Archive for: May, 2010

The inherent insularity of library culture?

Or is that the inherent insularity of academic culture in general?

Joshua Kim has some great observations (in context of a review of This Book is Overdue) (Amazon) about the great chasm of misunderstanding between the culture of the academic library and the broader academic culture.

As academia shifts and changes, as budgets squeeze, as millenials millenialize, it's a constant struggle to make the case for the library's role in academic life. It's hard to know both who our best champion's are and who our most determined opponents are. Sitting in the library talking to ourselves is probably not the best way to accomplish to figure that out.

I like Kim's straightforward, honest approach to figuring out what the heck we're all about. And I think it's worthwhile to unpack some of what he says.

The more time I spend thinking about the library world the more I realize how little I know and understand. I'm not sure if my lack of understanding is due to my own limitations of perspective (coming from a teaching and technology background), or due to some inherent insularity of library culture.

Ah, the $64,000 dollar question. It is most definitely our job to make the case for our role in academic life, to make the case for what we do for students, what we do for faculty and what we do for staff.

To the extent that the people we serve and work with don't understand what it is we do, it's completely our failure.

Is library culture inherently insular? To a large degree, yes. At the same time, I think all the various silos that make up the whole of academic culture are also to varying degrees insular. It's called the Ivory Tower, not the Ivory Commons, for a reason. It's not a coincidence that towers are silo-shaped.

So, yes, we are insular and it's totally our responsibility to make sure there's a broad understanding of our role across campus. Easier said that done, of course, but that's another post.

At the same time, universities would be better places if we all made an effort to understand what our colleagues are trying to accomplish. This is especially true of the various support units who I think often work at cross purposes. It's what I'm trying to get at with my embryonic Science Foo proposal.

A couple of recent articles that hopefully will help explain libraries to a broader campus community: The Place to Go: Libraries reinvent themselves to serve digital-age students and Gutenberg 2.0
Harvard's libraries deal with disruptive change

The fact that librarians are so engaged in rethinking their profession and institutions probably would not come as a surprise to any librarian, but to an outsider this is an eye-opening notion. You will have to tell me if this observations means that librarians should be spending more time talking and engaging to non-librarians about their ideas and plans for change and re-invention, or if non-librarians need to spend more time hanging out with our colleagues (at library conferences, library blogs etc.).

As I mentioned above, it is 100% libraries' job to make our case to other parts of the campus, not the job of other units to figure us out. If we're rethinking what we're all about (and we are), it's up to us to engage others in that exercise. On the other hand, there's nothing more boring that other people's navel gazing, so non-librarians can be excused for not being that interested in the gory details of our introspections.

That being said, it is completely our responsibility to get the hell out of our libraries and talk about what we are becoming within our campus context, to engage our communities in our reinvention so we can serve them better. It is also completely our responsibility to go to non-library conferences and talk about what we do and what we're becoming.

Of course, I have no objections to people outside the library world inviting their local librarian out for a coffee and sharing some ideas about the future. So all you faculty, faculty support, instructional technology and campus IT people out there, you can also feel free to share with us where you want to go too.

Given all that however, there are some complicating factors.

  • Size Matters. Libraries are usually quite small compared to other units in terms of professional staff. For example, we're 40ish librarians on a campus of 1200+ faculty members and 50K students. The branch library I work in has about 300 seats for a student body of about 6k. It's a challenge getting noticed.
  • Silos are us. As I said above, academia is pretty insular as a whole. It can be a challenge to get through to busy people who are deeply involved in the mission of their corner of the institution, whether it's an academic department or campus IT.
  • Competition rather than collaboration. Many of the different silos are set up to sometimes provide competing similar services. The ones that affect libraries the most are for services such as student space or for access to technology. To the degree that some of these services are truly zero sum games (or even just perceived as such), the incentive for these different units to understand each other and collaborate rather than compete and cut each other down can be hard to get across.

At the end of the day, I'm not as interested in my own potentially insular responses to the question as I am to exploring both the library's and the broader academic institutional culture.

So, my questions for all of you out there:

  • Is academic library culture inherently insular?
  • Is it more insular that other parts of the academy, be they faculty or other support units? Why?
  • How should librarians fix that? Are there specific things that we can do?
  • For you non-librarians out there, any ideas about insularity in academia in general or about how different units can reach out to each other and work on common concerns?

(My Job in 10 Years: part of the chapter on campus outreach)

6 responses so far

Spring & summer conference schedule

I have a few conferences coming up and I thought I'd share my schedule just in case any of you out there in sciencelibrarianblogland will also be attending.

I'll list them in order, along with whatever I'll be presenting.

