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Monthly Archives: March 2011

Today

… I will choose to believe in signs and portents, to acknowledge the existence of the mystical, to see meaning where none existed previously, and to read deeper into the fabric of time and space. Just for today…

Graphical displays and critical distance

From Drucker, J. (2011, Winter). Humanities approaches to graphical display. Digital Humanities Quarterly, 5(1):

Rendering observation (the act of creating a statistical, empirical, or subjective account or image) as if it were the same as the phenomena observed collapses the critical distance between the phenomenal world and its interpretation, undoing the basis of interpretation on which humanistic knowledge production is based. We know this. But we seem ready and eager to suspend critical judgment in a rush to visualization.
[…]
Nothing in intellectual life is self-evident or self-identical, nothing in cultural life is mere fact, and nothing in the phenomenal world gives rise to a record or representation except through constructed expressions. The rhetorical force of graphical display is too important a field for its design to be adopted without critical scrutiny and the full force of theoretical insight.

We’ve built the brand. Now let’s build celebrities

Does it matter that students don’t know what academic librarians do? Should we care that they usually cannot differentiate between student workers, staff members, and faculty librarians? If the answer to these is “yes,” then what can we do to improve the situation?

These are the issues underlying the research of Rachel Bickly and Sheila Corrall, the authors of “Student perceptions of staff in the information commons : A survey at the University of Sheffield,” published in the latest Reference Services Review. They surveyed students of the Information Commons at the University of Sheffield in the UK and for the most part confirmed what many already assumed, though had never explicitly studied in an IC setting. Among the key findings were:

  • Students are more likely to notice and hence approach younger librarians (e.g. trusting people they perceive as peers)
  • Students are unaware of the educational background of academic librarians
  • Students do not completely understand the academic function of librarians
  • Students are generally unable to distinguish between different types of library staff members
  • Most importantly: These attitudes haven’t changed over time.

Before getting into how these perceptions could be changed, one could ask, “Does it matter?” Does it matter if librarians are seen and not heard, not understood, or not fully appreciated in a way that we (only we?) think is appropriate? Is it possible to be effective librarians and simultaneously be invisible to the students we serve?

I’m sure there are some who would say that it doesn’t. That no amount of information literacy classes will ever make a student appreciate fine-tooth cataloging, curated resources guides, or tiered reference, but by making these things available, we are helping their research process nonetheless.

There are others who might argue that we could do so much more if students only understood how hard we worked. If they only knew what skills we possessed and the knowledge we brought to the table. After all, most assessments of bibliographic instruction, especially those that happen one-on-one, show that students have a positive perception of the experience (see also J. Fagan, “Students’ perceptions of academic librarians.” The Reference Librarian, 37(78).)

I would argue that it does matter. It does matter knowing that my primary care physician is also an ENT specialist. As a result, I am confident asking him certain questions knowing that he has a unique understanding of the subject. It matters knowing that my co-worker is a native-born German speaker because I can bring specific, German language cataloging questions to him. Etc. etc.

So what is to be done? According to this study, we haven’t been doing it right. Each institution is unique in its users and their needs, but I would start by recommend the following. All of these are based on one simple idea: make first contact with as many students as possible and make it in spaces where they work.

  1. Build relationships with grad students, especially TA’s. Knowing that students are more likely to talk to a TA than a faculty member, make sure your graduate student population knows the benefits of a strong relationship with a librarian. They’ll be the first ones to recommend you as an additional source of research help.
  2. Get into the CMS and onto course web pages. This can be especially useful for courses that are repeatedly offered each semester. Even before going to Google, many students use course materials for their research (reading lists, syllabi, etc.). If there’s a link on their course page or syllabus, you already have an in where it’s most likely to be seen.
  3. …Or create your own. Even if you can’t work your way onto a syllabus, you could create a research guide for a particular class. Again, this is also helpful for classes that are offered every semester. And if it’s popular, students are likely to pass along this information to their friends who are also taking the course.

Each of these requires building strong relationships with faculty and department liaisons. As this article and others have suggested (see Foster & Gibbons. (2007). Studying students: The undergraduate research project at the University of Rochester. ACRL, Chicago.), doing so increases the likelihood that professors will invite you into their classrooms and direct (or push off) students to you for additional research help.

Academic libraries have spent much of the past decade building their brand. We’ve seen some spectacular projects that raise students’ awareness of the existence of the library and it’s welcoming, always available services. Now let’s start working on building local celebrities.

The ebook user’s bill of rights

Librarians are up in arms about eBooks. HarperCollins recently announced that eBooks offered through their distributor, OverDrive, would be nuked after 26 uses. Librarians would then have to repurchase the book. Now, I recognize the need to provide materials to our patrons and the needs of authors, but I also know that librarians are gluttons for abuse (40+ years of “serials crisis” anyone?) and it wouldn’t hurt if they stood up for themselves from time to time.

That said, and without much equivocation, I advocate for Cory Doctorow’s stance:

You have exactly one weapon in your arsenal to keep yourself from being caught in this leg-hold trap: your collections budget. Stop buying from publishers who stick time-bombs in their ebooks. Yes, you can go to the Copyright Office every three years and ask for a temporary exemption to the DMCA to let your jailbreak your collections, but that isn’t Plan B, it’s Plan Z. Plan A is to stop putting dangerous, anti-patron technology into your collections in the first place.

I stand in solidarity with my librarian brothers and sisters by passing along this, an Ebook User’s Bill of Rights (via the Librarian in Black):

The eBook User’s Bill of Rights

Every eBook user should have the following rights:

  • the right to use eBooks under guidelines that favor access over proprietary limitations
  • the right to access eBooks on any technological platform, including the hardware and software the user chooses
  • the right to annotate, quote passages, print, and share eBook content within the spirit of fair use and copyright
  • the right of the first-sale doctrine extended to digital content, allowing the eBook owner the right to retain, archive, share, and re-sell purchased eBooks

I believe in the free market of information and ideas.

I believe that authors, writers, and publishers can flourish when their works are readily available on the widest range of media. I believe that authors, writers, and publishers can thrive when readers are given the maximum amount of freedom to access, annotate, and share with other readers, helping this content find new audiences and markets. I believe that eBook purchasers should enjoy the rights of the first-sale doctrine because eBooks are part of the greater cultural cornerstone of literacy, education, and information access.

Digital Rights Management (DRM), like a tariff, acts as a mechanism to inhibit this free exchange of ideas, literature, and information. Likewise, the current licensing arrangements mean that readers never possess ultimate control over their own personal reading material. These are not acceptable conditions for eBooks.

I am a reader. As a customer, I am entitled to be treated with respect and not as a potential criminal. As a consumer, I am entitled to make my own decisions about the eBooks that I buy or borrow.

I am concerned about the future of access to literature and information in eBooks.  I ask readers, authors, publishers, retailers, librarians, software developers, and device manufacturers to support these eBook users’ rights.

These rights are yours.  Now it is your turn to take a stand.  To help spread the word, copy this entire post, add your own comments, remix it, and distribute it to others.  Blog it, Tweet it (#ebookrights), Facebook it, email it, and post it on a telephone pole.

To the extent possible under law, the person who associated CC0 with this work has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to this work.