Saturday, November 2, 2013

Comments on two posts from Library Babel Fish

I like reading Barbara Fister's blog, Library Babel Fish.  I posted thoughts about two recent items on my new blog, Libraries are for Use:  the first is on OA & tenure, and the other is on the role of books in academia.

Check it out...

Friday, October 4, 2013

Reminder - Follow me on WordPress - Libraries are For Use

Just a friendly reminder to follow me on my new WordPress blog, Libraries Are For Use.

Here's what you may have missed:

  • Commodity- or Special Collections?  A discussion of Rick Anderson's proposal for libraries.
  • Item in the San Diego press that most books at the SD Public Library don't circulate (really?)
  • A presidential library (of sorts) for our first president.
  • Several Scoops, including from Stephen's Lighthouse, Allentown newspaper, and Barbara Fister's Library Babel Fish.
I appreciate all who "listen" to me and my thoughts.  Please continue to follow me at my new home.  You can follow via WordPress, RSS feeds, or email.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

You win some, you loose some...

As I'm finishing my transition from Blogger (a Google product) to (NOT self-hosted, I'm encountering issues I did not expect.

One is...the usage stats are still higher for Blogger than for WordPress.  Why is that?  Could be because what few readers I have still subscribe to the Blogger feeds.  Woops!  I just realized that the RSS buttons are not appearing on the home page of my new site!  Well, this has been fixed.  But, if you subscribe to both - great!  But if you haven't subscribed to my Libraries are for Use site on, please do so's the link: .

I noticed that WordPress shows I have 33 took me a while to look into that - turns out 32 are via my (now professional) Facebook.  I'm not sure that really qualifies - I mean, just because I thrust my postings on my Facebook friends doesn't mean they really follow.  But it is nice when folks mention something that was posted.

And what about my Google Followers?  I thank you for adding me to your Google+ profiles.  It's interesting to see who has shown interest in my ideas.  But Google pulled its app for displaying Google Friends Connect widget for sites (although there is one for the self-hosted sites).  I'm not ready to go self-hosted yet - so I ask my Google+ Followers to, well, follow me to WordPress.  There is a Google+ share button on my posts, though.

Finally, I don't know what to do with the postings on this Blogger site.  Some of the pages are still getting hits - particularly the Ranganathan pages.  But replacing my content with re-directs would be both time-consuming and disruptive to the Google search chain.  For now, I've added a note with the URL in the header of the blog.  I'll check into additional moves later.

I'm not regretting my decision to move - I really do like the template, and I'm hopeful that the WP connection will enable my blog to grow.  Any other ideas?

Thanks for listening.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Long-Tail in Libraries

Cross-posted from my new blog, Libraries are for Use....

I know, I know...the Long-Tail is not exactly a new concept.  It's been a buzz-word since Chris Anderson's article in Wired in 2004 (I remember that article).  Indeed, it is merely an extension of power-laws that have been known for centuries.  Even librarians have been familiar with these distributions for decades, looking at all those circulation and journal use studies.
This article, however, is pretty intriguing because it extends that concept a little farther than I had seen before (request through ILL if you don't have access):
Petros A. Kostagiolas, Nikolaos Korfiatis, Marios Poulos
A long-tail inspired measure to assess resource use in information services
Library & Information Science Research, Volume 34, Issue 4, October 2012, Pages 317–323
What is most interesting is how the authors applied measures of income disparities between countries to disparities of book usage.  I had learned about these "macroeconometric" measures, the Lorenz curve and the Gini coefficient, in my readings of The Economist, so I was quite intrigued by this application.
So, I've been reviewing the application of "long-tail" distributions in library & information science, reading these articles to get back up to speed:
The problem that I see with applying the long-tail concept to book circulation is that books are physical items, although Netflix DVDs are often included in long-tail discussions.  But libraries have not yet successfully implemented a delivery model that rivals Netflix's.  I would, however, like to look more carefully at applying these models and concepts to journal usage, particularly given the growth of discovery systems.  Has the long tail extended?  Anderson started his inquiry into long-tail distributions when he was told that 98% of all songs available by a particular "digital jukebox" provider were accessed at least once a quarter.  98%!  Book circulation studies have shown much, much shorter tails - the best I've seen was 50% of titles circulated at least once in 5 years.  Can discovery systems lengthen this tail?  Even better, can it "thicken" the tail (getting more usage of our articles)?

