Archive for the 'Librarianship' Category

Classifying Libraries

June 29, 2010

@nomesd was quizzing us today on twitter for a list of library sectors. This is the list she came up with:

Is this a full list? Academic Corporate Government Health Law National/State OPAL Parliamentary Private Public School Special TAFE Vendor

It differs from mine. I tend to roll in Corporate/Government/Health/Law/Parliamentary into Specials. Although there can be Academic law and health libraries. But I am aware that definitions differ. @Nomesd later found “ALA just says academic/public/school/special/other”. When I talk to US librarians they include a Law Library working for an Academic institution as a “Special”. Their definition is by the  range of the collection.

What is your definition of a Special Library?

Maybe this is a faceted classification:

  1. You can classify the sectors on the patrons or clients the library serves. So if your library exist to serve  clients who are the “staff” of your parent organization you work in a Special. If your library exists to serve students K-12 you work in a school library. If they are tertiary students you are an Academic library. OK- I agree that this is an obvious simplification. Academic libraries serve researchers/faculty/staff as well. But what is their principle purpose? Public libraries serve their local public. States and Nationals serve the larger populations. Or does this resolve to who is paying the bills?
  2. You can also classify on the core subjects of the library or rather the core subject interests of the clients so as to get the Health/Law/Parliamentary type breakdown.
  3. You can classify by the sector of the parent organization ie Education/Government/Corporate/Nonprofit/NGO.
  4. OPAL libraries are classified by how many people work in them. But even this is loose. I daily work as an OPAL but part of a larger organisation.

Let’s test this. According to my classification I work in a Special/Geology/Research/OPAL . I know those that work in Academic/Geology/ and Special/Geology/Corporate and Special/Geology/Government and Academic/ and Public/.

It needs work.

Is it important to know what a library is classified as? Well it’s important to know who your key clients are and what your core purpose is when is comes to knowing who and how to justify the library’s existence. And that’s important in deciding your core services.

But other than that do our classifications just serve to help decide which e-lists to join and which conferences to go to? And what boxes to tick on forms that ask?

Maybe our classifications are dividing us?

RSS evangelism

June 25, 2010

Anyone reading through some of my older “How to” posts would realize that (besides Twitter and Friendfeed) I love using RSS and RSS readers for keeping up with information. I also love being able to use them for mashing up information feeds and enabling auto sharing.

However I know that other people may not even be aware of what an RSS feed or reader is or does.

“Keeping up” and current awareness is a big part of the service and training that we are concerned with at MPOW. Most of our clients are researchers with long term projects and interests and appreciate being auto notified of newly published research. A lot of journals and databases now support RSS as well as email alerts. And most researchers will say that their email boxes are overloaded and they can’t keep on top of it all. But most will not know about RSS readers.

There is a digital divide amongst scientists as well as the rest of the population and last year Martin Fenner in discussing it thought that Science Librarians had a role in helping bridge it.

When we rolled out our in house current awareness blogs we couldn’t enable email alerts at the time and one of my colleagues ran RSS training sessions for the others so now most of my colleagues are at least aware of RSS and readers and some now actively use them. We have talked from time to time about taking this experience and running sessions for our researchers but as with most things these proposed sessions take a back seat to other priorities. As in most special libraries training is just part of our role and we don’t have dedicated librarians for the purpose.

So I would like to hear from other librarians. Has anyone else included using RSS feeds as part of their info lit/digital lit/literacy programs to clients/patrons/faculty/students? Can you share your experiences?

The making of a science librarian

June 22, 2010

@gigglesigh asked “when and why did you decide to become a librarian?”

It’s a long story. Are you comfortable?

I went straight from school to a BSc, ended up majoring in Botany and lost motivation around the beginning of my honours year. It should have been a clue that my lecturers were urging a gap year and I couldn’t think up a project of my own but did one my supervisor was more interested in than I was. Anyway, I didn’t do so well but after that did work as a research assistant on a taxonomy project in Sydney for a couple of years. One good thing that happened from my honours year was meeting hubby. In fact we met through another student of my supervisor’s so even though my honours was a bomb I would not have had the life I have today if I hadn’t done it. (My kids know this story well- the lesson is that failure is not necessarily failure in hindsight.)

The research project finished at the same time as the early 1980’s mining downturn and I worked for the Commonwealth (Telecom) for a time to qualify for a mortgage while hubby was contracting. Then he got a permanent position with a mine in Broken Hill. I worked at a few different things there for a while (Dairy lab, geophysics fieldy) then ended up back with the Commonwealth government in the Broken Hill Social Security office. The work wasn’t great but did provide some benefits. It kept me occupied and they had maternity leave provisions and supported part-time work. (From that experience I know just about everything on the “dealing with difficult clients” front.) They also provided free job counseling.  I knew I couldn’t stay there forever so I took advantage, did some hard thinking and skills analysis. I also read a bit. I would recommend this book for anyone contemplating a career change. It helped me.

