Professional Development

Author Archive

Capstones, Helicopters and Vendors!

Saturday, April 13, 2013 8:53 am

I have attended many, many sessions at ACRL so far but want to talk a bit about a couple that I thought were particularly of interest at ZSR. The first I attended Thursday and it was calledThe Almost Experts: Capstone Students and the Research Process. It was a study done at the University of Wisconsin Eau-Claire. What she found was, despite many faculty member’s perceptions, these students were not really close to experts. She created a survey to see what capstone experiences were like at her university. She found the expected Senior Theses, but also other things – poster, presentation, exhibitions, etc. Capstones are a High Impact Practices (AAC&U 2008) and so are being adopted increasingly by institutions (including WFU). A 2012 survey showed just over 50% of students had capstone experiences. In her survey she found several things that I suspect would hold true across the capstone experiences at WFU, but I intend to find out!

  • 77% write a paper, 18% write a paper and produce another product.
  • 89% had info lit instruction in college.
  • 68% had librarian come to the capstone course.
  • Choosing a topic and finding useful information were the top two challenges for students.
  • Students feel they are searching for a needle in a haystack and worry they aren’t finding the most important stuff – the classic studies, the foundational research in their area.
  • Students said they would use a libguide tailored to the capstone course.
  • 35% would like help on the literature review and 57% need help with citation management.


A second really interesting paper that I heard presented today was about the information seeking behavior of first generation college students. The study was done at Miami of Ohio University and they held a focus group with 17 first generation students. Their description of their instutuion was eerily similar to WFU (except they are about 3 times the size) – predominately undergraduate, mostly white upper middle class, and about 2008 began a targeted recruitment of first generation students. What she learned from the focus group is that these students struggle on several levels in part because the ‘helicopter parents’ that help the traditional students just are not available to them because their parents don’t have any experiences to help them navigate the college environment. They found that these students feel very much that other students have ‘a leg up’ on them or know ‘tricks of the trade’ that are lacking for them. They also struggle with the very decentralized nature of campuses where they have to navigate multiple offices, organizations and buildings to get what they need. They also struggle with jargon and terminology ( at WFU these would be things like Registrar, Sakai, WIN) that are foreign to them. They often will ask a first question but then will not ask a follow-up. So while they might ask ‘where can I get the class readings’ – if the answer is Blackboard or Sakai, they will not necessarily then ask what that is or how to get to it. They feel passed on from place to place and they often stop asking. Lots to think about in how we work with these students!

I also spent a good deal of time at the ACRL with vendors as I tend to do. I had a user group lunch with the EBL team where they were very forthcoming about the future of the EBL-Ebrary merger and plans for the future. In short – we can expect a new interface in about 18 months, they will start negotiating with publishers as one unit as soon as all paperwork is signed in May, the current licensing terms for books will continue into the new interface and there will most likely be a wider set of licenses we can get once the merger is complete. They are also starting to talk to publishers about new textbook models so I hooked them up with Mary Beth and we may participate in a pilot they are putting together. I also attended a focus group with ProQuest about how they can better support interdisciplinary research and attended some booth presentations about their new assessment tool, Intota. Intota will ultimately be a cloud-based ILS, but this assessment piece will go live this fall. It is similar in some ways to the services provided by Sustainable Collections Services but is more than simply a tool for data-based deselection – it goes much deeper than that but also will be much more expensive, too, I’m guessing.

All in all it’s been a good conference – a couple more sessions to attend today and then homeward bound. I have been very impressed with Indianapolis as a conference city despite the poor weather we have had. See you all on Monday!

Leveling the Playing Field: Key notes from the keynotes – Roz at ACRL Day 1+

Thursday, April 11, 2013 10:23 pm

Today’s theme brought to you by the keynotes that bookended my first 24 hours of ACRL. We’ll start with Geoffrey Canada’s amazing keynote from Wednesday afternoon. I first learned about Geoffrey Canada when I saw him on 60 Minutes back in the 1990s and was immediately a huge fan. His passion for kids, for families and for leveling the playing field in this country through education has really made him one of my heroes for a long time. For those less familiar with Geoffrey Canada, he was born and raised in the Bronx, educated in Bowdoin and at Harvard School of Education and has spent the last 20 years developing The Harlem Children’s Zone – a 24 block area in Harlem that works with children and their families from birth through college and provides a comprehensive set of services to form a safety net so tight that nothing falls through the cracks. He’s controversial in some ways because he has taken on teacher’s unions, thinks there must be ways to get rid of bad teachers, advocates for paying teachers like professionals, works his teachers with long days and longer school years, but the success he has had with his program is undeniable. A few of the points of his speech that have stuck with me today (other than the many good points Susan discussed).

