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.

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