Archive for the 'librarians' category

Re-post: What types of expertise do librarians have?

Feb 28 2014 Published by under librarians

There's a discussion of librarian expertise on FriendFeed right now in the LSW room. It prompted me to look for this post and when I realized how long ago it was I decided to repost here. Gosh, I used to have more time for posting!

In trying to define exploratory search for a current project, I've been confronted with a few different types of expertise. Marchionini (1995) describes 3 types:

  1. domain
  2. systems (how to actually use the search interface)
  3. information seeking (more on the structure of information and how to construct searches, etc.)

Apparently domain experts are more likely to go for higher recall because they will be able to browse the results more efficiently (a slightly different explanation from what they themselves report, see my summary of the RIN paper). Librarians are more likely to do analytic searches with more precise concept mapping.

Anyway, I ran across Collins' (2004) description of "interactional expertise". He talks about a sort of middle ground between tacit and explicit knowledge where you can communicate in the language of the domain, but can't practice the activity. (See, I've always thought of this as the stuff that comes out of the back of an intact male bovine creature, which I'm actually fairly decent at).

Basically he says that through linguistic socialization while immersed in the community we pick up tacit knowledge but not the practical skill to "pass as a fully competent member of the form of life once we move beyond language" (p. 127)

Collins goes on to talk about how we can know the differences: contributory knowledge lets you be let loose in the lab and hold your own, where interactional knowledge lets you interact with practitioners by understanding their terminology and getting some of their references. He states that this changes the interview to a conversation when the participant understands that you are able to convey what they are doing.

His cases primarily center on what sociologists of science or knowledge do, but this does have some explanatory power for what librarians do. I've been asked, "do you really have to have a science degree to do what you do?" The answer, of course, is no... but there is some common ground there and the negotiation of the reference question is very much aided by having a bit of domain knowledge. It could be that this is overcome by non-science trained folks through this linguistic socialization. In fact, science folks are all lay people outside of their particular area so all librarians are faced with this.

How can this expertise be built besides immersion (which will be time consuming and also requires the cooperation of the scientist participants)? Reading, observing... hmm.

Also, does this add anything to other descriptions of this phenomenon provided by Clark & Brennan (1993) and others discussing grounding in communication? (well I suppose grounding is an active, interactive process while expertise is a state so... )

Update: actually, this is probably more important when we're judging relevance for our customers when we are acting as search intermediaries... hm..

Clarke, H. H., & Brennan, S. E. (1993). Grounding in communication. In R. M. Baecker (Ed.), Readings in groupware and computer-supported cooperative work: Assisting human-human collaboration (pp. 222-233). San Mateo, CA: Morgan Kaufmann Publishers.
Collins, H. (2004). Interactional expertise as a third kind of knowledge. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 3, 125-143.
Marchionini, G. (1995). Information seeking in electronic environments. Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press.

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SLA Maryland’s Job Search Workshop III

Nov 12 2011 Published by under librarians

I spoke at this workshop last Saturday in Gaithersburg at the Universities at Shady Grove. This full-day event drew 60 attendees, so you see how the environment is right now.  I only stayed for our panel because the remainder of the day was speakers on resumes, cover letters, and the interview.

At first I was a bit surprised to be asked to speak, but I did warm to the topic. I spoke on: Identifying Non-Traditional Roles & Skills for Information Professionals. I started by talking about my job, and how it started as uber traditional, but how I’ve been embedding in teams and taking on more analysis tasks as I build my client base. Also, how my employer makes it easy to put me on teams, I just have to charge my time to that other budget.  I then talked about how the job description for my current job didn’t really scream librarian, and was a bit scary. I wasn’t sure what type of analysis I could do. So I reassured the audience that with SLA help on packaging search results and what I already learned about analyzing search results… turns out I was perfectly qualified. I listed some other jobs that librarians do:

  • taxonomist
  • information architect
  • knowledge manager
  • community manager
  • social marketer
  • intelligence analyst (particularly open source)
  • technology trainer
  • database designer (ugh)

I also made the point that I always make, that many of the traditional skills *in addition to organizing information* are still needed and very useful. They should look for jobs that require these skills that we use to connect people to information:

  • ascertaining the real information need – the reference interview
  • searching
  • evaluating resource
  • analyzing results
  • reporting results

How do you sell this to a new employer? Emphasize the functional aspects and make the point about what you can do for them.