  • The business model of the American school system jeopardizes the future of this country. To keep doing things exactly the same way when we know they are failing our students is reprehensible.
  • ‘You never know what is going to save a kid.’ This is why schools need to offer every possible activity, course, opportunity to children from science to chess, art to English, music to languages. For Canada, it was Dr. Seuss books that saved him and that began a lifelong love of poetry.
  • We can’t have one standard for what is good for our own children and another for ‘poor children.’ Why should schools have to justify wanting to keep the programs that actually make kids WANT to come to school when those same programs (music, dance, sports) are what we all give our own children.
  • Accountability must start with infants and continue through college – we can’t just keep passing failing kids up to the next school or grade or college and then washing our hands of them. Colleges need to be going into high schools and making sure they are preparing students for what will be expected of them.
  • College should be the goal for every child because the jobs our country needs people to do require highly specialized skills and knowledge.
  • We can no longer ignore the research that is out that tells us what works in education. Study after study has shown that kids in poor neighborhoods fall behind over the summers. Why are we not offering summer school to them?
  • When someone tells you that good education is not scalable – remind them that we have found the money to continue to scale our prison system year after year and it costs much less to educate a child well each year than it does to incarcerate a person for a year. We can no longer keep paying for poor education on the back end – we must level the playing field on the front end.
  • We have to be as mad about the black teen shot on her way to school in Chicago as we are about the white children killed at Sandy Hook and we have to stay mad and keep telling our lawmakers that we are mad and to do something about it.
  • Common standards are good, but we can’t keep ramping up the testing without ramping up the training of our teachers to get students to where they can pass the tests.
  • We must start looking at children not as ‘poor children’ or ‘urban children’ or ‘black children’ but as America’s children and not rest until the playing field is leveled.


Today’s keynote by Henry Rollins, was different but no less compelling than Canada’s. For those unfamiliar with Rollins, he is the former front man for the punk band Black Flag and a prolific author, actor, radio host and more. He performs spoken word shows (LOTS of them), writes for Vanity Fair and other outlets, does documentaries with National Geographic and has become a very outspoken cultural commentator. He, too, talked about leveling the playing field with information. I think he was clearly a librarian in a past life. He began his lifelong love of preservation and archiving when he was part of the punk scene in DC in the 1970s – he recognized early on that punk music was a maligned and censored art form and he began to collect it’s data – from show posters, to demo tapes he would obsessively collect and preserve the evidence of the punk scene. He remains a collector to this day, making a concerted effort to buy and listen to at least three albums a day and take copious notes on them and preserve them. He memorized the constitution (and quoted prolifically from it during his 80 minute, note-free talk). He told a story about getting to go into the National Archives that was so moving because he really, really GETS how important preserving our history is. His passion for information, and his recognition that it is information that is what will level the playing field was amazingly powerful. He clearly gets how important what we do is, and it was an honor to hear him talk, even if it felt a bit like being in a washing machine at times.



Breakfast with Steven Bell – Roz at ALA MW

Saturday, January 26, 2013 1:17 pm

Susan, Mary Beth, Kyle, Molly and I started our day at a breakfast sponsored by ProQuest where Steven Bell, (current ACRL President among many, many other things) was the keynote. The title of his talk was “Unbundled and Rebooted: Library Leadership for Disrupted Higher Education” and it was very good. I will summarize here as best I can (while it is still fresh in my cold-muddled mind) so that others who blog later can add the parts that most resonated with them!

He started by showing a video clip from a series of articles done by the NY Times on Graduating into Debt. In the clip, students who had graduated were commenting on how their college degrees were not worth the price they paid for them. He then went on to say that recently, and for the first time, Moody’s gave Higher Education a negative rating. Students and parents are beginning to question the cost, value and necessity of traditional higher ed. Convenience, career potential and cost are now high on the consideration list as students evaluate what to do after high school.

