Hello and welcome to Stacking Up, a blog for the "modern" librarian! The great thing about today's librarians is that we are so diverse: different ages, backgrounds, personalities, looks... this blog is here to share this diversity with ideas, insights, stories, experiences and opinions for anything and everything having to do with being a librarian!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Public, Academic, or Special Libraries? I Can't Choose!

OK, so I must be the most indecisive person ever when it comes to picking a career direction. Back in library school I had this issue as well- which kind of library do I want to get into? At the time, I was all about the Special Library and Special Collections. I took classes on preservation and archives, and even considered adding on a second degree in Museum Studies. However, once I graduated, my first library job turned out to be in exactly the kind of library I had no interest in as a grad student: public libraries. Last September I started working as a substitute librarian for the city library branches and realized just how much fun it can be to work in the public library world!

About a month later I was lucky enough to get a steady, part-time job as an academic Reference and Instruction Librarian at a small satellite campus for a business-centered college. For the past 7 months now I have been gaining invaluable experience in library instruction, one-on-one reference, programming, marketing, and many other things.

So then yesterday I found a job opening for a librarian needed at the Defense Intelligence Agency, which is a part of the United States Department of Defense, and I was just thinking, oh my gosh! How cool would that be to say I worked for the DIA? (Plus, it pays REALLY good.) Unfortunately, I'm under-qualified for that specific position at the moment, but who knows, maybe someday...?

So here I am, almost a year after graduating from library school-- working as both a public and academic librarian and looking into becoming a special collections librarian. Still haven't made up my mind! I love aspects of each type. Public libraries are great because I feel like both the people you work for and the people you work with are more laid-back, and the job gives you more flexibility to do things that you want. Like murder-mysteries? Throw a murder-mystery party. Like story-telling and playing Wii bowling? Become a children's or YA librarian. Like wine? Have a wine-tasting session at your next staff day (no, I am not making this up, we really did have one of these!) I like academic libraries because I really love working one-on-one with students and helping them do their research and citations-- I just get a warm, fuzzy feeling inside when I know I have just helped someone to understand where to look for something or how to cite something. Plus I feel like I am getting experience in library instruction that I couldn't get anywhere else-- I'm still incredibly nervous when I have to teach, but I figure that goes away with time and practice. Finally, I love special collections too, because, well, they're just cool. I mean c'mon, who wouldn't want to work some place that has illuminated texts from the 12th century or first editions of Alice in Wonderland? Being that close to the physical remnants of history just sounds amazing to me. (And as I said, who wouldn't want to be like, "yes, I work in Washington D.C. for the Defense Intelligence Agency" at their next school reunion?) So special libraries are still on my potential list of places to work too.

Have you figured out where you ultimately want to be in LibraryLand? Have you realized where your niche is and have no doubt that you'll remain there for the rest of your career? Do you ever wonder what it would be like if you had chosen another direction? And is there anyone else out there who is still as indecisive as I am?

Just some thoughts I've been having lately! I really am happy that I have the opportunity to work in more than one type of library and to gain experience in each. Who knows where I will end up? As long as my job still involves books and helping people, I suppose I will be happy  :)

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Are academic librarians becoming extinct?

If you are a librarian and/or library school student, I really encourage you to take a moment and read this article that was posted by Karen over at the Free Range Librarian-- it really speaks to our profession and where it is headed.

Karen Schneider is the director of the Cushing Library at Holy Names University in Oakland, California. She has over 20 years of library experience and has published over 100 articles, along with 2 books. In this blog post, she responds to Jeff Trzeciak, the University Librarian at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.

Trzeciak (no clue how that's pronounced) gave a talk earlier this month having to do with the direction that academic libraries should be headed in. The new trend, according to him and many other college library directors, is to do away with traditional library services and replace them with large-scale digital projects carried out by PhD-level academics and  IT professionals. Why? Because digital projects put college libraries on the map and make library directors look good. Problem? Not every college library has the funding, resources or even the need for huge digital collections-- but they are being pursued nonetheless. The result has been many librarians quitting or being laid off because they simply weren't trained to be IT professionals.

