Don’t rain on my parade

A sudden desire to delete all my social media accounts manifests itself in me about every two or three days. To be honest, it’s always there. Gnawing away at me. Part of my particular problem is that I’ve so thoroughly mixed my professional and personal persona that in order to disengage from “work” I have to also disengage from social media. So I’m usually drawn to articles about people who have cut the chord, gone off the grid, or taken extended digital sabbaticals, but this latest, click-baity article at The Guardian’s Academics Anonymous blog entirely misses the point of jumping off the social media ship.

Almost every paragraph is a straw man. In fact, let’s address the points one at a time:

“Wherever you go in the world, you can pretty much guarantee that a good proportion of the people around you will be too busy checking their phones to look up and appreciate their surroundings.”

Start off with a tired cliché. Check.

“We are in the midst of a selfie epidemic. We document every moment of our lives – the places we visit, the people we meet, the things we achieve. And now this culture has infiltrated the world of academia.”

I’ve been tweeting within academic circles since 2010. Where have you been?

“Before I go any further, let me explain: I am speaking from the perspective of a young PhD student, not some cranky old professor harking back to the Good Old Days.”

Ageist much? Just as an aside, one of the first academic social media communities I got involved with was medievalists and the average medievalist is not exactly a spring chicken, but I digress.

“Using social media to impress people that you know – as well as those that you have never met – has now become a professional concern for many academics. I see more and more of them live tweeting and hashtagging their way through events.”

Ok, fair enough. People too busy live-tweeting to engage with a speaker is annoying.

“When did it become acceptable to use your phone throughout a lecture, let alone an entire conference? No matter how good you think you are at multitasking, you will not be truly focusing your attention on the speaker, who has no doubt spent hours preparing for this moment.”

Maybe. I would bet many of them spent only the length of a plane flight building their slide deck, but your comment on multitasking is true enough.

“Some advocates argue that social media provides a form of dissemination – a way to share the conference with those who are unable to attend. For some tweeters, I am sure that is the case. But it appears that the majority perform this ritual as proof of their dedication to the profession, as if posting a picture marks them out as more enthusiastic than their peers.”

I’m sure some people do indeed tweet for the fame but you know what: some people publish, present, and go to all sorts of unnecessary conferences for the same reason. That doesn’t mean we should do away with travel grants. The majority? Something tells me this is unique to your social circle.

“I suspect that this trend stems from the work of careers advice gurus. “You must remember, potential employers could be Googling your name right now, keeping an eye on your social media timelines,” they advise. “Try to Tweet regularly to ensure that people know that you love your work and are truly dedicated to the world of science.” Perhaps I’m naive, but I need to believe that employability is not directly correlated to how many likes you get on your Instagram posts. I appear to be in the minority, however.”

As someone who has hired academics, yes: I will Google you and look at your various social media spaces. If they are personal in nature, I won’t give them a second thought. But if you maintain even a pseudo-professional space online, I will take that into consideration in the hiring process. Why? Because we all know that no one outside academia reads academic journalsSo if you are serving as a bridge between your research and public discourse, I salute you.

“At my university, there are some who utter the words “make sure you tweet a picture” on what feels like a daily basis. These are not social media representatives or marketing executives, but scientific staff. I know many academics who are unwilling to engage in any form of conversation in person, yet will happily broadcast their opinions and conversations to the entire online world.”

Ok, sure. I’ve said “Pics or it didn’t happen” before but I’ve never heard anyone say that in earnest. As to “broadcasting opinions to the world,” I shouldn’t have to say much about the benefit that social media provides for introverts and those of us who find in-person social events to be nerve-shattering and sometimes outright terror-inducing.

“Then there are the staff who go further than just tweeting about lectures and conferences. In the wake of the EU referendum, I have seen many using social media to voice very strong opinions, often criticising the general public en masse. Given that taxpayer money forms a substantial portion of our research funding, this kind of outburst risks alienating the very people we are trying to engage with.”

Surprise! Academics are humans, too. Even citizens. And have opinions outside their field of study.

