Just finished A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh. The overall story line was a bit depressing but it was a good read. I especially like the sequences where one of the main characters was ill and hallucinating. Waugh really understood how to successfully covey what that character was going through and how they were feeling. I also appreciated how he never wasted any time developing the characters that were superficial in nature, as if they deserved no more than what he gave them or what they themselves gave others. I would recommend this book to anyone who finds current fiction not exactly to their taste and is more inclined to 19th and 20th century classics. I’m very glad I read this.
So there I was reading a post by Howard Rheingold about Twitter and decided to check out his Twitter feed (@hrheingold) and found a retweet about Mother Coders. The organization is working to support mothers in their efforts to learn programming skills as a way into technical careers. Naturally, they are far more eloquent in describing what they do. I think it is an amazing idea and project. And I agree, we should not lose all that talent simply because so many women choose to become mothers. We need to provide as much support and encouragement to those mothers want to stay careers. Check it out.
So yesterday I learned about a faculty member who recently made a particular request a condition of their hire to a college. I will admit that although I am unaware of the practice it is possible that this is common. The sticky part of this situation, as I understand it, is that the hiring committee agreed to this condition. It was that the college subscribe to a particular professional association. The subscription is about $2400 a year. And apparently the expectation is that this $2400 a year will come out of the library’s budget. However, no library staff were on this hiring committee and no one in the library was consulted about this prior to it being agreed to. After many conversations regarding this by the library director, apparently the library is still expected to pay that $2400 each year. Just to appease the inclinations of one faculty member. So why wasn’t the director consulted earlier? Why didn’t anyone bother to ask if the library had the money in their budget for this? And here we are in 2014, on the heels of recession, when libraries are desperately trying to make the most of their existing budgets and having to make extremely tough decisions on which resources to cut because there just isn’t enough money for everything. And yet, some folks, in another part of the college, who clearly don’t understand what kinds of budget constraints their library is undergoing, agree to impose a new $2400 line item on that already strained budget. Forgive me. I’m confused. How is this ok? Again, maybe I am unaware of a common practice on other campuses. But, how is it ok for individuals, who do not have control over the library’s budget, to decide how it is spent? And seemingly to please just one person? And how many people, beyond this one, will this benefit? That remains to be seen. And why isn’t this subscription cost coming out of this particular department? I fail to understand how this is fine to do. Would students in all the other departments, besides the one that decided this, be happy about such a decision? What resources will we have to cut for them as a result of this new $2400 line item? Would faculty in other departments be happy about this? Would faculty who have spent years asking for particular journal subscriptions, who have been denied because they are so expensive, be happy about this? I don’t know. I will remain confused.
So I just finished reading an article in ProfHacker in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Adeline Koh titled A Public Library of the Humanities? An Interview with Martin Paul Eve. Eve and Koh spend the interview discussing the basics of how the Open Library of the Humanities will work. I think Eve is far more eloquent in describing the project so I will let the interview and the website speak for themselves. But I wanted to say, the more I read of the interview the more curious I became. It is an interesting spin on publishing scholarly articles by getting libraries to support the publishing process of OLH rather than having them pay a subscription fee for the content itself. I think it is also a cool approach that removes that author fee that some publishers currently require. Being a librarian and having a humanities degree, the more I read of the interview the more excited I got. So I decided to look at the OLH website and see if there was any way I could get involved. Sadly, I don’t think I have the kind of qualifications they are looking for for the project (Wow, their committees are certainly packed with a lot of talent!), but I did find this. It is a fact sheet telling you how you can help support the project. So, despite the fact I cannot help directly, I’m volunteering my time by posting about OLH on my blog. Seriously folks, this looks like a great project, check it out and please support their efforts. Good luck to the entire OLH team! This is definitely a project to keep your eye on.
Boy has it been a while. A young family and full-time work certainly has its ups and downs. I have been thinking a long time about the visual literacy section of my Metaliteracy MOOC. I will be the first to admit that I have a long way to go on being visually literate myself, at least according to the ‘ACRL Visual Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education.’ I read all the materials for the section, listened to/watched all the presentations. I liked Brian Stone’s presentation. He is doing some really great stuff. But what gave me pause was David McCandless’ TED talk about the beauty of data. His talk was interesting but at the end of it I kept asking myself, ‘But what has he left out of these infographics he has created?’ ‘For the sake of getting across a particular point with the data he does have/presents, what don’t we know?’ I even interlibrary loaned David’s book just to see some more of his work.