The traditional model of academia has been very linear and stable from beginning to graduation. 4-5 years. But students these days are not seeing their educational path in this way. They may start in a Community College then move to traditional OR they may start traditional and then perhaps ‘reversetransfer” back to community college for cost reasons or because CC degrees can be more practical in terms of finding a job. They may stop and work for a while or go part-time – they may add in a MOOC for remedial content or to gain new knowledge that their school doesn’t have or that they can’t afford to take. An interesting analogy he used was the ‘unbundling’ of courses from the institution in the way the music industry has had to unbundle songs from the album. Why shouldn’t students be able to get the content they want in the bits they want it?

The question for libraries then becomes how and where do we reach these students in all these varying iterations of what being a ‘student’ now means?? He gave some interesting examples of how we can reconsider our traditional models of librarianship and library services in order to begin to think about the new ways that will be necessary to reach our students. I won’t comment in depth on all of these as I’m sure others who were there will have more to say about them.

Design Thinking – a la IDEO Deep Dive video – start with REALLY REALLY understanding what the problem is – then think of as many ways as you can to solve it.

Be a Gate Opener – instead of our traditional roles of gate keeper – think about how libraries can continue to open gates to information for our students wherever they are.

Non-Commissioned Worker – Dan Pink notes that artists do better work when they work on noncommissioned work projects – so try to find time for your employees to do this kind of work.

Salesperson – don’t be ashamed to tell people what we do and WHY we do it. People who don’t understand why you do something are not as loyal or interested in your products.

Functionally Free Thinking – (which grammatically might also say Functionality Free Thinking) – but stop trying to look just at our own fields – look outside librarianship for ideas that work and think about how they could apply to your library. Look for new uses for old thinsg.Read literature from your outside interests or your subject disciplines.

Value Driven – define what the value is that we deliver to our students and to our institutions

Grassroots leaders – work from the ground up to affect change.

Start with ‘Why’ – Showed a clip of Simon Sinek’s very popular Ted Talk on how starting with the ‘Why you do what you do’ question is the common characteristic of great movements, thoughts and even companies. Sinek makes the point that people don’t buy WHAT you do, they buy WHY you do it.

Lead the Change – find out what is not being done on your campus – where there is a need, and figure out how to do that. He gave the example of how Temple University (his institution) provided small grants to faculty to stop using traditional textbooks and create free/open ones. They started with the why of saving students money and got great buy in and products from faculty. (MB, Susan and I are already scheming about doing this at WFU – don’t worry). He also discussed an easy project they did by giving all their employees small notebooks to record thought, ideas, every time they tell someone no, frustrations they encounter, etc. and used those to spark some new services, etc. for patrons (MB and I are all over this one, too).

Bell ended the conversation by giving an acronymn that can help libraries think about leading that change:

T – Trust (we need for our students and our institutions to trust us)
W – Why (why do we do what we do)
E – Emotional Connection (connecting that why to our patrons with sticky messages)
E – Empower Staff (to think outside the box, to not fear failure)
P – Persist (sometimes todays idea is the answer to tomorrows problem so keep the ideas coming and don’t get discouraged).

There is a reason Steven Bell is a thought leader in libraries – he’s compelling, pragmatic and exceptionally well versed in the conversations going on around higher ed, broader cultural shifts and libraries as well. He does not expect radical immediate change. He encourages libraries to start small and keep working to find answers to our questions. Much food for thought from a rainy, dreary Seattle this morning!

Roz at ALA

Thursday, June 28, 2012 11:35 am

So I am not as enamored with Southern California as many people, but all in all the trip to Anaheim was worth it. We started out at a lovely dinner with our former colleague Elisabeth Leonard on Friday night. Elisabeth is now a market research analyst with Sage Publications and she had assembled a lovely group of librarians and Sage folks for a great dinner discussion.

A good portion of my time was spent in committee meetings for the Law and Political Science Section (LPSS) of ACRL. I am on the Instruction Committee and the Marta Lange/Sage-CQ Press Awards Committee. The Instruction Committee met to begin discussion our upcoming revision to the Political Science Research Compentency Guidelines. Our plans include updating them to include a more global perspective over the next year. We also began discussing some other issues affecting the committee that will stem from a revision to the LPSS Strategic Plan. The Marta Lange committee votes on an award recipient each year (nominated by LPSS members) who has made significant contributions to law or political science librarianship. I attended the luncheon for this years recipient. I will be chairing the committee next year so I paid close attention to all that happened. It was a lovely event with a great group of people. If anyone is interested in getting more involved in ACRL or ALA I’d suggest going with one of the subject specific groups. I have found LPSS easy to get involved with and really delightful group of people to get to know.