“It has got to the point where those of us who wish to keep our social media accounts private, or for personal use only, face being frowned upon for somehow being less enthusiastic about what we do.”

I don’t know what you’ve experienced at your place of work, but I would probably never notice if one of my colleagues’ social media accounts went dark. Unless it was a close friend with whom I interacted daily, I rarely think about how others use social media. After you start following more than 150 people, it’s impossible to keep up with that.

“But surely the dedication I show in the lab, and the subsequent data I collect, should speak for itself. I do not – and should not – have to parade myself online to please my employer or to stake my claim as a good researcher. Can’t we save the showing off for where it’s really needed, in the dreaded grant applications?”

Absolutely. Unless social media is part of your job description (which it is part of mine), no one should be forced to engage socially online. There are plenty of good reasons not to have a public online presence. Women and people of color know this more than anyone. But you are speaking within in the context of science and the public (who as you’ve said above pays for your funding) has a vested interest in your research, the results of which may end up in an inaccessible journal using inaccessible language. If social media can make that research palatable, approachable, and human, is it not worth the effort?

Oh, and you know that the grant committee is Googling you, right?

The danger of academic elitism in libraries

One of the benefits of working for a Jesuit institution is having the opportunity, encouragement, and strategically-justified resources to engage in social justice work, both within the library, within the university, and in my community. However, having also worked within an institution where neoliberal ideals ran rampant, I understand Nisha Mody’s fear:

“But now that I am fully immersed in this deep dive, I also see the danger of academic elitism, an elitism which underpays adjunct professors and reflects neoliberal ideals. Will being an academic librarian make it difficult for me to effect change in the “real world” because I am so entrenched in academic lingo? Will lengthening my CV remove myself from applying the principles I promote? I often question if being a part of the academy will distance myself from those that are marginalized. So…do I still want to do this?”

The rest of the post on HackLibSchool is a worthwhile read and a good reminder for us old folks about the passions that drove us to library science in the first place.

What the Harvard letter to the faculty missed

The Faculty Advisory Council for the Libraries at Harvard recently sent out the following call to arms:

To: Faculty Members in all Schools, Faculties, and Units

RE: Periodical Subscriptions

We write to communicate an untenable situation facing the Harvard Library. Many large journal publishers have made the scholarly communication environment fiscally unsustainable and academically restrictive. This situation is exacerbated by efforts of certain publishers (called “providers”) to acquire, bundle, and increase the pricing on journals…

You can read the rest of the letter here, which concludes with nine propositions that the FAC asks faculty and librarians to “please consider,” including publishing in open-access journals, working with editorial boards, and making contract terms public. The FAC’s effort to inspire change is admirable and welcomed (albeit vaguely worded) but it fails to address two important players in the scholarly communication process: the role of tenure and the university administration.

To the latter, libraries and faculty need to urge university deans, presidents, and provosts to lead their institutions toward innovative and accessible models of scholarship that utilize the speed and efficiency of new technologies. To those leaders I say, “You have the opportunity and the leverage to change the status quo. Rise above the rest and make your institution a beacon of the future!” Don’t just encourage new models and expectations of scholarly communication: insist on them. Tie them into tenure process, if necessary, but then…

To the former, we must stop thinking of scholarship in terms of how it affects tenure. Specifically, as long as publishing in a high impact journal is still considered a “better” option than publishing research in an institutional repository, open-access journal, or a personal website, then journal publishers will always have the upper hand. After all, the ultimate aim of scholarship is to advance knowledge, not to publish it (which is only the means to an end) and as at least one recent study shows (Chen, C. et al., 2009), publishing on the open web increases the chances that a work will be cited. Moreover, faculty are freely giving away their time and attention to serve as peer-reviewers, writers, and editors for journals that turn around to charge unwarranted prices for access. To those faculty I say, “Why not freely give your time and attention to publishing platforms that, in the least, make your work accessible to the widest audience possible?”

