Summer Series

So What's the Problem?

An Essay of the LISNews Summer Series -- Read More

Following LISNews

We're getting closer and closer to the start of another academic year and a new intake of LIS students. A question that arises is how to follow LISNews. Recognizing that people have different interests and also different habits in consuming Internet content, it is necessary to perhaps list some of those tools. -- Read More

Theory and Practice in the Library Workplace

An Essay of the LISNews Summer Series

Every so often I hear someone remark that they didn't learn anything in library school; that their real professional learning happened on the job, or worse, that they think that the need for a library qualification is just gate keeping and protectionism. This always causes me some concern because it ignores the important role that library and information science theory plays in the workplace.

It is true that when you start working in a library there is a wealth of on-the-job learning to do. There are process and practical skills to master, and local policies and procedures to absorb. The daily improvement as we gain hands-on experience brings an immediate sense of achievement and an obvious increase in knowledge. The relevance of this behavioral learning is clear because it is needed to do the job. In contrast, knowledge of theory and principles is about understanding why we are doing the procedure. This understanding is important when making decisions to change local policy or practices, or in deciding how to adjust local practices in response to the impact of external factors.

Practical processes and procedures are there to help the library achieve its goals. The theory of libraries (or cataloging, reference, etc) is what is taught (and hopefully learned) in the process of gaining a professional library qualification. And in turn, that theory informs the daily procedures and practices. Furthermore, this library school learning gives library professionals a shared theoretical basis and often a shared value system, on which to make decisions in the workplace; decisions about what the policies will be, and what practices are most appropriate for helping a library achieve its purpose.

Of course, such knowledge is not set in stone. Over time, the theories and principles will change as the professional body of knowledge changes to incorporate new understandings of the library and information world.

In for-profit organizations practical measure usually exist to judge performance. Did more widgets get sold? Are widgets being produced more cheaply? Did the company make more money as a result? The bottom line is more complex however, in not-for-profit organizations like libraries. How do we know that the library is achieving its purpose? More people through the door? More books issued? More information literacy classes taught? Such quantitative measures are useful but they seldom express the real value libraries contribute to their communities. And because there is not a clearly agreed, black and white measure of the bottom line for libraries, many staff make assumptions based on their own value system. That is, they may assume that the purpose of their work is defined in terms of their value systems.


Changes in processes, policy or practice can be particularly difficult for those who are comfortable with their daily routines and who are working hard in the belief that their actions are contributing to the greater good of the library. Principles, theories and values can be difficult to articulate because they are often deep-seated, intuitively known and taken for granted. As a consequence, some people may be protective of a given activity because it is representative of their values and beliefs about libraries. A threat to an activity becomes a threat to their values. Resistance or obstruction to change can easily result if those affected belief that a proposed change is going to have a negative impact on their library's core purpose.

Library managers, or those leading change (even at the process level) may find it helps to take time to explore the commonly held beliefs and assumptions of their staff. Consider whether they are disagreeing with how things should be done, or if the conflict is at a more fundamental level. Do participants have differing theoretical perspectives on what sort of action adds value to the library's community?

This is important because changing beliefs and value systems is a far more challenging proposition than changing daily routines. Yet all too often in libraries the focus is on the more tangible behavioral learning rather than on the intangible theory that underlies practice. Of course, it makes sense on a day-to-day basis to focus staff training on how things should be done, but when a significant change is needed, time needs to be given to talking about why the change is being made and how it fits into the theory and principles of libraries and librarianship.

It seems that this kind of talk is not that common in libraries. Perhaps there is a tendency to assume that we are all working from the same set of core principles and theories, because most of us are as a result of our library school learning. But problems arise when time or external changes make some of our theories obsolete or irrelevant.

In recent years libraries have faced a constant stream of change. Changes are occurring not just at the operational level (think of the impact of the Internet, the web or Google on our local practices); there has also been a paradigm shift in how libraries are perceived. For example, these days libraries are often seen as social spaces with a focus on customer needs, rather than the quiet, scholarly environments of the 20th Century. However, there is no doubt in my mind that this shift in thinking is not universally accepted. The rate and extent of change means that we should not assume that there is a shared understanding of the principles on which our practices and polices are based.

Talking about theory and principles may seem abstract, 'wishy-washy' and unnecessarily time-consuming to practically-oriented library staff who just want to get on with the task at hand. But without such discussions conflict and resentment over change can endure longer than necessary. Taking time to dwell in the theoretical area could serve to bring staff together with a better understanding of the value of library activities and services. It may also be that some people will discover that what they know is as important as what they do and this link between theory and practice means that their professional education was not a waste of time.