Next, Marianne Giltrud spoke about getting a federal job. Lots of good advice there, including to look outside of 1410 in IT and administrative series.

Finally, Naomi House spoke about her service, I need a library job – They put out an e-mail, twitter stream, and facebook site on library jobs. Looks really great for job seekers.

This workshop is very well-run and very useful for information professional job seekers. Highly recommended!

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Print collections in math

Ever heard the library is the mathematician’s laboratory? (cited many places including here, pdf) Mathematicians do use the library and they do use older literature more than some fields. Specialized math librarians often work quite closely with the researchers to develop the collection. Being a specialized math librarian is a dying breed as branch libraries are being closed to save money and math collections are being migrated to big general science libraries. Also in most research collections, there’s a huge push to go electronic only and to move the print collections off site (or to weed them) to provide more space for group work and studying.

So how do you balance the needs of this special group of users with the push from administration?  I actually don’t know*, but there has been a fascinating thread on the mailing list of the Physics-Astronomy-Math division of SLA.

It started with Debra asking if anyone had committed to maintaining a set number of linear feet of math collection. Here are some points pulled from the answers:

  • no way- we’re trying to go online all the way!
  • younger math researchers are actually ok with electronic access, and the things we have off site we’ll scan for them and deliver, so it’s actually quite convenient
  • math needs more monographs than other fields and it’s very common to chain using citations so a big browsing collection is important
  • one institution doesn’t send any math offsite, but this was part of an agreement when the math branch library was closed
  • Nan from Penn State did a study so they could keep 90% of what their mathematicians cited. The first time she did the study she needed to keep 40 years and the second time she needed to keep 45 years of the collection on site. (there’s more to it, I’m looking forward to seeing her article whenever the next issue of Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship comes out.)
  • it’s only pure math that is particular about print – other math areas are not as concerned. There’s a lot of serendipity and a lot of browsing.
  • some departments want to approve what items are sent off or weeded on an item by item basis.
  • current library catalogs are not adequate replacement for browsing full shelves, so that’s one reason to keep the print on site.
  • don’t forget that information needs are cyclical so to set the used in x years too short, you’ll have big problems. Also don’t forget the grad students and outliers.
  • keep early, classic textbooks that have good explanations
  • if the only equipment the mathematicians get is pencil and paper, give them some slack for wanting books!
  • no one reads math on the computer, they might want it online, but then they print to read
  • requesting something from another location or offsite adds a delay and slows the whole process
  • if things really aren’t being used when they are close by, then they won’t be missed off site!
  • some users are fine with electronic access, it really might depend on your users!

I wonder if checkouts are ever a good metric since a lot of this stuff might be used within the library, some photocopies made, and then returned to the shelf. We had a very helpful mathematician who always just looked stuff up standing in the reference section. Consequently, no circulation and no proof of usage!**

These math librarians are great mentors with lots of awesome advice. I highly recommend this list for any librarians in physics, astro, math or cs.

Update: Nan's article is out (open access)
Butkovich,N.J. (2010) How Much Space Does a Library Need? Justifying Collections Space in an Electronic Age. Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship, 62

* Our mathematicians are not into “pure math” – but applied and statistics. They often publish in SIAM, IEEE, and public health publications and do use online tools.

** No, I don’t blame him for us losing our entire print collection… always a sore point.

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Delivering the results of a literature search

My primary job at work is to be the point person for in-depth literature searching. I don’t do all of it, but for science and technology needs I get first dibs and then I share out work that can be better done by another librarian (bio goes to A.C. who has a bio degree) or if I am too busy. In-depth literature searching is typically anywhere from 4-40 hours worth of work, pulling information from external information resources and arranging it so that it’s useful for the end user. Once I do a reference interview and then go back and forth to make sure I understand what’s needed, I do the searching, I analyze the results, and then I deliver the results of the search. This often results in an in-person meeting, but there’s always some text aspect.