Now, I know I should dig really deep and long in order to truly answer these questions. But I’m not going to. Really, by asking these questions I just want to caution anyone looking at such infographics, or any type of information. One should always be questioning the validity of the information being presented to you. One should always make sure their facts and data are accurate and correct and always be aware of any agendas a presenter has when presenting information to you, whether it is online, in a book, in a journal article, anywhere really. For example, I took the transcript of David’s TED talk and searched it to see how often particular words were used just to see what kind of data I would get. My choice of words was pretty random, I could have excluded some, included others, but here is what I got:
Well, actually I would have shown a graph of what I got but I am an extreme novice at some things and could not figure out how to paste an Excel graph into this post. (Gee I wish I had an infographic!) But on that front I am currently illiterate. The most used word in David’s talk was ‘I’ fifty-five times. The second most used word, not surprisingly, was ‘data.’ Third, also not surprising, was ‘information’. Now, I understand that David was talking about his work and what he had done but I did not expect ‘I’ to be the most used word in the talk. These results prompt me to ask: ‘What was David’s agenda in doing this talk? Promoting himself or the work?’ Yes, the talk was interesting, but I remain reticent about infographics in general. For as my cousin said recently: ‘All information on the internet has an agenda.’ Really, all information has an agenda. Clearly David McCandless is trying to convey certain information in his work. I’m just not sure what even some of that is. It should be interesting to see what kind of work he does in the future. And maybe some time in that future I will also learn how to create some infographics of my own. ;P
Just finished reading Jane Austen’s England by Roy and Lesley Adkins (2013) yesterday. A very enjoyable read. I actually finished the book thinking: ‘Is that it? Is that all there is? Isn’t there any more?’ I wanted the book to be twice as long as it was! But, I guess they had to decide what was an appropriate length for the subject matter. It was interesting to get some of the context and environment in which Austen was writing. Also refreshing, and in keeping with Austen’s novels, to read something that focused on more of the social context rather than historical/political. I would certainly recommend this to Austen fans. The only part I found a bit unsettling was the details of Jane’s passing, which her sister outlined in a letter. Then again, who wouldn’t be moved by those words? And they are but a few in a very pleasant read.
As I sit here at the Reference Desk on a Saturday afternoon (a rare event as we only have a few weekend shifts and all the reference staff take turns) I am thinking about some of the reference interviews/interactions/questions I have had so far this semester. Most of the questions I have gotten have been very easy to answer:
- Where is room ______?
- Where is the restroom?
- My article didn’t print out, can you help me?
- The printer is out of paper, can you put more in?
- The printer is jammed, can you help?
- Do I check this book out with you?
- Do you have this book _______?
- I have a call number, but where can I find this book?
- Do you have a stapler?
- Can I borrow a pen?
- I am having trouble accessing my class Moodle page, can you help me? (For those of you who don’t know, Moodle is our course management system.)
- I’m a guest here, how can I print something out?
I have had no problems answering these questions. And why should I? I have been working in the same library for many years now, and for several more in libraries in general, and I have worked plenty of other jobs in the past that required me to answer a steady stream of questions. But the more I get these questions I wonder if it is really useful for me to be there to answer these questions. Would the library be better served if a library staff member be at the Reference Desk for those questions and have them refer patrons to an ‘on call’ librarian when they have a ‘reference/research’ type question? I know other libraries have adopted such service models in the past, and some libraries use this model now. I don’t have a strong opinion on which is, or might be, better. But my guess is that many non-librarian staff members are also perfectly capable of answering the majority of questions that come across the Reference Desk these days, even the reference/research questions.
And then . . . the occasional challenging question comes across the desk while I am sitting there. Part of me says: ‘Yes! I am needed here. My training and experience are why they want me, one of the librarians, to sit here and wait patiently for patrons to come and ask their research questions.’ But then, once the question is asked, I pause, I wonder how one of my colleagues would answer this question, I wonder if I really am the best person to answer the question. Doesn’t someone else know more about the databases and resources than I do? Would ‘B’ or ‘D’ librarian be better with this question?
One question I had this semester was about checking out the music scores and it quickly morphed into the student asking about finding a particular score we did not own. So I directed this student to WorldCat to identify the item and show him how to submit an interlibrary loan request. While he was signing up for an interlibrary loan account, one of my colleagues asked me if the score was in a database we subscribe to, Classical Scores Library. It turns out it was there. So, I quickly shifted gears and showed the patron how to get to the score and thanked my colleague for the help, even though I didn’t ask for help. In reality, I thought it was a question I could easily handle, not challenging at all. But I forgot about that database. What other resources have I missed in other reference interviews? How have my colleagues fared with similar questions? I really don’t know.
Another question I had, challenging in different ways than the one about music scores, makes me think some of my colleagues would have handled it much differently, but then again maybe not. The patron asked me to help her find peer reviewed resources on a particular event in history. Ok, I was able to do that just fine. But upon conversing with the patron further I learned that she really wanted resources on other historical events that were influenced by the first one she mentioned. Ok, eventually I was able to find a few things, but this was in the midst of attempting to politely discourage the patron’s desire to search hastily constructed phrases rather than keywords and trying to be supportive when her search phrases would come up with nothing or nothing relevant. Then, in addition to all this, I discover what this patron is really trying to do is find any information on a topic because she was scheduled to do a presentation on a book in a week and her faculty member was supposed to get her a copy through interlibrary loan but it had not yet arrived. So she was just trying to find something, anything, similar to the book’s content, but what she really needed was the book that she was expected to present on. So, yes, I helped her find some things which she seemed satisfied with and she said she would speak to her faculty member later that day about the book she needed. Whew!
