Tuesday, December 31, 2013

How #librarianfestivus explains the states of librarianship in 2013

While I was burning vacation days, use it or lose it!, Andy Woodworth went and did it again.
His post was much more of an airing of grievances than a feat of strength, and then The Chronicle of Higher Education inexplicably sent out a tweet, since deleted, with the hashtag "librarianfestivus."

Thanks to The Stacks Cat for retweeting that before it was deleted,
enabling me to screen capture it.
The outpouring that followed nicely sums up the year in libraries, both for better and for worse.

Confession: I can never remember what the G stands for anyway.
On vendor relations:
I ranted about this earlier in the year and while I suspect the "Big Deal" is going to take some hits in the next year, I also think we librarians are going to be stuck with it.

On why unpaid internships suck (tl:dr, they perpetuate inequality, are exploitative):

My Place of Work has a position titled "Library Intern." It's paid, as it should be.

MLIS bashing

And of course "the graph" made an appearance.

Via Liz Lieutenant 
To make matters worse, the most popular metrics one might use to chose a school are flawed. But in 2014, maybe, just maybe, we will be in a position to do something about this.

On faculty passing the buck to libraries, giving up copyright...

On the price of textbooks:
In 2014 I hope academic librarians work closely with faculty on open-access textbook options, and that more faculty write and unlock said texts. The wheels are already in motion here, thanks to the State Universities of New York, the University of California system, the University of Minnesota, and Rice University, among others.

There's an article for that...
And of course the Think Tank was mentioned as well. Quote Andy:
Honestly, if you can’t control your resident lunatics, please at least keep them within the confines of your posting area. When people in the position of hiring within the library start talking about membership in the group as being a liability on the resume, you might want to work on your image within the library world.
Here's what I said to Hiring Librarians about ALA Think Tank, to be published by that site shortly (UPDATE on 1/3, here it is):
Membership in the ALA Think Tank Facebook group won't hurt a candidate in my eyes, but participation is another story. Ninety-five percent of what goes on in that group is fine by me, so if you use the group to "make it happen" and get ideas/feedback/discuss the issues of the day, that's great. But the remaining five percent gives me a great deal of pause. If your participation in ALA Think Tank includes making fun of South Asians, being sexist and using the group to create gendered spaces, subtweeting and bickering with your peers as if librarianship is junior high school, and generally acting like a "drunken embarrassment," then yes, participation in the group is going to hurt a candidate's chances with me.
via Twitter
I'm heartened that in 2013 I saw much more discussion (and please do read the links therein) of diversity, gender, race, class, and I aim to further this dialogue in 2014. However, this needs to progress beyond discussion.  While I grew up in one majority minority city and now work and live in another (thus as a hiring manager I have a slate of candidates available that other hiring librarians do not), if there's anything I can do to move this topic from one of position to one of maneuvers, I will do it.

Happy New Year!

Cheers, Jake

Monday, December 23, 2013

2013 Beer in Review: Craft Versus Crafty Isn't Going Anywhere

Beer aficionados' reactions to Goose Island's release of various coveted Bourbon County Brand Stouts (BCBS) tells us a bit about the current state how we view beer, and it's not always pretty.

In short, beer is like music in 1993, full of people complaining about "selling out."

But in 2013 there's very little discussion of selling out in music. Instead, you like what you like. It helps that mainstream music is plenty weird on its own, whereas mainstream beer is not, unless you count Shock Top Midnight Wheat. Craft beer is still young, in its teenage, Holden Caufield stage, railing against "phonies," and while this is happening, maybe the world is passing it by.

Instead, we're having yet another discussion about "craft versus crafty," which is what a certain trade association wants us to talk about. It would be nice if beer in 2013 could be like music in 2013. Because how far do we want to take the "sell out" argument? If someone wearing Nikes wants to complain about Widmer's distribution network, I'm not interested in that conversation. You wear Nikes because you like them, right? They feel good? They look good? Okay. Now, what's wrong with Goose Island's Sofie?

(There's plenty wrong with Sofie's parent company, which makes sexist and homophobic beer adverts. Then again, where were those Nikes made? Innocence has a price, a craft beer is a more affordable price to pay than most.)
Like Jeppe at Evil Twin doesn't benefit from this schism. He has a boogeyman to rail against. It gets better: some of Evil Twin's beer is brewed at Westbrook in South Carolina. A significant amount of money earned at InBev, parent company of Anheuser Busch, helped build that facility.

Craft beer exists in large part because the macros didn't make what a significant number of people wanted to drink. Compare this to bourbon.

All that bourbon? It's good. Via GQ Magazine
If macros made beer as good as Beam makes whiskey, then maybe there isn't any craft beer.

I am interested in supporting local, and supporting good. Craft usually supplies the first part of that statement, but the "craft" label is less reliable in terms of taste, so in 2014 let's also distinguish between what tastes good and what doesn't.
For a good read on where Goose Island is, and where they will go, please see this Ad Age article. Though I have some concerns about their flagship beers, like 312 Wheat Ale, it seems as if they're spending their money wisely. Beer aficionados should do the same.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Cease. And Desist. (A Prelude to My Year in Lists.)

