Twitter as inter-library loan

In my recent presentation on social networks for academics, I discussed the disintermediation of the library out of the scholarly communication process as social media tools make it easier for scholars to transfer and acquire information without consulting library services or staff. In today’s Chronicle, I came across an interesting example of this:

Thanks to Twitter, I have been sent copies of obscure articles much faster than I would have received them from an interlibrary loan. I just need to tweet “Does anyone have access to the Journal of X, 1972?” and within an hour someone will have e-mailed me the PDF. It’s tremendously useful.

A similar PDF exchange market exists on Reddit.

In some part, this relates to the concept of the “invisible college,” notably the part that encompasses the peer-to-peer transfer of research that has always existed and functioned outside library walls. In fact, I still have a drawer full of pre-prints and writer’s copies from scholars that I interacted with as part of my graduate work in medieval studies. If I needed a copy of research that my library couldn’t get due to copyright or availability (and electronic copies were not as pervasive then), I could usually contact a small handful of scholars (if not the author herself) and obtain a hard copy.

So how is this different? For one, it’s more efficient and, as the author points out, faster. But even more importantly, it reduces the need for ILL as long as (1) the need is for electronic material, (2) one’s social network includes enough cross-institutional coverage, and (3) one’s network includes at least one database-savvy person. I can only expect that these factors will increase over time thus creating an even richer environment for this type of exchange. So whither ILL?

Using social networks for research: an ebrary study

ebrary recently published the 2011 results of their second Global Student E-book Survey, which includes a special addendum on student use of social media in academic research. Of those who responded, 41.3% said they use social media for research or study purposes. When asked why not, students gave a variety of answers, including: social media is for fun; the information is unreliable; not applicable to non-group research; a distraction. Other interesting results:

    • Over 69% said they were “likely” or “very likely” to use social media it to connect with other students with similar academic interests.
    • More than half (57.1%) said they were ”likely” or “very likely” to pose research questions to peers, but fewer than half (33.1%) were ”likely” or “very likely” to pose research questions to librarians.
    • When asked about the use of social media sites for specific purposes (question 26), Facebook was used for most activities, except “pos[ing] a research question to your librarian.”

Question 28 is particularly illuminating (“What research capabilities would you like to see in a social media site?”) and provides some direction for IHEs developing or enhancing their course management systems. Based on my reading of the data (and in conjunction with results from question 25), here are four recommendations:

    1. Develop systems that allow students to create groups based on academic (or pseudo-academic) interests. (This can also be an opportunity for librarians to connect with students).
    2. Develop systems that allow students to pull data to/from other social networks but that keep those networks separate (e.g. share an article from CMS to Twitter or vice versa with showing my Twitter handle or CMS ID).
    3. Develop systems with a variety of collaboration tools, esp. file sharing and documents editing.
    4. Links to features in other electronic resources: e.g. TOC notifications, impact factors of articles, saved searches, bookmarks.

I’m not opposed to course management systems and, in fact, find them to be quite useful for organizing coursework and connecting users in a class. Given that the majority of research happens in digital spaces, it makes sense for IHEs to create platforms that allow seamless transitions between research and collaboration. ebrary’s survey seems to indicate that popular social networks fall short of providing users with collaborative research space. We have an opportunity, here, people.

A mistake worth making

This morning, I thought I would try something different in my “Using Library Resources” class. In the past, students seemed reluctant to ask questions. I had been told by my more experienced colleagues to expect this, but I’m just not convinced this is business-as-usual. Perhaps it’s me; perhaps it’s the fact that I only teach 9 am classes. Whatever the cause, I wanted to generate more inquiry.

So I decided to give PollEverywhere a try. I set up a poll that I kept live throughout the entire session where students could submit free-form questions. I gave the students the URL and told them to ask questions at any time. I planned to go over all of them at the end…

Except there were no questions.

So I moved on to my closing statements. At the end of class, after the students filled out the evaluation sheets (What did you learn? What are you still unsure about?), there were two very good questions. Why didn’t these students ask me about this before they left?

In retrospect, introducing the poll at the beginning of class was not the best approach. It gave the impression early on that we didn’t have time for questions (there was a lot to go over) and probably precluded the students’ impulse to ask me anything.  But through the evaluation, I learned that there were questions and aspects of library research that I didn’t explain clearly for at least two students.