My presentation was well attended and well received. I was one of four presenters on a panel sponsored by The Library Instruction Round Table (LIRt) entitled: “Critical Thinking and Library Instruction: Fantasyland or Adventureland.” Two of the panelists were more theoretical, two of us gave more concrete examples of ways we have included critical thinking in actual classes with students. I discussed an exercise I first developed with Dr. Steve Giles in our Communication Department on ‘Junk Science.’ I have since revised and repurposed it for many different contexts. I have my very minimal presentation up here but am happy to discuss it more with anyone who is interested.

Lynn has already reported on our lovely afternoon at the home of Rob Holland and his wife discussing library issues with WFU Alumni. It was really lovely and I felt honored to be a part of it. Rob was a student in the late 1990s and early 2000s and he was an amazing resource for the ITC at that point on digital video. It was not surprise to me that he has done so well for himself but it was great to catch up with him.

I didn’t have much time to get to presentations, but the ACRL President’s Program was outstanding. The speaker was Duane Bray, Head of Global Digital Business and Partner at IDEO and his topic was the Future of the Book which referenced their very provocative video on the subject. The projects IDEO is involved in are fascinating but they essentially present companies the customer perspective and information about customer behavior so they can make their products and services more customer centered. He discussed projects that involved videotaping an emergency room visit from the perspective of the patient, and going to look at NASCAR pit crews to see how they worked together so they could take suggestions back to hospital surgery personnel. One of his points was that maybe your problem has been solved somewhere else – NASCAR pit crews had kits for the five things most likely to go wrong with a car – a suggestion that the surgeons immediately saw as useful – there are things most likely to go wrong in surgeries and having pre-prepared kits for dealing with them could save time and lives. He also discussed the intersection of place and narrative – stories that change if you are in a particular place. Our mobile devices can now detect location so if you are reading a mystery about Chicago and you are in Chicago, maybe new information will be revealed to you if you pass by a location from the story. There were so many more interesting ideas in the talk that I can’t cover them all (Hu will discuss some others) but come chat if you want to hear more!!

Not surprisingly I made several booth visits in the exhibit hall and found out about new databases from the UN and WorldBank, the new LibChat product from Springshare, got some questions answered by the Summon folks and drooled over some seriously cool library furniture.

Roz at DLS – a Theme Emerges

Friday, April 20, 2012 12:48 pm

I am in Memphis this week attending the 15th Annual Distance Library Services Conference sponsored by Central Michigan University Libraries. This biennial conference (held on the alternate years from ACRL), has been around since the 1980s – which tells you how long libraries have been talking about supporting distance users. The focus of this group has broadened from supporting remote users at satellite campuses (which MANY here still do) to also supporting online students who may never have any contact with a building or campus at all. But a theme I’m hearing this year (and you know I love themes) is that it is no longer easy, possible or desirable to differentiate between ‘distance’ and ‘on-campus’ students. If they are using the web to interact with you, they are all distant students/faculty/staff at least some of the time. In other words, even your students and faculty that spend the most time in your library building, checking out your print materials and working one on one in person with reference librarians, are also accessing your materials and services online. So libraries need to intentional in how we craft ALL of our content, our services, our support online to be sure it can support any student or faculty, not just those that are totally online.

This is actually comforting to me in many ways, because it means we don’t have to reinvent what we do just to serve this new (to WFU) population of fully online students. We need to be thinking about all of our services, support and content that we provide via our Internet presence(s) to be sure it works for ALL of our community members. The goal should be to have self-service help information AND clear ways to get in touch with us virtually or in-person. We can and should have multiple ways to interact with our services and content that suits multiple access methods and preferences. So it is with that framework that I’ll discuss a few of the sessions/topics I found enlightening.