I was focusing on my organisation skills and what they could be applied to but other transferable skills sprung to mind. My training in taxonomic Botany meant I think in hierarchies and classification just comes naturally. And it was always the literature search phase of a research project that I enjoyed the most.

So I decided to give librarianship a go. Curtin University offered external studies and I started a graduate diploma in 1991. I did a couple of units and then withdrew. I was trying to combine it with maternity leave and the infancy of Ms-now-18. This was also pre-web and some of the assignments assumed access to an academic library when I only had the local remote rural public library. In late 1994 hubby got a job in Perth. I was pregnant with Mr-now-15 at the time and again on maternity leave. I worked in the Social Security call centre part-time and when he was old enough for longer day care I reapplied. Curtin let me back in 1997 and even gave me credit for the couple of units I had already done.

The rest, as they say, is history. But the experience in Social Security may explain to you why I prefer not to work in a public library.


Link post. Friendfeed for early June.

June 18, 2010

I often use threads that I see on Friendfeed as a source for my posts. I tried once to cross-post conversations I mark there to Twitter but Peta bought it to my attention that, as I was locked there, she couldn’t follow the links. Automating cross posting can be fraught.  I have an RSS feed from my discussions in FF to my GReader. The feed seems to break from time to time and a conversation that I thought was a DM appeared there. So I thought I would try a sort of edited summary link post to bring to your attention conversations of recent interest there. It’s way more time consuming but less dangerous. Unfortunately I haven’t yet found a way to embed these conversations on a blog (no iframe embed allowed) but I have tested these links and you should be able to follow them without joining up.

As with all social networks the value lies in the people that you follow. On Friendfeed I have managed to find a community of librarian and scientists both interested in scholarly communication and both contributing to a joint conversation. The links here are to the threads not the source posts as it’s the conversations that are of interest  and often contain links themselves. Unfortunately the titles do not necessarily give an indication of the turn that conversations can take.

So conversations that you may find of interest from the last couple of weeks:

There were others that originated from locked accounts that I can’t link to. If I had more time I should find a way to format these better to attribute the post authors and post commentary about why they were interesting to me. Let me know if you find this useful and I may make this a regular thing and solve those issues. Mind you this was a particularly interesting couple of weeks in the scholarly publishing/library space.

And one last one not on scholarly publishing but that I liked – please follow the link- the last comment I found relevant.

And I know I owe you all another post for yesterday. Mea culpa.

Unread …

June 16, 2010

I made a milestone yesterday (not on time but one can’t have everything) and finally finished a big database clean up job that’s been hanging around since March.

So this afternoon, after dealing with the daily emails and inquiries, instead of starting the next major job on my list I took a couple of hours and cleaned up my desk (oh look- it’s grey!).  As a librarian I fail at filing. I took a couple of trips to the recycling bins and sorted the rest. (There were at least three printouts of versions of Con’s and my VALA paper.)

As a result of the sorting and in the vein of Kathryn’s “Unread by my bed”, I bring you “Unread on my desk”, an illustrated but unguided look at the books and articles I have accumulated- unread. The books at least are from MPOW collection, so long as as no-one else requests them I can renew them until I do read them. I do intend to. As for the articles, I can only apologize to those labouring in inter-library loan and subscription departments and again assure them that I intend to read them. Sometime. Soon.

Article pile

Article pile

Book pile

Book pile

Spreadsheet love

June 9, 2010

Alt title: Gripe 2:  Word is not for data. (Part of an ongoing series about using the right tool for the job.)

Returning to my theme (Sorry for the previous sidetrack).

Did you know that the spreadsheet was the killer app that propelled the personal computer to mainstream office use? It must be true- Wikipedia backs me up.

So why do librarians (and I admit am generalizing from the small sample I have worked with) have so little familiarity with their use?

In 1997 I was in  Library School and I particularly remember one assignment. It was the budgeting assignment. We had to construct an imaginary library budget using a spreadsheet. It was an assignment I was born to. I had been using spreadsheets in my previous employment and I lived with someone who was a spreadsheet guru. I handed up the file on a floppy disc only for it to be rejected. She wanted a printout. I was confused. How could she judge my the worth and correctness of my formula on a printout?

Now, all things being relative, I do not claim to be a spreadsheet guru. I do not regularly use the full power of Excel but I live and work with people that use it as their main tool. So I know the power exists. I can sort, filer, use basic formula, create a chart or a pivot table but macros may take me a while. Even those that use it all the time can misuse it. And a spreadsheet may not the best tool- it may be a database that is required.  It’s about knowing what is appropriate for the task that you have but also recognizing the future possible uses of your data. Now I know that many librarians see themselves as text focused but data, at the least, is a management and problem solving tool and knowing how to manipulate and best present data is, in my humble opinion, part of our  professional skill set. Our ILS are just databases. Additionally, those of us working in research or academic settings are more and more being asked to aid our researchers by building data repositories and advise on metadata.

