TWO OVERARCHING IDEAS ABOUT LIBRARIANSHIP

I’ve been mulling over work stuff a lot since I started this full time job, and I’m trying to think of ways to encapsulate what kinds of foci I think would be helpful in thinking about the work we do. Here are two things I’m thinking about:

  • Focus more intently on various kinds of literacy instruction rather than just immediate assistance help (with computers, etc.).
  • Shift focus towards encouraging patron-to-patron interactions and assistance.

LIBRARY VALUES AND MICHAEL GORMAN

I had the pleasure of returning to Saint Catherine University this evening for a lecture by Michael Gorman, a former president of the American Library Association and important intellectual in librarianship. I have not read his work yet but will pick up his book Our Enduring Values: Librarianship in the 21st Century soon. Tonight, he spoke about the importance of library values, emphasizing service and stewardship in particular. Against the tendency of librarians to get caught up in all things digital, he argued that changing information technologies should not be a focus of librarianship but rather the values that have driven librarians in relation to organizing, preserving, and providing access to information, whatever form it takes. He suggested that the digital turn has blinded librarians into following the values of other professions such as management and information technology. Instead, he urged librarians to return to library values while working collaboratively with professionals with different expertise. He emphasized that he was not saying that librarians should purge libraries of people without MLIS backgrounds but rather that the people making decisions should be thoroughly immersed in library education (and the values instilled via such education); people with other expertise such as in information technology can then work with librarians to bring their skills without importing the values of their fields indiscriminately.

If I weren’t so terrified of speaking up in front of crowds, I would’ve asked Mr. Gorman a question about how collaborations with other professionals might help to strengthen librarians’ sense of their own values. In particular, I wanted to mention the project I’ve been working on with a friend to explore the intersection of librarianship and social work. The blog is now called Whole Person Librarianship (WPL) after social workers’ focus on attending to the whole person when they help clients. (The blog started out as Information + Publics, a phrase that meant to signal our emphasis on underlining library values that supported the public good via access to information.) I think a big part of what we are doing with WPL is the exact kind of collaboration that Gorman suggested was important for librarianship as well as a concerted effort to reassert and reassess library values in the face of the businessification of everything (in managerial technologies and the emphasis on efficiency and flexible labor).

I’m also really curious about how to foster more conversation in the librarianship about the values that should be guiding work in the field. So much of what I see is (disappointingly) very much rooted in the values of profit making endeavors. It’s telling that Gorman’s book on values came out over a decade ago in 2000, but not much has changed in terms of how librarians talk about librarianship and its values. I think one of the stumbling blocks is that librarians and library students also tend to be very focused on “practical” matters and on the specific skills and tasks they need to perform in their jobs rather than on the logic, philosophy, and values that drive the kind of work that librarians do. I see this perspective as too narrow and wish I could help foster conversations that really connect the day-to-day practice of librarianship more consistently and deliberately to library values.

(There is a bit of irony in this blog post because Gorman is also decidedly unimpressed with the blogging world and new digital information and communication technologies. However, he is not necessarily dismissive of blogging in general but rather just critical of the fetishization of blogging over the actual content of blog posts.)

TWO PRESSING ISSUES FOR ACADEMIC LIBRARIES

Oh, the semester is over! It’s been a rough one for a number of reasons (not related to school itself, mostly). I haven’t had a chance to post anything about my wonderful classes or other library-related work I’ve been doing. Maybe this January during our term break I’ll try to reflect and post about some things I learned this past semester. I just submitted a final response paper (late) for class, and I thought I’d post it here as well. The prompt was to write about what I think are the two most pressing issues for academic libraries….

The two issues I think are most pressing are general ones that encompass many of the topics we have addressed in class: (a) a need to continue developing healthy working relationships between disciplinary faculty and academic libraries and (b) addressing the changes in publishing technology.

(a) Many of our discussions about what librarians can do to promote information literacy (IL) circled around the need for librarians to work closely with faculty. Whether it is designing information literacy courses, integrating library sessions into research assignments, or sharing resources in more informal ways, librarians must find ways to reach out to faculty and gain their trust. This issue is important because of a broad scale perception that there libraries are becoming irrelevant due to Internet and other information technologies. I think one way that librarians can challenge this perception and narrative is to assert the importance of librarians–not the collections, databases, or other information materials–as people with specialized skills and who can facilitate learning and research on campus.

(b) The shift from the codex to digital text has been and will continue to be an important one for libraries. Against the claim that books are dead, academic librarians in particular must figure out a way to continue advocating for the preservation and use of books but also take charge in figuring out ways to increase access to and archive digital resources. One of the greatest challenges of the digital text era is the proliferation of proprietary file formats and incompatibility of ebooks across platforms. Publishers, vendors, and ebook reader manufacturers have little incentive to make their books available via other companies’ software and hardware, but libraries have every incentive to find a way of making digital text simple and accessbile.

Within academic libraries, this shift in publishing technology has been most evident in the work on scholarly communication changes and open access publication. But it is also something worth considering regarding textbook publishing. And librarians have the particular expertise to create infrastructures for finding and accessing digital texts through assigning metadata, making finding aids, and otherwise creating systems for collocation and browsing colletions of digital text.

I would love to be able to work on these two issues throughout my career by engaging faculty consistently and participating in projects and conversations about publishing. I have continuing interests in conducting research, so I hope that I can find a job where I have the time and encouragement to carry out some studies on these issues. For example, I would like to gather stories and examples of how faculty and librarians collaborate to share with the broader university community.

