Monday, December 17, 2012

Paying for e-resources per use

On the OEDB blog, Ellyssa Kroski pointed out this article on Forbes on the war between libraries & publishers over ebooks.  Although the author, David Vinjamuri, doesn't have a background in librarianship (he mentions that libraries are "already transforming themselves" by providing the same kinds of services libraries have been providing for decades), he does seem to have a grasp on the problems libraries are facing with the large publishers' reluctance of extending ebooks to them.   Phrasing the situation as being "at war", however, is a bit of an exaggeration - he extended the "tug of war" metaphor headlining an article from the New York Times piece from last year. But this may be picayune...

I wanted to focus this posting on his suggested solutions, notably, requiring libraries to pay for ebooks (indeed, all electronic resources) per use.  He bases this idea on the assumption that electronic resources are licensed and not sold, which itself is the key difference from books.  Essentially, the copyright law allows publishers to treat libraries as resellers of content rather than owners, which he recommends that libraries should challenge.   Taking his suggestion of a value between 50 cents and a dollar per use, I calculated the cost of our ebooks to public libraries using the mean ebook circulation reported in the latest ALA report on ebook usage in public libraries.  The 44,596 mean "circulations" (itself a difficult concept to apply to ebooks) would have cost an average of $33,447.  This is over three times the amount libraries planned to spend this year on ebooks ($10,400).  With ebook usage expected to increase, this doesn't seem to me to be a sustainable model.

Admittedly, increases are never infinite, and usage will eventually plateau, much like print circulation has.  So, if I based future ebook circulation to be similar to print circulation (an assumption fraught with problems, such as different circulation periods), I found that it would cost public libraries an average of $200,704 for the 267,606 mean circulations (calculated based on the Public Libraries Survey from 2009).  The average amount spent on collections by public libraries in 2009 was about $142,400 (Table 21A).

You can see that a pay-per-use model would not likely be sustainable.  It is, in fact, a model from which libraries have been struggling to get away since the very early days of online databases.  The problem with pay-per-use is that there is no way for the library to become efficient.  As collection assessment librarian, a key measure of efficiency of our collection is cost-per-use.  If this measure were to become fixed, our expenses would be much harder to contain.  Another factor to consider is the moral hazard of having our funds effectively spent by those who do not feel the risk directly (individual members).  By the end of the fiscal year, we would run out of money and access to resources would be restricted.

Finally, David ignores the libraries' fundamental role of preserving our culture (particularly written culture), which would not be possible in the pay-per-use model.  Access to the electronic books would be at the discretion of the publisher, and not the library.

I do fully agree that libraries need to challenge the basic assumption that libraries are resellers of electronic content and not owners.  In the meantime, I support the efforts being made for libraries to retain copies of electronic books on locally- or consortially-managed servers (a la Adobe Content Server and open-source DRM).

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Where good ideas come from...

OK, so I'm a little behind the times here, but my weekly review of TED Talks sometimes goes back in time.  This is because I watch them through my TV, which has a YouTube app. So rather than listing the TED Talk videos with the most recently received first, I see them in order of popularity, and of course, popularity takes time to build.  Which is how I ended up watching the 2010 video, "Where do good ideas come from".  I've requested the book at my library, as well...but for this posting, I was inspired to write about Steven Johnson's ideas as it relates to libraries.  After all, good ideas do come from libraries, don't they?

Shared patterns of innovation, even within biological systems.

Rich vocabulary of creative moments share the basic assumption that innovation is a "single thing...a single moment".  But he advocates that innovation is a network.  Innovation is simply looking at a problem differently and coming up with something new.  "The spaces that lead to innovative thinking look like this..." Hogarth's painting "Humours of an Election," what Johnson calls "The Liquid Network".

Johnson recalls research conducted by Kevin Dunbar, using "the Big Brother approach," recording conversations of ideas, trying to find that "Eureka" moment.  What he found was that breakthroughs happened at the conference table when researchers discussed progress & problems, bouncing ideas off of each other.

Steven Johnson determined that "important ideas have long incubation period," what he calls "The Slow Hunch."  He uses the example of Charles Darwin, who, from analysis of his copious notes, had the full theory of evolution months and months before his self-described epiphany, but who was unable to think it out fully.

Johnson concludes that creating ideas requires time to think, as well as the opportunity to share the hunches or ideas.  The idea of connect ideas rather than protecting ideas with intellectual property restrictions - the power of open innovation.  He ends with this thought: "Chance favors the connected mind."

I see that Johnson's ideas about, um, ideas, justifies the changes librarians have been making within their libraries and with their job descriptions.  By opening the library to small groups, by encouraging the application of group projects, by providing the mild stimulants delivered in coffee and tea, we are providing the environments necessary to connect ideas.  But we are not merely conference rooms - the "liquid" in our networks is not the coffee, but rather the knowledge and information provided via books, articles, databases, reference works, manuscripts, music, images, maps, as well as locally-generated resources like posters and presentations from students and faculty.  We could further enhance this connectedness by making our resources more accessible, find-able, manipulate-able, and useful to our members.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Perusing interesting ideas on a Sunday Morning

I've developed a new routine these last few weeks of watching TEDTalks on my TV (the convergence of TV & Internet in action) and reading miscellaneous blog entries on Sunday mornings while my better half is enjoying riding his motorcycle on the nearly empty streets.  Of course, my dog would rather I be taking him to the park, but his fun will come later.  This is my time to think and learn.  And here is what I've discovered this week:

If we want to help people, Shut Up and Listen!  Ernesto Sirrolli discusses the seemingly obvious lesson learned from decades of failed Western-based aid projects in African nations.  For instance, after attempting to teach some villagers how to raise Italian tomatoes in a rich valley, all the fruits of their labor were lost to the migrating hippos.  Sirrolli sums up why the villagers did not tell him about the hippos - because he didn't ask.

Sirrolli takes this lesson learned and applies it to his own NGO of nurturing entrepreneurship in developing countries.  His method is to approach a potential client with no problems to address and no solutions in mind, but rather to listen to what the client wants to accomplish and what solutions he or she has in mind.  While addressed to those in NGOs, this lesson should (and sometimes is) applied to librarianship.  Consider collection development.  Rather than prescribing the kinds of materials for a particular subject or collection, we should be listening or paying attention to what our readers (faculty and students) use and need.  They may not know the specific items, but they know they what they want to accomplish.  What we can provide is the knowledge of publishing and literature, as well as storage and retrieval, that enables the selection of and access to the most useful materials that will enable them be successful.

From The Scholarly Kitchen, I've read an essay that advocates relying too extensively on "metrics" or even "altmetrics" to measure the quality of scholarly communication.  His alternatives to metrics,  or "alt2metrics," addresses the problem that our current quantitative metrics (e.g. impact factor, Eigenfactor, etc.) are dismissed by the very sources of scholarly communications - the academic researchers: "More often than not, academics and researchers are dismissive of metrics, as they’ve seen how, once you poke at them, they end up being relatively blunt measures with little nuance or depth."  The author, Kent Anderson, then describes what he believes are the factors that the researchers pay attention to when evaluating research, namely:

  • Brand (of journal)
  • Authorship (within the journal)
  • Results 
  • Sponsorship
My thought, however, is that these are exactly the kinds of "signals" that the metrics are trying to quantify.  Impact factors are closely associated with brand of journal, as well as sponsorship, while h-index and the citation networks measure author productivity and impact, as well as networking.  Kent is advocating that we (those interested in measuring the quality of science) not ignore the "primary, original signals of value" that "scientists rely on every day to guide them and their searches for information."  This does make sense, but I'm beginning to believe that the Uncertainty Principle applies to many, many more things than physics.  I'm sure I'm not the only one who's come to this conclusion...