I most often deliver my results in a word document. I start by encapsulating what they requested and providing a brief summary of the most salient points. In this summary I also mention if there are promising areas that turned up in the search or if there was a notable lack of information in an area. I then have a clickable list of headings which jump you down to citations that fit each heading. Sometimes there will be a discussion under a heading describing what’s going on in this part of the literature or anything interesting. I deliver the citations with an abstract and sometimes I’ll highlight things in the abstract. Recently, I’ve been including a section all the way at the bottom with search methods and resources used. A couple of times my work has been turned over to an external sponsor who was surprised/impressed that I found so much and has demanded to know how I did it. I track this stuff anyway (the scientist in me) so now I’m adding it more proactively to the report.  My boss is big on branding so I might go back to putting a logo at the top, but I’ve been leaving that off recently.

Other times I’ve added things to a wiki or SharePoint site, I’ve delivered a database of citations, I’ve created a spreadsheet of data, and I’ve delivered a kml file to be used in Google Earth. Sometimes I’ll just deliver the results in an e-mail, it just depends.

MaryEllen Bates talks at conferences about how to best package the results of your search. I highly recommend attending one of these sessions. I’m pretty sure she’s written this up,too, so check it out.

So what’s brought this up now is a ResearchBlogging overview of an article [*] on delivering results using 2.0 technologies.  I can’t cover the article better than Jacqueline does, so I’ll refer you to her blog post. I’ll offer here just some general thoughts.

  • access to the full text of identified articles – I’ve used RefWorks’ openurl output format to allow recipients to locate full text using our open url resolver, I’ve attached particularly relevant articles to the e-mail, I’ve provided direct links… but what happens most often is I’ll get a highlighted report back or a set of item numbers back and I’ll e-mail the pdfs.
  • the authors had problems with e-mails getting lost – I don’t know that that has happened, but sometimes my report won’t be viewed for a couple of weeks, and then I’ll hear back about it
  • they ruled out RefWorks because it required two sets of logins/passwords – hmm, why not RefWorks with RefShare? Why two sets of passwords?
  • SharePoint wikis suck. I would probably use some other type of web part – even a discussion board entry for each article.
  • they really didn’t use the 2.0 aspects of the 2.0 tools – particularly in the case of the wiki. The most valued aspects were access without a lot of logins and then access to the full text without a lot of clicks.

I would be interested in hearing other approaches – particularly using newer tools.

[*] Damani S, & Fulton S (2010). Collaborating and delivering literature search results to clinical teams using web 2.0 tools. Medical reference services quarterly, 29 (3), 207-17 PMID: 20677061

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Librarian Basics: Collection Development

Aug 07 2010 Published by under Basics, librarians

Both Dorothea and I had some basics posts going at one point and I also had a series going on finding information. I hope to resurrect these as I get the chance. Dorothea has resurrected her Jargon category and is re-naming it Librariansplaining (doesn't sound attractive to me, but whatever).

In her most recent post on Controlled Vocabulary she has a comment on collection development. Dorothea's taught a course on the matter, but I've got my own opinions so I thought I might share some of them here. FWIW, my library school doesn't believe in special collection development courses. Instead, we get bits and pieces of it in lots of "information access in x" courses where for me x \( in \)  { science, business, government documents}  but others include social sciences, the law, and humanities. I also had Planning and Evaluating Library Services and Collections (or something like that).

According to the Online Dictionary of Library and Information Science, Collection Development is:

The process of planning and building a useful and balanced collection of library materials over a period of years, based on an ongoing assessment of the information needs of the library's clientele, analysis of usage statistics, and demographic projections, normally constrained by budgetary limitations. Collection development includes the formulation of selection criteria, planning for resource sharing, and replacement of lost and damaged items, as well as routine selection and deselection decisions

So there are strategic and tactical bits here in addition to more philosophical bits. Our values are embedded in this definition. First that the users or the library's clientele are central and second that this is an ongoing process.

