Here at MPOW, we’re launching a library-based centre for digital scholarship very soon. Having now spent a number of months looking around at various operations both in Canada and the U.S., it’s struck me how little consensus there is on what these centres should be offering. Places such as the Center for History and New Mediaset the technical bar very high with their ability to develop applications with broad appeal. Others are looking to bring everyone in the academy along so offer support for basic digital publishing and online content creation. There’s nothing right or wrong with either approach, of course, if what one is offering meets a need.
What interests me as a librarian is what happens when these centres develop in libraries. What should these centres offer that leverages existing strengths or builds new competencies where they are clearly needed by researchers? I find this question quite hard to answer, and frankly the answer changes depending on the faculty member with whom I’m speaking. Some are very advanced digital humanists, and need high-octane programming and server support; others are still trying to find the door, so to speak, and just need a friendly hand.
With that in mind, I tossed together a little query on All Our Ideas that asks the question “what should these library-based centres offer” and poses some possible answers. Feel free to cast votes, submit new ideas, and generally tinker around. Thanks!
A couple of years ago, I wrote a post where I criticized OCLC WorldCat.org‘s handling of title searching and result ranking. Quick synopsis: when searching for the book Little, Big by John Crowley, it wasn’t coming up in the top 50 results. Part of the reason for that was that I was in Germany at the time, and clearly OCLC was tweaking the relevance ranking based on the user’s IP address (not a wise idea). I compared the results to Amazon, where a search for the title–without even specifying that it was a book–brought it up in first position.
At the time I made a mental note to rerun the test when back in North America. Took a while, but finally did so today. How did it go? Read more…
Courtesy of Nick Ruest, who has the good fortune to be there live, I found out that Access 2011 is being livestreamed this year. For years I’ve told anyone in the U.S. who will listen that Access is one of the best bangs for the buck to be found if you want to hear some progressive thinking on a variety of library IT threads, but are intimidated by Code4Lib. It’s not the same as being there, but it’s good to be able to at least get a sense of what’s going on. Many thanks to the organizers!
[The logo is used here without explicit permission, since I could not identify a Creative Commons license on the conference site. I use it under the "I'm plugging your product/universal good" exclusion, which I just made up. If you want me to remove it, I gladly will.]
Earlier this year, the review editors for portal: Libraries and the Academy asked if I would consider reviewing The Atlas of New Librarianship by David Lankes. I agreed, because I’m generally interested in current attempts to recast libraries, librarians, and librarianship. What emerged and recently appeared in portal (warning: paywall) was a fairly negative review, perhaps made more pointed by the necessity of cuts for space considerations. For those who are interested in reading the submitted version (author’s final version, in the parlance of open access), I’m publishing it here with a Creative Commons license. Please feel free to comment on the review.
I’m a librarian. I’m also fortunate enough to have a library leadership position as an AUL at McMaster University. Where I work is not irrelevant for any discussion of the future of academic library leadership, as anyone who follows libraryland news well knows.
For a number of years it’s been clear to me that we’re not going to be able to master the tasks that arise from the evolution of libraries if we continue to insist on having too many influential positions in the library saddled with the “ALA-accredited MLS or equivalent” requirement. That’s not a revolutionary thought at this stage, but even jobs where that requirement has been softened to allow those with other educational pedigrees to apply tend to include required or clearly preferred qualifications that only a librarian would possess, making them de facto open only to librarians.
Parallel to the discussion of whether to open our positions to non-librarians is a neverending discussion around the lack of qualified applicants for library leadership positions. There seems to be general agreement that libraries do a poor job of creating qualified and eager successors.
Put these two factors together, and what emerges from all of this is that we (MLS-holding library administrators who are open to hiring non-librarians into key roles) could essentially be closing the door behind us for those in our own profession. The logical next evolutionary step would be that library leaders are no longer former line librarians, and that we are essentially the dinosaurs roaming the halls. There are, of course, library leaders already who did not come from the ranks, but doesn’t it follow that in 15-20 years, library directors with an MLS will be a very rare breed? Does that matter? I seem to think it does, but that leaves me with a bit of a paradox: how to get today’s work done and help create the next generation of library leaders. It’s not a simple task.
In a meeting at MPOW yesterday, the topic of experiential learning opportunities for humanities students came up. This topic speaks to me, not least because my educational background is in the humanities, but also because I spent a year in the late 90s doing a grant-funded research project that was essentially one large experiential learning opportunity. My boss asked us for ideas, and I wrote mine up in an email. I thought it made sense to publish them here as well since broader feedback would be helpful, and I’m sure there are aspects and opportunities to which I’m entirely blind. Please feel free to share any comments and suggestions.
Here’s what I wrote, edited to generalize the context: Read more…
An August 22nd article in Inside Higher Ed confirms what anyone working with students in academic libraries at least suspects: students have incredibly poor information searching habits. I look forward to reading more about the research done in Illinois. One particularly distressing point from the summary worth highlighting is that JSTOR “was the second-most frequently alluded-to database [n.b.- behind only Google] in student interviews.”
JSTOR is a wonderful resource for what it does best: making backruns of journals available back across the decades. Nowadays this seems like a normal thing to do, what with Google scanning everything it can, but when JSTOR started this was like manna from heaven for many researchers and students.
What JSTOR clearly is not, however, is a good starting point for students doing research. Why that is so should be obvious: for most JSTOR journals, the most recent years are not in the database. While JSTOR is slowly adding current content for specific journals through its Current Scholarship Program, only ~200 of the 1,400 JSTOR journals offer current content via the JSTOR interface.
Even today, as a full text storehouse, JSTOR is a goldmine, albeit one best accessed not by direct searching, but via a pointer from another resource that includes current content. Why, then, have librarians and faculty persisted in suggesting it to their students as a starting point? That’s a vexing question, but having argued with colleagues about this for years, I would ascribe it to, among other reasons, a traditional approach to research that assumes that students will consult multiple sources. We should know better.
To drive the point home, here are some visual examples. The example at the top of this post comes from Kansas State University, which lists JSTOR as the most important database for political science, quite a feat of irony. In the field of philosophy, the University of Kansas lists JSTOR before The Philosopher’s Index while the University of Washington considers it among the six most critical for history. Examples like this abound on library Web pages. Do we actually think students will notice that their JSTOR results lack research from the most recent five to seven years or so? Shouldn’t that matter? Moreover, the lack of current content is only one of JSTOR’s shortcomings as a place to do topical research. Its distinct amero- and anglocentrism as well as a somewhat elitist collection of journals (good business strategy but not academically sound) should be noted.
One should really question whether JSTOR even belongs on the list of databases the library offers. It’s a critical part of our information offerings, but for the overwhelming majority of users, it should never be their starting point for research. Why then, does JSTOR feature so prominently on library Websites?