I attended two sessions that discussed Discovery Services (one was Ebsco Discovery, the other Summon). Both sessions were looking at being sure you get your investments worth out of these useful, but expensive services. The first looked at integrating instruction on the services into virtual reference sessions via pre-recorded screencasts of common issues. The other, more interesting one (to me) was a user survey of distance students to see if and how they used a discovery service. They found that 42% of their respondents started their research with Google or Google Scholar, 26% started with library databases (this group primarly came from those who got their library instruction before Summon was available) and 22% started with Summon. But they also found that 81% said they used other sources besides the place they started. When asked to rank as useful or essential, students ranked Google results as useful, but Summon results as essential. 61% said that Summon improved their ability to research effectively. The take-away here I think is that if discovery services are here to stay (and I think they are at least for a while), then we need to do our best to provide self-service and on the spot assistance in using them efficiently and effectively so they are useful to our students and might stand a chance of becoming the starting point for them the next time they begin a research project. This goes for online AND on-campus students equally.

One of the more interesting sessions I attended was one on creating a sense of library as place for online users from folks at Bucks Community College. They went with Boopsie, a company that creates branded mobile apps for libraries. They have a lovely app (called Bucks Mobile) that is a nice one-stop place for doing many of the things a mobile user might want. But after their presentation, the discussion came around to the pros and cons of going with an app or with a mobile web site. With an app, you have to rely on people to download the app. With a mobile web site they can use their browser, BUT you have to have web design expertise if you are going to design a mobile site that can provide users with as many options as an app can. There are times and places that either option would be the right choice, but what came out in the discussion that it is critical to have a mobile presence of some sort if we are really going to meet our users where they are with the devices they have with them. This, again, is true no matter if you students are fully online, or fully on-campus. The mobile device is their constant companion.

Finally, one particularly interesting session was about using a knowledge base as a way to support your users when you aren’t available. The presentation was short because the presenters realized they had more questions than answers about the topic, so there was a really great discussion period. There was A LOT of love in the room for LibAnswers, a product we are looking at, and a general recognition that no matter what product you choose, you have to commit to keep it up to date but that we may worry a bit too much about perfection in a knowledge base, when our students are used to knowledge bases (like Microsoft, Apple, etc.) where perfection isn’t the standard. One BIG benefit of having a knowledge base is that it does allow for self-service help for patrons (if yours is publicly searchable) any time of the day or night. The LibAnswers product also allows for a public questions, so you can benefit from the immense knowledge of other librarians. Do we all need to create our own MLA or APA questions and answers on our sites? Probably not but together we can probably create a really strong Q&A set for all of our students.

Of course, at any conference, some of the best discussions come between the sessions when you get to meet people and hear about what they are doing. What is comforting to hear is that we are not all that far behind in our thinking about supporting online students, because we give such good attention to supporting our on-campus students. Still, there will a lot for our new eLearning Librarian to consider and help us plan!! Now on to Graceland!!

A Few Last Notes (and a bit of a theme): Roz at ALA MW

Tuesday, January 24, 2012 11:51 am

So as I was pondering a theme for my ALA Midwinter, the best I could come up with was ‘skate to where the puck is going, not where it is.’ Many of my sessions, from Info Commons, to supporting distance learners, to planning building space to the vendor floor had me thinking about looking for what we want our students to be doing in our libraries and with our materials in five years and planning for that. The problem is that there is a good deal of uncertainty about what exactly we will be in five years. A new provost, capital campaign success, changing student demographics (and locations) all play into the calculations. So perhaps the best we can do is keep thinking about things and be vigilant in hearing our students out about what they want.

A couple of notes from the vendor floor. By far the sexiest thing I saw was a new (like not even available until April) machine for checking out iPads. Called MediaSurfer, it not only charges iPads between use, but it reloads them, too. Connects with your ILS for check-outs, too. Wickedly cool and sexy, also wickedly expensive ($25,000 for a 16-unit station AND you provide the iPads yourself). But still, something to keep an eye on as it does take a time-consuming task (charging and reloading iPads) and remove staff time. I worry that it is so very tied to a particular product, but I suspect the company will figure out how to do ereaders eventually.