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Time for a little dissent

A series of blog postings on blogging in librarianship have rattled the library blog-world.  Andy Woodworth started it with his rant (used with the best of intentions) on his own blog, Agnostic Maybe.  In Waiting for Batgirl (am I the only one who saw the reference to Waiting for Guffman?), Andy skewers library blog writers, and even librarianship as a whole profession, as "mostly been either puppies-and-rainbows positive or uncontroversial benign kinds of things."  When referring to the difficulty in expressing discontent, he writes:
Public dissent is considered gauche in a profession that proudly supports the societal provocateurs, miscreants, and iconoclasts but wants to keep discontent in-house. I could easily write a thousand entries about helping people on a daily basis, but the whole library fa├žade will collapse and burn if I was write about my frustrations regarding a policy, decision, or the work environment.
I must admit that I was a bit bewildered at Andy's own bewilderment - at the predominance of "banal" topics that top the library blog-charts, at the "energy" spent pointlessly rebutting that which "people stroke themselves into a self-righteous lather over," and the hypocrisy of the ALA hailing Edward Snowden as a "whistleblower" (the analogy provided in the comments by Shalom is spot-on).  Why is this such breaking news? Are there other professions that are notably better? Isn't this just being human?
OK, I did relate to his comments about waiting - for the right time, the right place, the right people - to tackle problems that stir the passion in me.  Is this just being pragmatic?  Or is that a cop-out?
All of the comments to his post were supportive - interestingly, nobody reproached him, nor provided any rebuttal to his ravings made with very colorful language.  Indeed, it seems almost hypocritical not to be expecting any negative or at least critical (in the highest sense) response.
In this vein, Chris Bourg posed the question, Does the Library World Squash Dissent? on the Taiga Forum.  He genuinely asks (not rhetorically, he stresses) -
(H)ow can we as leaders encourage healthy, honest, public conversations about our profession — the good, the bad, and the ugly? And where exactly is the line between unprofessional trash-talking and healthy, thoughtful critical dissent? Those of you who are afraid to speak out, what would have to change for you to feel safe making your thoughts known? And how do issues of race, class, gender, sexuality and other dimensions of difference and power play into this?
Regarding the idea that librarianship may not be different from other professions, Chris retorts that "librarians SHOULD be different. We have stated values of Diversity, Democracy, and Intellectual Freedom — we ought to be a radically open profession. One that celebrates dissent, and that recognizes that there is tremendous power in disagreements."
Not surprisingly, the Library Loon offered her own answers to Chris' questions.  In Silencing, Librarianship & Gender: A Preface, the Loon delivers her answer in her characteristic third-person, confirming the charges Andy made regarding reprisals and recriminations for speaking out.  When asked how to encourage "healthy, honest, public conversations about our profession", the Loon commands to "not discourage or punish the open expression of anger or frustration, especially while it is still small and remediable. "
The Library Loon then refers to her own numerous writings on silencing dissent, which makes me wonder if the situation is like the weather - everybody complains, but nobody is doing anything about it.  I, like you, had followed the travails of Jenica Rogers' open rejection of ACS and the ensuing discussion that devolved into name-calling and not-so-vailed sexism.  True, the focus was deflected (and rather effectively, I might add) from the issue at hand - notably extraordinary price increases for resources "required" for accreditation by the same body that publishes them (note eyebrow raised) -- to "professional behavior" (how many envisioned the ACS spokesperson as a caricature of a 1930's Lionel Barrymore sniffing at Audrey Hepburn?).
So, after all have added their comments (and Tweets) to all of the blog postings that Andy's post has spawned (including this one), will we be better off?  Or will this be another rant in the wind?

The Performance-based Funding Model: Creating New Research Databases in Sweden and Norway

This article made me wonder about our own institution's impact on research, and notably, how the library could help its members increase their impact.  One of my original 5-year goals was to establish a "Research Impact Measures Service" - a la University of New South Wales in Australia.  This service would not only assist the researchers in their own performances, but also for departments and even university-wide.  I still keep this idea in the back of my mind...and it comes forward when reading articles such as this.
This article refers to national efforts to develop quantitative measures of impact as one (sometimes the primary) decision factor in disseminating funding.  There are, of course, many opinions on the validity and value of such methods.  It does tend to reward success, but, like pure capitalism, this can lead to greater differences between the "haves" and the "have-nots".  It can also stifle innovation by essentially betting on sure things. Many breakthroughs start with research that has high risks of failure.
But it did get me thinking about comparing my university's output with others.  A cursory look at data from Web of Knowledge (a resource with documented limitations) demonstrates that the university's impact has been limited.
2000-Current# ArticlesArticles Ratio# CitationsCitations Ratio# Citing ArticlesCiting Articles RatioAvg CitesAvg Cites Ratioh-indexh-Index Ratio
UT Dallas83670.971068731.66786441.6313.91.681121.30
UT Arlington99721.16925871.44684231.4110.521.27971.13
UT San Antonio56640.66365930.57312000.647.30.88660.77
2008-2012# ArticlesArticles Ratio# CitationsCitations Ratio# Citing ArticlesCiting Articles RatioAvg CitesAvg Cites Ratioh-indexh-Index Ratio
Texas Tech87612.19385172.42293872.365.471.23631.50
This is a puzzle -- UT Dallas published as many articles as UNT, but had over 50% more citations.  I would like to investigate this further - is it due to differences in subject coverage?  UT-Dallas was initially started as a upper-level and graduate school focusing on technology.  UNT was originally a teacher's college - research has been a relatively recent focus.  Could the association with the UT System be a factor?  This could also help explain the how UT-Arlington, which similarly started as a teacher's college, has 40% more citations and a higher h-index than UNT.  This explanation fails, though, in the comparison with UT San Antonio.
This brief inquiry has only raised more questions.  I would like to delve into the details more thoroughly, controlling for number of faculty, subject coverage, longitudinal trends, graduate degrees awarded - what else?  I'd really like to know how my institution could get more respect.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The end of the beginning...

Reminder: This blog is being superseded by Libraries Are For Use.  Please update your feeds.
I've been doing some serious reconsideration about my blog -- are my words being read? (well, a little)  Do I have regular readers? (well, a few)  Am I satisfied with my work? (well, the writing is OK, but the response has been disappointing)  What can I do differently?

For one thing, I've never been satisfied with the name.  I had never read the work on which the name of this blog was based (Being and Nothingness), nor had I explored Sartre's philosophy in any depth...I had just considered the idea of considering librarianship from an existential perspective (what little I know about existentialism). I was particularly interested in bringing together the theoretical or philosophical ideas of, with the practice of librarianship. But the name struck me (even then) as being a little too obscure and, well, pretentious.

Then there is the platform...I chose Blogger because that is what I had used years ago.  I already had my profile set up, I was familiar with the features, and it was easily tied in with my Google account.  However, it is, in my opinion, a little on the old-fashioned side, well, in Web terms.  It just seems so '90's.  When the NTLA blog was set up on WordPress, I liked that platform and decided it was time for a change.

After several weeks of transferring postings, and finally deciding on a template, I think the site is ready for a sneak preview.  I wanted a name the better reflects my own philosophy of my chosen profession, so I harkened back to my early postings about S.R. Ranganathan's Five Laws of Library Science.

Libraries are for Use is my new platform, my new soapbox, which I hope will generate a little more interest. I know, I know...changing blog names is like the character on Parks & Recreation changing his band names.  I could loose what few readers I have - would you leave?  I also know that content is more important than the name or platform.  If I want more readers, I need to write what readers want to read.  I'm working on that, too.  I'll be learning how to make infographics and writing more on more intriguing ideas.  I hope this change gives me some stimulation.