Strategic parts of collection development might be more like identifying your mission for your library and identifying your user groups. It also includes coming up with broad policies that layout how you plan to make decisions on allocating funds, the types of things you'll collect, and how you will decide what not to keep. Part of this is making broad statements that you won't buy any print materials if you can help it and you'll move everything you can to electronic format only. It might also mean deciding if you want to set money aside for open access memberships.

Tactical parts are the everyday selections and deselections. Let me talk briefly about deselections first.  I have a post from 2007 on weeding - or removing things from the collection. There have been a few changes since then. Groups of academic libraries have gotten together and decided to keep only one print copy of a journal run amongst them. Also, nearly all academic libraries have really big space shortages so they also now have to make decisions on what to send to off site storage and what to keep in their limited space. You might think that this is no biggie - these materials are still available within 24 hours (on weekdays). The opportunity cost is huge and you lose the ability to browse, the serendipity.

In any case de-selecting or weeding is an important part of collection development. The other half is selecting items to license or purchase or accept for free for the collection. How do we find out about stuff? We get catalogs from vendors, we get alerts or even books on approval from distributors, we see ads in magazines, we get recommendations from the users... Oh, so libraries typically have big book distributors we buy from. There are specialty ones that do, say, Japanese books, and then ones that do mainstream public library books or academic library books.  Libraries get a discount, but the amount varies.

How do we really know what's needed? We talk to users, we see what's assigned in classes, we read reviews, we look at the usage of current items, and we look at what items are requested via interlibrary loan.  If we're really good, we look at who's being hired and their specialties and larger trends in the field to try to collect in advance (by the time it's needed it's way to late to start finding titles). Stuff like that. Ideally, in the public library they'll have a good relationship with the local schools and will know in advance what assignments are coming up - this doesn't happen as often as one would like.

So who does this? In public libraries you might have committees of selectors who are reference librarians or you might have people who only select books (who are then not talking to the people every day but it's got advantages, too). In academic libraries you typically have bibliographers or liaison librarians who have collection development duties for a group of related subject areas.  There's probably some head of these or head of collection management or at least a committee for the more strategic decisions.

So that's what I think you ought to know about that for now, but I'm always willing to add or correct as necessary.

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Where do they get the idea that librarians are anti-2.0?

Jun 23 2010 Published by under librarians, social computing technologies

Yet again someone said to me in a meeting: librarians don't like web 2.0, they always push back against it. Ok, so this clearly doesn't describe all of the librarians I hang out with online or any of the ones I work with. My guess is that there are two things that really spawned this. The whole don't-use-wikipedia thing and the whole controlled vocabulary rules thing.

I've described well-meant but overly simplistic heuristics some educators used to teach about evaluating web sites. Along with those, there's typically and outright ban on Wikipedia. The truth is that there is a lot of good and helpful information on Wikipedia, but no, for most things your information search shouldn't end with an encyclopedia. It's no better to copy off of Wikipedia than it is to copy out of World Book. A lot of librarians use Wikipedia and some are even Wikipedians. But we know that it is not sufficient for many information needs.

On the whole controlled vocabulary thing in some circles, I think you're actually getting some computer scientist buy-in on human indexing (or at least annotation) using a controlled vocabulary. The fact is that you get better information retrieval if there's a good controlled vocabulary and some human intervention in the indexing of documents ( and in query formulation). Everyone agrees that this is very expensive, and only scales so far. For real-time things, massive datasets, and in other areas, you don't have this luxury. I don't think librarians begrudge folksonomies, but I know we do get frustrated with U.S.A. not retrieving USA or United States, etc. But we also know tricks for natural language searching and we use them. So if folksonomies are all you have, it's better than nothing, but in many cases it's worth the front loading expense of real indexing for better and faster retrieval and use on the other end.

If you have any doubt about librarian bloggers, catch up in your reading of Walt's work!

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Psst – Mark Pendergrast has an MLS, too!

Jun 21 2010 Published by under librarians

New book club, sounds really cool…. but most importantly, the author has an MLS from Simmons!