These reference questions are prompting me to ask myself other questions. Am I answering these questions the best possible way? Maybe, maybe not. But I am certainly trying to give the best possible answer I know. The majority of my work is in running our interlibrary loan office. I do not interface with faculty and students to the extent that some of my colleagues do. Then again, their basic job responsibilities are different. I run the interlibrary loan office, yes, but I also do some reference, some instruction, some collection development, but not to the extent that some of my colleagues who are reference and instruction librarians do. I don’t teach as often, I don’t create and manage as many LibGuides, I don’t collect resources in as many subject areas. As a result I simply don’t field as many questions on a day to day basis, and so my knowledge of our resources, comparatively, is not as broad or as extensive. Does all of this make me a less qualified reference librarian because I’m out of practice? Someone may argue yes, and what is someone like me doing at the reference desk? Part of me is inclined to agree.
However, I then think about the title of this post. What are we really doing at the Reference Desk? Ok, so maybe I am a bit short on my resource knowledge. That can easily be rectified. Although I would also say, in defense of all 21st century reference librarians faced with the same challenges, that it is a big challenge, with the hundreds of electronic resources libraries subscribe to, to have detailed knowledge and experience with every single resource. (Yet, maybe this is not a 21st century challenge?) But what is the point of the Reference Desk? Or any desk in the library for that matter? And why is it important for me, in my position as a resource sharing librarian in a small academic library to take shifts at our reference desk?
What are we doing at the Reference Desk? Well, there are the practical/fundamental reasons that we need someone to be there to answer questions. Someone needs to be there to help people get the printer unjammed, to answer the phone we have placed at the desk and posted the number on our website, direct them to a room or where to find a particular book. Someone has to be there to help. But there is something more to having librarians and experienced staff members at the reference desk. Whether we run interlibrary loan, staff other service desks, teach, manage all the electronic resources, etc., we all have a deep understanding of our library and our institution. We understand how to navigate our building, we understand why certain things work the way they do and know how to help patrons navigate their quirks. Despite our sometimes superficial knowledge of a resource’s content, we are very good at navigating database interfaces (we can drill down into them faster and get more results more efficiently than the average user). We know and understand how different library departments work, why they work that way, and how they relate to the other departments in the library. We know that when patrons ask us questions they need us and they are relying on us to do our best to help them, we understand the value and benefits of providing them with good service. It is all this knowledge, combined with our subject knowledge, our years of experience, our ability to think on our feet, be flexible, and, when it is necessary, to be a bit more empathetic or take some extra time with a patron’s query that makes our presence at the Reference Desk more meaningful. This all contributes to the good and valuable experiences our patrons have when they ask us questions. Yes, they may only be asking where the water fountain is this time, but every good experience means they will come back with a question about unjamming a printer, another about reserving a room in the library, another about using a database, another about using interlibrary loan, another about finding resources for a paper they are doing on child slavery in India in the nineteenth century, and another about where to start their research for their senior project. Having the librarians available for any and all of these questions helps build and develop relationships with these patrons. They trust us to answer their questions, to answer them well and to be there when they have more to ask, whenever that may be.
So what are we really doing at the Reference Desk? Building, developing and maintaining relationships with our patrons. We are giving them confidence and assurance that they can trust us to be there when we are needed. All of this takes time. New relationships are forming and developing all the time, thus making our presence necessary on a regular basis. And yet, we all cannot be at the desk all the time, so we take turns and make it a collective, and collaborative, effort. The value that each of us brings to the Reference Desk is slightly different because of the areas we are responsible for or have knowledge in. The result is that as a group we bring more knowledge to the desk than any one individual would. We are offering our patrons value in their information seeking experiences. They may not know that it is there (Does that really matter?), how that value developed, or where it comes from, but it is there. We offer up that value regardless of the need and work to ensure that, ultimately, our patrons possess more knowledge about how to find and use information and come back to us when they have another need. And if we don’t know something, we ask each other. Or, as my colleague did, offer up a suggestion. Because ultimately, it is what is best for the patron’s information need.
So, yes, I can work on my database/resource knowledge, but we all, including myself, bring a lot to the Reference Desk. That is why we are there, to continue to offer up that knowledge and build on those relationships and maintain the support we offer our patrons.
I’m sure there is more that my colleagues, where ever they work, can add to this. But my point is that we all have value to offer in our service, in our presence at the Reference Desk. And for me, this was, at this point in my career, a great exercise to engage in. Do you have anything to add? What are you really doing at the Reference Desk?