I will keep both blogs going for about a month.  In the meantime, please visit there and subscribe, Like, etc.  I've also got a PollDaddy poll asking for your input.

And thanks for listening.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Seeking new answers...

Now that I'm nearing completion of the shortest statistics course ever (4 sessions over 10 weeks), I've started looking around for new questions to answer.  Luckily, I have a number of librarians and students who are also interested and desire the research experience.  Here's my new research agenda:
  • Gifts: since I'm tangently responsible for selection of gifts (the library student worker who evaluates and selects items from donations), I wanted to address this function.
    • Do our gift monographs "fill the holes" in our collections?  Do they cover areas that we desire to collect but otherwise don't?  This is actually a paradoxical question, because if we believe a particular subject is relevant to our users, then we should be purchasing resources; conversely, if we think a subject is not relevant, then should we even be adding gifts?  After all, even gifts cost the library resources for processing and storing.
    • Are gift monographs used as frequently as purchased monographs (adjusting for subject, age of book, time in collection, and accessibility)?  I have only found a couple of studies that looked at circulation, but I found the methodologies to be weak.  I hope to build in a little more rigor, while also still providing an opportunity for one of the library students to present and publish.
  • Demand-Driven Acquisitions (DDA): I'm deeply involved in our DDA program at UNT Libraries, which I believe has been fairly successful.  But there are some nagging questions:
    • Has demand-driven acquisitions (DDA) resulted in relatively fewer university press titles being purchased by UNT Libraries?
    • Is overall usage (circulation of print combined with ebook usage) of university press titles decreasing?
  • Remote storage: We are in the process of moving a large number of print books to our new warehouse facility for remote storage.  This isn't as remote as many academic libraries - just about a mile away from the main library, and users can request and receive any item within a working day.  But it does raise some interesting questions, including:
    • Will the removal of our print books to remote storage will have an impact on overall book circulation.  Technically there should not be a big impact, because the titles moved had not been used in what, 10 years?  But I think that the removal itself could increase the decline of circulation of print titles.
  • Googling vs. traditional research:  This is actually a question that a peer of mine has, and I volunteered to help out with methodology & analysis.  
    • "Has the quality of theses/dissertation references declined with the advent of Google and institutional repositories?"  There is plenty of evidence that Google is often the resource of first resort for nearly everybody, but is it leading doctoral students (and their faculty mentors) to accept lower quality resources?  Of course, the hard part will be objectively measuring quality of references, but this should only add to the challenge.
Other irons that are still in the fire include:
  • What are the effects of our Discovery system (Summon) on vendor-supplied usage stats?  Changes in the ProQuest platform have affected their usage stats, so I've been a little stymied in this quest.
  • Do bibliographic enhancements to catalog records (like tables of contents & additional keywords) increase the chances of an ebook being used?  This information could be used to support our purchase of enhanced MARC records.
This is a rather ambitious agenda, which can only be made possible by the collaboration with others.  Is there anybody who would like to join in?  I see presentations and publications from all of these, and collaboration with other librarians in other libraries, regions or specialties will only add to the universality of the results.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Virtual browsing of remote storage

Between 50 & 100 years ago, there was a different kind of Open Access movement in libraries...this one more of the physical kind.  I'm referring, of course, to the opening of the stacks.  In a quick search Library Literature Retrospective (1905-1983), there were articles about opening the stacks as late as 1982.  Here's an article from CR&L, 1954: Open or Closed Stacks?  Even when open, the access to the stacks was often highly regulated.  I recall an episode of The Bob Newhart Show (circa 1974) when Emily, in her pursuit of a master's degree, is excited to learn that she and her study partner have a "stacks pass".  The biggest concerns of librarians and administrators were, of course, the security of the collection.  Losses due to theft, as well as misshelving, were the most common concerns.  But, as the article linked above indicates, most libraries had minimal losses (<2%), and increased circulation (upwards of 50-100% or more).

But as the relative funding of libraries shrinks to below 2% of universities' budgets and service priorities shift away from physical books, many academic libraries are moving their books into remote storage, effectively closing the stacks once again.  Access is limited to effectively a paging service for known items.  Because of the loss of serendipity from browsing the shelves, this increases the importance of the metadata for searching, finding, and identifying the right books.  The primary source of metadata, of course, is the catalog, particularly for the kind of books that are being relocated.  Even when incorporated into discovery systems, the primary source is the bibliographic record.

But, as we all know, library catalogs leave a lot to be desired...OK, they suck (see here, here, and here).  They have evolved very little from their beginnings of lists of titles on pages (literal pages and metaphorical pages).

The addition of enhanced content of bibliographic records helps in the selection process.  But against the old adage, we judge much about a book from its cover.  That is why Aaron Tay's look at "virtual shelves" was intriguing to me.  At a time when our library is moving a big chunk of its collection to a remote (albeit local) storage, I've been wondering how we were going to replicate the experience of serendipity.  Interestingly, most of the eight virtual shelves he reviews show covers from the front, even though physical books are shelved showing the spines.  This is because that is what is available - small images of book covers.  Also, most show the books using a horizontal scroll.  Harvard's StackLife shows "spines" of results in a vertical stack, with width and length based on the physical size of the book.  One additional feature is to visually represent popularity of a title by the darkness of the color, based on total circulation.

One problem with all of the systems that use book jacket images is that, for many of the titles being moved into remote storage, there are no covers available.  These are often older, less popular titles - that's why they are being moved.  So the results use a "faux" cover, with the title layered on top. This defeats the purpose of "virtual shelves". It is no better than a list of titles.

I just don't think our catalog systems have the capability to effectively replace the efficiency of locating a section of the shelves and browsing.  Perhaps with some combination of Amazon's LookInside, Harvard's StackLife, and the library's rich metadata, we can get a little closer.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Boy! That air feels good!