The more I think about tenure, the scholarly publishing arena, and higher education in general, the more I come to believe that we are a bloated institution. The rising cost of tuition, the exorbitant amount of spending on new facilities and star faculty, combined with the lack of public trust and disillusionment with the efficacy of “going to college” to me all point to bubble about to burst. And burst hard.

 


Chen, C. et al (2009). The impact of internet resources on scholarly communication: A citation analysis. Scientometrics, 81(2), 459-474.

The faculty/staff divide: help or hindrance?

Many academic libraries in the United States have two groups of employees: faculty and staff. The dynamics of their relationship may vary from one institution to the next, depending on factors such as: (1) whether faculty have the option of tenure; (2) the disparity of wages; (3) whether faculty can become staff or vice versa if their position changes; (4) whether either group is unionized; and (5) what portion of each group is in management positions.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about the dynamics between these two groups (Full disclosure: I am staff.). There are certainly administrative reasons* for dividing library employees into faculty and staff, but is there justification to divide them functionally? That is, is it beneficial for the organization to say “the faculty are expected to perform all the functions listed in Group A and the staff, all the functions in Group B.”

For example, Group A might include (1) information science research; (2) department liaison work; (3) subject-based collection development or reference; (4) director-level responsibilities; (5) assessment. Group B might include (1) managing daily operations of staff and facilities; (2) student supervising; (3) paraprofessional work; (4) systems work; (5) communications and/or marketing.

I can understand that dividing faculty/staff along functional lines is beneficial to the individual: e.g. faculty can focus on areas of responsibility that help in gaining tenure; staff can focus on areas of responsibility that do not have that added pressure. But is it beneficial to the organization? Does it help us to be nimble? To be innovative? Does it help us get things done?

One might argue that we divide faculty and staff because their education and experience  tends to be significantly different. Most faculty jobs require an MLIS and some experience working within a subject field. But as the management qualities, technological skills, and outreach/programming needs of library organizations become  increasingly more complex, as it becomes easier for full-time employees to pursue an MLIS, and as the landscape of higher education changes each day (especially with regard to digital technologies), how can we expect that the needs and expectations of our organization will line up with skills of our employees as defined by the faculty/staff divide?

Thus, my proposition to you:

If the academic library continues to work within this construct, one that divides staff and faculty not only administratively but also conceptually, it will be unable to adapt, unable to move quickly in response to the needs of its students and faculty. Moreover, it will be unable to get ahead of the game and become a strategic leader on campus.

Thoughts?

 


*”Faculty” often means the option of tenure. I am not arguing for or against tenure here. For a more complete discussion of tenure in academic libraries, I recommend John Budd’s The Changing Academic Library (Chicago: ACRL, 2005), especially p. 265-270.

Academic news roundup: assessment, active learning, and online ed

Derek Rodriguez, writing for In the Library with the Lead Pipe, reported on a 2011 study that utilized the Understanding Library Impacts (ULI) protocol, a method of studying and reporting the library’s impact on student learning.

Libraries need efficient methods for connecting student use of the library with the learning outcomes that matter most to faculty and stakeholders. Failure to do so leaves libraries out of important campus conversations about student learning. The ULI protocol is designed to meet this challenge.

Meredith Farkas, writing for American Library, talked about incorporating active learning into online instruction:

It’s one thing to tell someone how to do something, but to have them actually do it themselves, with expert guidance, makes it much more likely that they’ll be able to do it later on their own.

The New York Times reported on new initiatives to measure student learning:

The concern is less about measuring knowledge of chemistry or literature than about harder to define skills like critical thinking and problem-solving.

Special Note: Arum & Roksa’s Academically Adrift is mentioned. Everybody drink!

Finally, The Chronicle and Inside Higher Ed gave us inside information on two online learning platforms: 2tor and Udacity. 2tor is a platform used by Georgetown University, UNC Chapel Hill, and my place of work, the University of Southern California, to provide online instruction for graduate programs. On the flip side, Udacity is a platform for offering free college-level courses in computer science. Enjoy!

All in favor?