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Insular, Infrastructure... Invisible

May 13 2010 Published by under Information Science, librarians

John Dupuis comments about a review of This Book is Overdue, saying that libraries' roles in their institutions are not well understood by others in the institution because of inherent insularity in academe - silos, in effect. Drug Monkey basically sees the library as infrastructure. When I say infrastructure, I mean the SL Star (RIP) and Ruhleder (1996) version:

  • Embeddedness. Infrastructure is "sunk" into, inside of, other structures, social arrangements and technologies;
  • Transparency. Infrastructure is transparent to use, in the sense that it does not have to be reinvented each time or assembled for each task, but invisibly supports those tasks;
  • Reach or scope. This may be either spatial or temporal -- infrastructure has reach beyond a single event or one-site practice;
  • Learned as part of membership. The taken-for-grantedness of artifacts and organizational arrangements is a sine qua non of membership in a community of practice (Lave and Wenger, 1992; Star, in press). Strangers and outsiders encounter infrastructure as a target object to be learned about. New participants acquire a naturalized familiarity with its objects as they become members;
  • Links with conventions of practice. Infrastructure both shapes and is shaped by the conventions of a community of practice, e.g. the ways that cycles of day-night work are affected by and affect electrical power rates and needs. Generations of typists have learned the QWERTY keyboard; its limitations are inherited by the computer keyboard and thence by the design of today's computer furniture (Becker, 1982);
  • Embodiment of standards. Modified by scope and often by conflicting conventions, infrastructure takes on transparency by plugging into other infrastructures and tools in a standardized fashion.
  • Built on an installed base. Infrastructure does not grow de novo; it wrestles with the "inertia of the installed base" and inherits strengths and limitations from that base. Optical fibers run along old railroad lines; new systems are designed for backward-compatibility; and failing to account for these constraints may be fatal or distorting to new development processes (Monteiro, et al., 1994).
  • Becomes visible upon breakdown. The normally invisible quality of working infrastructure becomes visible when it breaks: the server is down, the bridge washes out, there is a power blackout. Even when there are back-up mechanisms or procedures, their existence further highlights the now-visible infrastructure. (pages 5-6 of the archived version)

Both of these views are very common and very problematic.

I don't think any researcher can get away with being insular in the current funding environment and this is doubly the case for the library. As I commented on John's blog:

Don't academic libraries go through strategic planning processes in which they get specific and targeted feedback from their customers? They should!

Don't the liaison librarians go to staff meetings and symposia in their departments? Join department listservs? Consult the departments every year with the inevitable cuts?

How could they possibly be insular and do their jobs? Who are they serving?

It's not just the funding environment, though, it's the entire point of our existence, why we take up space, any why we're worth having around. Insularity might be a game that can only be won by losing everything.

With that said, we must constantly negotiate our expertise and our professional status. We use certain jargon, require various academic qualifications, and have our own body of literature. We constantly have to prove our value. This might mean that people don't 100% get what we do - but do they 100% get what someone in another lab does or someone in another school in the university does?  Probably not.  Where is the line between asserting our expertise and transparency?


As for infrastructure - this is deadly. Our CIO, when discussing strategic planning, made a point of explaining how IT as a commodity is the surest way to outsourcing.  IT has to be a valued partner.  (yes, comes out of lots of expensive consulting reports, etc, but there's still a lot of experience backing this up).  If all libraries are good for is contracting for goods, then why not hand this off to the people who order the office supplies or the lab supplies? Surely they have to select among various suppliers - isn't that the same?  What's even worse is when the library isn't even given credit for acquisitions, when things appear free to the user - or even, when things are free as OA becomes the dominant model.

So you begin to see the danger here.

Some rather obvious suggestions to try to get out of this mess - not, of course, that I'm not in the same boat as everyone else. I work very hard at this and have a lot of setbacks.

Become as much a part of the team as possible. Be visible - be physically in their spaces, crash their meetings and attend their symposia. Care about what they do, and try to learn more. Many of them are teachers, ask them to explain about their work. Be proactive in offering assistance. John pointed to a great bunch of suggestions posted by Emma Woods of the University of Westminster(offered in response to her queries on JISC lists).

