Friday, December 7, 2007

The Curious Nature of Education for Librarianship

There doesn't seem to be a lot out there on the background and development of education for librarianship (a word that Blogger's spellchecker doesn't recognize, by the way), though admittedly I've only just started looking.

This was inspired by two things: I recently finished and submitted a review of a book on the history of information professions in Britain, and I have a question that has been a source of longstanding puzzlement: why do we get Master's degrees, anyway?

As it turns out, that's a fairly complex question, even though the Master's degree in Library Science is a relatively recent development. Its facets include the nature of education for the professions in general, the professional status of librarianship itself, the longstanding and occasionally acrimonious split between librarianship and information science, the gendering of the profession, and, of course, politics. You can't get human endeavor without also getting politics.

Accordingly, this might be a bit much for a blog post, or a series of blog posts. For the nonce, however, this is where my thoughts on the subject will appear. More to come.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Writing the reference vision statement

I'm starting to see the value of vision and mission statements. I'm not sure what that says about me, but it's where we've ended up in discussing the future of library reference. If you've been paying attention over the last few years, you're aware of the conversation going on in the profession in general (I'm not sure whether it's a debate yet, but it might be getting there).

The gist of it is that reference isn't dead, but the reference desk might be. There are a lot of suggestions about what should takes its place, but they tend to be long on generalities and short on specifics.

Try this as a thought experiment: if the reference desk had never existed, what might reference today look like instead?

And once you've done that, contemplate this: what might it look like in the future?

Then, take that and turn it into a vision statement.

That's what we're doing.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Elsewhere that I write: read my article

I don't just blog, you know. In the latest issue of the ACRL Washington newsletter, you can read this article:

INVISIBLE LIBRARY: Riding the Wave of Library Transparency.


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Post-Thanksgiving Roundup

Retailers putting up Christmas decorations right after (or sometimes in conjunction with) Halloween notwithstanding, the day after Thanksgiving is still taken as the first day of the holiday shopping season. Which in itself, seems to have taken on characteristics similar to the openings of other hunting seasons, or perhaps the Running of the Bulls. In any case, MSNBC ran a ton of coverage, most of which I missed due to being in a mountain cabin with no Internet or electricity at the time. We played Scrabble. It was refreshing.

When I got back to Seattle, the mister and I discussed how to respond to our relatives' well-meaning inquiries as to what we wanted for Christmas. Neither of us could really think of anything, largely because we both already own more material goods than either of us wants. (Books in my case, for the most part; DVDs and computer games in his.) The getting and giving of gifts isn't supposed to be the point anyway, though it's been the point for a lot longer than a lot of people realize.

Old information getting a new lease on life: This is the kind of thing that digital preservation is all about. If, like me, you have a fondness for old books and old maps of all kinds, the free distribution of digital scans of documents online is one of the best developments ever.

The apparently disappointing numbers on reading have popped up in a number of places, but this isn't the only coverage that seems to assume that reading = books. So is it that men don't read, or that their reading is largely materials that aren't books? I don't know, and I wonder whether the NEA doesn't either. Anecdotally, I read fiction and nonfiction in about equal measure, at least where books are concerned. But I also read a lot of other things. Got to fulfill that librarian stereotype somehow, I guess.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Devil You Know

If you go by the media take on it, the chief danger to young people of sites like MySpace is the possibility of their encountering online predators of various kinds. Sort of the online equivalent of not getting into a stranger's car, sort of fing.

But an interesting, and I think significant, aspect of the Megan Meier case is that everyone involved knew each other. They were acquaintances, neighbors, and at one point even friends.

There are certain kinds of crimes where the perpetrator is likely to be known to the victim. I know that right now, the county prosecutor isn't sure whether criminal charges can be filed in this case, but the ways in which it resembles what could be called, for lack of a better term, "real world" crimes (as though the Internet weren't in the real world) should not be dismissed.

We're going to see more stories like this. I hope they won't be this tragic.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

As fish in a barrel, so go my potshots at ALA's website.