Last week, I played journalist and broke a story that DC Brau, a local brewery that makes a beer called "The Citizen," had sent a cease and desist letter to a yet-to-open local brewery that wanted to call themselves Citizens Brewing Company. This after some conversations between the two parties.

I thought it newsworthy because while DC has been a nice place to drink beer for some time, we've only had production breweries for about four years, following a period of nearly sixty years without. It was our first public conflict over trademarks. It was a learning experience for brewers and consumers alike. No doubt other news outlets thought it merited articles as well, and hey, it's nice to claim "firsties."

However, I was a bit taken aback by the reaction, which, in many parts of the internet I frequent, portrayed DC Brau as bullies. All this for defending and protecting a brand they had spent four years creating and maintaining.

So I took off the journalist hat and put on the op-ed one. To wit:
Imagine walking into a bar in Silver Spring and ordering “a Citizen.” “Which one?” replies the bartender. To further complicate the matter, continue the hypothetical and say you don’t like the beer you’re handed. This being 2013, you tell your friends on social media that you didn't like said beer. Now you, dear reader, know the difference between these two brands, one the name of a brewery, the other the name of a beer made eight-and-a-half miles away. The well-trained bartender also knows the difference. But as we play the game of Telephone, things get muddled. At some point, someone will say “Oh yeah, my friend had a beer called Citizen in DC and didn't like it.” In that case, both brands, both the beer’s and the brewery’s, suffer. In a similar scenario in the craft beer alternate universe, you have a beer from Citizens and like it, and then a confused friend, one who happens to not like Belgian-style ales, orders a Brau based on that, and dislikes it. Brand confusion is the name of the game here. 
A large problem stems from the perception that though people pay for craft beer, it is somehow exempt from the forces that govern other economic transactions. Craft beer is a business.
Some of the nicest, most generous people I've met in any business are in the beer business, but it’s a business all the same. Craft beer is not a hobby. That would be homebrewing. Craft beer does not come from magic elves. It comes from businessmen and -women, with employees and bills to pay. The notion that craft breweries are somehow separate from other businesses because of the products they make is false and harmful.
For more on this, heavily excerpted above, please go here.

Let's debate!

Citizens Brewing Company is now Denizens. You can meet them here.

From Denizens, via DCBeer.

Elsewhere on this site, vaguely related: Copyright for Educators.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Fifty-Seven Channels and Nothing On: The Big Deal

Ah yes, the Big Deal, in which many many many titles are bundled and sold to libraries. Usually it's journals in databases, but sometimes it's a package of ebooks, or a suite of videos, or other multimedia project.

The Big Deal is useful; it allows overtaxed library staff to focus on something other than collection development, especially in areas s/he may not be familiar with (waves to our School of Nursing). The Big Deal puts many resources at our fingertips.

But the big deal is a product of extreme cynicism; as mentioned above, it removes collection development from the purview of library staff. And the far majority of the resources don't get used. The Big Deal is your cable television package: fifty-seven channels and nothing on. Though now it's more like nine hundred channels, tens of thousands of journals. So many options! We're adding more every day! Please pay more for them.

"Wow. Such choices. Amaze. Many research." Via Giphy/thebiggyiff
The Big Deal is patrolled, contested space, in which Harvard Business Review can police your IP addresses and servers, looking for signs of, lord forbid!, actual use while the parent institution, Harvard University, purports to be a proponent of open access.

And as of right now, the Big Deal isn't going anywhere. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

On Failure: “Elizabethtown: Embedded Librarianship as Overreach.”

The following is a web-based version of a presentation given at the Fall Program of the Association of College and Research Libraries, Maryland Chapter, at The Johns Hopkins University on Friday, November 15th, "Library Secrets: Confessions of Falling Flat and How to Get Right Back Up."
"As somebody once said: There's a difference between a failure and a fiasco. A failure is simply the nonpresence of success. Any fool can accomplish failure. But a feeassscoe, a fiasco is a disaster of mythic proportions. A fiasco is a folk tale told to others that makes other people feel more alive because. It. Didn't. Happen. To. Them." - Orlando Bloom, Elizabethtown
As a library director, I fail a lot, so it was really just a matter of which failure to present. I chose this one in part because I consider it our, my, most epic spectacular failure.

Our fair campus. All photos, charts, gifs, graphs,... from the slides.
We wanted to drive traffic to the library website and to the library building.

Main Reading Room, State Library of NSW, Sydney (NSW)
In the second semester in which faculty were supposed to use a learning management system (LMS), we in the library asked to be "embedded" in a few select courses. We gave students, faculty, and staff a semester to become familiar with the LMS, but we were still very new to the platform, and that's true of not only the students and faculty, but also library staff.