Instead, I should have set aside 5 minutes at the end of class and then prompted the students to submit questions via the poll site. I could then quickly assess the most important topics and address them as time permitted. It would also have allowed me to clear up any misunderstanding before the students filled out the evaluation forms, rather than after.

So next time, I’ll try that instead. It was a mistake, but one worth making.

How do you define reference?

I’ve been thinking about the definition of reference. In fact, I was asked to define reference services at MPOW for a task force charged with determine ways to increase “discoverability” of library services. We ultimately defined reference as:

“mediated information seeking which
 utilizes the expertise of librarians to connect users with library 
resources. This includes both formal and informal reference transactions, especially those which teach users how to analyze and assess the value of 
information, its accuracy, and its appropriate use.”

This came out of various discussions about RUSA’s definition and one offered in Rosemarie Riechel’s book on youth reference services (I especially like the phrase “mediated seeking”). But why this particular definition? Why these choices of words?

I wanted to accomplish two things with this definition. First, I wanted to define reference services more holistically, not as a technical act but as a philosophy of service. To wit: providing reference should establish, build upon, and leverage the relationship between us and our users (“mediated information seeking”) and between our users and information (“connect users with library resources”).

Secondly, I wanted to highlight that reference requires unique skills and highlights the specialization of librarians (“expertise of librarians”): we are more than just “human googlers.” We learn to rely as much on non-verbal queues as verbal ones. We understand the nuances of human information behavior, especially in research environments, and we are able to respond with timely and appropriate resources.

As a task force, we struggled with defining the scope of reference. We considered everything from directional questions at the ref desk to curriculum-wide information literacy instruction. However, reference shouldn’t be equated with public services. It is an instructional activity, either formal or informal, that (ideally) teaches each user about the role of information in (1) her life; (2) her work; and (3) in society. Additionally, I intentionally left out any mention of technology or format (e.g. email, chat, phone, etc.). The definition is format agnostic and is applicable to any situation in which librarians, information, and users come together.

Admittedly, the definition’s scope is broad. Reference can occur anywhere within the library system, both physically and virtually. It is more than just the public face of the library: it is the personal face and the point at which human relationships develop. Accordingly, with the recommendations of the task force, I hope we can unify the libraries’ approach to reference through assessment, standardization, innovation, and leadership.

Though I won’t be present when our recs are presented to the administration, I’m looking forward to hearing the response.

Creating an alternative to the traditional textbook

It wasn’t so long ago that I was a college student, so when I read about ways that colleges are trying to overcome the woes of unwieldy (and often drab) textbooks, the student in me perks up. According to the Chronicle, Temple University is about to begin a second round of pilot testing digital alternatives to the traditional textbook:

The pilot project gave 11 faculty members $1,000 each to create a digital alternative to a traditional textbook. To enliven their students’ reading, the instructors pulled together primary-source documents and material culled from library archives. […] The Temple program mirrors a similar effort announced at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in December.

I don’t remember the details of a single textbook that I used as an undergrad, but I do remember the hand-curated course packets that a small handful of my profs put together. Not only do these leverage library resources (and with digitization, special collections), but they add a personal touch to instruction, as if to say, “What we read and discuss in this class is important to me so I’ve taken the time to pull this material together for you.”

You can find more info on the project at Temple’s website.

Why is a raven like a writing desk?

“Because it can produce a few notes, though they are very flat; and it is nevar put with the wrong end in front.”

“Preface” to the Eighty-Sixth Thousand of the 6/- Edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Ed. Roger Lancelyn Green. New York: Oxford UP, 1971.

Making more makers

What role should 21st century colleges have in helping students to develop hands-on, manual skills? That is the question Scott Carlson asks in this week’s Chronicle Review. At a time when “sustainability” is not just a way of acting ethically but a popularized lifestyle choice, it’s easy to see the appeal of this type of instruction.

One passage in particular caught my attention. Drawn together by a common interest and a human desire to be makers, students at the University of Vermont formed their own artisan guilds:

L. Pearson King, a junior environmental-studies major, taught his peers how to carve spoons in a woodworking guild last year. “It’s kind of trivial, but it’s also cathartic and kind of fun,” he says of the project, and the students in his group were immensely proud of their work. “To be active in the creation of an item forms a completely different relationship with that item.”