Given that today is Father's Day, I would like to plug my father's newest book (OK, it's his first, but what a first!).  Boy! That Air Feels Good: The Untold Story of Car Air details how it was entrepreneurs, mostly in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and not the big guys in Detroit, who got us air conditioning in cars.

I am very proud of my father for seeking out and interviewing the original developers and makers, searching archives at the Dallas Public and UT Arlington libraries, seeking and obtaining permissions for use of photos and diagrams, and, of course, writing a narrative that is interesting and takes you back to that time period.  I love his vivid description of a young auto mechanic in the early days of car AC, with business booming and enough work to get him through the summer.  Actually, except for the pack of cigarettes in the rolled-up sleeve, the image in my head as I read it was of my Dad, working in his white cotton t-shirt, before he grew his beard.

This book describes the various renditions of auto ACs, including those that took practically the entire truck space and poured ice-cold air on to the rear seat passengers freezing their ears off.  There are schematics, diagrams, sketches, and photos.  There are stories of business intrigue and personal backgrounds of key players in the field.   Despite the forays into the technical nitty-gritty, I was able to understand how these things worked.

While I know this venue isn't exactly major media, I did want to pay tribute and show off the fruits of my father's labor.  And for his next work, he's wanting to finish a juvenile story about a Japanese boy who accidentally takes off in a balloon and lands in the American desert.  Actually, I was hoping he'd work again on his tale of a little car that is used in whisky runs during Prohibition, by guerilla fighters in Czechoslovakia, and so on through various other adventures.  Sort of like a mechanical version of War Horse.

Feel free to peruse the Amazon "Look Inside" and consider buying your own copy - or tell a friend.

Interesting stuff - for an Assessment-Nerd

I recently received the feed of latest articles from Evidence-based Library & Information Practice (EBLIP), which included conference papers from the 2010 Library Assessment conference, as well as a few original articles & research summaries. (Official Disclosure: I am a peer-reviewer for EBLIP.)  Here is the official scope statement:
EBLIP is a peer reviewed, open access journal published quarterly by the University of Alberta Learning Services, using the OJS Software. The purpose of the journal is to provide a forum for librarians and other information professionals to discover research that may contribute to decision making in professional practice. EBLIP publishes original research and commentary on the topic of evidence based library and information practice, as well as reviews of previously published research (evidence summaries) on a wide number of topics.
Of course, as a librarian with a background in research, I was drawn to this journal waaaaay back at my previous library.  Now I regularly read the articles, looking for gems and ideas for my own professional interests.  This issue, I was not disappointed.  From the 2010 Library Assessment conference, there is a heavy emphasis on ARL assessment products, including LibQUAL+® and its sister product, ClimateQUAL+®, but I was more interested in the articles on such topics as assessing special collections, faculty dissatisfaction with their libraries' journal collections, and linking outcomes with library resources and instruction.  While the conference papers are a bit old (OK, maybe not in "LIS time", but I'm still on "biomedical time"), I still found them quite useful. Here is my take on a few of the key articles, features and evidence summaries.

Still Bound for Disappointment? Another Look at Faculty and Library Journal Collections by Jennifer Rutner (Columbia University) and Jim Self (Univ. of Virginia)
Research Questions:  Are faculty at other ARL institutions all dissatisfied with their libraries' journals?  “Given the substantial investment in journals at ARL libraries, why are faculty at these institutions consistently dissatisfied with their library’s journal collections?”
What they did: Analyzed LibQUAL+ data from over 20 ARL libraries, and interviewed faculty at Columbia to find out more specifically why they are dissatisfied.
Take-home message: Faculty at many ARL libraries are not satisfied with their libraries journals, but not necessarily for the reasons you think.  Many of the issues brought up by Columbia faculty, at least, were technical in nature (e.g. poor "automated responses from library systems", poor search interfaces, etc.) and fall under the umbrella of User Experience.  C'mon, folks - let's get together on this.  We can make the user experience better if we just start working together.

Linking Information Seeking Patterns with Purpose, Use, Value, and Return On Investment of Academic Library Journals by Donald King & Carol Tenopir.
Research Questions: How are purposes of scholarly reading, information seeking behaviors, aspects of use, and positive outcomes or value all related?  How can we use this relationship to demonstrate our value (e.g. with an ROI)?
What they did: This is part of the IMLS-funded MAXDATA project, which included surveys of faculty at 5 universities using the "critical incident" method, asking respondents to think about the most recent information need when completing the survey.  Questions were asked about the purpose of their need, how the information was used, and the value they placed on that information.  Also asked was what the faculty would have done if that last article they used was not available - buy it? spend how much time looking for it?  Based on these responses & previous research, they calculated an ROI of the academic libraries.
Take-home message: Faculty read a lot of articles; they get most of their articles from library resources; the most recent articles are used the most and most articles from library resources are used electronically. Most of this information is not really new - King & Tenopir have been doing a lot of research on use & access.  A few interesting results: faculty spent more time reading articles from library resources than their own subscriptions (probably because more research articles were from the library), and faculty spent more time browsing than searching for each article.  Faculty would spend about 13 hours a year browsing, searching and obtaining articles if the library didn't provide them, which results in about $3500/faculty in cost savings provided by the library, or a 3.6:1 ROI.

Value of Libraries: Relationships Between Provision, Usage, and Research Outcomes by Michael Jubb, Ian Rowlands and David Nicholas out of England.
Research Question(s): Another attempt to derive a measure of value of libraries via the articles it provides.  This time, the link is more outcomes-based.  Specifically, what is the relationship of faculty's use of articles, institutional expenditures on journals, and faculty's research productivity?
What they did: They mined the Web logs of Science Direct and Oxford journals to get the information search & use behaviors.  Then they interviewed faculty and librarians at selected universities. This data was combined with previously-gathered COUNTER-usage data from a variety of British academic institutions.
Take-home message: Cost per download is going down as usage of ejournals increases. The size of the institution does not necessarily predict usage.  Expenditures on journals drives usage, but usage does NOT drive expenditures.  More interestingly, research success drives use.  They were unable, however, to find a factor that use drives - not even productivity.

