A post-OPACalyptic world?

As I’ve been preparing for a sojourn abroad (first vacation in four years!), I’ve been frantically trying to wrap up the loose ends of various projects. One of those is writing a review a Cooperative Cataloging: Shared Effort for the Benefit of All by Rebecca L. Mugridge (ed.). The final section of the collection contains an essay by Roxanne Sellberg of Northwestern University entitled “Cooperative Cataloging in a Post-OPAC World” where she posits a future when “most libraries do not maintain separate, highly redundant databases of metadata records designed to support both backroom processes and library-specific online public access catalogs.”

Sellberg’s article focuses on the role of cooperative cataloging and so she goes on to outline the various ways in which cooperative cataloging can still take place, but what I found intriguing was how a lack of an OPAC would affect the character of our institutions. Even as a cataloger, I find the idea… enticing.

    • Imagine if we spent less time editing records and more time editing the presentation of those records (via APIs that bring in data from various centralized data sources).
    • Imagine if we built our own discovery layers that reflected the subject strengths of our home institutions, tweaked to the informational needs of our unique user communities.
    • Imagine if we let go of collection management (because most material would be available electronically) and focused on collection service.

And there is the quintessential change that a post-OPAC world would bring: libraries would be (re)defined in terms of their services rather than their collections. What type of instruction do we provide for undergraduates? What type of technological and pedagogical tools do we offer faculty? Where are our access points for reference/research and how robust are they in virtual environments? What spaces for innovation, creation, discovery, play, collaboration, and independent study do we offer? The post-OPAC library is a library that focuses even more attention on the needs of the user: information needs and otherwise.

In the twentieth century, we best served the information needs of our users through focused collection development and information organization. Librarians were, for the most part, the only professionals qualified and in a position to make the necessary information resources available to campus populations. In the twentieth-first century, the means of information distribution and organization are in the [capable?] hands of institutions with more resources and leverage than most universities can muster. We can best serve the information needs of our users through guidance, instruction, and by developing better filters (read: discovery layers) to help them manage today’s chaotic information landscape.

The libraries that shift their focus to collection service will, in my opinion, be the ones that succeed and that maintain a strong influence on campus intellectual life. Those that continue to put most of their efforts into collection development will soon enough find themselves being replaced with more efficient and more robust vendors who provide the same service for less. We can make our own future rather than be determined by it. We can be the rock in the stream.

Special thanks to @lagina for helping me find a title for this post.

Rode bikes down to Hermosa along the coast, had margaritas at our favorite Mexican place, took an afternoon nap on the beach, had cupcakes and coffee, now off to see Prometheus. So THIS is what having a free weekend feels like!

And now begins the frantic rush to catch up on things at work post #ala12 before leaving for France in a week.

Brewing a second round of coffee as I work toward finishing my group’s poster for ALA Annual. Going to be a late night.

Listening to Maria Callas and working on my Emerging Leaders ALA poster. Everything is just right in this moment.

Contributing to the profession and getting active: a mini-presentation

This weekend, the California Library Association’s Student Interest Group sponsored a collaborative, informal workshop on professional development. The event was headed up by Young Lee and I served as one of the panelists along with Cynthia, Mary, and Allison. We spent a good amount of time talking about networking and getting the most out of professional organizations so I thought I would share some of what we discussed. Here is a brief slideshow (with storm troopers).* Main points and bullets below.

1. Join digital communities. Great way to keep up with the latest discourse and trends. Also a way to introduce yourself to others in field and begin building relationship that can flourish IRL. Specific communities mentioned included: ALA ThinkTank, active listservs, and #libchat on Twitter.

2. Give away your time for free. We didn’t get into this profession for the money. Your best work will often be “off the clock” (cf. the invisible college). Develop your reputation as a willing leader and dependable colleague.

3. Build something. Eventually, you want to be know for what you can ship. Thankfully, we live in a startup-friendly culture that encourages fast prototyping and beta stages. Be willing to fail, but also be willing to put as much out there as you can until something sticks. You are what you make.

4. Build you own community. Determine what your own interests are and build communities around them (cloning yourself helps). Leverage the low cost of digital technologies to bring interested parties together to work on #3 above.

