACRL than of OA in general. ACRL supports open access in principle, but then doesn't practice it with its own journal. IDeA, the IUPUI Digital Archive, is a good example of the content curating that Lewis advocates.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Ranganathan's Five laws

I wrote this piece for the library newsletter, OlinInfo. Since we don't print too many copies of OlinInfo I thought it might get a few more readers if I published it here. As far as I am concerned, the more people who know about Ranganathan the better.

Books that made a difference: S. R. Ranganathan’s “The Five Laws of Library Science.”

How can a book with such a boring title have changed my life?

To answer this question we have to go back to a small Christian hostel called Hephzibah House in New York City in the summer of 1989. (Why Hephzibah? Well, that is another book, specifically Isaiah 62:4.) Now, I am no Christian but if you are looking for a cheap bed in NYC this place can’t be beat. It is still there. Anyway, there I was in NYC thinking about my future. I was managing bookstores and going nowhere in Rochester, NY while my wife Bethany had found her bliss (Oops! Another book, see Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth) as a graduate student of modernist poetry. I had a copy of What Color is Your Parachute a book that had changed many peoples’ lives but it didn’t much help me. But it was there that I decided to become a librarian.
One of the assignments in my first course in Library School required that I read one of the classics of librarianship. Being an ornery foreigner, I didn’t want to read one of the predictable Anglo librarians – Melvil Dewey, Charles Ammi Cutter, Verner Clapp, Michael Buckland, etc. Instead I decided to hunt down an Indian mathematician and father of Indian librarianship who was just mentioned briefly in my textbook -- Shiyali Ramamrita Ranganathan and his book The Five laws of Library Science.
My professor encouraged me, relieved not to have to read another summary of Dewey’s Decimal Classification and Relativ Index. So I hunted down a 1931 edition published in India in English owned by the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library. A small book printed on cheap paper and bound in blue cloth, it felt like a visitor from the past in my hands. Opening it I found the seal of the publisher, the Madras Library Association, with their wonderful motto, “To Be Literate is to Possess the Cow of Plenty.”
The book is a strange mixture of a philosophy of librarianship and a manual of library operations, liberally sprinkled with anecdotes about libraries. The core of the book consists of Ranganathan’s five laws:

1. Books are for use.
2. Every reader his or her book.
3. Every book its reader.
4. Save the time of the reader.
5. The library is a growing organism.

I knew as I read them that I had found my bliss. Each one is so simple and yet perfectly encapsulates an aspect of my chosen career, my vocation. Nowadays we may talk of information resources instead of books, just one information format amongst many that librarians deal with, but the laws still ring true. The first law boldly states that books are for use. Not to be adored as objects, not to be preserved, untouched, but for use now and into the future. The second and third laws stress that use is not amorphous but particular. Every reader is in pursuit of a particular book and each book satisfies a particular need. The fourth is one librarians break constantly by placing barriers between the reader and the information they seek and we must constantly work to remove those barriers and save the time of the reader. Finally, we must remember that a library is not, as Nicholson Baker in Double Fold might have thought, a museum or a closed archive. It is a growing organism with information added and taken away constantly and with new services designed to meet the new needs of new users. Libraries are a product of the societies that nourish or neglect them and as those societies change so does the library.

We make progress everyday ...

This just came over the transom. I can't take any credit, Dining Services decided to do this on their own, based on increased sales and an investigation of library traffic. Next step 8 a.m. ....

Effective Monday, September 24

Monday - Thursday 10 AM - 10 PM
Friday - Saturday CLOSED
Sunday - 5 PM - 10 PM

Friday, September 14, 2007

Access to Federally Funded Research

For the last few years the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has been following a policy of asking researchers to voluntarily add research articles that are published based on NIH funded research to the PubMed database. The voluntary part has resulted in just 5% of such articles being added, so they are now trying to make it mandatory. This is part of the open access movement and just one of many government actions worldwide seeking to provide public access to research. See the Wellcome Trust for one example

Some of you may know I am an ACRL Legislative Advocate and so I recently faxed the following to our Florida Senators, Nelson and Martinez.

"As you know, access to health information and health care in general is an issue of great concern to central Floridians. The opening of the medical school at UCF will help enormously in this regard. However, there is something else that you can also do to help Floridians access the latest health and scientific information.
Please support the inclusion of language put forth in the Labor/HHS Appropriations bill directing the National Institutes of health (NIH) to implement a mandatory policy ensuring free, timely access to all research articles stemming from NIH-funded research.
Floridians, and all American citizens, are entitled to open access on the Internet to the peer-reviewed scientific articles resulting from research funded by the U.S. government. Widespread access to the information contained in these articles is an essential, inseparable component of our nation's investment in science. It helps small colleges like Rollins educate the next generation of leaders. It helps research institutions like UCF develop new scientific and medical breakthroughs, and it helps all Floridians have access to the latest research to help them understand and manage their own health.
Over the more than two years since its implementation, the NIH's current voluntary policy has failed to achieve any of the agency's stated goals, attaining a deposit rate of less than 5% by individual researchers. A mandate is required to ensure deposit in NIH¹s online archive of articles describing findings of all research funded by the agency.
The Fiscal Year 2008 Labor/HHS Appropriations Bill reported out of committee contains language directing the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to change its Public Access Policy so that it requires NIH-funded researchers to deposit copies of agency-funded research articles into the National Library of Medicine¹s online archive. Please support that language.
I would appreciate knowing what action you take on this issue. Thank you for your consideration."

For more information you can go to the ALA or the the Alliance for Taxpayer Access. For the other side of the story, take a look at the Partnership for Research Integrity in Research and Medicine (PRISM.)

On a side note, you gotta love these names, "taxpayer access" "research integrity." Marketing the message is as important in influencing the governmental process as the quality of the public policy. Welcome to Washington.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Our new furniture is here!

Over the last few months the new furniture we ordered has come to the Olin library. The rocking chairs are a real hit on the loggia (more are coming and should be here for the perfect porch weather of October.) The new furniture seems to be as big a hit on the inside. I have already seen people pausing by the table of new books located on a gorgeous rug that really warms up the lobby and I have heard good things from people lounging in the comfortable leather chairs that you can see in the background of this pic.

As I have noted before, this is just a test. We want to see what spaces people use and how they use them and then use that information to help make decisions about furniture and space elesewhere in the library. I hope this is just the beginning.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Librarianship as a vocation

I think of librarianship (please note: not library science, librarianship implies more craft than science) as more than just a way to make money and occupy my time. It is a vocation, as in calling.
I saw an interesting example of this a while ago. Someone mentioned that love bugs were the product of a failed genetic experiment at the University of Florida. In a room full of intelligent, engaged people I and the only other librarian in the room immediately glanced at each other. We recognize a possible urban legend when we hear one. Later a quick Google search showed that this was indeed an urban legend, or perhaps "tongue in cheek lore," and I shared that with those involved. I know, very geeky of me, but I hate to spread urban legends.

This element of the vocation of librarianship -- critically appraising information, having the skills to act upon such a critical appraisal, and then communicating more accurate information to others -- should be part of a good liberal education. I think every Rollins' student should be able to critically engage with information in this way, hopefully in far more serious situations (work, politics, scholarship, consumption, etc.) than a coffee break discussion of love bugs.