There were several articles on the development and use of assessment systems and methods, including the University of Wollongong's "Library Cube", U Penn's MetriDoc, and ARL's Balanced Scorecard.

However, these are relatively older items (2010).  There were two articles of recent research that caught my eye - one was a citation analysis study for collection development, and the other was an attempt to provide a method of assessing special collections.

A Citation Analysis of the Classical Philology Literature: Implications for Collection Development by Gregory Crawford from Penn State.
Research Question(s): What are the citation patterns in the classical philology literature and how have these changed over time?
What they did: Examined each citation in every article in two specific years (1986 & 2006) of one journal prominent in the field, noting specifically age, format, language, length.  This was compared with study results from the 1950's.
Take-home message: Citation patterns have not changed a whole lot over the last 50 years.  Citations are about the same age (24-25 years), which is not too surprising given that the topics are 2500-3500 years old.    The distribution of citations by format haven't changed much either - 28-29%.  One interesting change has been an increase in the percentage of book citations (55% in 1956 to 68% in 2006).  This is due primarily to reductions in citations to Festschriften and dissertations.  There were more journal titles cited in 2006 than in 1986 - the author suggests that researchers were "casting a wider net".  This, however, does correspond with an increase in journal titles in all fields.  Eighteen journals made up the top 10 lists from all three years, with 4 titles in all 3 years, and 4 titles in two of the 3 years.  This suggests modest stability of literature.  This article will be of much interest when we look at our classical studies collection.

Data-Driven Decision Making: An Holistic Approach to Assessment in Special Collections Repositories by Melanie Griffin and Barbara Lewis of University of South Florida and Mark Greenberg, Western Washington University.
Research Question(s): How can all aspects of special collections be assessed to enable better decision-making?
What they did: Used Web site usage, patron surveys, usability studies, and Web analytics to answer a series of questions regarding staffing needs, staff-training needs, customer needs assessment and technical needs assessment.
Take-home message: It takes a village - of measures, at least -- to assess a library...of any kind.  While the title includes "holistic", I think it is more akin to triangulation or, essentially, comprehensive assessment.  However, this assessment was focused on the operations and marketing decisions.  It did not include any attempt to get at impact or outcomes of usage of their collections.  This would make it, indeed, holistic.

Finally, there were a number of evidence summaries - critical reviews of published literature.  Reviews that caught my attention were:

Well, reading all of these articles will fill my morning train commute next week.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Three on the changing roles of academic libraries

From John Dupuis' recent list of articles demonstrating angst in academic libraries and in academia in general, there were three items that particularly interesting to me.  The first two are from Bibliographic Wilderness (Jonathan Rochkind, cataloging librarian at Johns Hopkins U).  In Academic Libraries at Risk, he focuses on the recently-released ITHAKA survey of faculty attitudes towards libraries, particularly the statements regarding redirecting money away from libraries (because scholarly information is available online) and the decreasing role of libraries and librarians.  His concerns are both the rates of those who agreed with these statements, but more importantly, the increasing trend over the six years of surveys.  The rates of agreement with these statements has increased steadily from 4-8% in 2006 to 18-20% in 2012.  He asks, appropriately enough, "What do you think those numbers will look like in 2015 when they run the survey again?"  This decline came despite nearly a decade of increased marketing and advertising efforts of many academic libraries.  From this springboard, he insists that to survive, librarians must change the services we provide to reflect what "our host institutions need today, not what they needed 20 years ago" (emphasis original).  While interesting, the comments to his post offer more insight into how other librarians react to this information.  Barbara Fister brought up the problem of the reducing "power of the purse" by full-time faculty, who have been increasingly replaced by adjunct faculty.  Thus, the attitudes of the faculty matter less.  But that doesn't necessarily bode well for libraries.  Jacob Berg shared his concern about the decreased voice of students in the future of libraries.  Alan Zuckerman was concerned about making too many changes to quickly, particularly when more than 80% of the faculty did not agree with these statements.  Is 20% a high enough rate to base changes on?  But Jonathan responded that, while he thought it was, his main question was regarding the increasing trend.

In a closely related posting, One scenario for the death of the academic library, Jonathan refers to a paper posted by Eric Hellman in the comments to the above-mentioned article.  Open Access, library and publisher competition, and the evolution of general commerce, by Andrew Odlyzko, 2013, discusses how libraries have the opportunity to change the future demise of academic libraries by increasing their role in Open Access scholarly publishing.  This is timely, given that the UNT Libraries hosted the Fourth Annual Open Access Symposium.  Invited speakers included several librarians involved in this very pursuit.  But that's a side issue...of interest to me was how library budgets, as a proportion of university budgets, have been decreasing over decades (Scholarly Kitchen, Inside Higher Ed), which reinforces the changing attitudes of faculty revealed in the ITHAKA survey.
Jonathan notes that this decrease in relative spending is accompanied by a corresponding increase in relative spending on collections (notably serials) (he refers to Odlyzko's Figure 5, reproduced below):
Figure 5: Fraction of library budgets devoted to all acquisitions and to purchases of serials
Although not the first, both Odlyzko and Rochkind suggest that the libraries' role in both academia and public may be reduced to being simply or solely a buying agent of information resources.  While Odlyzko argues that libraries should retain their viability by inserting themselves prominently in the Open Access scholarly communications, Rochkind expands on this idea by suggesting that librarians highlight their role as "disinterested advisors" providing "provide services with transparency, impartiality, assertive protection of user privacy, and a professional ethical responsibility to act always in the interests of our patrons, never sacrificing them to our own business interests."