Maybe there is something to the guild approach that libraries can build off of. While information literacy is not as necessary to human survival as being able to build shelter or cook food (pending the zombie apocalypse), it is still a vital skill for 21st century life. For universities that do not have information literacy instruction (ILI) built into the curriculum, librarians have constantly struggled to find ways not only to integrate ILI, but to assess it. If your only interaction with a student is the one-off, how do you know if it sticks?

Could the library be a catalyst for “information guilds” or “technology guilds”? : groups of students that come together over a shared interest to get their hands dirty with information and to build [digital] objects. Could the library be an instigator for hacker co-ops, infonistas, techno-mavens, and virtual gurus?

The first objection that comes to my mind is “There’s no need for it.” But isn’t there? How many students come to us frustrated with an inability to even conduct simple research tasks? How many more students never approach us because they don’t know where to begin?

As someone who can’t tell a circular saw from Adam, I can relate to the frustration of not knowing where to start due to a lack of what is actually very basic knowledge. Guilds like the ones formed by the Vermont students inspire just enough confidence and self-awareness to initiate the process of making. As librarians, are we in a position to inspire these types of groups with a focus on information and technology? How do we begin?

Propositions about the future of academic collections (Part 3)

Proposition 5: Collection managers should relinquish control in certain areas of collection development in order to focus on more complex collection needs.

Over the last decade, academic libraries have become more comfortable outsourcing certain activities to vendors or part-time, paraprofessional employees. Many technical services functions, especially original cataloging, have been handed over to organizations like OCLC and vendors like Yankee Book Peddler (Bracke, Hérubel, and Ward, 2010). The handling of gifts, an incredible use of staff time and resources, is often given over to Friends of the Libraries groups (Chadwell, 2010) when those collections are not unique or essential. There is a general consensus in the literature that outsourcing these activities provides collection development librarians with more time for assessment, developing unique aspects of a collection, and participating in consortia operations.

The patron-driven acquisitions model, a change in focus for collection managers and the theme of this year’s Charleston Conference, offers to radically change the way materials are selected. Hodges, Preston, and Hamilton (2010) discuss the success of an ILL purchase-on-demand program at the Ohio State University Libraries and illustrate how patron-initiated purchases can introduce useful and well-circulated materials into the collection. Currently, there are too many parameters that need to be determined before moving forward with a permanent program, but academic libraries across the country are working to integrate these models. As Bracke, Hérubel, and Ward (2010) point out, patron-driven acquisitions models allow librarians to spend less time managing collections and more time managing knowledge, a trend already entrenched in the “access” paradigm of collection management.

 


 

Proposition 6: Collection development librarians will require new models of assessment.

The scholarly landscape has already shifted from a dependence on print materials to dependence on digital materials. Users have access to more information than ever before in human history and, correspondingly, the complexity of their needs has increased. While librarians should continue to assess collections using traditional methods (e.g. circulation stats, gate counts, web-clicks), they must also find new and innovative ways to gather data about how users interact with information via the library. Horava (2010) argues that we should assess users in terms of their research activities (new vs. mature researcher) and access points (local vs. distance learners) instead of their demographics. The ability of current technology to manage extremely large and complex sets of data provides a unique opportunity to see our collections in a new light.

Librarians should also broaden their levels of assessment to move beyond one-dimensional statistics. Borin and Li (2008) offer a flexible, faceted assessment model for examining collections in terms of general characteristics, subject-matter, users, usage, and various contexts. As collection librarians shift their focus from collection management to knowledge management, these new assessment methods will provide more insightful analysis of the library’s ability to provide for its users.

 


 

Summing it all up

The current and future state of collection development can be summarized as a paradigm shift: from ownership to access, individual use to social use, content management to knowledge management. The growth of the internet and the explosion of digital materials have radically changed how libraries collect and manage resources in ways that librarians could not have predicted. Forecasting the next step will prove to be no less difficult.

Perhaps this has always been the case, as some of the literature seems to suggest. Ranganathan famously stated in his five laws of librarianship that the library is a growing organism. Like any organism, it adapts to its environment or it risks extinction. The propositions outlined above do not provide a definitive prediction of what the future holds for collection management, but it is my hope that they provide useful food for thought. In exercising our faculties to consider these possibilities, librarians and libraries can remain agile, flexible, and ready to change when the need arises.