ON OHMANN’S “HISTORICAL REFLECTIONS ON ACCOUNTABILITY”

My tl;dr reading response to Richard Ohmann’s “Historical Reflections on Accountability” for my Academic Libraries class.

Update: The above link to the article at AAUP seems to have disappeared since Fall 2012…. The original articles was published in Radical Teacher.

I should preface my response with a couple of points about the chip on my shoulder. First, I left my previous career (instructor of English at the University of St. Thomas) in part because the culture of business education at the institution was so pervasive and so much against my own vision of higher education as about critique (in the philosophical sense), self-reflection, analysis, and social justice. Second, I spent the summer in seething anger because of St. Kate’s administrative shuffling of the MLIS and Education programs into the School of Business and Leadership, an executive decision explained as part of streamlining the university for the Higher Learning Commission’s reaccreditation visit in February 2013. (That being said, I still would love to talk to more people about their perceptions of this change and what we might look forward to in the program.)

I agree with everything that Alyssa wrote earlier about Ohmann’s article, particularly her emphasis on the danger of commodifying knowledge and her reference to libraries’ unreflective assessment practices. About this latter point, I would go even further to say that there seems hardly any stated resistance to the translation of librarians’ work into metrics and quantifiable standards in the world of librarianship today. Indeed, the American Libraries Association (ALA) and its magazine American Libraries often discuss how to use such metrics as part of librarians’ advocacy to legislative bodies, private donors, and other funding sources. The Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) has a value of academic libraries toolkit that includes ROIs and other such business-derived tools of fiscal accountability.

In my response, I’ll talk about these points as well as reflect on Ohmann’s historical narrative of accountability’s rise. I agree with his narrative in general and especially think it is useful for identifying significant nodes in ongoing debates over higher education, the public sphere, and the world of markets and labor. I’ll end with a few comments about living with assessment in today’s higher education institution.

Ohmann’s historical narrative of accountability in higher education includes two strands, both emerging around 1970 in response to various social, political, and economic forces in the post-WWII era and particularly in a backlash against the social movements of the 1960s. The first strand is about the “lexicon of markets,” or the increasing influence of business language and concepts on academia’s long-standing self-policing practices. The second strand is about the reach of the market into facets of life previously outside its influence; this reach was explicitly about brining wayward bodies (people) back in line with capitalist production. I would guess that the first strand is more readily accepted by most people while the second might be challenged as unsupported or even illogical.

Regarding the lexicon of markets, I agree with Ohmann that the origin of much of the language with which academia started talking about accountability and assessment is worth keeping in mind because of the continuing influence such origins have, regardless of whether people who use the terms and concepts are aware of the origins. The way concepts are defined in particular contexts shapes the possibilities that those concepts hold. Words emerging from a business mentality will always have lingering in their meanings the commitment to profit.

Relatedly, this summer, I had the chance to begin reading John E. Buschman’s Dismantling the Public Sphere: Situating and Sustaining Libraries in the Age of the New Public Philosophy, a trenchant analysis of how the “new public philosophy” affects libraries. This term refers to the shift in United States towards thinking of the civic space, of the public sphere, as one defined by market logic. Where an older vision of the public sphere might have balanced the world of profit-driven markets, the new public philosophy is subsumed to market logic and ideas of efficiency, fiscal accountability, and so on. Buschman also specifically chronicles how library managers have adopted the language of business management and jump on business trends uncritically and unsophisticatedly (as in, they use the business tools incorrectly).

Regarding the backlash against the 1960s social movements, it’s worth noting how extensive the culture wars of the 1980s were and how much of an impact they had on government funding of the arts and humanities. (For some discussion on this topic, see Marita Sturken’s 1996 essay “Art and the Public Sphere.”) At least in my mind, it is quiet clear that the explicit attacks on intellectual life and culture redefined how people thought and talked in public discourse. And since the 1980s, especially from 2000 on, many people have noted the increasing hold of anti-intellectualism on the American public. Intellectuals are deeme dangerous because they challenges assumptions and received notions (even if they are merely reflecting rather than suggesting that something is wrong).

What Ohmann argues is that “accountability” works as a tool to rein in too much thinking otherwise, too much analysis that might challenge the way things are or what someone in power wants to do. By setting up rigid standards for everything, people can only strive to meet those standards rather than growing and learning in ways that may pull them in entirely new (and odd) directions. The use of measurable outcomes in classes and standardized testing are aspects of this kind of narrowing of thought. (I can also add that in my job as a dissertation editor at a very corporately-run, for profit online university, that I see an utter lack of originality of thought in the graduate students’ research projects and their writing, in large part because the entire dissertation process is rubric-driven. That rubric, while supposedly just providing quality measures, becomes a straitjacket for research and writing, with students often afraid to make suggested revisions because their writing would then deviate from the rubric’s outline.)