BookCamp Toronto, May 15, Toronto

9:30: eBooks in Education and Academia -- the glacial revolution
John Dupuis (York University)
Evan Leibovitch (York University)

Description: Despite growing public acceptance of eBooks, two areas in which they could offer the most benefit -- education and academia -- are far behind the eBook mainstream. This session will discuss issues directly related to educational (K-12) and academic (post-secondary) use of eBooks from the perspective of authors, readers and libraries. The session will also discuss the current generation of eBook readers -- both hardware and software -- in the context of student and researcher use.

Canadian Engineering Education Association, June 7-9, Kingston, ON

Using a Blog to Engage Students in Literature Search Skills Sessions

One of the main problems for librarians involved in engaging engineering students in literature search skills sessions is creating a list of customized, course-specific online resources that is easy for students to find and use. Such a list can include links to article databases (ie. IEEE Xplore), ebook packages (ie. Books 24x7), web resources, patent search engines and standards series. It can also be used to hold notes from the session, background information and links to useful tools such as citation management software. Given that blogs are becomming an increasingly popular item in the pedagogical toolbox, creating one to host these notes and links is an obvious possibility. Blogging tools such as WordPress are simple and straightforward to use. Blog entries can be easily linked to on a course website or even Googled by students. During the classroom session itself, the blog is used both to engage the students' attention and as an outline of the content. Adding interactivity via Instant Messaging widgets such as Meebo also make the blog a good tool for engaging with students both during the session and after it is over. Analysis tools such as Google Analytics can be used to assess the usage of the blog. A sample web page, created for the Engineering 1000 course at York University, can be found here:

(Note: The technical program schedule isn't set yet. I'll post when I know the date & time.)

Science Foo Camp
, July 30 - August 1, Mountain View, CA

Science Foo Camp is an unconference, so the program is self-organized by the participants at the conference itself. We're all expected to contribute by participating in creating and running the program.

So far my main idea for a session to propose is about Building Campus Open Science Collaborations. From the point of view of Open Access, Open Data, Open Notebook and all the rest, there are a lot of campus constituencies that can work together build the commitment, infrastructure and policies to make Open Science work. Who are there people and how can they all be brought together to make Open Science a reality on your cmapus.

Obviously this is in super embryonic format. I would really appreciate any input on my idea, especially how to make it speak to researchers that may be considering Open Science initiatives but might not know where to get started.

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Friday Fun: Mars Rover Beginning To Hate Mars

May 07 2010 Published by under friday fun, yorku

Ah, The Onion. A true repository of snark and snideitude

But as the winter lingered, Spirit began producing thousands of pages of sometimes rambling and dubious data, ranging from complaints that the Martian surface was made up almost entirely of the same basalt, to long-winded rants questioning the exorbitant cost and scientific relevance of the mission.
Project leaders receive data from the Mars rover Spirit.

"Granted, Spirit has been extraordinarily useful to our work," Callas said. "Last week, however, we received three straight days of images of the same rock with the message 'HAPPY NOW?'"


"Hopefully these malfunctions will straighten themselves out," Callas said. "In the meantime, we'll simply have to try to glean what usable data we can from 'OVERPRICED SPACE-ROOMBA AWAITING MORE BULLSHIT ORDERS.'"

NASA remains optimistic that the rover will remain at least partially operational for the foreseeable future. However, because of the Spirit's recent proclivity toward ramming into boulders at full speed, scientists have remotely disabled its 1.5-pound rock-abrasion tool so the rover is unable to terminate the mission prematurely.

I find this particularly amusing given my institutions prominent role in the Mars-Phoenix project.

4 responses so far

Books I'd Like to Read

It's been quite a long while since I've done one of these. Here are some recently noticed books that look interesting from either a collection development or a professional development point of view.

Fans, Friends And Followers: Building An Audience And A Creative Career In The Digital Age by Scott Kirsner

An essential guide for filmmakers, musicians, writers, artists, and other creative types. "Fans, Friends & Followers" explores the strategies for cultivating an online fan base that can support your creative career, enabling you to do the work you want to do and make a living at it. Based on dozens of interviews with the artists pioneering new approaches to production, marketing, promotion, collaboration, and distribution, it presents strategies that work - in a straightforward, jargon-free way. Featured artists include YouTube star Michael Buckley; the animators behind JibJab, Homestar Runner, and Red vs. Blue; video artist Ze Frank ("theshow"); comedian Eugene Mirman; singer-songwriters Jill Sobule and Jonathan Coulton; OK Go frontman Damian Kulash; filmmakers M dot Strange ("We Are the Strange") and Curt Ellis ("King Corn"); writers Brunonia Barry ("The Lace Reader") and Lisa Genova ("Still Alice"); and artists Tracy White, Natasha Wescoat, and Dave Kellett.

Life Inc.: How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take It Back by Douglas Rushkoff.