5. Limit yourself. It easy to spread yourself thin in our profession. Limit the number of professional organizations you work with so that you have the time and attention to dive into the nitty-gritty of each. Also, consider alternating the perspective from which you interact with the organization: top-down vs. bottom-up, e.g. get involved with the leadership of one organization and the ground work of another.


*Ok, so actually this was a presentation I prepared but didn’t have the chance to present. But these slides were too much fun to just cast aside so I hope you enjoy them.

Natasha Trethewey named poet laureate

The announcement came today. Here’s a review I wrote of her book, Native Guard, a few years back:

Natasha Trethewey’s recent collection brings poetry back into the home. Or at least, it brought it back into mine. The elegant simplicity of her style often draped over complex forms is soft and inviting even when the subject matter is cold, stricken, and calloused.

The presence of her mother invades every page. Indeed, for Trethewey, poetry becomes the monument for her mother: the physical marker on the landscape of history. It is a marker that history would just as soon forget, much like the Louisiana Native Guard, the first officially sanctioned regiment of black soldiers in the Union Army and the focus of the second section. Trethewey’s poetry creates a space for remembrance.

But she does not travel into this space without hesitation. The opening poem, “Theories of Space and Time,” illustrates her acknowledgment of what this trip might cost: “You can get there from here, though / there’s no going home.” The photograph someone snaps along the way and presents upon your return shows a different you. Nothing is quite the same again. But the will to remember, to create a history that remembers, (thankfully for us) overcomes the poet.

One of my favorite poems, “What the Body Can Say,” deals with the inability to reconcile sign and signified without a mediating context. In this case, the context is the body that figures forth “something” unnameable. As with the scarred back of the slave in “Native Guard,” the body becomes the organ of speech, saying what the mouth or pen does not. This thought is wonderfully reinforced by the image of a notebook crosshatched in two different hands: one the hand of a white southerner, the other the hand of a black Native Guard soldier (this begs the questions: does Trethewey consider the work of the poet painful or traumatic?).

The need for a human contextualizing agent comes up again and again throughout the first section: the poet offers herself as context in “Photograph: Ice Storm, 1971”; “What is Evidence” again depicts the scarred body, contrasting it with the (less meaningful) historical document; “Letter” emphasizes the fragility of signs, especially ones outside the body (e.g. in the form of a letter to a friend); and “After Your Death” depicts the emotional magnitude of bodiless signs in the context of grief.

Section 2 of Native Guard deals primarily with untold history. Stories that both the orthodox accounts and the landscape itself has forgotten. Section 3 is more personal and explores the role of the poet, our poet, in matters of race, the South, and the African-American’s position among the two. Poems like “Incident” weave form with meaning with subtlety to overscore powerful images while poems like “Monument” go straight for the jugular: “At my mother’s grave, ants streamed in / and out like arteries, a tiny hill rising / above her untended plot.”

I’ve read Native Guard twice I would eagerly suggest it to others.

More on sharing instruction materials: github and the unix philosophy

ollowing up on yesterday’s request that instruction librarians share their teaching materials for the time-lacking and thinly-spread among us, ProfHacker has a post this morning on sharing syllabi via github, a social coding repository. The author of the post, Mark Sample, highlights the collaborative culture of open source and his desire to replicate that culture in scholarship:

Last month at the annual Computers and Writing Conference, I participated on a roundtable about the role of computational literacy in the field—and in the humanities more generally. One of the points I made during the wide-ranging discussion (and on the backchannel as well) is that world of software development can provide humanists with “actionable metaphors.” I had in mind the collaborative nature of open source code, as well as the necessary emphasis in programming on revision, both exemplified by the code sharing platform GitHub.

While github’s text-only requirement places a significant restriction on the type of material that can be uploaded (it is, after all, meant for code not instructional materials), the philosophy behind sites like github provides a useful model for sharing within our profession, namely:

  1. To make your materials as accessible as possible, store them in flat files.
  2. To make your materials as flexible as possible, keep them small…
  3. … and keep them modular (break them up into chunks).
  4. Focus each module on doing one thing well.

If these four points sound familiar, you may have read Mike Gancarz’s Linux and the Unix Philosophy. The unix philosophy, which serves as a foundation for github’s success, can be ported to libraries as well, especially regarding the creation and sharing of instruction materials and instructional design.