I’ve gone on too long already, but I wanted to end with some comments and links to the contemporary context of higher education and academic libraries. I like Ohmann’s article for filling in some of the history of academia since the 1960s (basically when Budd’s historical overview ends). I would be interested in looking into more recent criticisms of the accountability movement since Ohmann’s article is now 12 years old. I am not too familiar with the back stage workings of academia before 2000 (my personal experience on the other side only begins then), but I suspect that the situation of accountability today is much more intense than it was back then. If nothing else, everywhere I look, it appears that professors, librarians, and institutions readily accept accountability measures and the need to collect and analyze data that proves efficiency and worth. In bulleted list form, here are some points for further thought:

  • The online newspaper Inside Higher Ed, devoted to covering stories about higher education, has a category of articles about Assessment and Accountability. A quick skim of the headlines suggests that most of the articles are about how to do assessment better and more efficiently.
  • This past spring, academia was abuzz with discussions of business leaders’ challenge to colleges to be more efficient. Here in Minnesota, the Itasca Project brings together business and higher education leaders in discussions and plans to make college more directly a pipeline into the business world.
  • I also wonder how much this idea of accountability in the university resonates with the idea of “personal responsibility,” a phrase that has long roots in the American ideal of the self-made man but that has recently become, in political discourse, a way to blame poor people for being poor (because they are lazy). Mitt Romney’s recent slam against the 47% of Americans he believes are lazy good-for-nothings who won’t take “personal responsibility” for improving their lives and making money is just one example.
  • Earlier today, I read David Palumbo-Liu’s blog post, “Beyond Guilt: Working in ‘The System’ with Intellectual Responsibility,” which focuses on the difficulty of social change activists to work within institutions of power (as students or faculty in higher education, for example). As I thought about Ohmann’s article, I kept coming back to Palumbo-Liu’s post in terms of the feeling that those of us who disagree with the way things work must nevertheless engage with and work within the system. As a final personal note, I somehow got roped into being the student representative for the School Curriculum and Assessment Committee for the School of Business and Leadership. I thought I’d left the assessment work behind with my faculty job, but here I am already back at it!

ST. CATHERINE UNIVERSITY’S MLIS PROGRAM MOVING INTO SCHOOL OF BUSINESS AND LEADERSHIP

The news is finally out in the world that my MLIS program is being moved from the School of Professional Studies (where it’s been housed along with the Education and Social Work programs) to the School of Business and Leadership. I’d heard the news from a friend whose husband teaches in a different department on campus two weeks earlier (faculty and staff campuswide received an email about the move back in the end of June), but it wasn’t until this week that we students got an email from our program about the move. I have been greatly distressed about this move and hope that the university is willing to explain this decision more fully and to involve people in the affected programs (faculty, staff, and students) in plans to move forward with the new administrative structure.

Really, I would rather not be in a program that is affiliated so closely with a business program at all, but at least the dean of that school and higher administration at the university are saying that the MLIS program curriculum will not change because of this move. Still, I think the association of the MLIS program with a school of business is very troubling, and I am hoping that the administration is willing to deal with this issue in a productive manner if they cannot simply revert to the previous administrative structure. (They are planning to disband the School of Professional Studies completely, including eliminating the position of the dean of that school.)

My ideological problem with this decision is that libraries, particularly public libraries and academic libraries, have values associated strongly with free education and information, which are often diametrically opposed to business and corporate mentalities about proprietary information and the importance of profit. There is far too much to go into about how ill-suited librarianship is to the ethos of the corporate world, but suffice to say, it is mind-boggling how the university thought that such a decision to subsume the library science program in the School of Business and Leadership would be frictionless. (Worth noting is that the dean of the school sees the business, library science, and education programs as being equal partners within that school rather than being programs under the dominance or guidance of business. It remains to be seen how that works out in practice.)

I am talking to other students in my program who share my concerns with this decision. We are currently trying to gather more information about the situation before we can articulate some requests about what is happening. For one, we have been told very little about the decision-making process. Who made the decision? What were the deciding criteria? Why were faculty, staff, and students in the affected programs not consulted? Is there a shared governance problem here? And even if the university administration was in its rights to make such a unilateral decision, what was its reasoning? I was told that this administrative restructuring is mainly for the impending Higher Learning Commission reaccreditation visit in 2013, but why shift gears so suddenly without consulting people on campus? What can be gained from this restructuring for accreditation purposes and otherwise?

While the email we students received also noted that there will be no substantive or curricular changes to the MLIS program, I’m also led to wonder why this change was made at all if there are no real effects. From my experiences with university governance and the vogue of strategic planning, I know that there will be issues with goals and objectives, with the MLIS program having to realign its strategic planning with that of the School of Business and Leadership. What will that look like? What if some of us in the program have severe reservations about aligning librarianship education with business-oriented values and goals? Will our concerns be addressed? I also feel for the faculty in the MLIS program who worked so diligently in the last few years to receive ALA accreditation–no small feat!–only to face even more administrative work now to come up with a report about this move.

I hope that St. Kate’s administration is willing to re-evaluate this decision and to make sure that all steps taken from this point forward are transparent and informed by consultation with all interested stakeholders.

THE POWER OF INTROVERTS

I love this call to action to value introverts more in American society. I’ve had Susan Cain’s new book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts, in my library request list for a few weeks and eagerly await an available copy. (I just added myself to the queue for the ebook version, too! Only 50 people on that list as opposed to 500 on the hard copy.)

In the video above, Cain begins with a comment about how her family saw reading books individually as a social activity. I love that idea. It’s part of what I love about libraries–the experience of reading in solitude among others who are similarly engaged.

The social activity of reading reminds of of an article I read recently for class by Jeffrey T. Gayton titled “Academic Libraries: ‘Social’ or ‘Communal?’ The Nature and Future of Academic Libraries.” Gayton argues that the shift towards recasting academic libraries as social spaces for students and others to interact more vocally, loudly, and communally is a mistake because though some socially-based learning behaviors are certainly a healthy addition to libraries, turning completely to a social model for the library and jettisoning the quiet reading room model gets rid of what makes libraries so special and unique. Gayton distinguishes between “social” and “communal” in this way, noting that while “social” is about interactions between individuals (involving talking and other forms of loud or physical activities), “communal” is about sharing a space and an activity while working individually. Types of intellectual activity like reading and writing require that focused, individual attention, but often work best in communal settings. (If this were not the case, people would not find libraries and coffee shops such useful places to do homework and other work.)