Don't paint your role as bringer of gifts or gatekeeper to riches. We all fall into that trap. The point is that we're there in support of the scientific or educational enterprise. Our work must support one of these things - not serving to increase our power (as if.). At the same time, do assert your expertise in collection development and do understand the tradeoffs in selecting resources instead of just giving the squeaky wheel the grease.

There are probably more things that I forgot but as always, running out of steam.



Star, S. , & Ruhleder, K. (1996). Steps toward an ecology of infrastructure: Design and access for large information spaces. Information Systems Research, 7(1), 111-134. DOI: 10.1287/isre.7.1.111 (free pre-print with typos online)

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Guest Post: Response to "This Book is Overdue"

Apr 06 2010 Published by under librarians, libraries

The following is by Susan Fingerman. She and I were discussing all of the media commentary, so when I heard she actually read it, I asked - no, make that begged - for a review. She was kind enough to supply.

By now many of you have probably heard about This Book is Overdue: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All (Harper,2010). The author Marilyn Johnson was inspired by the really interesting obituaries of librarians while writing a prior book on obituaries. Does the irony of this strike anyone else out there? Will we (librarians) and the places we work be more interesting, more inspiring, more appreciated after we're gone?
At some point while reading this book, I began to feel like I was watching one of those surreal foreign movies where the character walking along the road suddenly begins to evaporate from the scene. Not a comfortable sensation, to put it mildly, since I'm one of those characters.
Johnson tries hard to imbue the living with as much interest as the dead. The first chapter is one of the best, letting readers know that libraries are the new frontier "where it's all happening," how tech savvy and 2.0 savvy we are. It's rather downhill from there. From the chapter that chronicles, in excruciating detail, the difficult catalog conversion of the Westchester County New York Library System, to the embarrassing focus on the real life sexual orientation of a pioneering Second Life librarian, it's a rather hit or miss read.
The "disappearing act" really hit me in the chapter on the 42nd Street New York Public Library, formerly the Research Library. Johnson chronicles the closing of one of the specialized and amazing reading rooms, the Asian and Middle Eastern Division and the librarian who stayed on as mortician. She also extols the virtues of librarian David Smith, who created a special event and service for all the authors who used the library. Both of these librarians went to extremes to serve their customers and keep their particular knowledge alive. Really good stuff, except that both "no longer work there." Nor do any of the specialized reading rooms exist, nor was that special event ever repeated.
The book has stirred a lot of buzz in the community of librarians and those who love them – finally we get widespread recognition?! So maybe it's just the days when pessimism about the future of our profession and of libraries wins out over the exciting and stimulating challenges we face that I find the book depressing. It ends with Johnson sitting in the new Darien Connecticut library, where she knows the librarian's won't disturb her "until closing time." Those last two words just seem to say it all.

update (corrected a typo)

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Quick evil empire round-up

Apr 06 2010 Published by under librarians, libraries, publishing

I expect D to have a more thorough take (she always does!), but there's finally a more widespread outcry against Ebsco. A few of us commented about the exclusive rights to magazines and closing access to Ageline. There was also (rightfully) a kerfuffle about deep linking to HBS articles.

Now we hear from Meredith Farkas about exclusive access to military history journals and  a more general piece by Sarah Houghton-Jan.

When I've posted something negative about Ebsco, I've gotten a phone call or e-mail from someone in management there. It's always been to solicit more information on the issue and to let me know they were working on it. I'm not sure that they ever did fix some of the things I mentioned, but I took it as a very positive sign. I'm not sure how to take it that they called Meredith's boss. That's odd.

Oh, and now that OCLC is getting rid of FirstSearch for a bunch of things - well, we might have to make the choice between Ebsco or not having those research databases at all. Ebsco has also purchased NetLibrary from OCLC, but there are competitors for that, so that might actually be a positive.

Get up, stand up. Stand up for your rights! (to quote a famous song)

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