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.