LIBRARY DAY IN THE LIFE, THURSDAY

I meant to mention that in last night’s class, I also told everyone that my goal in the program is to do at least one assignment in every class related to dogs.

Today, my library day consisted of work at my preservation internship. First, I helped unpack some boxes of books and journals from the commercial bindery. I matched the books to their dust jackets and information slips with barcode stickers.

Then I got to use a stapling machine to attach some booklets of sheet music to protective covers. First, I removed an extraneous adhesive flap in the center of the covers with a very sharp blade.

Then, I used the nifty stapling machine to attach the booklets to the covers.

I spent the rest of the time doing research on books pulled as “brittle books.” The process involves looking over the books and recording types of damage (markings, torn pages, missing pages, etc.). I also do a double fold test, which involves folding a small bit of a corner of a page back and forth until it breaks off, and I count the number of times I fold the corner. (Worth noting is Nicholas Baker’s book Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper, which argues against this method of testing the brittleness of paper. Baker finds it appalling that preservationists destroy the materials they are meant to be saving but is particularly unhappy at the move by libraries in the last few decades to jettison paper copies of newspapers and other materials in favor of digital preservation.)

I then search the book in the library’s system to see if there are other copies and reprints available. I search WorldCat to see how many copies are available in that aggregated catalog (counting in particular the number available in the five-state area around Minnesota). And then I search BookFinder.com to see if copies and reprints are widely available. Most of the books I work with were published and printed before 1920 and are fun to flip through to see photos, illustrations, and other things that show the age in which they were written.

Here are a couple of images of books that I researched today:

LIBRARY DAY IN THE LIFE, WEDNESDAY

So my library day began today with that brief visit to the library where I interned last semester. By chance, I stopped in (shortly after lunch) when all five of the librarians were present, so I got to chat with all of them.

I left that library to go to the Hosmer branch of Hennepin County Public Libraries where I have been volunteering a couple hours each week since the beginning of last fall. I work primarily with shelving nonfiction books (the library uses the Library of Congress classification system) and CDs. I have also processed books coming in from other branches for the holds shelves and searched for missing/flagged books as part of the ongoing collections maintenance work.

Today when I arrived, the door leading to the behind-the-desk area (where the materials get sorted) was closed. The library director was sitting at the reference desk, and he said that there was a bit of excitement going on. One of the other librarians saw me from behind the closed door and opened it for me. She was extremely effusive and expressed delight that I was there to help out. She showed me the book trucks ready for me to shelve. I noticed a sullen young man in the corner of the room with the library’s security guard hovering by him. After I put away my bag and jacket, I heard the young man whining as the security guard berated him for stealing something from the library. Apparently, they were waiting for the police to show up!

Anyways, I spent the next couple of hours shelving nonfiction books. I like the task as a break from the other work I do (editing, writing, and reading). I find the shelving to be soothing, almost meditative. There is a kind of joy I get form putting things in order, which is perhaps why I want to become a librarian.

After the volunteer work, I went back home to finish reading for my second class–Management of Libraries and Information Centers. The first day’s readings for this class focused on teamwork and what management of such work entails. I was a bit put off by the business-oriented mentality of the readings (something I fear will be persistent the entire semester), but I did enjoy the class this evening. I had the professor last semester for the Introduction to Library and Information Science class, and I liked how she ran our discussions. It appears that our major semester-long project will be team-based. (Such is the educational system more broadly, I think, these days–group work is the new lecture.)

LIBRARY DAY IN THE LIFE, TUESDAY

I’m already playing catchup!

Yesterday, I didn’t do work in the library, but my second semester of library school started. I spent the afternoon doing the reading for the first class–Reference and Online Services. The textbook chapters briefly discussed what reference work is and the importance of the reference interview. Then I had the class in the evening. I think I’ll like how the professor runs the class (plus, she’s officially the first Asian American professor I’ve ever had for a class!).

Reference work is a fairly important aspect of public and academic libraries. Essentially, it’s the work that librarians do to help people find books and other materials. It increasingly involves teaching people how to find information themselves rather than just providing the information directly. I had the opportunity last semester to do an internship at another local university library as a reference and circulation assistant. The primary reference duty was to help students begin their research in the library’s scholarly databases. I actually stopped in at that library this afternoon to say hello to the wonderful librarians I saw a couple times a week last semester but have since the end of my internship not seen. They were so friendly and fun!

LIBRARY DAY IN THE LIFE, MONDAY

This week, I’m participating in the Library Day in the Life Project. I’ll be posting brief comments about what I do in the library (or in library class) each day.

Today, I went in to the downtown Minneapolis Central branch of Hennepin County Libraries where I am a Preservation Department Intern this semester. I started a few weeks ago just after the new year started. I chose this internship because I thought it might be fun to work more directly with books and other library materials. The department fixes the binding of old books, organizes serials to be sent out to commercial binders, makes decisions about brittle books, and deals with a host of other things related to making library materials last longer for public use.