The final piece from Dupuis' list that intrugued me was the posting from McGill University's blog about a "consultation session" called by the Trenholme Dean of Libraries Colleen Cook about the effects of a $1.8 million (Canadian) cut in the library's budget.  The plan is to close one library and merge it with another.  Essentially, the reason for this is that the money saved will come largely from cuts to support staff, so there will not be enough people to staff both libraries.  Since these two libraries have rather low rates of usage (as measured by visits per population served), it made sense to merge them.  However, the chief complaint was the inconvenience of the location of the merged library to the primary users of the closed library (medical students).  Interestingly, the Dean's proposed solution to this problem (delivery of materials) itself was in jeopardy due to the same issue: reduction of support staff.

I am surprised that the solutions to this problem that were raised were largely work-arounds: retaining a core set of textbooks at the closed location; having volunteers or librarians performing the duties of the support staff (thank goodness for unions!); book delivery.  No mention was made of efforts to obtaining access to digital versions of the core texts (whatever that might require).  I am also disappointed that the chief complaint is physical access to materials; there was, apparently, no discussion on the loss of access to librarians.

The Dean was criticized for the abruptness of the planning of these consultation sessions, as well as the apparent "lack of sincerity and transparency."  One of the affected faculty alleged that the Dean had "ended a meeting of the Advisory Committee by saying, 'My library, my decision.'"  On her behalf, Colleen Cook informed those attending that the planning is rushed because the cuts went into effect in May and had to be implemented before September 1st.  And, in the end, it is her decision, although it is expected that she take the concerns and ideas that she solicited into consideration.

What is happening at McGill is happening at many, many academic and public libraries.  Economics is about making choices -- the university administration made their choices (reducing funding the library), and the library administration made their choices (cutting staff, and thus closing a library).  These choices may or may not stand up to the test of time...

Monday, May 20, 2013

The state of statistical analysis in LIS research

I've been asked at MPOW to conduct some kind of training in the use of statistical analysis for our librarians who are just venturing into the research realm.  I'm actually a bit excited about this - it has been a while since I've done any training, and I would also like to contribute to the improvement of the quality of research being conducted by LIS professionals.  In my application essay for the MPH program, I mentioned that I was dissatisfied with the level of quality in LIS research and was looking forward to participating in a field with a greater rigor.  Of course, everything is relative.  Those in medicine consider much of research in public health to be of low quality.

While I have had an intermediate level of graduate training in statistics, I did struggle with the more advanced aspects associated with my job of analyzing the data in the clinical trials, as biostatistician.  I was asked to run multilevel hierarchical analyses on the repeated measures to look for effects of trauma on levels of cortisol in teenagers.  Yeah, "What?" was my reaction, too.  I read and re-read and read again the literature on this method and ran the procedures in SAS exactly as it was written.  I still didn't understand it.  I gave my best interpretation of the results to my PI (primary investigator), with lots of caveats.  She said that made sense to her, too, but she was an MD, not a statistician.

So I conceded the limits to my abilities as a biostatistician and did not pursue that career any further.  But I do feel I have a good understanding of, well, an intermediate level of statistical analysis.  So I feel confident that I can conduct the most common kinds of research in librarianship, as a practicing librarian.  And I also feel confident that I can introduce my peers who haven't had this training (or at least, not for a long time) to the basic concepts.

But I really would like to know what the current state of statistical analyses is in LIS research.  Analysis does go hand-in-hand with research methods (you can't adequately analyze data statistically if the methods used to collect the data were inappropriate, incomplete, or inadequate).  So I've been scouring the literature looking for studies that addressed my question...but I haven't found a whole lot, and what I did find was not inspiring.  In 1984, Charles R. McClure wrote a letter to the editors of CR&L admonishing them for publishing a research article of low quality, stating that "the 'research' was so poorly done, that the results have little meaning."  His diatribe continues (emphasis is added):
The sample is never shown to be a valid representation of academic librarians or a subgroup of academic librarians and thus, is not generalizable (especially with a 52% response rate), a copy of the questionnaire is not available as an appendix for the reader, key definitions (such as what exactly constitutes an "article") are not provided, huge assumptions are made as to participants' interpretation of questions, no explanations of the limitations and weaknesses of the study or its findings are offered to the reader, statistical techniques are poorly utilized, and there are no indications of the reliability or validity of the data reported.1
Mr. McClure had been publishing for quite some time prior to this, and perhaps the topic of the article (librarian tenure) was particularly close to his heart given that his dissertation was on job titles.  But his tirade did not go without notice.  Just a few years later, an article was published providing an overview of basic statistics and some resources for future reference. The authors, Donald Frank, Leslie Madden & Nancy Simons, referred to McClure's letter as the impetus for their article.
This paper focuses on a rationale for the correct use of statistical procedures and techniques.  Basic assumptions and elements of descriptive and inferential statistics are noted.  The importance of the thesis or problem statement as well as the relevance of hypothesis testing is emphasized. Additionally, ways to become more familiar and comfortable with statistical usage are reviewed. The paper is written for the librarian who is not aware of these basic techniques, and is interested in research processes.2
But that was published in 2001 - has there been any more recent examinations or evaluations or discussions since?

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

TLA 2013, Day Two

<word of warning: this is a shameless plug for my library>
I had neglected to mention in my first post about TLA that the UNT Libraries' Portal to Texas History was awarded the TLA Wayne Williams Library Project of the Year.  This the Digital Projects' "crown jewel" of the Digital Collections, with a significant amount of grant funding and effort provided for its development.  This collection of primary resources has become integrated in the public schools' curriculum, particularly for its Texas history requirement.  It is definitely worthy of the award.

In the second general session, UNT Libraries' again was honored with not only the Best in Show, but also the PR Plan Winner and the Collateral Materials Winner honors of the TLA Branding Iron Awards.  This is the result of a recent focus on marketing, advertising, and external relations.  The UNT Libraries takes advantage of the artistic and creative talents of the UNT's students, as well as innovative librarians and hard-working staff, to develop marketing plans and advertising materials in a wide variety of formats.  One  popular product is the subject liaisons posters, complete with photo, placed strategically in the right places of the stacks.
</end shameless plug>
Now, as they were awarding the Upstart Innovative Programming Award to Eileen Lee of the Montgomery County Memorial Library System for her Sensory Storytime for developmentally disabled children, I had the idea of collaborating with MLS faculty and our UNT Autism Center to develop collections and services for autism spectrum children. Not exactly totally original, but I wanted to get my idea down on paper before I forgot it.