So I wince when asked to contribute data and I have to fill out a table in a word doc.  I just do.


June 7, 2010

There was some discussion here (and here) last month about what makes a librarian a “professional”. There was a lot of discussion on Ryan’s post (120 comments- that’s a high profile post). But a lot of the issue is semantics and your definition of “professional”. It’s taken some time for me to distill my personal response and I acknowledge I was pushed by our challenge.

What is it about “the degree” that we expect it to confer a professional status? What differentiates “Librarians” from those variously called para-professionals? Why do we think librarians are just as “professional” as engineers, doctors, lawyers, or geologists? Why do we worry when we hear about librarians being replaced by administrative staff in a corporate library?

My 2C:

I expect that anyone with the degree and the role of librarian has a problem solving role. Being a librarian, we know isn’t about shelving books, but connecting people to information. But the “professional”  bit is about using our problem solving skills to constantly improve our services, to make the best of limited resources, to evaluate what are the best services for our clients, to be able to keep informed about best practices and new services and then apply the information.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t think our “para professionals” don’t or can’t contribute to that process. But it means that I expect a professional librarian to be able to. And that I mean to be treated like a “professional” is to be given the opportunities to contribute to any change process.

It also defines what I expect of any “Librarian” degree. I expect that anyone with the degree has been evaluated on their research, evaluation and problem solving skills as well as been given some context in using those skills in application to a library setting.

And because problem solving involves making changes being a professional means being able to adapt and be involved in change processes.

And because problem solving means being able to gather up all possible solutions before evaluating them why does “lifetime learning” keep coming up as a wish for fellow librarians? We wouldn’t expect doctors or lawyers to know everything and stop learning as soon as they graduate. Professional librarians don’t either.

A meta post: on blogging

June 4, 2010

I was brainstorming what to post today. This challenge is hard. I am an infrequent blogger at best and usually only post when riled up about something. (“Riled” is a relative term- I acknowledge my posts are mild on any scale :)) The topics that will get me riled up are professional not personal. I have a few more posts in draft similar in tone to Wednesdays “Gripe 1” but will spread them out in order to dilute the snark.

But a topic has dropped in my lap. And it’s blogging. As a librarian.

Dorothea Salo is on my “must follow” list. I read ALL her posts, follow her on Friendfeed, and frequently pass her public posts onto my colleagues. Her interests coincide the current “big” projects at MPOW and she has insight, experience and researches her topics.

And she is seriously considering shutting down as a blogger.

I would respect her decision – and it is only hers to make- but would be incredibly saddened to lose her voice.

But it raises bigger issues for discussion. Those of us participating in this challenge are not necessarily blogging on professional topics. Of those that aren’t – do you feel constrained in anyway not to speak out on professional topics? I am not saying that you should professionally blog- just wondering if perceptions of risk to career colour that choice. Of those that do post on professional topics- have you ever felt it threatened your career? And even when it’s posts about topics of general interest to the larger profession? I acknowledge it can be foolish to discuss the specifics of a work situation. We do things to distance our personal blogs from our workplace because we can be uncomfortable and not sure of the reaction when we start blogging. I don’t have my full name or place of work on this blog but anyone could work those things out. I don’t hide the fact that I blog from my management and had these posts auto re-posting to an internal blog as an experiment but didn’t actually expect them to find or read them.

Would I feel uncomfortable and constrained if I knew my management were reading these? Probably. But I am also somewhat comfortable in having a low profile. I am not as exposed as Dorothea because I am not as well read. I am not as well read because I am not as insightful. It’s sad that the insightful voices are those we need and those who feel threatened.

(PS Dorothea also linked to Jenica Rogers wonderful post on professional online identity. It’s worth a read if you haven’t yet seen it.)

The purpose of libraries in a corporation

May 7, 2009

I wasn’t going to do a follow up to my last post but as usual various conversations over the last month have percolated this up to the surface. And this didn’t start as a follow up it just reads like it is.

By the way- special librarians know this stuff (or should). It’s not new and it’s very basic- it just needs to be explicitly stated from time to time especially to those masters who are not librarians, in terms that they will understand.

The purpose of a special library in a research organization/ corporation is to save the organization money.

Our role is to do it through efficient management of information sources.

The library is not a just a cost centre. It’s cost benefit and ROI can be demonstrated.