So basically (If Jeff's vision goes through), all of us bumbling, old-fashioned librarians will no longer have a place in the academic library world. Oh, and all of us newly-graduated library school students? Yeah, those MSLIS's and MLIS's aren't going to land us an academic librarian job any time soon-- we may as well have paid $50,000+ to have a piece of paper to hang on the wall, because from now on directors will only be hiring candidates with extensive IT backgrounds and even higher-level (and multiple) degrees.

I can speak from personal experience that I have seen this trend occurring in university libraries-- even small ones, and that for me is what is so disturbing. Yes, large schools like Syracuse University and UNC have both the funding to carry out large-scale digital projects AND the kind of collections that draw researchers to their campuses from all over the world. Umm... smaller schools don't have either of those, and yet their directors are still forcing them to compete with the big fish in order-- I am assuming-- to make themselves look good. It's almost as if, and maybe I'm wrong, but it's almost as if the new plan is to have college libraries go in whatever direction is most gratifying to the director's ego. And you know what? I think that any director who values these kinds of projects over traditional library services will ultimately ruin the library they are supposed to be leading.

Our place as librarians in the academic world is to provide research assistance and information literacy instruction to students and faculty-- that is our number one purpose, whatever any director has to say about it. I can only hope that there are more directors out there like Karen who are still realistic enough to understand the value of librarians in the academic world. Otherwise, I truly weep for our profession.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Librarian Lessons: Electronic Resource Management

So every now and then, I take it upon myself to read an article about something I know next to nothing about, in the hopes that I will learn something new. Now, I am far from being a technology-guru (I may have mentioned this before but me and phrases like "structural metadata" and "syntactic interoperability" don't mix). I remember taking a class in digital libraries when I was in library school, and anything that went beyond the bare basics left me with a headache. So with that being said, I stumbled upon a fun-looking article (and I mean that in the broadest sense) in last month's Library Journal called "Building A Better ERMS," written by Maria Collins and Jill E. Grogg.

Electronic Resource Management. Huh. Now here was something that would take me some time to mentally digest. It did turn out to be somewhat thought-provoking for me and I felt even a little smart just sitting there reading it, so that was a plus. Here is a summary of this article and what I managed to carry away from it:

Topic: ERMS, also known as "Electronic Resource Management Systems"

Intro: Librarians have been struggling over the past decade or so, trying to figure out what the best way is to handle the influx of new electronic resources. Learning to manage these resources is no simple matter. According to Collins & Grogg, "the problem is that managing e-resources is a distinctly nonlinear and nonstandardized process." And while the ERM systems that have developed recently address some issues (like license management and storing administrative info) they are still far from being the answer to other librarian needs, such as being interoperable with other systems. In a nutshell, ERM systems are mighty complicated, and the purpose of this article was to take a look at what we currently have, and see how it can be made better based on the needs/wants of today's librarians.

So what are librarians asking for from their typical ERM systems? What are the most important aspects of these tools that make them so valuable to what we do on a daily basis? Here are the 6 top priorities that librarians see for building a good ERMS:

PRIORITY #1: They have to be able to manage workflow and help make it more (not less) efficient

A large chunk of the librarians surveyed for this study said that one of the biggest problems they have with current ERMS is that they aren't efficient and they have poor functionality. ERMS right now make it pretty difficult to move from Task A to Task B because there are so many different systems being used to get library work done, and they're all owned/run by different vendors- none of them work together very well so getting things done takes forever. Besides this, nothing is standardized or centralized in one overall system, so trying to manage e-resources can be a real nightmare. Instead of having a bunch of clunky systems that can't "bend" to the needs of individual branches, digital collections librarians have said that a good ERMS will be flexible enough to adapt to local needs, which are unique to each library. I know all too well how the details of processing collections can differ between various branches! A good ERMS needs to be specific enough that it can support the details of local workflows (AKA how things are done at one branch) but general enough that it's adaptable/customizable across many branches.