Since the Renaissance, the corporation--the operating system of the market--has formed and controlled people, and Rushkoff describes how it has infiltrated all aspects of American life. In the twenty-first century, we continue to consider corporations as role models and saviors but engage other people as competitors to be beaten or resources to be exploited. The author bemoans extreme networking (called buzz marketing), which makes our personal, social interactions become promotional opportunities and the lines between fiction and reality and friends and market become blurred. Our lives are overextended, and there is no time, energy, or commitment to do anything but work and perhaps consider family. Rushkoff recommends that we fight back by "de-corporatizing" ourselves. His suggestions include thinking locally by participating directly with our neighbors in community activities and using various Internet sites that provide opportunities to contribute directly to a particular school or to extend a "micro loan" to a specific entrepreneur in the Third World. This is an excellent, thought-provoking book.

Fun Inc.: Why Play is the 21st Century's Most Serious Business by Tom Chatfield

Fun Inc. is a guide book to the gaming industry, written by one of the industry's leading analysts.

In the United States in 2007, the gaming industry was worth over $18 billion, while the second-biggest consumer of computer games -- Japan -- added $7 billion to a global total of almost $50 billion. It's the fastest growing media business in the world, and one of the very few industries that seem destined to resist the credit crunch. It's a powerful and dynamic industry and, in commercial terms, one worth understanding given that the gaming industry's innovations present a great opportunity for businesses to better understand both their workers and their clients.

A Better Pencil: Readers, Writers, and the Digital Revolution by Dennis Baron

A Better Pencil puts our complex, still-evolving hate-love relationship with computers and the internet into perspective, describing how the digital revolution influences our reading and writing practices, and how the latest technologies differ from what came before. The book explores our use of computers as writing tools in light of the history of communication technology, a history of how we love, fear, and actually use our writing technologies--not just computers, but also typewriters, pencils, and clay tablets. Dennis Baron shows that virtually all writing implements--and even writing itself--were greeted at first with anxiety and outrage: the printing press disrupted the "almost spiritual connection" between the writer and the page; the typewriter was "impersonal and noisy" and would "destroy the art of handwriting." Both pencils and computers were created for tasks that had nothing to do with writing. Pencils, crafted by woodworkers for marking up their boards, were quickly repurposed by writers and artists. The computer crunched numbers, not words, until writers saw it as the next writing machine. Baron also explores the new genres that the computer has launched: email, the instant message, the web page, the blog, social-networking pages like MySpace and Facebook, and communally-generated texts like Wikipedia and the Urban Dictionary, not to mention YouTube.

The First War of Physics: The Secret History of the Atomic Bomb, 1939-1949 by Jim Baggott

Rich in personality, action, confrontation, and deception, The First War of Physics is the first fully realized popular account of the race to build humankind's most destructive weapon. The book draws on declassified material, such as MI 6's FarmHall transcripts, coded Soviet messages cracked by American cryptographers in the Venona project, and interpretations by Russian scholars of documents from the Soviet archives. Jim Baggott weaves these threads into a dramatic narrative that spans ten historic years, from the discovery of nuclear fission in 1939 to the aftermath of 'Joe-1,' August 1949's first Soviet atomic bomb test. Why did physicists persist in developing the atomic bomb, despite the devastation that it could bring? Why, despite having a clear head start, did Hitler's physicists fail? Could the Soviets have developed the bomb without spies like Klaus Fuchs or Donald Maclean? Did the Allies really plot to assassinate a key member of the German bomb program? Did the physicists knowingly inspire the arms race? The First War of Physics is a grand and frightening story of scientific ambition, intrigue, and genius: a tale barely believable as fiction, which just happens to be historical fact.

Bright Boys: The Making of Information Technology by Tom Green

Everything has a beginning. None was more profound and quite unexpected than Information Technology. Here for the first time is the untold story of how our new age came to be and the bright boys who made it happen. What began on the bare floor of an old laundry building eventually grew to rival the Manhattan Project in size. The unexpected consequence of that journey was huge what we now know as Information Technology. And even more unexpected: trying to convince someone, anyone, that information was the key to most everything else. For sixty years the bright boys have been virtually anonymous while their achievements have become a way of life for all of us. Bright Boys brings them home. By 1950 they'd built the world's first real-time computer. Three years later they one-upped themselves when they switched on the world s first digital network. In 1953 their work was met with incredulity and completely overlooked. By 1968 their work was gospel. Today, it's the way of the world.

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Using a Blog to Engage Students in the Classroom and Beyond!

That's the title of the short article I have in our most recent York Libraries Faculty Newsletter. It's a rejigged version for faculty of the two posts I did a while back on the blog I use for IL sessions, here and here. I'll be doing a more formal report on the IL blog at an upcoming conference, but that's for another post.

A lot of the newsletter is of local interest only, but there are a couple of articles that will have a broader appeal:

It's also worth pointing out the short profile of Toni Olshen, the well-deserved recipient of the 2010 Ontario College and University Library Association Lifetime Achievement Award. Congrats, Toni!

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