Drie pantertjes geboren in Artis, Nationaal Archief
By embedding ourselves in the LMS, students and faculty would get increased access to librarians and one-click library assistance, in addition to content tailored to their needs via our LibGuides, which are not actual LibGuides, but built out of WordPress. In turn, library staff would get increased access to students and faculty, allowing us to expand our digital presence and footprint. We would also have a better handle on student assignments because syllabi were all in the LMS. It was win-win.

Speaking the language of assessment, we came up with student learning outcomes as well.
  • become better and more rigorous researchers   
  • be assisted in developing better critical thinking skills in organizing and executing their research assignments become better academic writers to include more knowledgeable use of citations, references, and bibliographies 
  • become greater consumers of library services
Profit!, icanhazcheezburger.com, Initial image via KSB Photos
However, moving from theory to practice, operationalizing, was tricky.

Theory v. Practice, Scott Brinker, chiefmartec.com
We started small on purpose, with a pilot program that was going to target three (3) courses. However, after an email was sent out to gauge faculty interest, the program expanded dramatically.... to sixty-three (63) courses.

Airplane! gif, From the film, thegameboycolor.tumblr.com via Giphy
Nonetheless, the eager library staff went into these courses, via the learning management system. We introduced ourselves, linked to relevant resources such as our research guides, and started discussion threads.

Spongebob, from the show, Reaction Gifs
Across sixty-three courses, guess how many interactions we had with students and faculty on these discussion boards.

Three! Three interactions!

McNulty, The Wire, Reaction Gifs
Again, three.

Three flamingos, Unknown 8-bit video game, pixelian.tumblr.com via Giphy
We, the library staff, didn't understand. What was wrong with us? Why didn't people like us? Why didn't they use this platform to ask us questions, to get help, to interact?

Overly Attached Couple,  Patrick Gill and Laina Morris, Know Your Meme
 As you can see from the image below, people were interacting and participating, just not with us, the library staff. The dismal data we collected went into a file I named "Elizabethtown."

Why Elizabethtown? Because it is a movie about a disaster that is itself a disaster. Meta! In the film, Orlando Bloom plays a disgraced sneaker designer whose latest product has flopped. He comes home for his father's funeral.
"As somebody once said: There's a difference between a failure and a fiasco. A failure is simply the nonpresence of success. Any fool can accomplish failure. But a feeassscoe, a fiasco is a disaster of mythic proportions. A fiasco is a folk tale told to others that makes other people feel more alive because. It. Didn't. Happen. To. Them." - Orlando Bloom, Elizabethtown
Elizabethtown poster, Paramount Pictures,
IMP Awards
The film is also notable because it gives us the "manic pixie dream girl" trope. In The Onion AV Club article that contains that term, the film is called a "Bataan death march of whimsy."

Based on that horrible data, library staff pivoted to the autopsy.

Captain America Prop Auction - Iron Man 2 armor, Flickr user Doug Kline
for PopCultureGeek.com
We learned that some faculty never turned on the learning management system or built out courses therein, some faculty had no idea what to do with the LMS, the roles library staff would play in the LMS were too undefined for both students and faculty, and we library staff had overreached and overshot. The LMS was still too new; to the extent that there was an organizational culture around the LMS it was nascent.

Facepalm from The Naked Gun, Paramount Pictures, Reaction Gifs
We were so busy wallowing that we overlooked the good.

Dr. Who in the Rain, from the television show, Reaction Gifs 
This widget we created and put on every in-course LMS page did give us some good news.

As it turned out, our LMS was responsible for a non-trivial amount of traffic to our website.

While we cannot control for time, and there are certainly other factors at play, traffic is clearly up in the second semester of LMS use. It could be the case that students were getting used to the LMS in the second semester, and that they were using the library more as a result of our one-shot library instruction sessions and information literacy efforts, for example. We chose to interpret this data as even though the discussion boards and embedding were a disaster, there was a silver lining here.

That second link from our MLS to the library website is actually from the gradebook section. That is, students check their grades, then directly head to the library website. Pretty impressive.

So at the least, this aspect of embedding made us happy.

Happy Dog from Analog, Japanese game show, Reaction Gifs
We chose to draw a few lessons from this failure, chief among them that our users have a comfort level that we library staff need to be aware of.

Cornell West on Real Time with Bill Maher, HBO, Reaction Gifs
  • Library staff can’t be everywhere, all the time
  • There’s such a thing as being too “high-touch”
  • Trust your communities
Elsewhere on this site, explore the tag "failure."

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Failure, Organizational Culture, and Library Management

Image via Memecenter.
People fail, and they fail often. Failure is natural and organic. It happens. Organizations, however, are different. They are biased against failure to the point of denialism. Organizations are the proverbial ostrich with its head in the sand when it comes to failure: they don't want to hear it, and because of this, they don't prepare for it. These organizational biases against failure are themselves a form of failure.

The above was informed by Sharon Epps' closing presentation at the Maryland Chapter of the Association of College and Research Libraries day-long program on failure at The Johns Hopkins University on Friday, November 15th. Details about the program are here.

Can we make organizations a safe space for failure, for experimentation? If so, how?