 


 

References

Borin, J. & Li, H. (2008). Indicators for collection evaluation: A new dimensional framework. Collection Building, 27(4), 136-143.

Bracke, M., Hérubel, J.V.M., & Ward, S.M. (2010). Some thoughts on opportunities for collection development librarians. Collection Management, 35(3), 255-259.

Chadwell, F.A. (2010). What’s next for collection management and managers? Collection Management, 35(2), 59-68.

Hodges, D., Preston, C., & Hamilton, M.J. (2010). Patron-initiated collection development: Progress of a paradigm shift. Collection Management, 35(3/4), 208-21.

Horava, T. (2010). Challenges and possibilities for collection management in a digital age. Library Resources & Technical Services, 54(3), 142-52.

Propositions about the future of academic collections (Part 2)

I’ve been thinking about library collections and how they’ve changed over the past decade (again, culminating MLIS coursework is full-throttle until December). This week, I’m sharing six propositions for the future of academic library collections (here was Part 1). Your thoughts are welcomed in the comments!

 


 

Proposition 3: Virtual services and distance learning models will become even more integrated into higher education.

The rise of distance learning and online courses has helped to push the focus of collection development from print materials to digital materials and from ownership to access. Sennyey, Ross, and Mills (2009) and Mullins, Allen, and Hufford (2007) predict an even greater increase in the use of virtual services and virtual coursework in universities. While virtual reference, digital document delivery, off-campus access of electronic resources are fairly commonplace in academia, as universities increase the number of courses offered online, these services will become even more necessary. Borin and Li (2008) also highlight the fact that most users have greater technological competencies than in the past. We should expect that most of them will try to access resources from outside the library via digital networks, even when on-campus. Collection development librarians should consider these realities when making decisions regarding format and access models of resources.

 


 

Proposition 4: Libraries should push for increased ownership of digital materials and focus more of their efforts on local digital collections.

Universities have always been catalysts for original ideas and research. In the past, medieval and renaissance libraries were the custodians of that knowledge, managing incredibly complex and unique collections of original works, and eventually founding their own publishing houses to disseminate that material. Since the rise of commercial publishers, however, much of this responsibility to publish and disseminate material has moved into the hands of outside entities which were more adept at covering overhead costs and managing production. With the rise of the digital era and the falling cost of computer hardware, many libraries are reconsidering their role as publishers and producers of knowledge.

Some writers are calling for libraries to take greater responsibility in digitizing print resources and archiving born-digital materials (Adams, 2009; Atkinson, 2006; Hans, 2008). Alire (2010) and Pochoda (2008) emphasize the importance of building institutional repositories (IR) and the need for librarians to work with university administrators to encourage faculty participation. Creating a successful IR system will require changing the culture of academia by, among other things, raising awareness about the ongoing serials crisis in light of shrinking budgets, redefining the tenure process, highlighting the prestige of local archives, and improving access to institutional knowledge. Collection development librarians will need to use their expertise and experience working with complex collections in order to address the inevitable questions that will arise, such as: How will the collection be organized? What formats will be accepted? What types of materials will be included? Who will have access? and so forth.

More to come…

 


 

References

Adams, R.A. (2009). Archiving digital materials: An overview of the issues. Journal of Interlibrary Loan, Document Delivery & Electronic Reserve, 19(4), 325-335.

Alire, C.A & Evans, G.E. (2010). Academic librarianship. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers

Atkinson, R. (2006). Six key challenges for the future of collection development. Library Resources & Technical Services 50(4), 244-251.

Borin, J. & Li, H. (2008). Indicators for collection evaluation: A new dimensional framework. Collection Building, 27(4), 136-143.

Hans, T. (2008). Mass digitization: implication for preserving the scholarly record. Library Resources & Technical Services, 52(1), 18-26.

Mullins, J.L., Allen, F.R., & Hufford, J.R. (2007). Ten top assumptions for the future of academic libraries and librarians. College & Research Libraries, 68(4), 240-246.

Pochoda, P. (2008). Scholarly publication at the digital tipping point. Journal of Electronic Publishing, 11(2). Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.3998/3336451.0011.202

Sennyey, P., Ross, L., & Mills, C. (2009). Exploring the future of academic libraries: A definitional approach. Journal of Academic Librarianship, 35(3), 252-259.