One of my main tasks is to work on a large project to put old piano sheet music from the early twentieth century in polyester sleeves. I use an ultrasonic welder (a Minter encapsulation machine) to create seals on two sides of a pair of polyester (clear plastic) sheets. I then trim the ragged edges off the sheet music and insert them into these sleeves. It’s fun to see the different songs published. Some of the sheet music have illustrations on the covers. There’s an interesting research project there in doing a rhetorical analysis of those covers, considering the different cultural mores of the time period. For instance, I came across a number of songs about “pickaninnies” with illustrations of little black boys. Others have romanticized images of American Indians (“Nakomis” and “Hiawatha”) or exotic images of Japanese women.

VOLUNTEER ADVENTURES

I’ve been volunteering once a week at my local public library. Mostly, I’ve been reshelving books and cds. I also do some processing of holds material and stuff that’s come in from other branches.

Today, an older man thanked me for volunteering while I was out shelving material in the holds area. I think he probably thought I was a teenager or at oldest a college student. :/

Then another man asked me a question about where to find stuff because he thought I was a librarian.

LIS 7010: Reading Response for November 30, 2011

– Rubin, Foundations of Library and Information Science, Chapter 10

This chapter focused on the values and ethics of librarianship, and most of the material overlapped with points brought up in earlier chapters such as in discussions of the mission of libraries in the beginning of the textbook. Much of the material seems most useful for consulting in detail later on if I want to examine the ALA Code of Ethics, for instance, or to think about how different codes from various professional organizations put slightly different emphasis on particular ethical issues. One of the biggest take-away points for me from the chapter, especially in the ethics section, is the reminder that librarianship thinks of itself as a profession (more than just a job), and that there are norms policed by the field at large for the ethical behavior of information professionals. Though librarians do not necessarily face the kind of censure of medical or legal malpractice, there are still expectations for levels of competent service that librarians should meet to maintain good standing within the working community.

The values and ethics themselves–focusing on access, intellectual freedom, and the like–were all pretty well covered in earlier readings, and I don’t have much more to say about them. Rubin does explain that ethical dilemmas seem to arise when there is conflict at or between three perspectives (drawing from Froehlich [1992]): individual, organization, and environment (p. 416). And this comment reminded me of the presentation we heard on the challenge to Bone in which one of the media specialists mentioned that there have been parents who have wanted to donate intelligent design books to their libraries, and they have declined. In that situation, the librarian seemed to be clear about her individual beliefs about promoters of intelligent design. But what was most interesting was how she then went on to defend a decision not to put books about intelligent design on their shelves through the selection process that they use. She emphasized the importance of picking books that meet selection criteria such as quality and professional standards (intelligent design doesn’t meet the standards of scientific communities though they may be fine as religious texts). Here, the ethical issue might have been whether it is right or wrong to include intellectual design books as a right of religious freedom, but the media specialist was able to state clearly that the standards of selection help her state a case against such inclusion.

Essential question: Can you think of other particular situations where there might be ethical conflicts arising within and between these three perspectives of self, organization, and environment (particularly for yourself)?

IN THE LIBRARY WITH THE LEAD PIPE

(The assignment was to read a library-related blog or wiki and write up a review of it.)

In the Library with the Lead Pipe: The murder victim? Your library assumptions. Suspects? It could have been any of us.

I’m a sucker for clever names, and the blog/online journal In the Library with the Lead Pipe certainly fits the bill for me. Suggestive of the murder mystery board game Clue, wherein players must name the murderer, the location of the murder, and the murder weapon, this blog’s title leads us directly to the library and a heavy, blunt object as the weapon. No murder suspect is named, however, and the tagline notes, “It could have been any of us.”

On the About page, the authors state:

In the Library with the Lead Pipe is intended to help improve our communities, our libraries, and our professional organizations. Our goal is to explore new ideas and start conversations; to document our concerns and argue for solutions.

Their mission is fairly broad, and the topics of their essays range across the library science profession rather than focusing on particular issues within the field such as other blogs that are particularly interested in technology, for instance, or those that deal with just one specific kind of library like public libraries. The posts on the blog tend to focus on large-scale issues in the profession and to explore what librarianship means. Some of the biggest tags in the tag cloud, for instance, are ALA, information literacy, instruction, and librarianship. This interest in assessing the state of the profession is what drives many of the posts.

I found out about this blog at the CLIC (Cooperating Libraries in Consortium) professional development workshop in October. The workshop facilitator, Char Booth, praised the blog at least a handful of times over the course of the day, and I was curious what was so extraordinary about it that would warrant such attention (she didn’t mention other blogs that I recall). I looked up the blog shortly after and discovered an incredibly well-written and thoughtful group blog. Its format is on the formal end of the spectrum for blogs, with longer posts at less frequent intervals than other blogs. The blog strives for a degree of peer-reviewed quality, too, with each article post reviewed by at least one internal and one external reviewer. The blog has a Creative Commons license that allows for non-profit reproduction and circulation of its material and an ISSN that marks it as more akin to an online periodical than more informal blogs.

In the Library with the Lead Pipe has a core group of bloggers who are library professionals in academic, public, and school media libraries. There are also guest posts by information professionals in archives and special libraries who speak to their particular work environments. The seven authors currently listed for the site include Brett Bonfield, Ellie Collier, Hilary Davis, Emily Ford, Eric Frierson, Kim Leeder, and Leigh Anne Vrabel. The bio pages for each author include details of where they work as well as contact information and links to other online material such as résumés, social networking profiles, and personal blogs. Their authority stems from their status as professionals working in the field in their communities, and the openness with which they engage readers in comments and other forums helps to validate their trustworthiness.