“Perhaps in the futility of undergraduate careerism lie the seeds of a new vocational outlook in higher education. It is worth remembering that monasteries were the first institutions in the West that allowed people to explore options beyond the circumstances into which they were born. […] Why not bring together a core group of serious-minded but underemployed academics—who already have adopted a life of poverty, more or less—to form a college that has none of the superfluities that have made higher education the equivalent of a four-year Carnival cruise?”

Source: “Getting Medieval on Higher Education” by Thomas H. Benton, the Chronicle of Higher Education.

My favorite blog of 2010

A recent discussion thread on Friendfeed toyed with topics dear to the heart of information literacy enthusiasts. I gave up regularly contributing to FF months ago (so many social networks, so little time), but this particular conversation caught my eye and made me reconsider jumping back into that community. In short, one commenter was lampooning one of those “Top X Library Blogs” post that had suspicious authorship (remember to always check out the “about” page!). The conversation that ensued touched on issues of bias and authenticity on the web, the link economy, and then devolved into hilarious punning.

My opinion on the matter aside, I started thinking about the blogs that I love to read. There are, of course, the staples of my reading diet: In the Library with the Lead Pipe, ACRLog, Information Wants to Be Free, Academic Librarian, and a few others. But one blog caught my attention this year and I thought, in light of shill LIS websites backed by suspicious entities, I should take the time to offer a genuine recommendation of one library blog: Sense and Reference.

Sense and Reference, authored by Wilk, a librarian at a Tennessee university, has been online for over a year and covers everything from library-related technology in the digital divide to collaboration in social media, even post-[post-?]-structuralist theories in library science. Recently, Wilk has been posting on transliteracy and wrote a guest post over on Bobbi Newman’s blog. His writing style is academic and acute, but still playful and just a delight to read… unlike the drab and insufferable style of this blog 😉

If you are interested in information literacy or just generally like reading about issues related to academic librarianship, I highly recommend checking out Sense and Reference. Enjoy!

Personal information management in academia

I’ve been thinking about Personal Information Management (PIM) for the last few weeks as I’ve been wrapping up my semester course work. For my class on Human Information Interactions, I developed a short annotated bibliography for research on how faculty and researchers organize information. I initially had some trouble locating articles that dealt specifically with PIM in academia: most research examines information workers outside of the university. However, there were a handful of useful studies and I thought I would share those in case anyone else needed a good starting point.

Introduction

While scholarly communication has received significant attention from researchers in the field of human information behavior, less attention has been given to how scholars actually organize their files in the pre– and post– publication stages of research. As the world of academic research becomes increasingly digital, networked, and transparent, information scientists should turn their attention to the underlying structures, methodologies, habits, and perceptions of personal archiving in a university environment. Not only is it easier in a digital environment to track the scholarly communication process, but by focusing on these activities, we will see how digital networks are changing the ways scholars create, store, and disseminate information at all stages of research, from planning to publication and beyond.

The field of Personal Information Management (PIM) provides a theoretical and practical framework for discussing the technical details of the research process. Unfortunately, even though there are numerous PIM studies on engineers, travel agencies, financial firms, legal firms, etc., researchers have rarely turned a critical eye upon their own practices. Perhaps, as many of the works below suggest, this is due to the realization that PIM is uniquely tailored by each individual: no one system works for everyone. Those studies that do exist are fairly limited in scope, usually focusing on a single tool (e.g. email, bookmarks) or a single user group (e.g. computer scientists, graduate students). Few studies broadly discuss PIM in a university environment.

The following works were chosen because, in part or in whole, they deal with PIM in a university environment by faculty and researchers. Together, they provide a rough outline of the major concerns for PIM in academia: How much information should be saved? How will it be organized? Who should be responsible for its organization and preservation? What motivations drive information storage? What barriers exist and what are the implications for scholarly communication? For more information on PIM in general, I recommend the works of William Jones and Jamie Teevan, especially their Personal Information Management (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2007) and Peter Williams, Jeremy John, and Ian Rowland’s 2009 article “The personal curation of digital objects: A lifecycle approach” (Aslib Proceedings, 61(4), 340–363).