Take the cost of buying books and journals for the library- the most basic of services. Now compare it to the cost of every researcher buying their own copies. Because they will not go without. They will just buy it themselves and do. Every time we ask a researcher for a cost code to buy a book rather than having the budget to fund the purchase they will wonder where the benefit is to them of letting us cataloging the book and making it available to the wider organization when they could just use their credit card, go to Amazon, get it quicker and not deal with the library at all. The benefit is to the organization as a whole not to have many multiple copies of books needlessly purchased but we need to track such dispersed purchases in order to prove the cost benefit of the library alternative. The same calculation can be used for journals, comparing enterprise wide subscriptions to the costs of buying individual articles directly from publishers or buying individual membership and subs. The benefits are in the economies of scale provided by centralizing purchasing including document delivery. The benefit is not to the individual researcher so its up to the organization to provide the incentive by providing a well managed adequately funded library service. This is the same reasoning as managing software purchases and licenses enterprise wide. It is not different.

How about my colleagues wages? Cost out the researchers time to source a paper, do a literature search or a citation analysis. Now we are paid half as much and can do it in half the time.  The work still needs to be done. But my way costs 1/4 as much. When I am doing a training class it’s to provide the researchers the skills to use the tools that will save their time or simply to introduce them to the benefits of using my services and saving their time that way. Either way saves the organization money.

The library service needs to be able to provide the data to management to enable the ROI calculations. Statistics from systems are easy but everyone grumbles about keeping stats on reference requests and other non systematized services. Suck it up people! It’s absolutely vital that we have the data that prove that we are providing a service that meets our purpose. Also every proposed new service has to be evaluated in this light. Does it save the time of the client (and therefore save the organization money) or does it make the existing services more efficient (and reduce costs and save money)? We do it all the time with journal subscriptions – is it more cost effective to subscribe or pay document delivery per article? We have the data for that. Any other service is no different – it just may be a bit harder to get the data.

Having a purpose really focuses thinking! And in a special library it is so straight forward. Not meeting it or not being being able to show that we/you are meeting it will mean the closure of our/your library.

The future of libraries

April 4, 2009

Several discussions have been dominating my Friendfeed best-of-day threads lately all revolving around the future of libraries.

Peter Murray Rust kicked off discussion asking for contribution and feedback for his (then) coming presentation on Libraries of the Future.

I was a bit despondent at the request. If a scientist who would be typical of my normal client did not know what we did or what we were for and had to ask, what sort of job had we been doing? Was this a marketing failure or a service failure or were libraries and librarians really doomed? Dorothea Salo and Christina Pikas and others rose to the challenge.

Then there were the disappointing Taiga Forum provocative statements. Again John Dupuis, Meredith Farkas and Dorothea Salo and others have critiqued these thoroughly.

In contrast late last night (my time) John Blyberg posted the “The Darien Statements on the Library and Librarians” authored by himself, Kathryn Greenhill and Cindi Trainor.

Kathryn told me that something was coming and I had seen the pictures of the whiteboard wiki so when the cat woke me a 3am this morning I went to check.

There have been some comments on the post itself but compared to the reaction to the other two the reaction has been positive, uncritical and low volume.

Don’t get me wrong. My reaction is positive. I am just a bit disappointed by the lack of discussion. Steve Lawson and Dorothea and a few others have pointed to the post. Unfortunately Friendfeed and Twitter trends work on the volume of the discussion not the positiveness of the reaction. Maybe its only the controversial posts that will get the attention and this one is just too in agreement with what we think. Or maybe (she says hopefully) it is just too soon.

I then started thinking about how the statements worked as a mission statement for myself and my colleagues.

And it does. Can I work with the statements? Oh yes. Will I be pointing my work colleagues to them? Most assuredly.

But unfortunately I can think of librarians for whom that would not be true.

It all arises from the first sentence. The purpose of the Library is to preserve the integrity of civilization. This would be true of any civic institution. Substitute school or police or court in there and it’s still true. The rest logically arises from that one sentence. The differentials between libraries and other civic institutions are covered by the role statements. The purpose statement thus applies to public libraries, academic libraries and state libraries and (thank goodness) my library as the institution we serve is in itself covered by the purpose statement.

My one nit pick is what about the libraries that are not part of civic institutions? What about those librarians who are employed to serve the information needs of a corporation or company? The prime purpose of the company is make money for its owners. Statements about triple bottom lines and civic responsibilities don’t take away from that fact. The purpose of the library and librarian employed by a corporation cannot be encompassed by the purpose statement from Darien. As a consequence they cannot be governed by the statement “Individual libraries serve the mission of their parent institution or governing body, but the purpose of the Library overrides that mission when the two come into conflict.” Do we expect those libraries and librarians to also serve the higher purpose of the rest of the profession? Or do we call these something else besides libraries and librarians? This has been discussed ad nauseum over the years in regards to the whole profession.

As I said this is a nitpick and I am sure that most corporate librarians would only be too pleased to take on board the rest of the statements and support their professional civically employed colleagues in any way to uphold these ideals as to purpose. But I don’t know whether they could justify incorporating this purpose statement into their day to day work lives.