The blog makes full use of tagging to help users find posts on particular issues. Most of the posts have at least a handful of tags. The sidebar in the right column also includes a tag cloud that visualizes the most common tags for posts. The sidebar also includes lists of the most recent posts, recent comments, and twitter updates for the site (@libraryleadpipe).

Each blog post reads much like a fully-formed essay or journal article. Many of them have distinct sections and a references list for further reading. I’ll mention a few posts that I read that seem to characterize the blog’s scope particularly well:

Renovation as a Catalyst for Change, November 9, 2011

The most recent essay from November 9, 2011, discusses renovations at two academic libraries as a catalyst for change. Erin Dorney and Eric Frierson write,

For an entire year, the library [at St. Edward’s University] will exist without a reference desk, a print collection, or dedicated computing and study spaces. “If we don’t have those things… who are we, exactly?” asks Frierson and countless others.

While many conversations about the current state of libraries often veer towards bemoaning the changes that make libraries unrecognizable as spaces that house books and reference services, Dorney and Frierson instead look at this moment of the library’s physical dissolution as a chance to assess what librarianship means in the 21st century as patrons’ concept of reference services shift, as physical collections of books and journals disappear, and as even the buildings that we call libraries transform. The authors suggest that the renovations offer a chance for a radical break from the assumptions that drive many librarians to cling to tradition rather than to embrace new forms of librarianship that are possible in a more technologically-dependent world and a substantively different social milieu in which people interact with each other in new and startling ways.

A Conversation with Char Booth, June 10, 2009

I noticed Char Booth’s name in the tag, and clicking on it took me to a few posts that mention her. Booth is a librarian at the Claremont Colleges, and she specializes in instructional literacy. She previously worked at UC Berkeley, and she draws from her experiences reaching out to faculty and students at these two very different institutions (small liberal arts colleges versus large research university) in formulating her discussions about librarianship. In the Library with a Lead Pipe interviewed Booth a couple years ago and offer a recording of that interview as an audio post (with text transcript). This use of multimedia technology demonstrates the blog’s interest in presenting discussions of the library science profession in a range of formats and genres. The interview focuses on Booth’s path to librarianship and her expertise in education and technology.

The book we read for the CLIC professional development workshop is Booth’s Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning: Instructional Literacy for Library Educators (ALA Editions, 2011). One of the things I find most refreshing in Booth’s work is her emphasis on needing to learn how to teach and how to learn from teaching to improve. Often, people just assume that teaching either comes naturally or doesn’t, and by extension, you either can figure out for yourself how to become a better teacher or not. Instead, Booth rehearses some important work in theories of learning and pedagogy that help educators in any context understand what it is that we do. I wanted to mention Booth’s work in particular because one of the trends I see in current library science discussions is about shifting the conception of librarianship away from books and even reference work towards a broader understanding of education. I’ve heard a few librarians suggest that MLIS degrees should require some coursework in pedagogical training, for instance, and others like R. David Lankes in The Atlas of New Librarianship state that we should define librarianship not as stewardship of information but as facilitation of knowledge creation. (Another post on ILLP, “Sense of Self: Embracing Your Teacher Identity” by Carrie Donovan, also argues for librarian’s self-conception to inhabit a teacher identity more fully.)

Collaborating with Faculty Part 1: A Five-Step Program, April 7, 2011
Collaborating with Faculty Part 2: What Our Partnerships Look Like, July 13, 2011

Finally, I want to mention a two-part essay on collaborating with faculty written by Kim Leeder. Since I was previously a faculty member in an English department on a college campus, I have participated in the faculty-librarian partnership but from the other direction. It remains one of my interests to explore how faculty and librarians collaborate, from the typical library instruction days for classes to longer-term projects that might involve multiple points of contact with students, librarian, and professor over the course of one semester. I am also interested in how librarians and faculty communicate and what we know about each other (or think we know about each other).

Leeder’s posts are especially interesting to me since she writes from the perspective of librarians who have to establish contact with faculty and explain what kind of expertise they can offer for students. In the second post, Leeder breaks down librarian-faculty partnerships into three types: communication (exchange of information between partners about students’ work but no consultation about how they do their own jobs), cooperation (working together on a project with one way support, as in the typical library instruction session), and collaboration (a dynamic, equal partnership in which librarians and faculty set objectives and curriculum together). Acknowledging these different levels of engagement is useful, and I particularly like how Leeder offers examples of how partners might go about carrying out these shared projects.

To wrap up this review, I should say that though this blog has only been around a few years, there is a substantial amount of conversation in its archives that I will have to read through in the next few months. The depth of the discussions is what is most refreshing in this blog. While brevity is generally a strength of the blog format, it often leaves much to be desired in terms of a thorough thinking through of topics. ILLP solves that problem by offering longer, more formal essays that are peer-reviewed. What comes across on the site is that these posts are carefully-considered, and that they are already the result of much conversation between the authors and other professionals in the field rather than just the off-the-cuff thoughts of an individual. I highly recommend checking out the site and perhaps searching the archives to see if they have covered a topic you are particularly interested in exploring.

LIS 7010: Reading Response for November 9, 2011 (Part Two)

– Rubin, Foundations of Library and Information Science, Chapter 9

The centerpiece of this chapter, the ALA’s Library Bill of Rights, is a fascinating document, and it seems odd to have it buried at the end of this introductory library science textbook when it might serve as a gateway into the many discussions laid out earlier. The chapter offers a number of interpretations of the document in light of more specific issues of intellectual freedom, many of which have resulted in supplementary statements by ALA to clarify the stance of the organization. Threaded throughout the many issues, the need to protect children from harm seemed to be a particularly thorny problem, and I wonder how much we (meaning LIS professionals but also Americans as a whole) are unduly guided and constrained by such concerns.