Bibliography

Boardman, R. & Sasse, M.A. (2004). “Stuff goes into the computer and doesn’t come out”: A cross-tool study of personal information management. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 583–590). New York: Association for Computing Machinery.

Boardman and Sasse are constantly referred to in the literature that exists on how faculty and researchers organize personal information. Their research provides data and a methodology for creating an empirical foundation for PIM. In the study, information about how users in an academic setting organize information was collected across multiple tools (email, files, and bookmarks) and over time. All the participants except for one were from the university community and the majority of the participants were researchers. Using interviews, observations of the work environment, and long-term observations of file management, the authors examined the structures, maintenance, and retrieval preferences of the participants.

This research provides useful information for understanding how some individuals organize information and how they feel about their personal organizational methods. For example, the authors discovered that when users had similar hierarchies of file folders and hierarchies of email folders (termed “overlap”), users did so according to their roles (e.g. teacher) or projects (e.g. research proposal). Additionally, the users that filed items more frequently (daily) and had established organizational systems exhibited a sense of pride at their ability to organize their files over the years, even while simultaneously recognizing flaws in their system. This confirms what other studies have suggested: that the best PIM system is a highly personalized one.

Most importantly, the authors conclude that the categories used to describe information organizers in previous studies, such as Whittaker and Sidner’s “pilers” and “filers” (Whittaker, S. & Sidner, C. (1996). Email overload: Exploring personal information management of email. Proceedings CHI 1996, 276–283.), were not granular enough to describe all users. The participants in this study used multiple PIM strategies across multiple tools and did not easily fir in the previously established categories. This study provides a broader framework, based on previous research but adapted to describe the results of this experiment, for discussing the various PIM strategies.

Foster, N.F. & Gibbons, S. (2005). Understanding faculty to improve content recruitment for institutional repositories. D-Lib Magazine 11(1). Retrieved November 22, 2010, from http://www.dlib.org/dlib/january05/foster/01foster.html

In this year-long study funded by a 2003 Institute of Museum and Library Services grant, Nancy Foster and Susan Gibbons of the University of Rochester River Campus Libraries system sought to understand how faculty manage information. The purpose of their research was to find innovative ways to market and adapt IR systems to meet faculty needs, ultimately increasing participation. The article’s goal is not to explore PIM, but its findings provide insight into how faculty manage personal information and the information needs of individuals in a research environment.

The authors asked faculty members what they expected from an IR system. The majority of faculty indicated that they wanted tools for authoring, archiving, disseminating, locating, and reading research. They also expressed a desire for tools to control versioning, access information anywhere, and control access by other users. Faculty want their research to be archived with similar materials (related by subject), which suggests how they conceptualize the context of their personal information in a networked environment. In many cases, faculty had already created systems and methods that met these needs without specialized software: e.g. emailing files to oneself or to family members as a versioning control system. The broad array of responses indicates the wide range of information needs.

The observations and documentation of the faculty at work were based on anthropological participant observation. The data was gathered and analyzed by a diverse team that included reference librarians, computer scientists, an anthropologist, a programmer, a cataloger, and a graphic designer: an aspect that makes the research particularly insightful. The latter half of the article is primarily concerned with how to use this information to market buy-in for IR systems. For the purposes of this bibliography, it illustrates one practical benefit of understanding how faculty organize information.

Gandel, P.B., Katz, R.N., Metros, S.E. (2004). The “weariness of the flesh”: Reflections on the life of the mind in an era of abundance. EDUCAUSE Review, 39(2), 40–5.

The authors of this commentary on the current state of knowledge management in higher education offer a CIO’s perspective on the future of personal information organization. Grandel, Vice-Provost for Information Services and Dean of University Libraries at the University of Rhode Island; Katz, Vice-President of EDUCAUSE; and Metros, Deputy CIO and Executive Director for eLearning at Ohio State University, combine their extensive experience working with various stake-holders in the information landscape of universities to offer simple solutions to the problem of information abundance and recommend ways to encourage faculty buy-in on institutional repositories.