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Vye Perrone is Associate University Librarian, Collection Services at the University of Waikato Library in New Zealand. She was President of the Library and Information Association of New Zealand Aotearoa (LIANZA) in 2007/2008 and has just finished her year as Immediate Past President. Vye completed her MLIS from Victoria University of Wellington in 1998.


This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, 171 Second Street, Suite 300, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA. -- Read More

Explanations- The Scientists

An Essay of the LISNews Summer Series

I was invited to post my show copy as part of the summer essay series, please enjoy!

Explanations: Part Two
The Scientists
By Daniel Messer

When I was a kid, I watched a lot of public broadcasting, indeed PBS was my favourite station. There was no childlike devotion to knowledge in this preference. I was nothing like a child prodigy with an advanced curiosity of the world. My love for PBS was very easy to understand and just as kidlike in its nature. I knew that, if I watched the public broadcasting station long enough, sooner or later I'd get to see some Muppets. -- Read More

Gazing Over The Gulch

An Essay of the LISNews Summer Series

As this is written there is off-and-on discussion in Washington about a possible second "stimulus" package being passed to boost the economy of the United States. The first such package had practically nothing in it that would directly benefit libraries. A rural broadband build-up initiative is nice but it is not something that is going to necessarily impact population centers like Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, Cleveland, New York City, Atlanta, or others. There are indirect effects that the stimulus package has on libraries, though.

How are libraries in the United States funded? Like public schools there is quite a bit of library funding dependent upon ad valorem property tax levy revenues. During the present economic psychosis property values have been impacted as the housing market bubble shattered. With foreclosures still high in some areas, a fundamental problem arises. If a home is not owned in a traditional sense, who is paying the taxes on that home? KPIX noted in their local context that typically nobody pays those taxes. Unless adequate support is built into a stimulus package to keep people in their home and pay taxes, no stimulus bill can truly help plug funding holes for libraries.

No tax base alone can be considered safe for funding libraries. Ohio was previously known as having the gold standard for library funding. In the recent squabbles in Columbus that model was impacted somewhat. As the population of the United States ages, funding priorities can shift in cases from lifelong learning to instead end-of-life medical care. The old rules for the public financing of library operations may not necessarily apply in the same fashion any more.

There is a potential solution to this. What if a library was not tied to tax revenues that varied in value due to economic fluctuations? What if a library could set its own policies as to its possible ancillary operations which may or may not raise revenue?

Spinning off public libraries from being funding concerns of government to being non-profit corporations may become a necessary step. Amidst the balance of agencies requiring funds from governmental tax revenue, setting libraries loose from that trough to instead seek donations and grants can be a structural reform that would relieve pressure on governments.

Public libraries are presently creatures of statute that can only do what their enabling laws permit them to do. Allowing libraries to become non-profit corporations would allow greater flexibility to meet local needs without requiring the amendment of state-wide enabling laws first as only corporate internals would have to be fussed with. This might allow the imposition of coffee shops in libraries with a cut of profits plowed back into library operation. Fee services could also be possible for local libraries adapting to unique local needs.

Only the limits of one's imagination as to the enhanced services potentially offered hold one back in this regard. In-depth consulting over research questions, small business incubation, and more are just initial possibilities. A recent question posted to the premiere e-mail list for serialists about undertaking bulk purchases of an item like the Wall Street Journal for patrons poses an idea. While government agency accounting rules may create problems in making such available to patrons in a manner akin to McDonald's offering newspaper copies, non-governmental status would potentially ease that roadblock.

This would be somewhat of a brave new world for librarians to explore. There might be significant consolidation inherent in any such a structural change. Bookmobile usage let alone deployment might even increase. A contraction in the pool of available MLS-grade jobs would also be fairly likely to occur too. There is a partial example of such a library already in existence in Ohio known as Henderson Memorial Public Library that is owned by the Henderson Library Association and receives some funding support from state authorities. A companion foundation also exists to carry out fund-raising for the library and could potentially bridge a gap if state support ever disappeared.

Libraries are at a cross-roads. With a flaky economy that seems at times subject to pillaging, being yoked to a funding regime based on tax revenue can be a dangerous proposition. Libraries not only need more freedom than before to raise funds but also more freedom as to how they can act. With the nation's economic health at fairly distinct lows, stepping away from a regressive funding regime toward independence may allow firmer foundations for continued vitality.