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Library Stacks - The love-hate relationship we have

"Library stacks" - this phrase, or more simply, "the stacks", is intimately tied with libraries and librarianship, particularly academic libraries.  I grew up in my mother's elementary school library, and spent many hours at the local public library.  My military service included a stint as base librarian and my first post-service civilian job was at a small public library.  However, I had always references (and had heard referenced) the particular furniture that holds up the books as "shelves" or "shelving".  I did not encounter the word "stacks" until I started library school (my undergraduate education was mostly independent of any one institution).  I recall entering the Texas Woman's University library looking for a particular journal article and told to "look in the stacks".  Not being particularly dense, I realized "stacks" = "shelves".  I was thrilled to start using my first professional lexicon as an embryonic librarian: "stacks".  It sounded both ancient and mystical, so much more magical than the mundane, "shelves".  I have shelves in my home - only the library has "stacks".

"Stacks" is often associated with the academic experience, at least of the more studious, er, well, students.  In an episode of the "Bob Newhart Show", as Emily is struggling to finish her master's in education, she rushes out when she learns that she has a "stacks pass" for that evening.  To "go into the stacks" intimates an image of entering a labyrinth of narrow aisles and wondrous treasures.  Scholars in the Stacks is a tribute to the Widener Library at Harvard, with short eulogies by humanities scholars describing their experiences navigating these labyrinths.

The the word is most deeply embedded in our sense of librarianship.  Being a prototypical librarian, I did a quick search of LISTA, limiting my results to trade publications and magazine articles in order to get a sense of the phrase in the professional culture.  Several article titles jumped out at me, confirming my suspicion of just how deep the term is to us: "A walk in the stacks", "Behind the book stacks: tales of a new librarian", "Caught between the stacks and a hard place: Dealing with librarian stereotypes", and "Lost in the Stacks".  Thus, it is no surprise when I searched for "library stacks blog" in Google and found a wealth of cultural expression:  Closed Stacks, From the Stacks, An Anthropologist in the Stacks, and several "In the Stacks" blogs from academic libraries.  It was also no surprise to find a wealth of books on librarianship referencing this word, including In the Stacks by Michael Cart, Sacred Stacks by Nancy K. Maxwell, Straight from the Stacks by Laura T. Kane, and of course, Vandals in the stacks? : a response to Nicholson Baker's assault on libraries by Richard J. Cox.  Using the Google Ngram Viewer, I got this graph of lexical usage of the phrase, "library stacks":
Ngram of "library stacks"
This corresponds to the WorldCat search, limited to books, where the earliest entries found were in the late nineteenth century.   "In the stacks" appears to be of much later origins, with both WorldCat and Google Ngram showing the earliest references in librarianship to be around the 1920s.  

Now, all of my thoughts about this phrase did not, of course, come out of the blue.  You are probably already aware of Barbara Fister's recent post to her blog, Library Babel Fish, Stacks and Awe, in which she, herself, references yet another blogger's post regarding "the stacks" by Bohyun Kim.  Kim questions the romantic association of scholarly research with solitude and serendipitous discovery of the stacks.  Indeed, she poses a very intriguing question (emphasis on the question added): 
The fast and convenient e-resources in library websites and the digital library collections seem to deprive us of something significant and important, that is, the secluded and sacred space for thought and contemplation and the experience of serendipitous discovery from browsing physical library collections. However, how much of this is our romantic illusion and how much of it is it a real fact?
Kim then references qualitative research by Bess Sadler presented at the 2012 ACCESS Conference that  shows the association of emotional terms to the physical stacks ("joyous", "immersive" and "beautiful"), and more concrete terms to digital collections (e.g. "efficient" and "fast").  Sadler commented how the online research environment had not yet captured the same allure and emotional experience of simply "browsing the shelves".  In her blog post, Kim pointed out the obstacles to "flow" that the physical stacks and the online research tools each presented.  When needing "rare scholarly books", she described her frustration at the sheer distances she had to navigate, both between libraries and within, especially when the books were not where they should have been.  Conversely, she describes the annoyances of pop-up reminders and the multiple layers of authentication that can disrupt "being in the zone" of online research.

Barbara responds with a question of her own, which she answers:
Why is abundance so exhausting when it’s on the screen, so inspiring when it’s on the shelves? There’s a sense of patience in the stacks, an impression that time slows down. With your call number in hand (or sent as a text message to your phone), it’s tempting to check out what else is there.
 The Web, being what it is, enables quick dissemination of these expositions and inevitable responses, including from the Library Loon.  In On Hating the Stacks, the Library Loon "confesses" that she "hates academic-library stacks".  Indeed, there is much of the stacks to disdain - dark, "yawing caverns", dust that can tear up the eyes making reading nearly impossible, stairs and steps (I, too, wonder how our members in wheelchairs would navigate these aisles barely wide enough for a super-model to walk down), and of course, incredibly long call numbers.

So, it is clear to me that librarians have a love-hate relationship with "the stacks" that will likely not cease even if (when?) the last set of shelves are removed (see Kane's latest book, Working in the virtual stacks : the new library & information science).

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Libraries by collection size, things you didn't learn in library school, and more...

I've been collecting a few items from my regular blog-reading about which I wanted to comment, but for which I hadn't found the time.  So rather than write a posting for each, I'll lump them together.

First, there is the Top 100 Libraries by Collection Size that was recently put out by ALA.  My very first thought was, really?  Collection size?  I thought this was a metric that was on its way out, but apparently it has more staying power than I had realized.  My next thought was, wow, Dallas Public Library (41) beats Houston P.L. (100) - woo hoo!  A third thought - drats, University of North Texas wouldn't have made the cut even if they included those academic libraries not in ARL.

Now that you should have recognized my own ambivalence to towards this stat, perhaps we should consider why this is.  Of course, it's a (relatively) easy thing to measure - how many books (although the lengthy caveat at the should give a hint to how complicated it is to measure number of books - by volumes? titles? items? etc.).  ...

In the blog, Letters to a Young Librarian, Jessica Olin listed the 10 Things I Didn't Learn in Library School, including:

  • For most students, asking librarian for help is a last resort.
  • Students don't know how to find a book in the stacks. 
  • The library (the department) is not always in charge of how the library (the space) is used.
  • Collection development is done differently in every library. 
This last struck me as rather obvious - after all, nothing is ever done the same way in every place (office, library, even military base).  After all, simply following Ranganathan's 5 Laws, it would be apparent that different libraries have different readers needing different works.

Finally, there was this review of the soon-to-be released special issue of Against the Grain that focuses on usage data.  Unfortunately, I just now sent in my check to subscribe to this trade journal, so I won't have access to the articles for a while (why can't we submit payment online!?!).  The reviewer, Scott McLemee, is an essayist with a background in the humanities, but he is not a librarian; this is both good and not-so-good for the same reason: outside perspective.  The emphasis of his blog posting is on the journal metrics, including impact factor, immediacy impact and h-index.  While initially developed for use in the scientific journals, these metrics have been gradually included in reviews of journals, articles and authors in the social sciences and humanities.  So it's not surprise that Scott raises concerns; what does surprise me is a humanities writer who does not express utter disdain for these measures.  True, there are issues with them, but there are also innumerable issues with the subjective measures of opinion (whether evaluating a journal for submitting an article or adding to a collection, or evaluating the work of a researcher for tenure).  I do look forward to getting access soon to ATG.