The authors claim that before the age of the computer, there was a fairly stable equilibrium between the demand for information and the supply of people to teach that information, but that now we live in an era of information abundance. The shift from an industrial to a knowledge economy, the falling cost of computer processors, the rapid adoption of information systems for all aspects of operations, and the growing acceptance of education as a life-long process have all contributed to a growing dependence on information resources in higher education. The future promises to be an age of abundance as individuals discover and utilize their ability to archive any and all aspects of human life in digital form. This includes the production of scholarly works.

The authors suggest that we think of the information landscape in terms of “ecologies” and of individuals as the organisms within that ecosphere. How will we study these organisms? How will we adapt our ecosystem to meet the needs of these individuals? What necessities will this ecosystem requires? These questions, though not asked explicitly, are suggested as the authors discuss the roles in which administrators, librarians, archivists, and publishers play in this new ecosystem. Grandel, Katz, and Metros conclude by recommending that institutional repositories be easy to use and seamlessly integrated with [faculty] desktop systems to encourage use and provide a stress-free way of incorporating tacit and explicit institutional knowledge into the networked ecosystem of information. Their image of the future calls to mind a great university-run Memex, both individual and institutional in its scope. For the purposes of this bibliography, this article provides an institution-wide perspective on the implications of PIM when integrated into a networked environment.

Kaye, J., Vertesi, J., Avery, S., Dafoe, A., David, S., Onaga, L., Rosero, I., et al. (2006). To have and to hold. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 275–284). New York: Association for Computing Machinery.

Kaye et al. set out to discover how academics at one Ivy League university organize and archive their information and to understand the values inherent in their organizational system. The authors posed a set of questions to 48 academics, took pictures of their information spaces, and qualitatively analyzed the results. They discovered five principle reasons for personal archiving: (1) retrieval, (2) legacy building (3) resource sharing, (4) fear of loss, and (5) identity construction. While the organizational systems varied from one individual to the next, each system tended to utilize one particular medium (e.g. bookshelves, boxes, file folders, digital bookmarks) that was influenced by the organizer’s principal values (the five stated above) and work lifestyle (e.g. single office vs. multiple office).

Kaye et al.‘s study suggests that the need to retrieve information is neither the only nor the most important reason for personal archiving among academics. Additionally, the study states that no one system was significantly more effective at information retrieval than any other. Academics archive material for reasons that are not always rational (e.g. fear of loss) or immediately transparent (e.g. identity construction). Based on this knowledge, system designers should develop information systems that reflect the values inherent in personal archiving. Currently-used systems can be judged according to these values. The authors also suggest studying the relationship between personal identity and the customization of desktops, blogs, and personal websites when designing digital archiving tools.

Marshall, C.C. (2008). From writing and analysis to the repository: Taking the scholars’ perspective on scholarly archiving. In Proceedings of the 8th ACM/IEEE-CS Joint Conference on Digital Libraries (pp. 251–260). New York: Association for Computing Machinery.

Catherine Marshall of Microsoft Research and the Center for the Study of Digital Libraries at Texas A&M University, studied the information behaviors of 14 computer scientists with a significant number of publications in their field in order to understand how they organized information related to their research. The participants in this study were more familiar with computing environments and thus illustrated more complex PIM practices. Marshall used semi-structured, open-ended interviews and observations over the course of six months to gather her data.

The participants in the study typically made an effort to archive six types of materials: (1) paper sources of their publications, (2) digital copies of the same, (3) research codes (4) data sets and logs, (5) bibliographies of related work, and (6) email. These files existed in various forms of completion, across multiple tools, and among multiple collaborators, illustrating the complex nature of scholarly communication in a digital, networked environment. Of particular note, Marshall discovers that personal archiving is more a side effect of collaboration and publication than a unique, intended process. If files are shared with colleagues via email, then email becomes the tool used for version control and storage. In her words, personal archiving is at once both “opportunistic” and “social.”