I had not paid enough attention to the program about the speaker for the second general session - in fact, I had considered skipping out after the awards and getting some coffee (my one complaint of the TLA facilities - not enough coffee!).  I'm glad I stayed.  I've been enjoying the segments with Dan Aierly's on NPR, and when I realized who the speaker was, I knew I wouldn't need the coffee.  His focus was on his latest research on cheating - essentially, most of us cheat a little.  Interestingly, providing simple reminders before a test about the "honor code" (even if none exists) decreased the number of people who cheated.  Well, on to the sessions of the day, only two of which will I write about.

Library Assessment Today: This was an overview of the experiences of Jim Self of the University of Virginia.  He's been involved in library since the early 1980's, long before the current "fad" of assessment.  But he starts with a quote from J.T. Gerould of the Princeton libraries from 1906, stating that the basic questions of assessment were essentially, "Is this method the best? Are we up to the standard of a similar institution?"  So clearly, assessment is not a new fad.  It is a traditional aspect of librarianship - we've just started looking further away from library collections and outputs, to the broader interests of the institutions we serve.  Furthermore, as Jim states, recently, the user has become the center of the discussions.

Interestingly, Jim mentioned that they had conducted their own patron satisfaction surveys every three to four years since 1993.  They did participate in LibQual survey in 2006, but was disappointed by the much lower response rates.  They returned to their own customized surveys with a steady 50% response rate.  They have seen their patron satisfaction increase over time.  He attributes a notable "U" turn in the satisfaction with the online catalog with an attempt to "re-invent" the system.  They have evaluated the use of the collection and redefined collection development, with a focus on the user.  Now, they are focusing on "budget communications" with university administration.  Like most academic libraries (well, all libraries), there has been a dramatic decrease in the number of reference questions asked.  But, we both asked, is that necessarily a bad thing?  Jim suggests that this may be due, at least in part, to librarians doing a better job with our systems.  He summarizes his first section with a listing of how libraries could provide better evidence of our worthiness, including usability testing, "wayfinding" (evaluation of our facilities), ethnographic studies (a la Rochester), quantitative performance measures (aka "balanced scorecard"), MINES, COUNTER & e-resource use, and staff surveys.

Jim then switches to observations from the consultation work he has provided to other libraries over the last five years.  He has seen more libraries accept assessment as a core activity, but that it is still hard to sustain.  He has also seen more collaboration with individuals and groups both on- and off-campus.  But he emphasizes that what is still needed are common measures of holdings, usage, costs and learning outcomes, as well as sharing of this information.  He would also like to see more standard survey templates and metrics, and perhaps an "Index of Performance".

Mr. Self ends his session with some observations on value and assessment in general.  The current need is to determine the library's impact on student and faculty success, but this may be difficult to measure. There are natural limits of assessment, in that we are attempting to predict the future based on our past and present, and goodness knows, that often turns out to be wrong.  He pointedly noted that "innovation does not come from assessment, but it can indicate what works".  Local barriers to assessment include complacency, fear, arrogance, inertia, an operations mindset, and ethical concerns.

Finally, he asks about the the point of view of assessment -- is it neutral and unbiased?  Or is it advocacy?  Would assessment ever result in recommendations for a lesser library?  Perhaps, but the purpose of the our work is to improve the service - to give users what they need when they need it.

Right Size, Right Stuff: This was part two of Fort Worth Public Library's "market segmentation" presentations.  This was more of the nitty-gritty of this method - applying the data to actually modify a library's collections.  Actually, the market segmentation was only part of this process. The bulk of the work was adjusting collection size based on usage.  Like the Dallas Public Library, the FWPL has shifted to a "floating collection", with each branch's collection set by what patrons return.  So while they will delivery materials to a branch for an individual, once the patron returns the material to the branch, it stays there - until requested elsewhere.  This saves quite a bit of money by not having to return materials.  But it also leads to a "pooling effect" in which the collection size of certain heavily-used branches grows dramatically.  So the collection development librarians for the FWPL System charted the current holdings against the usage to determine the "right size" for each collection at each branch.  The collections were broken down by age level (adult, juvenile), type (fiction, picture book, etc.) and subject.  Here is a sample table that was developed for a single branch:
<I'll add this later>
Essentially, the "right size" is calculated as such:  % of Total System Use X Total Titles in System.  This was then used to calculate shelving space (using different formulas for different collections).  They also used market segmentation to make additional adjustments to the collection based on interests and hobbies.

Actually, I was quite intrigued by this use of market data.  I'm not sure how, if at all, such info could be used in an academic setting - the data is pretty well set on households.  But I was inspired to think outside my little box.

Notes from the 2013 Texas Library Association Annual Conference

The annual conference of the largest state-based library association, boasting over 7,000 members (CLA claims only 3,000+ members and NYLA simply describe their membership at "several thousand") took place in Fort Worth ("Cowtown") this year.  I took advantage of the close proximity and attended three of the 4 days of the main conference (I had to miss Saturday's sessions to care for a sick dog, who, I believe, was just pretending so that I would take him out to the park).  The Texas Library Association is strongly supported by public and school librarians, and academic and special librarians tend to feel not so much excluded as simply overwhelmed at the conferences. We academic librarians do participate in the ALA-sponsored ACRL, so it's not like we have no outlet for our professional growth.  However, it is important that all librarians be included in the issues of librarianship that are most relevant to our state.  This is particularly true given the changes in education politics over the last 10-20 years. So here are my notes of sessions that were of most interest to me.

General Session I: The most memorable moment of the first general session was the awarding of the Librarian of the Year to Lydia Tucker, school librarian in San Antonio.  Based on the statement of the award, she certainly seemed to have deserved the award.  And based on her reaction, she certainly did not expect it.