Monday, October 29, 2012

ARL's Webinar on the HathiTrust decision

ARL sponsored this Webinar that featured knowledgeable persons giving their understandings of the background and impact of this landmark decision.  Here are several points and quotes that caught my attention:

  • Daniel F. Goldstein, on the accessibility argument of the case:
    • "Finally, there's a lever here for you in dealing with vendors who sell you digital content, because of the strong statements about the need for equal access and the statements about fair use, you can tell Elsevier, they either need to start making those online journals in an ePub3 format that's accessible, or that if they don't, you as a library are entitled to do so as fair use, to create the accessible copies as fair use."
    • " [the decision] blessed making a digital copy as a fair use if the purpose is for access to persons with print disabilities."
    • Libraries no longer have to wait for a request from a print-disabled student to digitize texts for that purpose.  In addition, libraries can retain the digitized copy even after the student has completed the course or left the university, rather than having to re-create the digitized copy from each student's own copy of the texts.
  • Peter Jaszi, also on accessibility:
    • "...the more a library does to create a systematic and well-thought out program to serve the needs of the print-disabled, the closer it works with the disability services office on campus to those ends, the stronger the position it will be in to assert that it is an authorized entity under section 121." (emphasis original)
  • Jason M. Schultz, on preservation
    • "purpose matters"  "libraries...preserve for another purpose, to make sure we have this cultural heritage, to make sure there are resources for scholars, to make sure we can have access to literature in as many different forms as possible for many different populations..."
    • Essentially, a "dark archive" of items digitized for "preservation" only (without the extended purpose of, say, for future scholarly research) may not be permissible, but that this is not usually the case.  Preservation is almost always for another purpose beyond itself.
  • Future of this decision?  Will it be appealed? Should libraries take action?
    • Jonathon Band - the Author's Guild will seek a settlement to drop any appeals in exchange for not paying HathiTrusts' legal fees (a likely outcome of this decision).
Essentially, it seems that this decision may give libraries more legal foundation to digitize items themselves or support digitization projects for the very purposes behind the HathiTrust and Google Books.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Denton Declaration: Open Data Manifesto

With its prominent role in digital collections firmly established (the Digital Library is still in the top 50 of the Webometrics world ranking of repositories), and growing involvement in the Open Access movement (an early adopter of repository deposit requirement and sponsor of 3 OA symposia), the UNT Libraries is now clearly at the forefront of the Open Data movement.  During the most recent OA Symposium, the participants drafted a statement of goals, principles and intentions to press forward in making research data available and accessible to the research and library community, as well as the public.

This Denton Declaration "bridges the converging interests of these stakeholders and promotes collaboration, transparency, and accountability across organizational and disciplinary boundaries."  The Declarations advocate that "(o)pen access to research data is critical for advancing science, scholarship, and society," that "(p)ublicly funded research should be publicly available for public good," and that "(t)ransparency in research is essential to sustain the public trust."

The Principles established in the Denton Declaration address the benefits of open access to data, as well as the general framework that would enable such access to thrive.  These include funding that supports "reliable long-term access", sufficient metadata to enable the finding and use of the data, the timely release of the data, and an infrastructure that supports long-term preservation.

Finally, the Intentions signal the issues of most importance to the signatories at this time, including developing a "culture of openness in research", building the infrastructure that is extensible and sustainable for archiving and making the data discoverable, developing metadata standards, and recognizing and supporting the intellectual property rights of the researchers.

This document is meant to provide the solid starting-point of the development of Open Access Data standards and technology that, say, the Budapest Open Access Initiative and the Berlin Declaration did for open access to journal articles.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Does the 80/20 rule still apply?

As I've been studying the usage of our patron-driven acquisitions (PDA) program, my mind has turned to the Pareto Principle of resource usage - the so-called "80/20 Rule".  This principle, initially developed to describe the distribution of land and wealth in Italy (according to Wikipedia, of course), has been used to describe distributions of all kinds of resources and effects.  It was first applied to usage of library resources by Richard Trueswell in his 1969 article in Wilson Library Bulletin (I'm still trying to track down the original article via Document Delivery).  This is a rule that was presented to us in library school, and one that I've always wanted to investigate, but never (until now) had the chance.

In an effort to apply more critical thinking to my work (see Paul Wyckoff's advice to politicians), I'd like to consider the evidence that supports (or does it?) the principle.  I've started a literature review to answer these questions:

  • Has it ever been supported by evidence from more than one source?
  • To which collections did it apply the most?  The least?
  • Has the application of this principle changed over time?  
  • Does it still apply today?  If so, to which kinds of collections?
If it can be supported by evidence, then I believe libraries and librarians are going to be in big trouble.  In this day and age of accountability and return-on-investment, we are not likely to be able to support the budgets that provide resources for which only 20% account for 80% of the usage.  

Some bigger questions I have include:
  • How does this principle affect the dissemination of knowledge?  If a large percentage of the resources are not used at all, how can the information and ideas be spread? 
  • Has the Internet changed this principle?  Does the medium matter less than the message?
  • What effect does the increase of scholars have on the availability of published material?  As the pool of resources has increased over time, has rate of usage declined?
  • Can the "publish or perish" model of academic tenure continue?  
  • What will be the impact on scholarly communication of changes to collection development that result in fewer items being purchased due to greater emphasis on usage and less on preserving the scholarly record?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

ACS, blogging, and decorum in librarianship

I'm finally catching up with the fracas surrounding the decision made by the SUNY Potsdam library's to forgo the American Chemical Society's full package (summarized nicely by Andy Woodworth in his blog, Agnostic, Maybe).  I must admit that I'm a bit taken aback by the vitriol that has developed via the chminfo-Listserv - not displeased, mind you...more like...inspired.  I'm also hopeful for our profession and the future of academic libraries.

It has been apparent that the large-scale (and pricey) publishers of content have appeared to consider librarians as not relevant to the decision-making process.  We are, instead, referred to our faculty, to whom much of the advertising is directed.  The e-book fracas is another example, with some publishers discounting the role that libraries play in the marketing and distribution of their content.  I'm proud of those in my profession who are starting to make decisions to reject the constraints and prices that have become "the new normal".

I'm hopeful that this difficult period of economic downturn will have an unintended effect of strengthening the resolve of librarians.  We now have an air-tight, non-negotiable, out-of-our-hands reason to have the big deals and sacred cows on the table.  As our budgets have been cut into the bone, we librarians have been working with faculty to explain the situation and come up with solutions that result in cancellations of journals, even the "sacred cows".  Will their world come tumbling down?  Will faculty revolt and leave institutions?  Will students not be learning as much? Possibly...but the choices have become quite limited.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Library 2.012 Virtual Conference - FREE!

Given all the cuts to libraries and particularly to librarian professional development (including travel), I actively seek and would like to promote those opportunities that are cost-effective.  And how much more cost-effective can you get with something that is free?  (OK, your time is money, but eliminating conference fees and travel expenses boosts the cost-effective equation tremendously.)

The Library 2.012 Virtual Conference is next week and there are 148 presentations (and counting) scheduled over 2 days.  They cover six different "strands":

  • STRAND 1: Libraries – Physical and Virtual Learning Spaces

  • STRAND 2: Librarians & Information Professionals – Evolving Professional Roles in Today’s World

  • STRAND 3: Content & Creation – Organizing and Creating Information

  • STRAND 4: Changing Delivery Methods

  • STRAND 5: User Centered Access

  • STRAND 6: Mobile and Geo-Social Information Environments
Here is a sampling of the presentations:
OK, I confess...the list is a bit biased...the last two are mine.  I hope these will be a stimulating look at what our patrons have selected and how they compare with our print and EBSCO eBooks collection.  This will be my first presentations using WeCollaborate, which provides a slightly more interactive environment than simple webcasting. 