This study also raised a number of interesting questions about PIM, including: if two or more authors are collaborating on a single publication, who has the authoritative version? At what point do data sets become archive-worthy: as raw data or after the data has been worked on? Do citations stored in BibTex files need to be complete or just enough so that they are recognizable? Marshall ends by offering implications for collaborative information management, for personal scholarly archives, and for institutional and disciplinary repositories.

Winget, M.A., Chang, K. & Tibbo, H. (2006). Personal email management on the University Digital Desktop: User behaviors vs. archival best practices. Proceedings of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 43(1), 1–13.

This article offers a summary of the findings of a three-year project that examined the records management behaviors– particularly email management– of faculty and staff at two North Carolina universities. In-depth interviews were used to collect information about the subjects’ organization methods, retention habits, and concerns about digital information. While the majority of the article discusses the practice of record retention in the legal context of a state-supported university, it does provide some useful data for understanding how faculty and staff at a university manage their email, including: how important emails are stored; how emails are organized; and how attachments are stored.

Winget, Chang, and Tibbo discovered a variety of behaviors when it came to how important messages were stored, including saving them to a hard-drive or network drive, printing them out, moving them to a sub-folder, flagging them, moving them to another format (e.g. Microsoft Word), and leaving them in the inbox. The majority of respondents (88%) used a folder system to organize emails, most ranging from 11 to 50 folders. 89% of the respondents saved attachments outside the email program. Like other studies, this shows the variety of methods university faculty and staff use to organize information. While there are certainly strong tendencies to organize information in a particular way, no one system is shown to be more effective than another.

Winget, M.A. & Ramirez, M. (2006). Developing a meaningful digital self-archiving model: Archival theory vs. natural behavior in the Minds of Carolina Research Project. Proceedings of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 43(1), 1–12.

The goal of this paper was to examine how users, specifically university faculty, might choose to self-archive digital objects. The authors interviewed two faculty members, one scientist and one humanities scholar, and asked them to consider and collect what they would submit to a digital archive and discuss how they would organize it. The two faculty members took two very different approaches. The scientist intentionally excluded lab notebooks (an item the authors considered to be of great academic value), created a lengthy narrative of his career to accompany the materials that he did include, and mostly referenced his publications by providing links to PubMed citations rather than submitting the actual documents themselves. The humanities scholar provided materials related to the development of a single monograph. These included documents that illustrated the creative and iterative process of translation (of poetry) and contextualized the monograph within the scholar’s work and professional connections. For example, he included pre-prints of the work that contained notes from other colleagues.

Winget and Ramirez spend much of the article making recommendations for future developments of digital archives. Concerning personal information management, they discovered that the desire to self-archive at the early stage of one’s career is inhibited by (1) lack of need to reflect and “look back” and (2) the hesitation to publish mistakes, especially in light of a rigorous tenure process. The article also illustrates how two people can chose two radically different approaches to organizing information and deciding what information is worthy of preservation. Additionally, Winget and Ramirez point out that these approaches were contrary to archival best practices.

Zimmerman, E. (2009). PIM @ academia: How e-mail is used by scholars. Online Information Review, 33(1), 22–42.

In this study, Eric Zimmerman, Vice-Provost for Academic Affairs and Director of Research at Interdisciplinary Center Herzlia in Israel, assesses the relationships between email use and scholarly work. While not an original research question, this study, performed decades after the introduction of email, is unique in that it is undertaken at a time when it is understood, based on previous studies, that the vast majority of scholars today are comfortable using email technology.

Zimmerman surveyed 390 faculty members of the humanities, social sciences, and sciences at Bar-Ilan University in Israel. The surveys were distributed via email and paper formats and asked faculty members a number of questions regarding email use, level of comfort, skill level, and the application of email for scholarly communication. Of 17 predefined uses, faculty mostly used email for: proposal development use, manuscript submission, research collaboration, and participation in committees.