I also stopped by the ProQuest booth twice. Once for an update on a really cool new feature of Summon that is coming – the ability to create (using a simple web form) custom searches based on discipline. These can then be embedded in LibGuides, web sites, etc. A really nice new feature that should be emerging in the next month. Come see me if you want more details. Then I stopped back by to play around with ProQuest’s new Vogue Digital Archive. A digital version of Vogue that indexes down to the image contents – so if you want to see a picture of all dresses in Vogue in 1945 you can regardless of where they appeared in the magazine – cover, ad or story. It too, is wickedly cool and wickedly expensive (maybe that should have been my theme) but there is a lower subscription fee that might be worth looking into.

Finally I had a long conversation and demo of LibAnswers and LibAnalytics from our friends at Springshare, who bring us LibGuides. I am beginning to think we need this kind of robust repository for Reference transactions as we begin to plan for online students and expanded online support we will need to provide for them. Just like LibGuides, it is an easy to use interface (provides TXT and soon Chat reference features, too) and exceptionally reasonably priced (see – that would blow the wickedly expensive theme). I will be talking to the RIS team about its potential in the coming months, but it would also be useful for Circulation and Special Collections for tracking patron interactions, etc.

All in all it was a good conference, but Dallas has a LONG way to go before people begin to look forward to going back there for a conference. The best that can be said is that January weather in Dallas does not stink. Oh, and if you want to hear about the coolest museum exhibition ever, come talk to Giz, Mary S. or I about the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit at the Dallas Museum of Art. Beyond spectacular!!

Getting Ready for Distance Learners – Roz at ALAMW

Monday, January 23, 2012 10:07 am

So one of the reasons I’m at Midwinter this year is to begin to get ZSR prepared to support distance learners. With the impending arrival of the fully online Masters in Counseling program coming at some point in the next six months or so, we need to be sure we are ready for them. So several of us went on Saturday evening to the social event for the Distance Learning Section (DLS) of ACRL. Giz and I spent a long time talking to librarians from ECU and National University in California. Both support thousands of distance learners. We talked about how they handled reference. Neither provide 24/7 reference help, but both have librarians/full-time reference staff at their service points and answering chats/emails for longer hours than we do, especially late night and weekends.

Then on Sunday I attended the DLS discussion group on providing document delivery services for distance learners. The discussion was enlightening to me as I realize that there are issues we have not even considered about supporting distance learners. One of the issues was how you define a distance learner. Is it the program they are in or the place where they live? And how do you identify them in your system. Can you tell when a student logs in to your ILL system what there status is? If someone is in your city but in a distance program do you make them come in and get a book, or do you send it to them? How far away is too far away to live for that requirement? What about military students stationed overseas? ECU says in-county students must come to campus but out of county ones do not. Other places send the materials to you no matter what if you are enrolled in a distance program. But as more distance programs exist at your campus the line between who is ‘online’ and who is not is harder to define.

Another thread of the wide-ranging conversation is how to get your IT department to understand the unique characteristics of distance students. Many will NEVER come to your campus, so if you require a wired Internet connection for your students to do something (like change a password) then plans need to be made for the distance students. Downtime for systems is also a HUGE concern. Your on-campus students may not be on Sakai on Saturday mornings, but your distance ones may be flooding it on the weekends, so if your scheduled downtime for systems critical to distance learners is Saturday, you need to rethink it. Do you require an ID# for any of your systems (I’m thinking of you, Voyager)? If so, are your distance learners getting an ID?? If not, how are they told what their ID# is?

Another thread was how to market the services your library does offer to your distance learners. When I mentioned that we have been tasked with developing a mandatory library orientation module for our program, there was some envy from the group. This is not, apparently, a common practice. They mentioned that often the faculty and the advisers for the online students are the best way to get information out to distance students. One librarian does a live online introduction to the library several times a semester and has seen the numbers grow each semester. She also records it and makes it available asynchronously.

I could go on and on about the issues this discussion raised, but I’ll end it here and begin writing my vendor floor post (note: LOTS of cool things). What these discussions did make clear to me is that we still have a lot of learning and thinking to do to be out ahead of distance programs and not struggling to play catch up.

Saying Goodbye to the Statistical Abstract (maybe): Roz at ALA MW

Saturday, January 21, 2012 5:28 pm

I’m sure some theme will eventually emerge from this Midwinter meeting (you know I like theme posts) but until that time, I just wanted to do a post on a discussion group I attended today called ‘Life After the Statistical Abstract.’ For those who don’t know, the Statistical Abstract of the United States has been a US government publication for over a century. Published by the Census Bureau it is an aggregation of statistics from a variety of sources both in the government and from private sources like trade groups. It can tell you how many practicing baptists are in the United States or how many bonds were sold last year. Need to know the high school graduation rates for African Americans in Texas or the number of people who die from cancer each year? Go to the Stat Abstract.