It's my own fault, I suppose. I know there's been some progress on ALA's long-awaited site redesign. I saw the wireframes (admittedly, by accident) during Annual 2007. Every so often, some blog or newsletter that I read mentions it. But I rarely visit ALA's website unless I absolutely have to, and after an admittedly blistering response sent during the organization's usability solicitation last year, it's largely fallen off my radar.

So when I got an e-mail solicitation from an ALA section that included a call for volunteers, I decided to have a look. My current appointment is up this summer, and it's time to do something else. I clicked the link. Hunted up my membership number and password so that I could actually log in to the committee volunteer form, and...

Whoops. I see an error message indicating that I don't have the "appropriate membership access"--whatever that means. Although I'm an ALA member, I think that I must not be a member of this section, even though the e-mail I received addressed me as such. Well, such mistakes happen. I cut back on my division and section memberships last year because, honestly, I can't justify the cost of belonging to any of them unless I'm actively working in them. The cost for each is fairly low, true, but it adds up.

So I started clicking around to try and figure out whether this was the case. First, I logged into MyALA.

I still can't figure out what the point of MyALA is supposed to be. It doesn't tell you anything about your own membership, such as when it expires, or (more to the point of my current endeavor) what the details of your membership are, such as which sections you belong to. Fortunately, I keep almost all of my e-mail, and was able to dig up my membership confirmation letter from last winter. It seems that I did indeed let my LITA membership lapse. Oh, well.

So what constitutes "appropriate membership access" to volunteer for a LITA committee? I spend some more time working my way back to the LITA website and look up the requirements for committee service. One must indeed be a LITA member.

Makes sense. But spending close to 10 minutes clicking around the ALA website, clicking search results links that lead to dead pages, and digging around in my e-mail to figure out which parts of ALA's alphabet soup I've elected to be officially part of this year, all reminds me of why I visit the ALA website so rarely.

I really, really hope that along with the ALA website redesign, there's substantial time, thought, and effort being given to improving the site functionality. This isn't the first time I've had this kind of experience with the ALA website, and it engenders a low-level but enduring frustration that renews itself with every encounter.

I can, of course, join LITA right now and then (once someone processes my application, presumably) attempt to volunteer again. However, I'm going to wait for that low-level frustration to subside a bit before I tackle the current incarnation of ALA's website again.

The Annoyed Librarian is Spartacus!

I'm not a well-known librarian blogger (in point of fact, I'm barely a blogger, since this is only my second post), so there's no point in my claiming to be The Annoyed Librarian. The most enthusiastic reception such a revelation could muster would be: "Eh." No shock or awe involved.

That's the most interesting thing about this week's great revelation that Meredith Farkas—no, Karen Schneider—is the Annoyed Librarian. People are wondering who AL is, and wouldn't it be just perfect if she/he turned out to be someone well known in the blogosphere? Someone net-savvy librarians regularly read and admire? Someone who might well wear AL's label of "twopointopian" with pride?

The irony, it burns. Or would burn, presumably, if the identity of Spartacus AL were revealed.

It's interesting because readers want AL to be someone well known. (Wouldn't it be funny if it were Steven Bell?) There are tons of anonymous blogs on the Internet, of course, but AL attracts attention in our little professional corner for saying provocative things, or for saying things provocatively—things that a lot of AL's readers secretly or not-so-secretly agree with. Attaching an identity to those statements, particularly a well-known identity, lends them a certain degree of...well, authority.

Authority is getting to be an interesting concept in and of itself: not just because of the Internet, a haven for anonymous content of all kinds, but because of the collaborative creation of content that has the potential to be authoritative, despite not having gone through the recognized process by which information acquires that qualification. Wikipedia is the most obvious example, but there are plenty of others; and once you pass out of the realm of reviewed scholarship, the qualification itself gets a lot more hazy.

The point being, would AL's statements be any more or less valid if we knew who was making them? Is it AL's very anonymity that gives the blog its bite, or would it be provocative even if we knew who was writing it? If the blogosphere is a forum for professional discourse—and I think it is—what part does AL play in that discourse?