Other important findings include: (1) a negative correlation between age and self-described email skill: older users expressed lower levels of comfort using email; (2) 45% of those surveyed feel overloaded, but almost 65% expressed little difficulty in organizing email; and (3) scholars with more publications tended to use email more frequently. Additionally, Zimmerman found that while respondents view email as a benefit to scholarly work (rated on a Likert scale), when the results are broken down by school, humanities faculty generally rate its benefit lower than social sciences or sciences faculty.

The results of this study suggest that email is perhaps the most widely used tool in the scholarly communication process, serving the processes of communication, collaboration, drafting, peer-review, manuscript submission, versioning, and archiving in the publication process.

I hope this information is helpful. If you have additional resources on Personal Information Management in universities, please share in the comments

Bubble trouble in academia

Always providing high-quality food for thought, Steven Bell writes for  the Library Journal about the “higher education bubble”. The rising cost of tuition, the availability of open education resources, and the economic crisis are widening the divide between the actual cost of education and its perceived value. Though studies continue to show the value of a degree and its long-term impact on an individual’s net worth, these numbers have been falling as people begin to acquire more and more debt in order to pay for that degree.

Some may take the warning signs as a foreshadowing of events sure to come while others may brush them off as mere apocalyptic hysteria. I imagine many academics far somewhere in the middle: recognizing the fact that it’s coming but not making much effort to understand or prepare for what could dramatically change the landscape of higher ed.

Let’s not make the mistake that newspapers made.

Newspapers provide a useful model for thinking about a potential burst in the academic market. Before the networked, internet-based economy began to rise in the late 1990s, newspapers ruled the landscape of news media. Their business model was one of risk aggregation and hierarchical efficiency. Large numbers of journalists could be employed to produce a single, high-quality product that people could not get otherwise. The internet changed that landscape by providing an essentially no-risk, no-cost environment in which anyone could produce news and, through the currency of the link, could become a news provider. Combine that with the individual’s ability to filter (to essentially be their own editor-in-chief) and anyone could have their own, personalized New York Times for a much lower cost. Granted, it may not be the same level of quality, but at a certain point, people are willing to settle (cf. satisficing).

That’s a messy summary, but it quickly gets to my point: the system of delivery changed while the value of the product dropped just enough to where consumers defaulted to the cheaper option. Sure, there are choirs of  humanists, scientists, and public intellectuals who will sing the glories of academia all day long (just listen to any of the commencement speeches currently taking place across the country). But like newspapers, content matters little when you have a business model that no longer works.

What would happen to academic libraries if the higher education bubble burst? Is there anything we can do to prevent it? The newspapers tried and failed (are still failing). Instead, maybe we should ask, how can we begin making steps to transition to a new existence when that day comes?

We need to start continue doing more with less. The economic crisis of the last two years has forced us to cut budgets and staff. We need to reflect on what we learned during that process and take that with us as we move forward.

We need to get our users more involved. We won’t be able to carry the organization on our own. If value comes from sharing, collaboration, use, and links, then we need to build up our user base before we can take advantage of their trading power.

We have to market harder. People need to know our value if we expect them to carry us forward into the future. We should be seeking out new ways to extend our services, even if it falls outside the typical job description of academic librarians. We have resources. Let’s use them!

We need to open up our catalogs and make the data more accessible on the web. If users don’t find us in a Google Search, then we’re already one step behind everyone else. If we haven’t learned it by now, we have to come to where are users are at. There is a rule of thumb that I learned from a recent web design teacher: 30 seconds, 3 clicks. If users can’t get what they need in 30 seconds or in 3 clicks of the mouse, they will go elsewhere. (Of course, the 64 million dollar question is: how can we get them there in 1 click?)

…and related to that…

We need to enrich our digital materials (online exhibits, scanned books, the catalog). Metadata is king. Without a strong infrastructure, it will be increasingly more difficult for other services to integrate with ours. That’s one of the wonderful things about this new open and digital environment: if people like you, they will develop for you. iPhone users crack their devices not because they hate Apple (though I’m sure some do), but because they love Apple and want to make their devices more useful.

How can we get to the point where our users work for us?