As a library director, I fail on a regular basis. Armed with data, with the language used by our strategic plan, and with righteousness on my side I walk into a room and make my case. We need more full-time staff, more money for materials, and administrative rights on library computers, among other wants and needs... and I fail at all of these. To be a library director is to fail over and over and over again.

To the extent that I can change the organizational culture of my place of work to accept failure, and to encourage risk-taking, experimentation, and curiosity, I'll do so. I'm unsure of my abilities outside the library building, but inside
I called a meeting of all our full-time and part-time staff, and told them to treat the library like a laboratory. We’re going to try some things here. We will fail some of the time, but that’s life, and I’ll do my best to limit the damage. 
I'm grateful to ACRL MD for holding this program. I wish we in librarianship would not only talk more about failure, but encourage it. I hope this is a start. 

Source of the above offset is here: New Year, New Library (kind of)
Elsewhere on this site, explore the tag "failure." 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

My Bloody Valentine at The Electric Factory, Philadelphia, 11/9/13

It's difficult to assess something that shouldn't be. My Bloody Valentine hadn't released an album in over twenty years until earlier this year, when vocalist, guitarist, and bandleader Kevin Shields made m b v available late on a Saturday evening in February.

This album was a culmination of a recording process that started seventeen years ago, and the band's reunion tour was a first opportunity to hear them present the material, new or otherwise. Shields, however, had other ideas.

The concert, at Philadelphia's Electric Factory, began with three songs off their classic album Loveless. The low-end crunch of "Sometimes" sent rumbles of bass and distortion throughout the venue, overpowering the vocals from Bilinda Butcher. Then, after what was to be one of many false starts to a song, the band launched into "I Only Said." Colm Ó Cíosóig's crushing drums stood out above the wall of noise created by Butcher, Shields, bassist Debbie Googe. and Jen Marco, a touring guitarist and keyboardist. "When You Sleep" was an early standout; a Beach Boys song run through consecutive filters of C86-style jangle, John Hughes' films, and a punishing roar of guitar squalls. A wall of amplifiers dwarfed Shields, stage left, and early in the set he retreated into them as if they were a cocoon.

The mellow, for My Bloody Valentine, "New You" followed, the first song they played off the new album. Ó Cíosóig's Madchester-style breakbeat continued to serve a reminder that under the noise, the band has a diverse palette to draw from.

Yet Shields was unhappy with some of the technical aspects of the show, and it showed. He missed one of Cíosóig's drum counts. Googe's bass and Butcher's low-end D, A, and E notes made some of the vocals unintelligible, and during "Come In Alone" Shields stopped in the middle to change guitars. It is unclear whether this was an error on his part, or on one of the guitar techs. These mistakes rattled Shields, someone who is such a perfectionist that he waits twenty-two years between releasing albums. Whatever sounds he was making with his guitar and pedals, he made it clear that they were the wrong ones, confusing the audience.

The stage lighting was at times abrasive, forcing audience members to look down or to close their eyes. With a band like My Bloody Valentine, however, not looking may be an asset. There are few groups that can provoke feelings of synesthesia quite like MBV. Without the benefit of sight, Shields' guitar-based tone poems evoked both the color schemes of impressionism and app-based generative music. The presence of the band playing in the same room was enough of an experience, as waves of sound washed over the audience and Butcher cooed wordlessly through songs like "To Here Knows When."

The band is infamous for ending concerts with extended versions of songs, often exceeding the fifteen-minute mark. It was telling, then, that the closing song, "You Made Me Realise," lasted just under seven minutes.

Befitting the shoegaze moniker, the band members never interacted on stage, each one lost in their task, reinforcing the discomfort. Aside from thanking the audience and wishing them, us, goodnight, Shields' only stage banter was to apologize for the sound.


I Only Said
When You Sleep
New You
You Never Should
Honey Power
Cigarette in Your Bed
Only Tomorrow
Come in Alone
Only Shallow
Nothing Much to Lose
Who Sees You
To Here Knows When
Wonder 2
Feed Me With Your Kiss
You Made Me Realise

Note, this review is also posted on Midnight to Six.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Subtle Joys of Selecting on the Dependent Variable

Academic research in the social sciences has a variety of aims, but much of it seeks to explain or elucidate phenomena or condition(s) and the relationships therein. In research parlance, this phenomena or condition is the dependent variable. One should not select cases that satisfy the criteria of the dependent variable; doing so is called selection bias and can lead to incorrect conclusions.

To wit, here is an example of selection bias from my former field of study, political science.
Analysts trying to explain why some developing countries have grown so much more rapidly than others regularly select a few successful new industrializing countries (NICs) for study, most often Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, Brazil, and Mexico. In all these countries, during the periods of most rapid growth, governments exerted extensive controls over labor and prevented most expressions of worker discontent. Having noted this similarity, analysts argue that the repression, cooptation, discipline, or quiescence of labor contributes to high growth. (Geddes, 134 pdf)
If one were to make policy recommendations based off this research, one might advocate that developing countries repress labor unions in order to get economic growth, the dependent variable.