But even if my topic of demand-driven acquisitions is not on your radar, consider taking a moment to look at the options available and take advantage of this opportunity to see what others have done.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Library 2.012: Worldwide Virtual Conference

The Library 2.012 Worldwide Virtual Conference will take place October 3-5, 2012.  This is a free Web-based conference that will include presentations essentially around the clock (since it’s around the world).  The topics will cover these areas:
STRAND 1: Libraries – Physical and Virtual Learning Spaces

STRAND 2: Librarians & Information Professionals – Evolving Professional Roles in Today’s World

STRAND 3: Content & Creation – Organizing and Creating Information

STRAND 4: Changing Delivery Methods

STRAND 5: User Centered Access

STRAND 6: Mobile and Geo-Social Information Environments

You can review the accepted presentations list to decide which ones to attend. 

Disclaimer: I will be making two presentations about our Demand-Driven Acquisitions program:

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Library included in Princeton Review survey

Library Journal posted a piece about the 2013 Princeton Review college rankings, which now includes an item about the library.  This is a survey of about 122,000 students asking their opinions of various aspects of the colleges they are attending.  The particular question was,  “How do you rate your school’s library facilities?” and the responses are on 5-point Likert scale ranging from "Excellent" to "Awful".  The Princeton Review then ranks the institutions by each item and provides two lists: "Best College Library" and "This is a Library?".  Like other surveys of students, these kinds of reports provide only limited information from a very limited viewpoint.  Students are not asked to make comparisons and no other information is taken into account for the two lists.

Taking all this into consideration, it is interesting to see how some libraries fared.  Of the 20 in the "Best College Library" list, 6 were Public and 14 were Private (30%).  Of the 20 in the "This is a Library?", only 3 (9%) were Public.  For comparison, only 5% of the "Students Study the Most" were Public, but 85% of the "Students Study the Least" were Public (hmmm...).   Interestingly, 20% of the "This is a Library?" group were also in the "This is a Dorm?" group, while 15% of the "Best College Library" had the Best College Dorms".  Ok, so there isn't that much overlap there...

What about happy students?  Are the schools with the happiest students similar to the schools with the best libraries (survey says....)?  Well, not really...only 10% overlap.  However, 20% of the "This is a Library?" group were also in the "Least Happy Students" group -- the same group in the "This is a Dorm?" group.  OK, so there seems to be a set of schools with very dissatisfied students.

Finally, what about financial aid and administration.  Well, 20% of the "Best College Library" group were in the "Best Run Colleges" group, while 25% of the "This is a Library?" group were in the "Administrators get low Marks" group...again, all but one of the same schools that overlapped in other categories.  Finally, 35% of the "Best College Library" group were also in the "Best Financial Aid" group (all private schools, of course) [NOTE: one of the Best College Library group was the US Military Academy - no financial aid required].  Conversely, only 10% of those in the "This is a Library?" group were in the "Financial Aid Not So Great" group.

OK, that's all well and good, but it is just a survey of students' opinions...which makes me wonder if there is some correlation with LibQual+.  Unfortunately, my university is not represented in the list of that purposeful?  Did our administration opt-out?  Oh well, the Princeton Review survey does not provide near the detail or information that LibQual does - we have no idea why Drexel was in the "This is a Library?" group when it has a prestigious School of Information (or did I just answer my own question?).

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


When I start a new project, the first step is usually a literature review.  I want to find out what others have learned about the problem or issue I am hoping to resolve with my project.  Given that I am starting three new projects, I have been doing a lot of reading lately, and this, of course, leads me on other tangents of ideas.  To provide some context, the three projects are:

  • Evaluating the impact of the libraries' resources on the success of grant applications.
  • Developing and implementing a Collection Assessment Plan.
  • Investigate the feasibility of essentially "classifying" the courses offered in order to more effectively assess the coverage of our collections.
So my literature reviews have covered citation analysis & bibliometrics, assessment of research and grants, collection development and assessment, and classification.  The tangents that I have wandered down include:
  • Development of a Research Impact Measurement Service (RIMS), as provided by the University of New South Wales, Australia.
    • Provide citation analysis and bibliometric analysis of publications for individual faculty, as well as departments and administrative units.  
    • See this presentation and this article for details.
  • Assessing the impact of the library on the local community by measuring links to the university on the Web sites of local organizations and public services.
    • My MLS professional paper (well, really, it was a thesis) was analyzing the distribution of links on academic medical library Web sites.  This paper from JASIST evaluates the use of different methods to count links, which is what sparked this idea.
  • Assessing the impact of the libraries' digital collections on the research and education community by citation analysis and Web link analysis.  
    • This paper, also from JASIST, lit that spark in me.  It is too easy to stay focused on books, journals and databases when assessing the collections.  While our team regularly evaluates the usability and the content of our digital collections, there hasn't been as much research into their true impact in the communities they serve.
Of course, the common theme is assessment of our collections, but the directions are from there are different, from extending into the local community to developing a new service for our faculty and administration.  This can be a very interesting job.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Measures of reach

On the ACRL Value of Academic Libraries blog, Joseph Matthews discusses measures of reach and impact that were recommended waaaaay back in the mid- 1990's (about the time I started my professional training).  Now, nearly 20 years later, we still haven't made much progress.  Part of that is will (only recently have we had the need to do this), and part of it is's just not that easy to get these measures.  Here are some examples, with my comments about the technical feasibility of obtaining these values:
  • The percent of courses with materials in the reserve reading room.
    • Possible, but difficult. This would require access to the courses database and manually matching up courses with data from the ILS.  
  • The percent of students enrolled in these courses who actually checked out/downloaded reserve materials.
    • Not terribly difficult, but not very accurate. A gross value of this could be generated simply by using the total number of enrolled students divided by the total number of users with status of "student" with a circulation greater than 1.  But this is not really accurate - individuals in the numerator may or may not actually be counted in the denominator.  
  • The percent of courses requiring term papers based on materials in the library’s collections.
    • Ugh - how would we do this?  I can't imagine the work involved in a census of all courses, but surveying a random sample of courses would provide fairly reliable estimates.
  • The percent of courses requiring students to use the library for research projects
    • See above...Possible to get estimates, but not easily.
  • The number of students who checked out library materials.
  • The number of undergraduate (and graduate) students who borrowed materials from the library.
    • These two are similar to #2 above - fairly easy to get rough estimates.  
  • The number of library computer searches initiated by undergraduates.
    • This is virtually impossible to measure here.  Our users are not required to log into the databases unless they are off-campus.  While users of in-library computers must log in, there are far more users who use their laptops and own PCs.
  • Percent of library study spaces occupied by students.
    • We are finally starting to put card-swipes on some of our classrooms.  Eventually, we hope to put them on all study rooms.  But there are still many open areas that would be impossible to measure usage.  
  • Number of pages photocopied by students.
    • Easy to get...practically useless now.  However, we can get usage of ebooks, including page and chapter downloads.  Unfortunately, we can not yet distinguish user types because they usually do not need to log in.
  • Percent of freshmen students not checking out a library book.
    • Good idea - need to get a handle on non-usage.  This is the antithesis of items discussed above.
  • The percent of faculty who checked out library materials.
    • Fairly easy to get and fairly valid.  The Faculty population is more stable than the students, so a ratio of gross measures would likely be more valid.
  • The number of articles and books published by faculty members.
  • The number of references cited in faculty publications that may be found in the library’s collections.
    • Difficult but highly useful.  I'm working towards a systematic way of collecting this information.
In general, the recommendation was to provide:
  • The percent (undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, and researchers) who borrowed materials
    • Easy to get rough estimates
  • The percent who downloaded online materials
  • The percent who used the physical and virtual collections.
    • Virtually impossible in our environment.  
So, you can see, it takes more than simple recommendations.  The technical environment would need to be changed to support this.

Friday, August 31, 2012

More and more data on libraries

I finally had time to carefully examine the results from the Library Impact Data Project (sponsored by JISC). Just a reminder, this is a study that attempts to find the level, if any, of correlation between usage of library resources (as measured by visits, PC logins, logins to resources, etc.) and educational outcomes (as measured by grades, graduation level, and completion).  This is exactly what those who are associated with the ACRL Value of Academic Libraries project have been advocating.