Tax receipts are down and the increases in tax rates that seem to be inevitable do not lead to hope that receipts will increase. The notion of hiding wealth and the means of its production in Galt's Gulch is already growing in popularity and the Tea Party movement has shown signs of the common man growing interested in the concept. If there is nothing to tax or nobody to pay the taxes how would any public agency survive? While the modern public library paradigm has persisted in North America since the 1870s, nothing says it has to last forever without change.

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Stephen Michael Kellat received his Master of Science in Library Science from Clarion University of Pennsylvania in 2004. He not only is not the Annoyed Librarian he is also not John Galt.

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, 171 Second Street, Suite 300, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA.

Before I forget...

I mentioned previously that some of the guests would be a surprise in the series. One of our guests will be Steven K. Bowers, director of the Detroit Area Library Network. You can see a list of his consortium's member institutions here: http://www.dalnet.lib.mi.us/members/index.php. Another guest to join us will be Vye Perrone, the Immediate Past President of the Library & Information Association of New Zealand Aotearoa.

As the series was designed, I am merely the warm-up act. For the guests who will be joining us, I am here to help facilitate their posting rather than dictate editorial policy at them. This is a test and the goalposts are not quite within sight yet.

-- Stephen Michael Kellat, MSLS

Mothra Versus Skypeasaurus

An Essay of the LISNews Summer Series

Librarians seem to have an aversion to business as a concept. That is unfortunate. Without business and the taxes derived thereby, how else would libraries exist? It is not as if there is a patron these days like Andrew Carnegie endowing library operations. While dreams may be large, the rocket fuel known as greenbacks keeps so many ships on the ground away from their goals.

A situation where this arises is participation in new media endeavors. The skill sets required for producing in new media are somewhat foreign to the optimal skill sets needed to catalog stacks of materials and answers rapid-fire reference questions. Was it any accident that the producers of the LISNews Netcast Network all happened to have experience in technical theater as well as experience in performance? Those are not skills you pick up in library school and are normally considered within the spectrum of American higher education as not things to pick up initially at the graduate level.

There are free tools, where free is considered as in free beer rather than freedom, that librarians have already used in producing podcasts. One fairly limited tool that allows call-in roundtables is TalkShoe. The service's quality has gotten worse over time as per my own observation during participation in fan discussions related to Battlestar Galactica. The former program Uncontrolled Vocabulary provided a roundtable for discussing library science issues. The present program T is for Training attempts to provide a similar roundtable focused on training.

A key flaw with TalkShoe is that purportedly uses technology spun off of the conference loop used by NASA flight controllers who direct shuttle missions. The problem with that is that it works great for providing communications and audio that can be recorded for logging. Such logs were important during situations like the proceedings of the Columbia Accident Investigation Board where actions of flight controllers had to be reconstructed. For casual listening, the audio's quality was slightly abrasive and somewhat harsh. TalkShoe uses a similar model of recording without the same required discipline that is exhibited by flight controllers executing mission orders.

TalkShoe also has limitations on simultaneous live participants. The upper limits on participation are not too certain but passing the fifty participant threshold can seriously impair a call's proceedings. TalkShoe is not a tool used by outfits like CNET or the TWiT Cottage to record programs with remote guests. The Skypeasaurus at the TWiT Cottage is a rig built by their studio manager, Colleen, where six simultaneous Skype feeds are brought in and can be independently mixed using a local physical audio mixer. Having a local mixer with a local operator allows far more fine-tuning of audio quality than the automated system of TalkShoe can provide.

Now, let us turn to practical suggestions for how librarians can surmount these problems. For any single library to have the infrastructure for this in-house would be cost-prohibitive. As the grow of operations at the TWiT Cottage has shown, programs beyond those produced by the TWiT Network are making use of the facilities of the cottage. Having a stable yet reliable hub for bringing in multiple remote guests is apparently quite valuable for diverse group like gdgt and the Gilmor Gang. Translating this into the paradigms of North American librarianship would result in this being an area of activity undertaken by a consortium or a vendor.

The initial startup and construction cost for a consortium to being to provide similar functions to the TWiT Cottage would be immense. At a minimum, the consortium's base would have to have at least one T-1 leased line, one ISDN line, one cable broadband connection, one ADSL connection as a backup, and a single phone line for somebody to answer. As proven from the growing pains of the TWiT Cottage, various data connections to the outside world are best split over separate pipelines so as to ensure acceptable minimum connection quality. At any fixed location this would also require electrical wiring upgrades to accommodate the increased load from the additional air conditioning that would be required to keep the required hardware operational. A number of computers would have to be procured so that enough possible connections were available via Skype or other VoIP system. Systems for editing would be required. All this would be the case even if no video was involved in production.