Reaction Gifs, as always. And Clueless. 
As it turns out, Alicia Silverstone is right to be skeptical about this claim.
In order to establish the plausibility of the claim that labor repression contributes to development, it is necessary to select a sample of cases without reference to their position on the dependent variable, rate each on its level of labor repression, and show that, on average, countries with higher levels of repression grow faster. 
The two tasks crucial to testing any hypothesis are to identify the universe of cases to which the hypothesis should apply, and to find or develop measures of the variables. A sample of cases to examine then needs to be selected from the universe in such a way as to insure that the criteria for selecting cases are uncorrelated with the placement of cases on the dependent variable.(Geddes, 134-5)
A random sample from a given universe is one such way to test a hypothesis or a relationship, but selection bias is not random, and when one does this, the research findings may be biased.

However, there is a flip-side to selecting on the dependent variable: the results are often not only relevant, but highly entertaining.

To wit, James Scott's Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed is, in my mind, a towering achievement and an immensely absorbing piece of research. Of course, he selects on the schemes that have failed.

Via Google Books
And that brings us to library and information science.

Stanford University's Jacqueline Hettel and Chris Bourg are conducting research on "assessing library impact by text mining acknowledgements" from Google Books (Source). It is an impressive and creative way to measure how libraries can positively affect scholars, and at present it is in the "proof of concept" stage, so it is still early. Information and early data on the project is available at the following links.


It seems that these scholars have a dependent variable robustly defined and measured in the form of acknowledgements that thank libraries and librarians for their help with research. While they have acknowledgements, proof of the impact of libraries, the dependent variable, they do not have the causes of these acknowledgements, and as a fellow librarian, the causes are what I am after. Those causes lead to a new metric of academic library success in scholarly communication. As of now, this work appears to be called "Measuring Thanks," a title that may hint at possible selection bias. I look forward to hearing more about the project, and I hope that they have not selected on the dependent variable by focusing on it at this early stage. As was the case above, a random sample of books, and the acknowledgements therein, is one way to avoid this bias.

Academic researchers are not supposed to select on the dependent variable, but doing so can lead to interesting and entertaining finds. More research that satisfies these latter conditions, please.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Data and the Surveillance State: Toward a New Ecology of Libraries

Image from the film The Lives of Others. It's excellent. Go see it
Years from now, we're going to need someone to help us make some sense of the surveillance state (b. 2001), which collects vast amounts of our data, which begets more data about that data.

In short, we're going to need librarians and archivists.

The data that the state collects can and will be used against it later. History has borne this out. Truth and Reconciliation commissions, court cases, oral histories... archives are sites of contestation, of resistance. Archives are an opportunity to build new power structures, to speak truth to official versions of events.

And to ensure that future generations have access to this data, we'll need librarians and archivists right now, too. Privacy is now a good, a commodity, and it's one that information professionals can offer.

Last year I visited the Baltimore Aquarium and was impressed with how conservation was embedded into the building. It's not just a place to see fish, but a place to learn about how to keep those fish around. We need to do this for privacy, for sensible copyright law, and for open access materials, among others.

The ecology of libraries should look more like that of the aquarium.
  • Secure browsers, search engines and email platforms, to the extent that these are possible.
  • In library instruction "one-shot" sessions, educate patrons not just on how to select sources for a particular task, because: 
our teaching must go beyond tools and skills, so that we can help students understand how information fundamentally works. This means exploring the moral, economic, and political context within which we create and share ideas. Access to information, she writes, is not enough. Our students need to see themselves in the context of "individuals and groups of people actively shaping the world as knowledge producers in a way that renders the consumer-producer dichotomy irrelevant." (The incomparable Barbara Fister quoting Christine Pawley)
  • Discovery platforms that take open access, embargoes, and paywalls into account; educating people while they search.
  • Notifications in the stacks and the catalog concerning
  • banned and challenged books, and 
  • items that are affected by copyright extensions.
  • Organizations and member institutions that fight for privacy, like the American Library Association (ALA) and the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA). 
Source is the above link. Glorious, isn't it? 
And more.

We're going to need to, sometime in the future, remind us how and when we lost our damn minds. Let's build for this now.

Elsewhere on this site, related:
The Library as Aquarium, or, The SOPA Post

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Dear Aspiring Librarians (On MLIS Program Placement and Salaries)

Let's revisit the US News and World Report rankings for Masters of Library and Information Science programs.

The rankings:
Source is a screencap from here
How they got this information:
The library and information studies specialty ratings are based solely on the nominations of program deans, program directors, and a senior faculty member at each program. They were asked to choose up to 10 programs noted for excellence in each specialty area. Those with the most votes are listed. (Source)
In sum, these rankings are useless. If the above paragraph doesn't convince you of that, here's more.

Luckily, Library Journal has some useful data on MLIS programs. In particular, they list placement rates and salaries by type of library/organization as well as a breakdown by geography.