Ellen Collins, the primary statistician for the study, posted the most statistically significant results to their blog (see Final Blog).  Unlike many statisticians, she has done an excellent job in presentation.  I was pleased that she posted effect sizes rather than raw values.  This is important because effect sizes are so much more informative than the values, even when the latter is presented with statistical significance.  Significance by itself only tells you that the differences between the groups you're comparing are not likely due to chance alone.  Sometimes this is because the differences are quite large - sometimes, particularly with very large sample sizes, the differences may be rather small.  By reporting the differences as "effect sizes", which takes into consideration variation within the groups, we, the readers, get a better understanding of how big that difference actually is.

It was also quite nice that she used colors to highlight the size and direction of the effect sizes.  This makes the charts so much quicker to read and easier to understand.  Here is one example:
Shows differences library usage by ethnic groups as compared to the majority (Whites).

Without this use of colors, she would have had to add more text to indicate the direction (the sign is irrelevant to direction) and it would have taken the reader more time to make sense of the values.  Finally, she does not include data for relationships that showed no statistically significant correlation.  This saves space and the time of the reader to skim through.  For a peer-reviewed journal article, though, she would likely need to show these values so that the reader would be able to verify this information.

Now to the results - Like all good statisticians, she starts with the basics - associations of demographics with the library usage. In her discussions, she is careful to detail some limitations to the results and analysis.  One of these is that some groupings were too small to analyze because they couldn't protect student identities and such analyses wouldn't produce valid conclusions.  Another is that the effect sizes of the associations of demographic variables with library usage, while statistically significant, were not very large (she thoughtfully included descriptions of ranges of effect sizes).  It's important to look at demographics first because these are factors that are beyond the control of the library, and if the effects were large, they could confound the relationship of associations between usage and outcomes.  I would have liked to have seen, however, similar analyses of demographics with educational outcomes.

After determining that demographics have very little effect on library usage, she then looked at disciplines in both broad and more narrow groupings (see Findings Post 2).  This has the most substantive, although admittedly less surprising, results.  Comparing all the other broad "subject groups" to social sciences (the "majority" set of users), those in the Arts, as well as Computer Science & Engineering fields used the library significantly less in nearly all measures of usage.  Interestingly, those in the Arts showed stronger effects of lower usage in the electronic resources measures.  Now, the Arts includes video and music, and there are a growing number of streaming services that would support these fields.  I glanced at the Huddersfield Library's resources for music and noticed only a few of these streaming services.  These results could provide the support needed for additional funding.  While it is not surprising that CS&E students did not borrow as many books from the library as those in the social sciences, our data of ebook usage shows that books these fields had greater usage than all the other STEM titles.  While we cannot determine who used these books, many of the titles are pretty specialized.

I'll have more about these results in another post...

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

This editorial provides some good advice for writing and submitting articles for publication in a peer-reviewed journal like CR&L. Key notes include:
  • Give the literature review section some meaning. Don't just list the studies that have been done before - provide "insights that highlight patterns, conflicts, or voids in the scholarship."
  • Have, and state clearly, a research question. The literature in library science is chock-full of "studies" that are merely descriptions of programs and outcomes. The authors equate having a methodology with having a research question - you can't have one without the other.
  • I'm surprised (and pleased) that the authors mentioned analysis & logic. I think this is a "lost art" that is no longer formally taught in graduate schools, let alone undergraduate, except in schools of philosophy.
  • Interesting comment about tone: "some writing is too informal and personal for presentation in a scholarly publication."
  • You'd think we librarians (many of whom are graduates of humanities education) would write with impecable grammar...apparently not.
  • Finally, a note about relevancy: "Some articles are
    well written and interesting but really have nothing new to contribute to the field."
However, this last issue can also serve as an obstacle to those wanting (or needing) to write and publish. I often hear of those who think that the ideas they have are not important to others - "Who would care?" This is where getting feedback from a trusted colleague or mentor is priceless.

In this editorial, the authors are actually referring to simple descriptions of personal experiences (single projects at their institution) that do not contribute to the growing body of knowledge.  Here are some tips that I believe would make our projects relevant:

      • Do a proper literature review (see comment above about giving the review meaning)
      • Have a formal research question
      • Develop a sound methodology to answer this question
      • Conduct the research in a responsible way
      • Discuss the results (even if the results are not "good" or supportive of your ideas) in a logical manner and within the context of previous knowledge.
      • Share your results in the most appropriate contexts.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Top trends of 2012 - a la ACRL

I had missed this when it had come out and had it not been for the posting in iLibrarian, I might not have seen it until, oh, 2013.  The ACRL Research Planning and Review Committee released its annual Top Ten Trends in Academic Libraries in the June, 2012 issue of College & Research Libraries.  I like these kinds of things because, when taken altogether, the most important issues tend to become more noticeable from the "noise" of the chaos of the information revolution.  I especially look for what I may have been missing.  So, here is their list and how I am involved, as Collection Assessment Librarian at the University of North Texas Libraries:

  • Communicating Value: "Academic libraries must prove the value they provide to the academic enterprise."
    • It is not terribly surprising that this issue is the first one listed.  It references the group's own Value of Academic Libraries report and the Lib-Value project.  While I'm not currently involved in value-related research, I know that it is being pursued by the administration and I hope to assess collection use with grades.
  • Data Curation: 
    • Data curation challenges are increasing as standards for all types of data continue to evolve; more repositories, many of them cloud-based, will emerge; librarians and other information workers will collaborate with their research communities to facilitate this process.
    • Our own Spenser Karelis and Shannon Stark have been pursuing this problem through action-oriented research.  I hope to eventually look into associations of data curation and availability with citation rates and grant funding.
  •  Digital Preservation:
    • As digital collections mature, concerns grow about the general lack of long-term planning for their preservation. No strategic leadership for establishing architecture, policy, or standards for creating, accessing, and preserving digital content is likely to emerge in the near term.
    • I recently read an article that reported on research on the impact of digital collections in history literature (Sinn, Donghee. 2012. Impact of digital archival collections on historical research. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 63 (8): 1521-37).  I would very much like to repeat this method evaluating the impact of our own digital collections on social sciences literature.
  • Higher Education
    • Higher education institutions are entering a period of flux, and potentially even turmoil. Trends to watch for are the rise of online instruction and degree programs, globalization, and an increased skepticism of the “return on investment” in a college degree.

