Archive for the 'librarians' category

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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So what about men in women-dominated professions?

Jan 31 2010 Published by under librarians

There's a lot of discussion about women in STEM and business and the barriers they face (justifiably so!), but what about men in the "female professions"? Do they face the same glass ceiling?

It turns out that there's a classic paper on this that coined the term, "glass escalator." It is somewhat classic, so I briefly looked for more recent work that cited it to see if it had been debunked, but didn't find any studies that did not confirm the results*

Here's the citation:

Williams, C.L. (1992). The Glass Escalator: Hidden Advantages for Men in the "Female" Professions. Social Problems, 39, 253-267.

In this article, Williams reports the results of a large qualitative study of men in Nursing, Librarianship, Elementary School Teaching, and Social Work. She selected a purposive sample of men (and some women who worked with the men, 99 participants total ) in four cities with contrasting proportions of men in these professions; i.e., high and low proportions. At the time this was written, the proportion of women in male-dominated professions was steadily increasing, yet, there was no increasing proportion of men in women-dominated proportions. In fact, the proportion of men in social work and librarianship was decreasing.

Prior to the writing of this article, there was this theory of tokenism: that the minority would face discrimination whether a woman in a male-dominated profession or vice-versa. Her results (and others found looking for disconfirming research) did not support this theory.

Men were given preference in hiring. Once hired, men were pushed towards administration roles, even when they stated a preference for staying in the classroom or library (children's department, especially).  Being male provided an advantage in promotion. She quotes her participants:

I am extremely marketable because I am a man.

I've heard this from managers and supervisory-type people with men in pediatrics:
"It's nice to have a man because it's such a female-dominated profession." (p.256)

Occasionally there were policies against men being, say, kindergarten teachers. Also men had trouble becoming deans of social work schools, for example, because the larger institution counted on using that position to balance other departments.

A participant who was a librarian talked about a particularly close and genial relationship with the male professors at library school.  Women who participated in class were excluded when the conversation continued in the office. Men get mentored more in female-dominated professions whereas women receive less mentoring in male-dominated professions.  The men network better and this helps them, too.

In contrast, outside of work, the men got a lot of crap for being in these professions. There's a stigma. Men in teaching were accused of being pedophiles or that they couldn't get a "real" job.


I've noticed that there are more men in leadership positions in libraries and there are certainly more male library school professors than female. I suspect that not much has changed since this research was done. Sigh.


* That might be too many negatives - I mean that the citing articles provided confirmatory evidence. Someone who knows this body of literature might know how this study is currently viewed by experts. If you are that person, please pipe up and educate us.

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What if we lost them as students?

Jan 28 2010 Published by under librarians

I've only been a college student and grad student at one institution and I have to confess, the library treats students as second class citizens. Particularly technical services. When I mentioned in a sociology class that I am a librarian, a whole bunch of grad students piled on with complaints about interlibrary loan. One guy got only the second page of an article the first time he requested an article, then a completely illegible copy the second time, and then finally a whole copy the third time - after numerous e-mails and about 6 weeks. He kept asking because he didn't want to let them off the hook. I've had similar issues - after they send ARIST to off site storage and for other things.  We were talking before class, so when the professor came in, he said how happy he was with the library and how the liaison for the department consulted with them on what to buy and so on.  Sometimes the negative experience was with a student staffer and not even a librarian.

On the other hand, as a professional librarian, I have the pleasure to serve  (at least) 2 engineers who got their PhDs from Virginia Tech. They showed up as power library users, asking the right questions, and giving immediate feedback when something doesn't work as expected.  I've thanked librarians from Virginia Tech several times for these wonderful co-workers! I've also met scientists who immediately tell me how wonderful their liaison librarian is.

As a librarian in a special library, I work with professionals who had horrible experiences as grad students or undergrads and ones who had wonderful experiences. So winning back the first group is particularly difficult: they have no idea what we can do and they sometimes expect to be given crap for asking. if you're reading this, you probably turn out scientists and engineers in the second group, thank you1

As for the rest?  Arrrrgh!

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Librarians & Scientists: YMMV

Jan 26 2010 Published by under librarians, scholarly communication

Dorothea Salo reports that the scientists she spoke with at Science Online 2010 did not get why she was there or even why librarians would be interested in science communication. For some reason, I didn't get that so much, if at all, this year at this venue. Not that I haven't gotten that in the past. What happens now is a bit more interesting. Someone who doesn't know me either personally or through my blog will start down that direction, and someone else will say something along the lines: Oh, that's Christina, she's ok. This happens at work quite a bit, too. Huh.

This isn't exactly what I had in mind. I do know that people (and more so engineers and scientists) consult their friends first, then their files, then after trying everything else, consult the library. It's sort of the library/librarian as goalie metaphor (you know, 10 other people missed the ball so the goalie has to save it).  Of course, many - if not most - give up before getting to the library. And then there's web search engines which may be before or after friends, I don't think the evidence has sifted up enough to determine that order (most of the studies were done prior to the ubiquitous web).