PRIORITY #2: They have to be capable of license management

Now, I'm only a part-time librarian at the moment, but I do know that librarians have to deal with licenses and licensing terms A LOT. So far, it seems that ERMS have done a pretty good job in this area. Managing licenses and contracts, being able to categorize them, link them, and make them easily searchable has been one achievement in the development of ERMS. Being able to find specific terms of use, rules and policies, etc. makes it easier for librarians in every department of the library to make informed decisions. The only major issue right now is that a lot of library license terms need to be input manually into the system, which can be a drag and take a lot of time. Things get even trickier when you're using services from a bunch of different vendors, since now you have multiple licensing terms to keep tract of.

PRIORITY #3: They have to be able to manage statistics

Ahh yes, statistics. A part of every librarian job-- love 'em or hate 'em, you need to use them and appreciate how they help increase the value of library resources and services. In general, usage reports are needed to:

                                         *Build monthly and annual overviews of usage at your library
                                         *Measure usage of new publications
                                         *Make informed purchasing decisions
                                         *Understand and predict user patterns

Now, when dealing with statistics it's always helpful to have some sort of standardization so that you can relate the stats to each other, make sense of them and how they connect, and get an overall picture of how your library is doing. With this being said, did you know that librarian-lingo includes an acronym called "SUSHI?" OK, I didn't either, but it does. It stands for "Standardized Usage Statistics Harvesting Initiative," and it's a standard with open source codes (ie. it's free to access and can be re-programmed to suite your needs) to measure how e-resources are being used. Using this code, libraries can retrieve and enter usage statistics (in the form of "COUNTER reports") in a standardized/consistent way, and librarians are saved the laborious process of generating spreadsheet reports themselves (which doesn't sound like much fun).
Basically, as it stands right now, statistics management is difficult with ERMS because they don't support the SUSHI standard, so librarians are still entering stats and generating reports manually. This is another thing they would like fixed with current ERMS.

PRIORITY #4: They'll be able to efficiently store administrative information

ERMS need to be able to store and make accessible info like staff usernames and passwords, vendor contacts, orders, and notes on past problems. So far, they have done a pretty good job of sticking all this metadata into one centralized place, but it still has to be entered manually, which is a pain.

PRIORITY #5: They'll support acquisitions functionality

Librarians really want a centralized, stream-lined system that can support all acquisition functions- managing funds, projecting budgets, generating expenditure reports (by category)- and be able to track all of this data over time. Right now ERMS aren't very good at this, and librarians are still entering things like cost data manually.

PRIORITY #6: They should be interoperable

Interoperability is a big one. Pretty much all librarians have identified the need for systems that can work together, but it's still something that's largely absent in current ERMS. For the most part they work just swell by themselves, but try to get them to work together and talk to one another, and they freak out. This makes data transfer nearly impossible. There needs to be a greater level of integration between library systems: the ILS (Integrated Library System) should work with various knowledgebases and vendor systems. Right now, the lack of interoperability is due to a lack of standards between vendors, libraries, and publishers. Luckily, all of these entities are working together with standards organizations (like NISO) to develop said standards and make systems more integrated. This, in theory, will make them able to function between each other and not just as a stand-alone system.

Up until now, the implementation of data standards and best practices has been minimal, so interoperability between ERMS is still a big issue. A lack of system interoperability has led to a bunch of other frustrating problems for librarians-- poor reporting of statistics, no data maintenance (so it just sits there, static and not updated), and inconsistent info being given to the public are just a few.

[NOTE: NISO stands for the National Information Standards Organization- I know we all learned about this in library school, but I always need reminders for all these acronyms. NISO sets technical standards for publishing, bibliographic and library applications.]


So... what exactly does all this add up to and why the heck is it so important to me? Well, the whole reason I wanted to look at ERM systems and what they're meant to accomplish is because we are heading into an ever-evolving digital world, and it's essential for today's librarian to at least be aware of new resource types, access methods and purchasing models if they want to stay on top of their game. There are many challenges that go along with electronic resource management: how do we buy/acquire these resources? How do we keep and maintain them? How do we provide access to them? Right now, there is no one, single system that can do all of this.