      Shifts in the higher education surround will have an impact on libraries in terms of expectations for development of collections, delivery of collections and services for both old and new audiences, and in terms of how libraries continue to demonstrate value to parent institutions.
    • With the increasing pressure for libraries, particularly at publicly-funding institutions, to prove their value, collection development activities will likely include a wider array of assessment measures beyond simple usage.  I would like to develop a method to compare current and near-future curriculum and course planning with our collections in order to ensure that resources will meet the expected demand.  I would also like to compare highly-used resources against little-used resources to determine what could "predict" usage in the future.  
  • Information Technology
    • Technology continues to drive much of the futuristic thinking within academic libraries. 
    • This list emphasizes the issues and recommendations in the 2012 Horizon Report put out by The New Media Consortium.  These include social media/networks, collaborative learning, online/hybrid learning, and challenge-based and active learning.  While I wouldn't say that our library is at the bleeding edge of technological developments, I would say we have been early adopters of most technological trends.  I would, however, like to lead an assessment of how certain features and functions could be developed or modified to improve the findability, accessibility and usage of our collections.  For instance, I would like us to implement faceted searching in our catalog like we have in our digital collections (see this example).  In addition, I would like us to better integrate our ILLiad service with our online resources to make it easier to request physical items, especially as we have had to cut so many of our resources.
  • Mobile Environments
    • Mobile devices are changing the way information is delivered and accessed.
    • The UNT Libraries will be experimenting with loaning and access to resources for mobile devices. Like the item above, I hope to be involved in making collection decisions based, at least in part, on the accessibility of the content on mobile devices.  There is little point in paying for resources that have such poor usability that they are simply not used.
  • Patron-Driven E-Book Acquisitions
    • Patron-Driven Acquisition (PDA) of e-books is poised to become the norm. For this to occur, licensing options and models for library lending of e-books must become more sustainable.
    • This is something in which I am currently heavily involved.  Our own foray into PDA or Demand-Driven Acquisitions has been considered successful, with nearly 75% of ebooks purchased by our clients being used at least one time after purchase in the first 6 months of the project.  This far surpasses multiple usage of other ebook providers.  While I have analyzed the content of the collections fairly extensively, comparing subject distribution with our print and other ebook providers, I would next like to examine differences in usage based on more narrow subject categories, publishers, content-level, and publication year.  I would also like to learn how our patrons select and use these ebook resources, again, in an effort to be able to predict such usage.
  • Scholarly Communication
    • New scholarly communication and publishing models are developing at an ever-faster pace, requiring libraries to be actively involved or be left behind. 
    • The University of North Texas has been taking further strides in the paradigm shift of scholarly communication.  The university has recently required faculty to submit their scholarly outputs to its institutional repository (IR) (UNT Scholarly Works), and although there are certain allowable exceptions, it is significant step forward.  The Library has also stepped up efforts in this area by creating a position devoted to scholarly communication.  In addition, we have been making more concerted efforts towards supporting Open Access publications, by adding OA titles to our collection and providing OA publication fees for our faculty.  I would like to establish the regular review of the impact of our efforts, including OA articles, items in the IR and grant proposals.  I am also interested in the recent efforts to change the landscape of textbooks, particularly regarding OA and institutional licensing of texts for introductory texts.  
  • Staffing
    • Academic libraries must develop the staff needed to meet new challenges through creative approaches to hiring new personnel and deploying/retraining existing staff.
    • This is an issue that is of much concern at most libraries.  A balance of stability and flexibility is needed to ensure that our human resources are being used most effectively.  Simply moving people into new areas without appropriate training, consultation, or consideration of the human element will often result in failure.  Conversely, perpetual planning with little action will result in declining services and impact of the library.  I hope to be involved in the assessment of staff changes that could be used to make modifications and improve the effectiveness and efficiency of workflows.
  • User behaviors and expectations
    • Convenience affects all aspects of information seeking—the selection, accessibility, and use of sources.
    • The impact of the collection depends at least in part on the findability and usability of the resources.  I would like to learn how our patrons make decisions on which items to use for different purposes and to use this information to improve selection and findability.  
As you can see, most of my comments begin with "I would like to..." or "I expect to...".  These are aspirational in nature and reveal my ideas.  I just need to ensure that I follow through on these and not get sucked into routine or tangent efforts that distract me from what is more important.

Monday, August 6, 2012

"Library Cube"...on my wish list

In the article, Discovering the Impact of Library Use and Student Performance in EDUCAUSE Review Online, the Library Cube put together by the University of Wollongong Library in Australia is highlighted.  This data warehousing solution pulls together data about students (anonymized), schools (called, "faculties"), and library resource usage.  The library administrators and librarians who manage programs and collections can not only demonstrate that those who use the libraries resources score higher grades, but also can identify groups that do not use the resources as much as others.  This could be used to investigate reasons and develop methods and programs to address this disparity.

As Collection Assessment Librarian, here is what I could do with this data:
  • Associate resource usage (print and online) with grades, degree completion, schools, years in the program, on- versus off-campus, student backgrounds (like locations of high schools or community colleges, family income, work loads, ages)...
  • Associate collection coverage with courses much more easily than the manual or semi-manual process we do now.
  • Demonstrate to faculty any disparities of usage of resources assigned (this refers to the copyright case in Georgia where it was found that they were not in violation of copyright for many of the items posted online because they were simply not used!)
  • Determine how different or how similar different student groups are in terms of library usage.
  • Identify the groups of students or faculty who never use the library in order to conduct additional research to find out what they do use and how we could reach them better.
This kind of connection of student and school measures with resource usage measures is becoming more prominent in other countries, but less so here in the United States.  

This line from the video, "At the heart of Library Cube is the Student Number," points out the key reason, I believe.  Concerns about privacy have led to policies that unnecessarily restrict the sharing of key data.  There are ways to make the data effectively anonymous, but there is still great reluctance.  Technology is another obstacle, but one that should not be hard to overcome.  Our library is veering ever so slightly in this direction, starting with our face-to-face instruction sessions and some courses that are taught largely through Blackboard.  I hope that the results will convince the decision-makers that this method can and should be used to help make informed decisions while not infringing on students' rights and not imposing unnecessary work on the data gatherers.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Textbook affordability & libraries

With the economic crisis droning on ad infinitum, I've decided that I really missed out not taking an economics course.  When planning my liberal studies program, I had avoided anything that was even close to business courses.  Having lived an additional 20 years, though, I have realized that economics is as important a subject in the social sciences as anthropology and history.  So, I've picked up a few books at my library here (I love being at a general university!) and have started learning a few things.  For instance, did you know that as resources become limited, the cheaper goods become more in demand?  OK, I had learned that one on my own (why else would I shop at Walmart?), but having these basics now at the front of my mind increases my awareness of the economics of everyday life.

Thus it is with textbooks.  As funding for education gets tighter (for students and for institutions), we start looking around for cheaper alternatives.  Textbooks are third in the list of educational expenses - behind tuition and room & board.  My concerns about textbooks has grown since I returned to the field of librarianship and sold many of my old public health books.  Three years before, I had gotten rid of my old LIS books (many of which dated to the 1980s & early 1990's).  What was the point?  I kept these books because they were expensive and because I thought I would need to refer to them regularly in my professional life.  This was not the case.  Except for my biostats book (Rosner, 6th edition - great book), I've rarely re-opened any of my texts.

Some of the best classes I took did not even include a textbook - the readings were hand-selected by the professor and the discussions drawn from them were stimulating and enlightening.  This has led me to conclude that textbooks are a shortcut for faculty whose time is limited for teaching.  This is effectively pushing the cost of developing a curriculum from the institution (who should have paid for the time of the faculty to create the curriculum) to the student and/or the financial aid providers.

So it is with interest that I've been reading about alternatives to textbooks (necessity is the mother of invention, eh?).  Here's a posting on the ACRL Value of Academic Libraries blog about the Alternative Textbooks project. It's exciting to see libraries involved in getting faculty to use its resources (what a thought!) and helping student-retention.  The University of Southern Florida's T.A.P. site serves as a good hub of information about this paradigm shift in curriculum planning. The biggest initiatives towards making textbooks more affordable include Open Access textbooks and class licensing of e-textbooks (McGraw-Hill), which may be a compromise with publishers.

The programs mentioned in the ACRL Value posting are more intriguing because of their involvement with the libraries.  California State University system advocates for faculty to work with their library to identify local resources to support the curriculum.  The key to these programs is providing small amounts of money to pay the faculty to develop their own "texts" using OA and library resources (emphasis added):
At Temple University Libraries we are now in the second year of our local Alternate Textbook Project. In each round ten faculty receive a $1,000 grant to develop an alternate textbook. Although boosting student retention is not explicitly stated, the Project has multiple outcomes: (1) save students money to improve college affordability; (2) encourage faculty to make more use of library and open educational resources; (3) improve student learning.
I'm very interested to see how these projects pan-out and how they could enable libraries to directly impact student retention and add value to students' and universities' outcomes.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Evaluating collections...