Each annual edition has 1400 tables and only about 50 change from year to year which means it is an unparalleled source for data over time in the United States. It is a critical source of statistical data and is on many a librarian and journalists lists of things they would save from a burning building. The value of the Stat Abstract is hard to overstate but the cost of producing it is significant enough that the Census Bureau has canceled it. Actually, they eliminated the entire division that published it and many other sources of data including the City and County Data books and others. The rationale was that all of the data in these sources are available elsewhere.

This development has been met with much fretting, hand wringing, congressperson calling, petition signing and more fretting but alas, it appears that it is gone never to return. UNLESS a private publisher takes on the task and this discussion group I went to today had representatives from several publishers who are considering doing just that. Bernan (a long-time republisher and distributor of governemnt information) and ProQuest are both thinking about it. ProQuest already ingests much of the government data into its statistical packages so in many ways they have the best in-house expertise to do it. That’s the good news, and actually for us it is VERY good news indeed because we will probably be able to afford the print version regardless of where they set the price point. But as the original Stat Abstract was a free resource (if acquired via the GPO depository system) or very inexpensive ($50 if purchased via Bernan) there are many libraries that are worried about where that price point will be.

There was great feedback to the potential publishers about where the value of the Stat Abstract lies: in it’s simplicity, it’s continuity over time of the same information, and the information it provided about where the data originates. No one wants to lose any of those qualities and the publishers seemed to take in all the feedback that was given to them.

So the session was a bit of a group grief counseling session as well as a hopeful one. If no publisher does take up the mantle of the Stat Abstract, we will have all lost something significant. To simply say ‘all of the data that it held is available online’ is to misunderstand the nature of the publication, the nature of the Internet, and the nature of the people who benefit from access to the information it provided.

Final Threads – VR and Discovery – Roz at ALA

Tuesday, June 28, 2011 1:18 pm

Two more – then I’m done!

Another fall project we are undertaking in Research and Instruction is a more robust and thorough student training program that will last all year. In the event that we do go the information commons route, it will be more important than ever that our students are well trained and that we put in place a more robust monitoring and assessment of the service our students provide. To this end many things are coming, including a Sakai course with learning modules, moving to the LibraryH3lp native interface for chat, investigating LibStats for statistics and more. I attended a session on VR service and even though it was primarily discussing consortial programs for VR, there were good nuggets to take away that related to all VR.

One was not to expect more out of VR than you do out of in-person, email or telephone reference. Just like the person at the desk cannot always answer a patron’s question in full by themselves, you should not expect to be able to do that in a chat session. You still have referrals, assistance and suggestions of face to face contact that can be used when the question goes beyond the expertise of the person at the keyboard. Another item is that it is critical, especially when you have students answering questions on chat, that you monitor those transactions. Read transcripts, praise good answers and correct incorrect ones. Librarians also have to be willing to analyze chat sessions from other librarians and be willing to have their own analyzed. The idea is to continually improve your service and in order to do that you have to assess it. When we move to the native interface of LibraryH3lp in July and away from Meebo, we will be able to capture our chat sessions and become better able to assess what happens in this medium. While WFU does not have nearly the volume of VR that many schools do, it is a growing percentage of our reference transactions, and needs to be trained and assessed in a more strategic way.

Finally there is the issue of web-scale discovery services (my thread is starting to look like a rope). I attended a really interesting session on user experiences when their libraries implemented web scale discovery services. Two of the schools had implemented Summon and one has implemented Ebsco Discovery Service. Their experiences were similar in many ways and they learned many lessons along the way that are critical for us.

First, DO NOT take away easy and obvious access to your catalog and your database and journal finder tools. There are many valid reasons people may still want to search your catalog or go to a specific journal or database and if you make that hard or hide the access you risk infuriating your patrons and creating a bad launch of what otherwise is a useful product.