For discussion:
  • MLIS programs are a very gendered experience. Only two SUNYs (State Universities of New York), Albany and Buffalo, and the University of Michigan have programs in which the male to female ratio is under 1:2.5.
  • The ratio of employed male to female 2012 graduates is worse, across the board, than 1:2.5, in many cases it's more like 1:4 or 1:5. 
  • Long Island University graduated 163 people. Two report employment. Yikes. 
  • San Jose State University and the University of North Texas graduate a lot of librarians. Maybe too many. Neither school, no school, really, is under any obligation to limit the number of enrolled students, but the sheer numbers of graduates these schools send into the workforce concerns me. And as it turns out, I'm not alone.
Q: "Are there any library schools whose alumni you would be reluctant to hire?"
A: "San Jose State." (Hiring Librarians)

Though men are employed at a lower rate than women upon MLIS completion, their salaries tend to be higher, which both reflects and propagates a gender pay gap.

These salaries are probably not enough to help you pay off your student loans. You may have loans from undergraduate programs and then take additional loans for an MLIS program. Please forgive me for what I'm about to say, which comes from a privileged position, which I acknowledge:
Think long and hard about whether or not you want this degree. Do you really really really want it? Because you could be paying off loans for a long long time upon completion of an MLIS program. Ramen doesn't taste that good.

There are very few people in librarianship for the money. That being said, money is nice. So if you're on the fence about what to specialize in, perhaps this table, in conjunction with professors, coursework, peers, and librarians, can help you make up your mind.
  • Automation/System, Government Document, and Knowledge Management (corporate buzzword alert!) librarian jobs have higher low end salaries than other kinds of library jobs. This is also reflected in the median salaries by position.  
  • Usability/UX, and Emerging and Information Technologies also seem like good bets, though there may be elements of what The Library Loon terms "new hire messianism," in which it is the responsibility of newly hired librarians, often in new positions, to advance "change" and have these skillsets ex officio, without being given the tools to institutionally succeed (it is more complex than this, please read the link above).
  • Interlibrary Loan, Circulation, and Children's/Young Adult librarians continue to not pay as well. I suspect that there is more than a little "women's work" going on here, especially in the latter two positions, whereas some of the higher-salaried jobs reflect the gender pay gap we saw in Table 4, and/or code as being more "masculine." Further study is warranted. Also, because we continue to not properly fund and allocate resources towards children and young adults, which is unfortunate and maddening. 
None of this is to say that you should pick an MLIS track that will make you more money. Rather, please pick a focus that you like and that makes you happy.

  • Be prepared to move. 
  • Placement by gender again... wow.
Do not choose MLIS programs based on the US News and World Report rankings. Though the MLIS program you graduate from may matter to some people, see Hiring Librarians, above, it may not matter to many others. As a librarian who hires people, I am not terribly interested in where you went and why you went there. It is more important, from where I sit, that you
  • learned things
  • know theories of information and librarianship because these theories inform practice
  • took courses that can help you in the positions that you apply for
  • show initiative
  • are curious
This means that you should have a plan going into an MLIS program, because while the program may not matter to me, those first three bullet points above sure do, and choosing a school in which you can accomplish those things, via the transitive property, can help both of us. Also, not to beat a dead loon, but you should read this, too.

Good luck.

Source for all tables: Maatta, S. (2013) Placements & Salaries 2013: Explore All The Data, Library Journal, 17 October 2013, http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2013/10/placements-and-salaries/2013-survey/explore-all-the-data-2013/

Elsewhere on this site and related: Dear Aspiring Librarians (On MLIS Program Rankings)

Friday, October 18, 2013

Your Special Collections Won't Save You

There are people who need a unique item to do research, but those people won't save your library. The same is true of your special collections, your unique items.

Here's how this will go down: The far majority of researchers who use your special collections are going to publish in their niche subjects, read by a handful of their peers, mostly likely in closed access journals. No fame. No fortune. The same old, same old.

All libraries, regardless of who they serve, have to prioritize. No doubt every patron is valuable. Are the above patrons the most valuable in an academic library? I'm skeptical.

Why is this the case? Because those collections are special for a variety of reasons, which cut both ways. There are reasons an item you have is the only copy; often the demand isn't there for more of them. Can we librarians and archivists drive demand? To some extent, yes. To the extent that special collections are what makes an specific academic library desirable for large segments of the communities we serve? Again, I'm skeptical. But hey, try it, because the following scenario might happen.
Special collections moved to an area of prominence, no longer behind closed doors. Unique books and manuscripts were of immense interest, a catalyst for research, integration into the curriculum, student internships, and user-driven content. (Source)
Yes, a modern-day Alexanderia, where people come from miles around to use your special collections and your expertise. Except there's this thing called satisficing, where researchers find items and sources that are "good enough," (pdf) as opposed to the perfect item, which may be tucked away in an archive or special collection. And yes, even tenured faculty practice this behavior at times. And because those special collections are special to us, but maybe not to our communities.

At my place of work (MPOW), we're using Omeka to help us digitize some of our unique collections. We're not doing it because we think doing so will boost our dwindling circulation or use of the library's physical items. We're doing it because we want to preserve our past, our heritage, who we are, for the future. That is part of our mission within our community. We have these resources, and we want to make them discoverable. However, it has never been our top priority, nor do I foresee a time or situation in which that will be the case. We spend far more time, more productive time, "buying love," as Rick Anderson might say.