I've kept this posting from Stephen's Lighthouse "alive" in my Google Reader, even though I have read it several times. I've been intrigued mostly by the "honeycomb" of criteria that he actually discovered from a posting about User Experience Design:
Of course, the User Experience is the newest model to hit library assessment, so it was logical that Stephen then applied these criteria to evaluating online courses, asking questions pertinent to this library service.

I'm intrigued because I've been trying to develop my own model of evaluating collections that I could use on a regular basis.  I've been fixated on a "tripod" model, with 3 sets of 3 criteria - Usage, Scope and Depth - but I haven't made much progress down this path.  That is why this diagram caught my attention.  While  ascribed to online courses in this posting, these are the same kinds of criteria that have applied to collections of one kind or another.  

  • Useful: Stephen asks, 
"What do your students do with the activities, materials, links and other content you include in your course? Does each of these itesm add to the understanding of a complex concept in some way? Or perhaps they directly support hte achievement of an established learning objective in the course?"

    •  We could also ask, "What do your students (and faculty) do with the books, journals, databases, tutorials, and other content you offer in your library?"  
  • Usable: Stephen focuses basic Web site usability issues, such as working links and applications.  And while we could also examine the usability of our Web interfaces to our collection (e.g. catalog, article databases, etc.), we could also evaluate the usability of our content (print books, ebooks, scores, etc.).
  • Findable: While Stephen mentions "navigation and layout", findability of our resources is a very important aspect of collection assessment.  Are the items cataloged accurately and to the appropriate level? Are journal article findable using multiple access points (ejournals list, article databases, catalog, etc.)? What about the special collections?
  • Credible: Stephen writes, "'s important for the students to know the content is credible in terms of its source, purpose, currency and relevance" (original emphasis).  These are among the most established criteria of collection assessment.  The problem is how to measure them with some semblance of objectivity.  
  • Desirable: "How well does your course capture the interest of your students?" Stephen asks.  Similarly, we could ask, "How well does our collection capture the interest of our students?"  While some of our faculty may snort at such a concern, if our students are not interested in the works, even for required projects and courses, they will eschew them or use them ineffectively.  
  • Accessible: While Stephen's accessibility issues are focused on Web sites, we do need to consider other aspects, including physical accessibility.  Are book stacks wheelchair accessible? Even for those without overt physical limitations - are the book shelves too high? too low? Are the books packed in too tightly?  Do the special collections require too many people to "go through" to access?  While remote shelving is becoming more common, is the delivery too cumbersome to use?
  • Valuable: Stephen asks, "Does your content support your students in their pursuit of course learning objectives?"  He quotes the author of the original article, "'the user experience must advance the mission'".  So, do our collections advance the mission of the library?
This may prove to be good model on which to base our regular collection assessment; or it may be simply the re-working of old ideas.  I need to ponder this more....

Friday, July 20, 2012

Friday Frags

I've been sidelined a bit this week viewing ALA's Virtual Conference, Mapping Transformation and preparing a presentation on DDA.  So this morning I've been playing catch-up with my blog reading and there are just too many interesting things to focus on one item of interest.  So here are my Friday Frags (tip o'the hat to our library's staff blog):

  • Two items on Wikipedia:
    • A study of how the copyright laws "impoverish" the transfer of knowledge, specifically through Wikipedia.  This is interesting because the economist uses a control group, so there is a little more validity than just descriptive stats.
    • Conversely, there are much fewer contributors to Wikipedia, and more concerning is the drop of new administrators.  The article implicates the increased scrutiny that applicants are put under, with requirements of tests of copyright knowledge, essays, and reviews of past contributions and discussions regarding their input.  While this hasn't yet impacted overall stewardship, there is concern for the future of this community.  This would be a good microcosm of human behavior to study development and maturity of societies.
  • The ALCTS awarded its Microgrants (sadly, I'm not a recipient), both of which were awarded different libraries of the University of Maryland.  The Health Sciences & Human Services Library will digitize early books and journals of medicine (prior to 1800), while the UM Baltimore County Library will collect, host and archive articles by faculty from open access journals that are endangered or no longer accessible.  
  • The UK has been the source of several studies on the behavior of students and their interactions with libraries.  This study from JISC focused on doctoral students, most of whom could be considered within the "Generation Y".  Interesting findings include:
    • Students are not participating in the scientific conversation as much as we would think.  Only 23% regularly review blogs, and only 13% actively participate, and only 9% maintain their own blogs.
    • These students do not understand open access, believing that there is no positive and possibly negative value to making their own work available.
    • Students predominantly rely on secondary sources, even those in the humanities.
    • There is more, but it will take me a while to read through it all.
  • Reports of other studies include:
  • Innovative digitization projects are cropping up, including:
  • Interesting presentations & ideas related to the ALA Virtual Conference:
Unfortunately, that is all the time I have to write this post.  There is much more out there...

Monday, July 16, 2012

Library value & impact on learning

I've subscribed to the feeds from the Library Impact Data Project sponsored by JISC.  While I'm really interested in their results, my main interest is with their methods.  How will the researchers be able to make rational and scientific observations about library usage and academic outcomes that are valid and useful?  Well, the answer is, not easily, as this recent post explains.  The institutions in this project are all in Great Britain, which has more centralized data, such as "UCAS points" for getting into college, as well as demographic data.  In addition, the individual institutions require all students to log into the Library's resources individually, thus providing online usage for each student.  I wanted to find out what they could learn with such a relatively rich set of data.

The latest posting does suggest that even this level of data granularity is not enough.  There were problems in distinguishing "year of study" for each student (e.g. comparing usage for those in their first year versus in their second year, etc.).  This is important because usage does vary by year of study in and of itself, so it wouldn't be possible to control for this variation when examining the impact of other factors.  Their workarounds  (such as looking only at one year) effectively reduced their sample size to such an extent that statistical analysis of the results was not possible.  Finally, they had to convert one of their most key variables from a continuous (amount of time using the library) to a dichotomous variable (used/didn't use).  This, by their own admission, makes it more difficult to see the true relationship of usage to, say, completion rates.  

But given these "health warnings" of the data, they did share some intriguing results, notably that library usage is strongly and significantly associated with dropping out:
If you do not use the library, you are over seven times more likely to drop out of your degree: 7.19, to be precise. If you do not download PDFs, you are 7.89 times more likely to drop out of your degree.  Library PC usage also has a relationship with dropping out, although in this case not using the PCs makes you 2.82 times more likely to drop out of your degree.
While there may be some concerns about the levels of granularity of the measures, their strength should be indicative that there is some sort of relationship between usage and dropping out.  This, of course, should not surprise us considerably, and the results are certainly not counter-intuitive.  Furthermore, this is solely a correlation NOT an indication of causation - but I do like what is said about these results:
What it does offer, though, is a kind of ‘early warning system’. If your students aren’t using the library, it might be worth checking in with them to make sure everything is alright. Not using the library doesn’t automatically mean you’re at risk of dropping out – in fact, the number of students who don’t use the library and don’t drop out is much, much higher than the number who do leave their course prematurely. But library usage data could be another tool within the armoury of student support services, one part of a complex picture which helps them to understand which students might be at risk of failing to complete their degree.
This posting also demonstrates to me that even when with a much richer and granular data set, there will still be problems that through a monkey wrench into the best-laid plans.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Juxtapositions for today's high-minded professionals...

I've been noticing events, postings, and articles that center around the same basic theme - the battle of higher education against the bottom-line-focused executives that either administrate or serve on the boards of our institutions. Marshall Poe discusses the importance of the university press (a service closely tied to academic libraries), with some interesting insights into the problems these services face.  Then there is the UVa debacle with the summary dismissal of the president over "philosophical differences."  These differences were the result of the business-oriented board members' frustration with the "slowness" of the president's response to their concerns.