A final note

The article ends with this: "Building a better and more responsive ERMS is an iterative process, and no emerging system is a silver bullet. Nonetheless, it is possible to work together toward a more integrated e-resource solution." I think that what they're getting at is taking a more holistic approach to managing e-resources, instead of concentrating on the smaller aspects of management that have gotten to be so disconnected.

[Article: Collins, M. & J. E. Grogg. (2011, March 1). Building a better ERMS. Library Journal.]

I know that, for me anyways, a lot of this stuff can seem pretty dry, but hey, it's definitely good to be aware of! Have you had any experience with electronic resource management in your libraries, or have you had the chance to wrap your head around the kinds of issues presented in this article? Just wondering-- I don't think that we necessarily have to be computer geniuses, but getting a handle on what's up will help make us that much more valuable in our own jobs :)

And on that note, it is almost Friday and time to enjoy one (or two!) of these...


To all my librarians out there, have a great weekend!!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Naughty Librarian

OK, so I had to post about this after I saw it on one of my fave librarian blogs-- the lovely ladies (Mary and Holly) over at Awful Library Books posted a real gem today! Check out What the Librarian Did, a steamy Harlequin Romance with an equally juicy synopsis :) I was laughing pretty hard when I saw this-- especially the sub-title: "She's got a secret that's long overdue." C'mon now. If that's not the most awesome hook ever, I don't know what is. I just might have to go find this in one of my local libraries...

Have a lovely Tuesday and happy reading to all of my fellow librarians :)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Measuring Success in Academic Libraries

How do you measure the success of academic libraries and librarians?

This is the question brought up by Jennifer Howard in an article recently published in The Chronicle of Higher Education. The important issue of effectively demonstrating in a meaningful way the library's value to the academic institution as a whole was one of the main points of discussion at ACRL's conference last week. As an academic librarian, this article really got me thinking about how success can be measured to show how the library is having a positive impact on students, faculty and the overall institution.

Howard states that, "Like most of academe, libraries have been feeling increased pressure to justify themselves quantitatively." Now, when I think of quantitative research, I think statistics, statistics and more statistics. Graphs, charts, tables, numbers, blah, blah, blah-- don't get me wrong, they are definitely important, but they hardly paint the complete picture of how successful the library is at creating a presence and fulfilling the needs of students and faculty. Empirical observation and basic measurement are absolutely necessary to understanding the impact an academic library is having. I think this numerical basis gives weight to the librarian's claim that, hey, we are doing a good job. See? Look at what we've done and here are the numbers reflecting our success.

However, and this is a BIG however, I do not think that libraries should be forced to justify themselves or their success based on quantitative standards alone. Numbers after all, can only reveal so much.

Enter return on investment. The disturbing fact is that many academic libraries are now being forced to show in quantitative terms just what they are contributing financially to the institution. I don't want to go off on a tangent about how so many colleges and especially universities have become nothing more than cash cows, but this new trend seems pretty ludicrous to me. James G. Neal, the Vice President for Information Services
and University Librarian at Columbia University, seems to think so, too:

Return on investment "has become the new mantra of academic libraries, a relentless and in many ways foolish effort to quantify impact in the face of budget challenges and the questioning of our continuing relevance to the academy in an all-digital information world... ROI instruments and calculations fundamentally do not work for academic libraries, and present naive and misinterpreted assessments of our roles and impacts at our institutions and across higher education. New and rigorous qualitative measures of success are needed."

Neal believes that libraries need to be focusing much more on going back to the basics: WHO are our users, WHAT is it that they need and WHAT is it they want. HOW are they interacting with librarians, the library space and the resources/services being offered? HOW can librarians interact with library patrons and find out what is needed to make them happy and satisfied with their library? HOW do we draw in new patrons who have never even been inside the library and keep them coming back? The focus should be on the how's, not the how many's

I am only too aware of how undervalued the academic library is at many of today's educational institutions; both large and small, rural and urban, public and private. After reading this article, it has become even more apparent how librarians really need to spend more time assessing their own assessments and making qualitative measurements just as much of a priority as quantitative ones. This is the only way to reveal the hidden value that libraries otherwise have no way of showing through numbers alone.