What I'm particularly concerned about here is that, per usual, discussions of what R1 institutions should do are driving discourse in academic librarianship. Why is this? The far majority of academic librarians don't work at an institution with multiple Associate University Librarians, yet those places seem to dominate the conversation around what academic libraries should be doing. Much of this is because R1 libraries have the staff and budgets that, in theory, allow them to not only have these conversations, but to implement them. The money is necessary, but not sufficient, perhaps. And yes, I'm jealous of those staffs and budgets.

I'm not saying special collections are worthless. I'm saying they're worth less than you think they are and less than the current literature says they are. I'm saying that this probably isn't the hill you want to die on. Go look someplace else. At MPOW, we'll be looking to aquariums and zoos for inspiration.

My favorite response to Rick Anderson's "Can't Buy Us Love" is from Steven Harris.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The End of "The End of Libraries"

On Sunday, October 14th, yet another "End of Libraries" piece appeared. Per usual, it was written by a white male with no use for libraries, because every single time this trope appears, that's part of the author's demographic background. Beyond that, it's a crucial part of the author's background. It is overwhelmingly affluent white men* who argue that because they do not use something, it has no value for anyone. Libraries. The Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program. Affordable health care. It's the same argument.
It’s hard for me to even remember the last time I was in a library. I was definitely in one this past summer in Europe — on a historical tour. Before that, I think it was when I was in college. But even then, ten years ago, the internet was replacing the need to go to a library. And now, with e-books, I’m guessing the main reason to go to a library on a college campus is simply because it’s a quiet place to study. (Source)
Every single one of these articles has a version of that paragraph in it, right down to the part where the author admits he hasn't been in a library recently and makes "guesses."
The people who write these posts will never stoop to doing actual research about library usage. Even when they work for Google, as the most recent author does, they'll never use a search engine to make their argument. They'll just talk and talk and talk. Libraries don't factor into their lives, and since being a (straight) white male is the default setting for life, libraries don't factor into anyone's life. Privilege is nice, isn't it?

As such, what follows isn't for the authors of these pieces. It's for fellow librarians, who will be rebutting if they so choose. Think of it as a clearinghouse of elevator speeches, if you will. And if a white man happens to do some actual research before writing yet another "Death of Libraries" piece and stumbles across this, all the better.

Andy Woodworth starts us off. You should follow him on twitter and read his blog.

Pew has done some excellent work on this topic, too, and has data in easy to use formats.
Wikipedia's page on "Trends in Library Usage" is also well done.
The New York Public Library system's 2012 Annual Report is chock full of data about how its libraries are thriving.
If you prefer information in infographic form, we have that, too.

Fully 91% of Americans ages 16 and older say public libraries are important to their communities; and 76% say libraries are important to them and their families. (Pew)

The notion that libraries are in decline is a fundamental misunderstanding of what a library is. As physical institutions, libraries have been with us for over nine thousand years now, dating back to Ashurbanipal. When people write about the decline, end, or death of libraries, they are instead writing about a historic blip in the concept of libraries: the Carnegie-founded public library, which is less than one hundred and fifty years old. And as one can see from the links above, they aren't dying, either, though it would be nice if we voted for people to fund them.

Also well said on the topic: this.
Elsewhere on this site, relevant to the "death of libraries."

I'll leave you with some food for thought:
* The author of this post is, for the time being, a financially secure white male.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Don't Say it With Flowers...

This is how libraries die, not by fire or flood, but by neglect. Long slow deaths.
The ancient world's greatest library didn't die in battle — it died from thousands of little cuts, over centuries, that reduced this great institution of knowledge to a shadow of its former self.
What made the Museum and its daughter branch great were its scholars. And when the Emperor abolished their stipends, and forbade foreign scholars from coming to the library, he effectively shut down operations. Those scrolls and books were nothing without people to care for them, study them, and share what they learned far and wide. (Source)
Even then, the scholars, the staff, in a way, made the library as much as collections did.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Atoms for Peace at the Patriot Center, Fairfax, VA, 9/30/13

Every so often I like to play music blogger and I'm lucky I have some friends who will indulge me. On Monday I attended an Atoms for Peace concert and I've written it up for a friend's site. Here's a taste:
I’ve never seen Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke happier than he was on Monday night, dancing with reckless abandon around the stage while his Atoms for Peace bandmates found grooves reminiscent of both West African percussion, thanks to Joey Waronker and Maura Refosco, and Krautrock, thanks to Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, who here plays guitar and keyboards. It also makes perfect sense that Flea would be the bassist for this group. After all, his life seems like one long bass drop, and he also pogoed around the stage like a theater geek’s take on someone with a deficit disorder.