Those who pursued an academic career (like myself) claim that they purposefully avoided for-profit employment, sacrificing higher-pay and fancy perks, in return for both greater stability and a feeling of bettering the world.  Now that the corporate mentality has taken over politics, government, and organizational governance (even in the non-profit or social services world), we feel cheated. We have the worst of both worlds - lower-than-average pay for the same kind of work, greater demands on demonstrating outcomes, and greater risk of job loss.  This growing pressure also appears to be affecting the "warm fuzzies" we counted on getting from serving the youth, the growth of knowledge, the community (local and disciplinary).

While I do believe that, as custodians and beneficiaries of funding from taxes and gifts, we librarians have an obligation to be efficient and effective in our operations, I also firmly believe that governments and non-profit organizations cannot be run like a business.  A business' primary goal is to make money.  I do not deride that objective - I believe that capitalism based on fair-play is a far better economic model than government-run economies.  But if you look at the mission statements and goals of governments, non-profits, educational and other social services, making money is not mentioned.

Interestingly, I was reading a collection of classic papers and presentations in librarianship, one of which was from Ernest Cushing Richardson.  In his opinion piece published in the ALA Bulletin in 1927, he mentioned a "trend in librarianship in the present day" to "emphasize the method of efficiency, aptitude for action, the methods of modern salesmanship...over reflection, knowledge, learning, tact, sympathy, humane developments and other factors which go to set up a connection between the knowledge which is in books and the knowledge which lives in personality"1.  Richardson goes on to advocate that libraries are, indeed, a "real business which calls for business aptitude, business experience...".  He even points out the many aspects of library operations that have been adopted by business itself, including the use of the card file, the standardization of hte index card, and the idea of standards themselves.  However, he emphasizes that "the main thing about librarianship...[is] learning or knowledge," and that "the neglect of this aspect is even more fatal than the neglect of the business side."

So, it appears that this push-and-pull between running the library (and education) like a business and very foundations of connecting individuals to knowledge is not solely a 21st century concern. How can we, as both librarians and educators, work to ensure that we neglect neither the business nor the human or knowledge side?  Richardson advocates for a "philosophy of librarianship", one that gets to the "real nature and meaning of things."  This was a real problem to librarians in this time period, one for which I believe that Ranganathan made his greatest contribution.

Interestingly, Marshall Poe presents some very intriguing ideas about the decline of university presses.  While he does mention the influence of business-oriented approach to cutting anything that doesn't generate enough revenue, he also discusses the dependency of UP's on libraries to purchase these works (and the current decline in library budgets to continue this relationship), as well as the overall decline in reading in the population, even the learned population.  Finally, he blames the UP management themselves for not "getting" the Internet and how it could be leveraged to reduce the "brick and mortar" expenses and increase exposure and readership.  This, however, requires a major shift in a fundamental aspect of UP's: making content available for free.  This shift in focus from producing a product (a book) to providing a service (editing content provided by academics seeking recognition and promotion) could enable the presses to continue to serve their original mission of disseminating knowledge.

This appears to be one example of how the high-minded professionals in education and librarianship can manage the pressures to "economize" and change our practices and operations while still dealing in our core business of knowledge.

1. Richardson, Ernest Cushing. "Book and Person Who Knows the Book."  In, American Library Philosophy: An Anthology.  McCrimmon, Barbara, ed.  Hamden, CT: Shoe String Press, 1975; ppg. 51-62.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Redefining the Academic Library

Hmmm, I think that I've been tracking all the right blogs and reading all the right news related to library & information science, and there's still stuff that slips under the radar.  It's interesting the tracks information takes before reaching any one reader.  I imagine that if one were to visualize it, it would look like fractals.  Anyhow, I just now learned of the report from the University Leadership Council, Redefining the Academic Library: Managing the Migration to Digital Information Services. Released late last year, I must have missed the initial blog postings about it while I was shifting jobs back into librarianship.  It had the usual run, including mentions on Stephen's Lighthouse, LIS Trends, and Current Cites.  Interestingly, I could not find it on the Chronicle of Higher Education or Inside Higher Ed (is there a bias against the Education Advisory Board?).

Regardless, the title piqued my curiosity when I found it rather indirectly - a posting in LISNews about a series of blog postings in Attempted Elegance (Killing Fear) that form an essay regarding the recommendations of this report.  Sort of like a friend told two friends who told two friends...and so on and so on...

This report is intriguing, summarizing the information from various resources, many of which I was already aware of (e.g. "Value of Academic Libraries", the Taiga Forum, ITHAKA, etc.).  What this report provides is the distillation of this information into a cohesive strategy that libraries could take to ensure that they remain relevant. Essentially, this report elegantly supports Ranganathan's Fifth Law of Library Science: The Library is a Growing Organism.  An organism must grow in order to survive; and growth does not necessarily mean growth in size, but also evolution or ability to adapt.

Now, the authors admit that "(p)rognosticators have been warning of the disruptive capacity of computers, networks, and other information technologies for at least three decades, and predictions of the library's demise can be found as far back as the 1960's."  The authors believe that this time, there are four key drivers of change in libraries that are "converging and pushing more academic libraries toward a fundamentally different approach."  (Note: while the report is focused on academic libraries, these drivers apply to all libraries.)  These key drivers are:
  • Unsustainable costs (particularly of serials)
  • Viable alternatives to patrons (I would argue the level of viability, particularly for sources of scholarly information)
  • Declining usage (hmmm, maybe of circulation and basic reference services, but not of online resources and in-depth reference services)
  • New patron demands
As you can see, I have some questions about these drivers, but I understand the jist of their argument.  When asked with which sources our users (faculty or students) start their research, the most common answer is Google.  That makes sense; even librarians start with Google.  But that does not mean that the library is no longer viable.  Articles from non-OA journals are still the primary source of scholarly communication, all of which require money to access the content, at least within the first 6 months to a year.  Few scholars can afford personal subscriptions to all of their journals, nor all of their books (especially in the humanities & social sciences).  I do not deny the growing trend in non-traditional scholarly communication, but perhaps our end users are still not truly aware of the extent of resources that continue to be provided by the library.

I'm also skeptical of the claim of declining usage.  Foot traffic in most libraries has actually grown, and when you measure online usage of library-provided resources, then there is no evidence of declining usage.  Print circulation, in-house use of print materials, and basic reference services have, indeed, decreased quite noticeably.  We should take into account, however, the impact that our actions have had and will have on these trends.  For instance, by providing fewer books on the shelves for browsing and advertising the use of electronic books, should we not expect that circulation of print will decline further?

From the research, the report a list of 30 "lessons learned" organized around four themes:

  • Leveraging digital collections
  • Rethinking the scholarly publishing model
  • Repurposing library space
  • Redeploying library staff
These are not new ideas, but these lessons summarized as such provide some good talking points that librarians and library administrators can use to plan their strategic objectives and make their case for "redefining the academic library."  Another useful tool is the checklist, based on lessons learned, for "understanding your current practice."  This is, essentially, a list of practical and concrete steps that address the issues in the report. While there would be no guarantee that implementing all 39 recommendations would make your library relevant to your institution, it would be interesting to see if there is a relationship between these changes and indicators of relevancy (e.g. funding levels, overall usage, integration of the library throughout the institution).  

What do others think about this report?  Is it merely another one of its ilk that is read by administrators, touted in this year's strategic planning session, and then tossed in the file cabinet never to be read again?  Does it accurately represent the research on the future of academic libraries?  Is it unjustly biased against traditional libraries and print materials?  Is it useful?