So one of my things is to try to get into the friends list. If not friend, then at least to make enough contacts so that the scientists and engineers I work with might think of me when they need information. I also hang out where they do on our intranet.  I'm not concerned about the disintermediation thing - the scientists doing their own searching (Martin Fenner lists this as a threat). In my experience, there are always things that are too hard to find. There are also lots of scientists and engineers who don't have the time to keep up with the interfaces and ways to search or don't want to do their own searching and who will gladly use their money from contracts to pay my time. When they get a nicely formatted, pre-digested report back or even just an answer and a source- they're more than happy.

Unfortunately all of this didn't help at all when the leadership of my lab decided to do away with the physical library and the 30k books we had. When they cut 5 of our staff. Turns out that all of these friends and acquaintances were oscillating between being concerned about my future, concerned about who they would call if I got cut, and acting like I betrayed their trust by not successfully fighting it.

And so now that we don't have the whole library infrastructure - it's not a matter of calling the library for help, it's even more calling Christina for help. I do help, absolutely as much as possible, but this is not what I had in mind. YMMV.

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scio2010: What can librarians do for scientists

This is a session by Stephanie Willen Brown and Dorothea Salo .

They started with a bunch of questions. About half the room was librarians, of the others split between affiliated with an institution and not. Where do you go for full text? Google, Google Scholar. Does that work? Sometimes - if not quick if not free to me then move on.

See if your state library has research databases - like NClive, iConn. Contact one of us and we'll put you in contact with someone local.

Come ask your librarian if you need help with anything - even if they don't already provide that service, you help them with ammunition to take to their bosses to start the service and/or can be a guinea pig to test a beta service.

A last thought - needs to be easier to add things to repositories.

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Is the run away from “librarian” and “library” a conflict between 2nd and 3rd wave feminists?

Nov 18 2009 Published by under librarians

Let me start by quoting an e-mail Dawn Pointer McCleskey sent to the SLA-DC listserv today (I have her permission). This is in reply to an e-mail from a younger member who mentioned how teachers and nurses have reclaimed their place and have formed very active and well-respected communities without giving up their identities. (I paraphrase - unfortunately, the listserv requires you to login to see the thread)

...the younger members of SLA are definitely here, though I wasn't able to make it to the town hall meeting because I was at ASIS&T that week.

Your point about nurses and teachers are important, and it prompts me to offer a personal testimonial on the pros and cons of using the librar* words that have been put forth. 
When, eight years ago, I realized I am hard-wired to be a librarian, friends of mine were distressed.  "You're going to be a LIBRARIAN?" one asked, with obvious disdain in her voice.  Another friend consulted her mother, asking why her closest friends, cool, smart, and forward-looking young women, were all selling themselves so short in their career choices.  I was choosing librarianship, another nursing, and the other teaching - pink collar jobs, all around.

The response of my friend's mother was,

'the real question needs to be, why are professions that have been traditionally chosen by women valued so little?' 

I feel there's a significant measure of second-wave/third-wave-feminism conflict at play in this name-change debate.  In the 70's and 80's, second-wave feminists preached that in order to be considered the equals of men, women should put away un/under-valued feminine and womanly traits and choices.  But now that we've lived with 30+ years of trying to be both men and women at the same time, we see more women saying "don't tell me what I can't do" to both men and older feminists - including making choices that are viewed as traditionally feminine, while asserting the inherent worth of those choices. 

I see the librar* term debate through this lens.  There were several arguments from leadership, made to the Solos list and elsewhere, that essentially stated we must think narrowly of ourselves to be unexcited about ditching our heritage.  I have every right to choose librarianship as a career worthy of my energy, time, and brain power - it's the right one for me, it's how I think, and I don't even really work with a physical collection (though I have one).  But here I've got second-wave era association leaders telling me that c-suite (i.e., their same age group) people think we still need to hide or deny the under-valued option, "the L word", and that they agree; that it's no use trying to redefine and revalue the field in decision-makers' eyes. 


What's an early-career feminist librarian to do?  As [..] pointed out, we've seen significant success in the other pink collar fields of teaching and nursing.  I'm also thinking about the 100th monkey - we won't have to do the major campaigning forever, because eventually it will be the common perception.  There's no easy answer, but in the meantime, I can't wait to see how the vote turns out.

Best regards,

Responses to this trotted out anecdotes about how librarians who were managers of big divisions were paid less if their titles included libr* than their marketing and  IT counterparts.  How women are paid less than men. Um. Yeah. The gender gap... heard of it?  Men make more than women in the same jobs. IT people make more than librarians in similar roles, even if the librarians (male or female) have multiple graduate degrees. (hey all I have to do is look around the house to find evidence for this rule).

However, will changing the name of our professional association send the message that we want equal pay for equal work?  Will it tell "the man" that we are valuable and that we make great contributions to the organization? Yes, it does help that the association markets on our behalf and sponsors studies and surveys.  It's even more helpful when the association helps us learn how to add more value and to communicate that value.

I don't agree that changing the name of our profession or of our society addresses any of these issues. I'm proud to be a librarian, one of thousands of amazing men and women who connect people of all ages to information. I want to associate with other librarians.

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