The setlist focused on Yorke’s solo record, The Eraser, for which Atoms for Peace formed, and the band’s first record, Amok, released earlier this year. The majority of the three-quarters full arena seemed to be there out of curiosity and respect for Yorke, and true to DC’s reputation, did the “standing still” for most of the concert as the band filled the venue with brittle funk. Yorke completists got to hear U.N.K.L.E.’s “Rabbit in Your Headlights” reworked by the band, though sadly the drumming on Massive Attack’s propulsive, big beat Underdog remix did not make an appearance. Of the newer material, “Ingenue” was a rare moment of relative quiet, Yorke on piano, Godrich plinking away on a synthesizer, and culminating in a drum and bass breakdown in which Refosco played a bucket. The two standout songs came from The Eraser. “Cymbal Rush” closed the first part of the set with Yorke on piano singing one of his more lucid songs while the dual drumming of Waronker and Refosco clattered around him. The high hats and Brazilian percussion entered, increasing the beats per minute as Godrich and Flea created a wall of noise. And then, silence. The Eraser’s title track opened the first encore, with a melody so slinky and seductive I half expected Prince to come out and duet (side note to the Purple One, please cover this).  
None of this is to say that Yorke seems unhappy with Radiohead, who he’s dragged closer and closer to something like Atoms for Peace over the last two records, shedding three-guitar rock and then Brian Eno-esque ambient soundscapes for more beat-driven adventures, but as of this moment, Atoms for Peace feels like his band, and more importantly for the audience, they feel like a band, not a side project.
The full review and setlist is here.


Monday, September 23, 2013

The "Digital Natives" Myth and Library Science Education

Repeat after me: There is no such thing as a "digital native."


Now that we all agree this group of people doesn't exist, let's define the term. Here I turned to ur-digital native text, Wikipedia.
Oh, the irony of the placement of that "citation needed."

Now let's stop using that term. It's ageist, classist, and it's flat out untrue, both as an abstract concept and as a term that purports to describe some aspect of reality.

One's proximity to technology does not make one a native. Nobody is born with the above skills, nor is anyone placed in a crib or bassinet next to a tablet, smartphone, or a copy of Python for Dummies.
I got this image from Amazon, but buy the book
from an independent bookseller, please. 
The term is sometimes used as a cudgel against librarians born before said "natives." It is a tool of marginalization and silencing, as if the year of one's birth confers some sort of technological expertise that others should defer or cater to.

Jenny Emanuel, Digital Services & Reference Librarian at the University of Illinois, Urbana, recently published an article that should put the use of this term to rest. She surveyed students at fifty American Library Association-accredited Masters of Library and Information Science programs, as well as newly minted librarians, by degree. Three hundred and fifteen survey responses and twenty in-depth interviews later (20) it is clear that at least among this sample, there is no such thing as a digital native.

Instead, there are a group of people that are, by dint of birth year, on average, slightly more comfortable using recent technological advances to communicate than people older than them, but the younger group of librarians and librarians-to-be is not comfortable using this technology to create, as evidenced by figure 2 on page 24, in which participants express a desire to learn to program.

That is to say, Millennials are using technology, and no doubt their communications create knowledge, but they are consumers of the technology, not creators of it.

Some of the interviewees raise issues of age, class, and geography.
not all considered themselves a digital native, very tech savvy, or able to pinpoint exactly what their tech skills are. Most, however, did believe that there were differences in technology use and attitudes between librarians who were younger versus older librarians. (26)
when pressed, not all considered themselves digital natives.... Rachel grew up in a poorer home that always got technology second-hand, and she always thought they were behind others. Although her family first had an Apple Computer in the 1980s, she did not recall using it, and just thought of it as a sort of “new appliance” in her house. Her family did not emphasize technology use and saw it as something not worth investing in until they had to, which gave her a different perspective of using technology only as necessary and as “one of those things that sometimes I just don’t want to deal with.” Samantha grew up in a rural area that only had dial-up Internet, which embarrassed her and did not work as well as she thought it should, so she did not use it, leading to a belief that she did not grow up on the Internet in the same way as her peers. Because of this, she did not consider herself a digital native. (27)
A few interview participants mentioned the tech skills of people even younger than they are, or current college students they work with. Betty did not see younger coworkers understanding what is needed to develop or understand the back end of technology and believed younger workers do not use technology to communicate as effectively as they could. Edward, who works at a for-profit career college that has many poorer and nontraditional students, stated, it is “not just the 50 year olds, but the 18 year olds who don’t know how to attach documents to an email.” (29)
Thus, a group of people, librarians and librarians-to-be, that one would think would express comfort with technology instead present a much more nuanced picture. The myth of the digital native has implications for library and information science programs as well.

Page 23
Perhaps there is room for Code Year, or Coders for Libraries to fill what is a clearly expressed knowledge vacuum in MLIS programs.

It's an interesting article and I encourage librarians of all stripes to read it. I also encourage librarians of all stripes to stop using the term "digital native," or its friend "born digital."

Emanuel, J. (2013) Digital native librarians, technology skills, and their relationship with technology. Technology and Libraries, 32(3) http://ejournals.bc.edu/ojs/index.php/ital/article/view/3811/pdf