Transforming Libraries for Engagement, Gary Strong, UCLA: In this session, Gary Strong, University Librarian at UCLA, detailed the progress his library has made in, well, transforming for engagement. He compared the libraries when he started there as director as a 7-11 store - "people get their quart of milk and leave"; there was little engagement.  He described how the UCLA libraries have become "participatory libraries", with space, both physical and virtual, for teaching, learning and research.  They did this by engaging faculty and students with new forms of teaching and learning, making student research more visible, and encouraging interdisciplinarity.  Notably, the UCLA libraries have embrace alternative roles, including a lab, museum, gallery, performance space, and civic meeting site.  My observation, however, is that libraries have always played these roles - some more than others.  Maybe it's only been the last 10-20 years that libraries have reduced these roles in an effort to focus on collections and reference.

One very interesting insight Gary brought up was that many students come from areas with few library resources and engagements.  This may become more and more common if we cannot convince school boards and city councils that libraries have a substantial ROI on their primary constituents.  Thus, it should not be expected for them to expect the services that we do provide.  Rather, we need to reach out to these students to prove what we can provide for them.  He then describes several new pedagogical approaches, including:

  • Inquiry-based learning & Inquiry Labs
  • Peer-to-Peer Learning (as an alterative to classes)
  • Game-based Learning (this is becoming more and more common)
  • Partnering with innovative faculty
Finally, Gary goes into details about several of the programs and services that effectively transform the libraries for engagement.  Most prominent was the Library Research Commons, which is lab space that supports the whole life-cycle of research.  Of importance is that the space is meant to encourage discussion, not simply experimentation.  The space can be reserved for use by faculty and/or students, but this reserved usage requires collaboration with librarians.  This ensures that the libraries are involved in the projects and can bring the full breadth of resources and knowledge.  When not reserved, the space is available for informal use by anybody.  They have been, however, overwhelmed by interested in formal projects and are now having to prioritize projects.

Gary also points out the work in software development, notably for mobile apps, which are developed by students who are hired as software developers.  While they are managed by a permanent staff member, it is their ideas that are developed, tested and implemented.  Essentially, they are expected to "create stuff (they) will use."  

The one final point that I wanted to emphasize from Gary's presentation was that rather than embedded librarianship, they are focusing on embedding faculty in the library.  This ensures that teaching, learning and research are intertwined with library resources and services.

LibValue: Paula Kaufman, of the University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign, described their role in the LibValue project, a 3 year project that is not yet completed.  The first phase looked at how the library is involved in the faculty grant process.  Through surveys asking faculty about the role library resources played in their grant applications, they were able to estimate a $4.38 ROI. This is based on the percentage of faculty who rated citations in proposals as important to the percentage of proposals.  The second phase conducted the same ROI assessment globally to determine variations based on geography and institution type.

The bulk of the presentation was on the third phase, which involved multiple institutions and organizations, including ARL, UIUC, University of Tennessee, Stanford and JISC.  Through a series of surveys, they determined the value of library collections in teaching, reading and scholarship.  Some of the preliminary results show that fewer percentage of students preferred using e-books than faculty..In addition, measures of usage the digital special collections were developed and tested.  Tools for determining ROI for academic libraries will be available from the ARL LibValue site.

Course and Subject Guides Usage: It was an unexpected pleasure to attend the presentation by Amy Pajewski, from West Texas A&M (WTAMU).  It was short but sweet, with some interesting ideas about assessing subject guides.  While her study was closer to usability study than qualitative research, she did learn what at least some students think about the subject guides that librarians hold so near & dear to our hearts.  Not much.  Really.  The students thought the guides were too busy ("stressed" and "overwhelmed" were key words given), could not tell to whom the guides would be useful, and when the guides should be used.  Looking at some basic usability guidelines and research, Amy could immediately see some gross violations of good design.

Then she asked some librarians some key questions about guides & their development.  Of particular importance was that only 2% of the librarians asked had talked with faculty and/or students before developing their guides.  While this may be bad design, it is not terribly surprising.  After all, faculty & students are busy folks.  Also, it is hard to get users to express their future information needs effectively.  However, some good qualitative research should be able to discern the information needed for common scenarios (beginning a paper, researching a grant, etc.).  I also wonder how much, if any, of the knowledge gained from information behavior research that has been conducted has been incorporated into guide design.

Getting a read on your borrowers: This session, conducted jointly by Debra Duke of the Fort Worth Public Library and Chris Briggs of Bruxton Analytics was the most interesting session I went to all day.  Over the last year or two, FWPL had contracted with Bruxton to provide market segmentation analysis of the users of their branch libraries.  Using techniques developed for commercial organizations, they were able to combine demographic data and circulation patterns of their patrons with market-level data about their populations likes, dislikes, work habits, hobbies, interests, political bents, and consumer spending patterns.  This was all part of the library's "20/20 Vision Master Plan".  Through this analysis, they determined that the average drive time for active users to their nearest library was 8 minutes, with 2-15 minute range.  But they noticed that the spread of users of individual branches was quite wide, with some users preferring branches farther away, at least from their homes.  They also used the market segmentation data to get a "read" on their non-users.  Of particular importance were the hobbies, reading preferences, and interests.

Debra emphasized that a major obstacle to initiating this work was, as she put it, the "ick factor".  That is, the distaste of librarians to share potentially confidential information about their patrons with a third party.  This was partly overcome by the contract stipulations, as well as the company's reputation and experience dealing with companies & other organizations with similar concerns.  What they haven't yet decided to do is take that information a step further and actually customize advertising material for potential users based on the market segmentation data.  This would be based more on the market research data and not what the patrons used in the libraries, but it does give one pause; should we walk into this environment of less and less privacy?  Or should we stubbornly stand as a vanguard, even if others no longer expect it?

Well, that was just day one.  I'll post my notes of day two separately.  Don't worry - that's all there is, since my dog's feigning illness kept me home Saturday.