Second, the content differences among these products is not significant enough to worry about. They are good for undergraduate researchers and though they will claim to be far superior in one way or another, they probably aren’t. What the library has to focus on is how they integrate with your journal data (both platforms, coincidentally, reported that they still find journal data in full text options to be incorrect in some cases – but everyone agreed that this happens in all systems so it is not really a deal breaker) and how you choose to integrate it into your web site. Giving it a good name and brand, placing it in appropriate places on your web site, explaining what it does, providing instruction in how to use it, keeping everyone on staff positive (but realistic) about the product all go a long way to make it a success on your campus.

Third, they don’t solve all your problems. In fact, they can create more confusion initially for students when using them without prior instruction or any guidance on what they are and what they do. Both Summon and EDS, for example, tout that one strength of web scale discovery is that the facets you apply after your search can drill you down to exactly what you need. But what all the libraries found is that no one notices the facets until they are pointed out to them. Edges of a screen have become on most web sites where ads are placed, so our students tend to tune them out. This means that the 650,000 hits they get can be so overwhelming, especially if they do a very general search, that their frustration grows. But all the schools also said that when you teach students and faculty how to search and use the facets, they are really excited about the product and wonder where it has been all their lives. So setting expectations and reformatting our instruction to make the best use of our time in demonstrating a discovery service will be extremely important.

Finally, I was surprised at how all of the schools talked about keeping abreast of all the services and not committing forever to a particular product. They all agree that the products are developing and improving so fast that you need to be willing to consider them all and avoid long-term commitments for the next few years. Even the school that was one of the first Summon development partners agreed that even though there is time invested in the setup, that can’t be your only reason for staying with a product if it doesn’t suit your needs or if other products develop differently. Change is the new normal.

‘Commons’ Thread from Roz’s ALA

Tuesday, June 28, 2011 1:10 pm

Ok – Thread two from ALA now that I have had time to reflect on it is perhaps related to Info Commons. One of my big projects going into the fall is working with Mary Beth and coming up with a plan for a possible information commons on Reynolds 2. For Mary Beth and I, that meant going to sessions on commons as well as visiting lots of furniture vendors in the Exhibits hall to get a feel for what is out there that might be of use to us in a retrofitted space. The options range from completely custom furniture design – the benefit here is you get what you really need for your exact space. The drawback (other than cost) is that if you tailor it to fit your space too specifically, it becomes inflexible if your space or service needs change. On the other end of the spectrum are the prebuilt options from vendors like Demco and Brodart. Many of these are modular ( ) – so you can buy the parts you need when you need them and move or reuse them in other spaces later. These are the more cost effective and flexible options, but often lack the ‘sexy’ that the custom places provide. Almost all of the options we saw, however, have built in power and even USB charging stations, reflecting what we already know our students want. One of our favorites is Agati Furniture, especially their booths ( I’m hoping Mary Beth has some other pictures she can post of other cool concepts.

On Monday Mary Beth and I both attended a really great discussion group about combining service points. We heard from a wide variety of schools who have, or are considering, combining service desks and service points and heard cautionary tales, unforeseen consequences and the bugaboo that is signage in a combined environment. Mary Beth may have more to say but the thing that was most interesting to me was the variety of approaches to having Reference Librarians on the desks. Some places kept them, some got rid of them altogether at desks, another school moved them to another building; there were buzzer systems, iPhones and other ‘on call’ models to keep librarians within reach but not actually out at the desk. There are concerns about visibility of librarians when you take them off the desk, quality of service if students are your main points of contact with your public, how to manage on-call hours, VR and more. Many places have the luxury of having support staff and LIS grad students to staff the desks. One school took them off the desk and then had to put them back on because service suffered. Another place combined service points and their reference stats actually went down 40% (they don’t quite know why).

There is no right or wrong answer, apparently, to setting up a commons and you have to know your faculty, staff and students and what they expect in terms of types of services and level of service coming from a centralized desk. Most places planned for two or more years (even up to five years) before implementing a commons and even then mistakes were made and issues that were never considered popped up – for example, when you combine with other services on your campus (writing centers, technology help services, tutoring) and their cultures are different then you can end up with what it obviously an unhappy marriage at the desk. And if departments lose budgets or staff, you can find yourself with a service you can no longer offer at your main desk and if you have committed funds to marketing, signage and have built up customer expectations that a service is offered, you can be in trouble. The session gave Mary Beth and I a lot to think (and worry) about. I am sure she will have some specifics of what struck her in the session.

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