The literary and cultural critic Lauren Berlant has written about the casting of the “ideal citizen” as a fetus or child, and she has explored how laws and other policies develop problematically around such a figure (see her book The Queen of America Goes to Washington City, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1997). Her argument, like much of what Rubin says about library science’s democratic values, is that such an approach to American policy-making and public discourse drives us towards personal and private values rather than civic-minded ones. Even though she was analyzing material from the 1990s, including a fascinating discussion of an episode from The Simpsons in which Lisa goes to Washington, D.C., and learns about politics (in an homage to the classic film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington), Berlant’s book still seems utterly relevant in today’s atmosphere. Take for example today’s ballot in Mississippi on defining personhood/life as beginning at the moment of fertilization. Of course, the ballot initiative was meant to open the door for more legal challenges to abortion rights, but a related philosophical issue is that such discussions divert political discourse towards the fetus at the expense of broader social values such as care for single mothers, income inequality, and access to healthy living conditions. Instead of taking something like a woman’s decision to terminate a pregnancy as a personal and moral issue, someone like Berlant would suggest that conversations about what leads some women to abortion as the only viable alternative in their lives is more important, and that considering the larger forces at play in the way we conceive our social obligations to each other will ultimately create better lives for everyone.

Question for consideration: What do you all think about the emphasis on protecting minors from harm as the justification for restrictions on freedom of access to information and for the encroachment on patrons’ privacy? Does the ALA’s stance on the issue seem satisfying to you?

LIS 7010: Reading Response for November 9, 2011 (Part One)

– Rubin, Foundations of Library and Information Science, Chapter 8

There was a lot of really interesting stuff in this chapter, and I feel like I have a lot of reading to do to understand the complexity and history of the various policies around information, telecommunications, and intellectual property law. The two things that most caught my attention were the discussion of net neutrality and the statement of copyright law’s original intent in the U.S. Constitution.

With regards to net neutrality, Rubin notes how Internet service providers have sought to redefine themselves outside the scope of telecommunications laws (written with telephone and cable companies in mind) that have included protections from “any unjust or unreasonable discrimination” and sought to preclude “any undue or unreasonable preference or advantage to any particular person, class of person, or locality” (Communications Act of 1934, quoted in Rubin, p. 316). The danger of preferential treatment in network access is that the controllers of the “pipes” of Internet information could then direct traffic towards certain sites and away from others (or completely block them). I am glad that the ALA has taken such a strong stance in terms of net neutrality and against tiered systems of access that would privilege some sites over others.

And in terms of copyright law, I had not known that it is actually articulated as a right in the U.S. Constitution (Article I, Section 8, Clause 8), and I have not heard it discussed much in terms of an original intent to foster social good rather than simply to protect intellectual property. Returning copyright law conversations much more squarely to the concept of social good seems like an important counterbalance to the question of economic gain/loss that drives most public discussion of copyright law.

Question for consideration: With regards to the wide range of information policies that attempt to balance individual privacy, governmental/national security, and economic interests, Rubin notes that often libraries and librarians are not central players in debates over determining new and revising older policies. They often weigh in, especially via the ALA, after the fact, though. Libraries and librarians with their commitment to open access and the freedom of information broadly clearly have a big stake in how these information policies are defined. How might libraries and librarians help shape policies in the first place more deliberately and directly?

BACKLOGGED

I’m backlogged in terms of posts I need to write up for this blog. I can hardly believe that some ten years ago, blogging was such an integral part of my daily life, of the way I processed thoughts and experiences, that I was able to spit out scads of posts each week….

As brief reminders to myself, here are a few things I want to write up in at least some detail:

1) Library instruction workshop led by Char Booth that I attended last week
2) Library 2.011 conference panels attended yesterday (will have to do for class anyways)
3) Reflections on Sanford Berman’s Prejudices and antipathies: a tract on the LC subject heads concerning people (reading for class next week)

In other news, my advisor mentioned that last night, a deer ended up corner in the main campus building (by a dog!) and was shot by police (Deer shot by police after rampaging through St. Catherine University). :(

LIS 7010: Reading Response for November 2, 2011

– Rubin, Foundations of Library and Information Science, Chapter 7

Apologies in advance: I’m a bit grumpy today, so my response will be on the curmudgeonly side. My impression of the first chapter focused on information science (in contrast to library science) is largely negative because of the heavy reliance on business speak. While earlier chapters have certainly partaken in the language of business (profit, efficiency, management, etc.) in light of the fact that libraries must function under the constraints of budgets, this chapter seemed more thoroughly invested in the logic of business and profit than earlier chapters. The discussion of information science seems to reveal how much this discipline is connected to a world of business rather than one that seeks to sit outside of the demands of profit (as libraries tend to do, by and large). I should also note that I’m reading this shift to business language as an effect of the way information science scholars write rather than the way Rubin might perceive the field.

Early in the chapter, Rubin writes, “Indeed, IS has sometimes been characterized as deinstitutionalized library science” (273). This idea is really interesting, resonating with many of the conversations we have had this semester about changes in libraries and library science with more and more technological and other shifts. This definition is much more egalitarian and abstract, though, than what is suggested in Rubin’s discussion in the rest of the chapter. What perhaps pushed me over the edge was the discussion of “value added processes” for the work that information professionals offer (288-290). While I agree with Rubin’s assessment at the end of that section—that one of things librarians might do is to make it clear to patrons how much they do to make patrons’ use of materials and services seamless—the whole language of “value added” strikes me as being so embedded in the logic of profit and efficiency and products. I really would rather not think of libraries as offering products and services (though that language is prevalent in the library world) but instead to think of libraries as places of learning and community.