AL asks some of these questions, on the blog:

One of the things I found amusing about the speculations that Meredith Farkas writes the AL (which I like to think of as the Farkas Fracas) is the assumption that when/if the AL is unmasked, it will turn out to be someone you've heard of. Maybe, maybe not. I don't want to spoil it for you. But what if the AL turned out to be just some bored librarian or group of librarians sitting around having a lark? Would that lessen the impact? Or what if the AL turned out to be someone ensconced in ALA headquarters? Does it matter at all who writes the AL? Does the identity of the author(s) somehow change what's written?

You might well ask whether there's much point in considering the authority (or lack thereof) of a blog in the first place. After all, it's a blog. But a blog is just a format. Nothing about that format specifies content. The content could be anything: your lolcats collection, your research article, your enumerated points about how the profession is incompletely clothed. The author could be anyone. The decision about whether to take what's in it seriously resides entirely with its reader.

And that drives some people crazy.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

One Square Inch of Quiet

My office is tucked into a quiet corner of the library. I'm as likely to hear cars rolling down the street outside, or the soft roar of the fans from the climate-control system, as I am to hear chairs rolling along the polished tile floor, or the ringing phone at the reference desk. Sometimes I catch snippets of conversation. Sometimes my own phone rings. Most of the time, there's a low-level but quiet hum, occasionally punctuated by someone's phone violating library policy.

Gordon Hempton's been in the news before, but his visit to the quietest spot in the continental U.S. with reporter Tom Banse came up today in Tidepool, a Pacific Northwest news service with an environmental bent. That quiet spot is easier to get to than you might imagine: hike in three miles from a visitor's center, and you're there.

Libraries these days aren't particularly quiet places, and in some ways that's a good thing. The proliferation of group research projects in the academic setting reflects how work is increasingly done in the real world, and in order to work together, groups must talk. My own library features several options for groups working together: study rooms with large tables, computer workstations where several people can share a machine, cozy arrangements of chairs facilitating discussion of topics academic and non. At certain times of day, walk through the first floor and the air is abuzz with students in the throes of discovery, or at least of looming deadlines.

But there's noise, and there's noise. A couple of years ago, the library instituted a no cell phone policy. Not unusual, but the interesting thing about it is that it was by student demand. It's not adhered to 100 percent, though most students are good about taking their conversations outside or at least to a remote corner where they won't disturb anyone. The conversations themselves are usually quiet.

But the ringtones. Deary me, the ringtones.

We have all been in a place—not necessarily a library, but someplace reasonably quiet—where someone's cell phone, buried at the bottom of a voluminous backpack or purse, has gone off at full volume, playing "Funkytown" with impunity until its owner manages to find it and answer it or switch it off. The effect is usually startling; and, in my library, often earns the owner a number of glares from nearby students whose thought processes have been interrupted.

The point here isn't so much the cell phones, or even the ringtones. The point is certainly not to return to the days when libraries were quiet as tombs; if nothing else, the constant click of keyboards would prevent that for some time to come. However libraries reinvent themselves, and much of the field agrees that they must, though exactly how is the subject of much debate, the result is already noisier and less solitary than in the past.

But the absence of quiet (not the same thing as silence, as Hempton points out) isn't just a concern of libraries. There are times when I get my best thinking done by turning up White Zombie as loud as it will go, but quiet suggests a certain harmony of surroundings that seems to be increasingly hard to come by in the increasingly urbanized environments in which we live. It's not the absence of noise, so much as the absence of noise that disrupts and distracts. A student who quietly converses on a phone about the paper she's currently typing at her computer is less disruptive than one who jumps up and runs out of the building to strains of Handel, however melodious. Absent disruptions and distractions, the mind is free to wander, to engage with ideas, to develop perspective and delve deeply.

Academic libraries have been positioning ourselves not just as places to do literature searches—especially since these can, increasingly, be done online from the privacy of a dorm room or office—but as a place to work. That has to include the student studying for his midterm, or the one wrestling with Proust, or the one working on her reflective essay. However we design our spaces and allocate our limited resources for the future, we shouldn't forget these quieter activities, and to make room for them. The environment isn't just a place out in the woods, removed from everyday life; in some ways, that's the antithesis of what the concept should be. The environment is where we live.

(Postscript: I am rather pleased to see that I'm not the only one thinking about this.)