Also, while the types of research that Rubin identifies in information science all seem really useful and important, much of it also seems couched in the language of making a product or service more profitable. Patrons are seen as “customers,” in that sense, rather than as people in a community who might have specific needs related to the world that they create with their interactions with others. I found Rubin’s discussion of information seeking behavior to be really fascinating, for example, but was troubled nevertheless by how much information science research seems invested in only the idea of more efficient searching rather than other types of searching that might be more linked to “information gathering.” This lack of interest in forms of learning that don’t have an immediate output seems to be indicative of a utilitarian impulse rooted in capitalist-consumer culture.

Question for consideration: How might we talk about “information science” or the study of how people use information in ways that might exceed the economics of information as a commodity?

LIS 7030: Reading Responses on Crosswalks and Federated Searches

(These are in response to specific discussion questions that I am not reproducing here.)

1) “Crosswalks, Metadata Harvesting, Federated Searching, Metasearching: Using Metadata to Connect Users and Information,” Mary S. Woodley

While many of the problems of metadata element crosswalks occur at the level of data structure standards, where elements of one schema may not match exactly to another element in a different schema, there are also possible problems at the data content standard level when the specifications of one standard might differ from that of another. It seems that the crosswalk could be configured, however, to address these differences though automation of the conversion of one standard to another may be tricky. Where some information might be lost or difficult to parse is when there are fields in one data content standard that contain more information than in another.

For example, in AACR2 and CCO, while both suggest using authority files for names, AACR2 specifies entering the name with the surname followed by the given name and CCO specifies a “natural order” for the name. In other words, AACR2 would lead us to use “Huysum, Jan van, 1682-1749” in the Name Heading field while CCO would have us use “Jan van Huysum (Dutch, 1682-1749)” in the Creator Display field. Additionally, CCO includes the nationality of the creator in addition to the birth and death dates. And if the creator is unknown, CCO allows “unknown” to be used in the field or “unknown Dutch,” with an additional nationality qualifier added.

So, if we were to map the CCO to AACR2 element, we lose the nationality information. And going in the other direction, we wouldn’t necessarily have the requisite information in the Name Heading field to specify the nationality of the creator. This issue could be problematic in the long run because it may be important for art scholars and curators to know the nationality of creators since that is how people often create collections of works to study or to display.

2) Federated Search Blog, Sol Lederman

It was interesting to read about federated searches as ways of accessing the hidden web via a single search. Instead of having to type searches into a number of different web portals that have records inaccessible to web crawlers that index pages for search engines, these federated searches will fill in those forms for you with a single search request. The primary problem, it seems, is that these federated searches can be slow since the user interface search page actually has to then query other databases to retrieve results.

The discovery tools mentioned by Lederman function by indexing the records of information in the hidden web. In this way, they seem to function like the web crawlers of the visible web, but they go a step further to query web portals that are inaccessible to the search engine crawlers in order to come up with an index that is then more quickly searchable. These discovery tools cut down the time it takes for users to get results for their searches since the tools have, in advance, already searched for all the metadata and keywords of the various databases and assembled that information in indexes.

It does seem like these discovery tools are able to solve the problem of slow searches in the federated search model. The only problem is that the discovery tools have to constantly search those databases in order to keep an up-to-date index.

LIS 7010: Reading Response for October 5, 2011

– Rubin, Foundations of Library and Information Science, Chapter 5

This week’s reading focused on the organization of libraries in three ways: 1) by functions within libraries (governing boards, library administration, public service, technical services, and support units), 2) by types of authority within libraries (bureaucratic, professional, and informal), and 3) by types of libraries (public, school, academic, and special). Much of the discussion expanded on the textbook’s earlier exploration of libraries’ missions, values, and future in a changing technological and economic landscape. What this chapter underscores is how the structures and infrastructures of libraries as they exist today are under various pressures to adapt to changes in communication, information, and financial technologies. I don’t have much to add about the organization of libraries except to say that the breakdown of the different facets of libraries helps us think about possible reconfigurations of those facets (whether they are job positions, job duties, physical spaces, or other of the various components).

A friend sent me a link to a companion web site for a new book titled The Atlas for New Librarianship by R. David Lankes that offers a way to move forward. Lankes seems to be interested primarily in shifting thinking of libraries away from these organizations that we call libraries—both their physical embodiments and the technologies that undergird the services librarians we provide—and towards librarians as active agents in providing information services. The shift is subtle but perhaps worth considering for its concerted attempt to champion librarians rather than libraries, people over institutions. For Lankes, the work of new librarianship is to focus on how conversations create and disseminate knowledge. It’s also interesting that he seems to favor “knowledge” over “information” as the domain of librarians’ work.

(Slight tangent: Another friend tipped me off to a new web site for librarians-in-training called Librareo that gives MLIS students access to a number of Gale’s databases and resources. Their tagline is “Where Tomorrow’s Librarian Superheroes Shine.” They also aim to build a support community for students via discussion forums. Sign up for free if you’re interested!)

Question for consideration: How does thinking about librarians as facilitators of knowledge (production, circulation, consumption) change the way we think about the organizational structures of libraries?