The hardest part to this is the matter of securing the funds so that an operating base could be equipped. While such an operation could eventually generate revenue that would allow for self-sufficiency, that would take considerable time. In the present harsh economic climate, merely knowing what is needed does not make it any more likely to become reality. With the tools that are free as in beer not producing appropriate quality output, alternative options are few and far between.

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Stephen Michael Kellat received his Master of Science in Library Science from Clarion University of Pennsylvania in 2004. He presently is a librarian in private practice in southern Nevada after having worked in academic cataloging, private sector retail, and alpaca husbandry.

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, 171 Second Street, Suite 300, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA. -- Read More

Pondering The Viewing Glass

An Essay of the LISNews Summer Series

One of the issues coming out of ALA Annual 2009 this year is the matter of transparency. Librarians like technology. Librarians like to use to technology. Price tags are a little daunting, though, when presented for things that seem to be so cheap as to be almost free as in beer.

Norman Oder has a report in Library Journal that outlines the costs of various options in promoting transparency. Oder's report does not explain too much in depth as to how the particular figures are derived. The annual cost of posting audio files of Council proceedings seems to be a bit high on the processing/posting end unless such has included the eventual costs of bandwidth in serving up such files. In some respects the cost of bandwidth in serving up content can be far greater than the cost of producing it.

Accessibility is also a tremendous concern. Simply put, the process of securing transcripts is not cheap. The work of a court reporter is not easy, requires specialized training, and they are quite well compensated for their troubles. The Council's lawyer also quite rightly pointed out that having transcripts of Council discussions could result in lawsuits over remarks by councilors.

Is it really practical to broadcast every waking moment of every panel, session, and hustings at ALA Annual? Is it really necessary? With hundreds of panels and multiple situations where you have concurrent panels, attention is easily divided. A vast army of observers would be required to have coverage at every single panel. Having videographers accompany the observers would only increase the manpower requirements. Post-production would be a situation more like the investigation by the Columbia Accident Investigation Board relative to the sheer volume of materials to digest. There is a reason why tech news outlets like CNET have a couple weeks of vacation prior to the Consumer Electronics Show as they leave a skeleton crew behind at the office as their army converges on Las Vegas. The only known group that would even attempt this with volunteers is PixelCorps and they have not attempted anything on this sort of scale.

Is all hope lost on covering ALA? No! The technology does not yet exist for proper tele-presence structures so that civilians not attending ALA in person could still be there virtually. The funds to outfit an army to cover the event, let alone cover the attendant logistical nightmares, are non-existent. For the cost of hardware to pull this off, one could presumably fully fund the operation of a rural library for several years. In this case one must look outside the walls of librarianship and step away from comfortable paradigms. Television networks like Universal Sports and ESPN do show ways this could be better handled.

A paradigm used as of late by Universal Sports is not to provide full coverage. Logistically they cannot wage the same level of effort all the time that is required for covering an Olympics. This is where the matter of editorial judgment comes into play. Only highlights of events are recorded for air. Not everything is broadcast in real-time as some events are shown on tape delay. The FIVB World Cup series for beach volleyball was one example of select matches being shown on a delay. Coverage of triathalon competitions, rowing, swimming & diving, and more fall under similar presentation rubrics.

Television networks already exist that could carry this programming. One would be ResearchChannel which has coverage via terrestrial broadcasting, cable television, video on-demand, webcast, satellite, and more. Northern Arizona University's UniversityHouse channel, University of Washington Television, and University of California Television are all also available by way of satellite within North America. There are somewhat traditional television-based distribution channels available for pushing conference coverage outward.

In covering only highlights, much of the nightmare of logistics goes away. If you have a smaller team picking and choosing among panels, you can provide a representative sample to viewers at home. The question of deciding what to cover is a matter of editorial control that has no simple solutions, though. In an organization that can seem to outsiders like a confederation of interest groups, the decision-making authority of what to cover is best held not by a committee but by a single editorial official. It could take years for an editorial committee to make a decision in creating a highlights reel like this while a single individual might take action more quickly.

For all the costs of bandwidth, streaming, captioning, and more involved in Internet-based distribution, DVD fulfillment through a publishing arm like what ALA already has may conservatively allow for a start to such. With online video downloads already quite large and quite costly to transfer in some cases, the use of physical media may allow for easier dissemination. Linux distributions like Ubuntu and OpenSolaris do this already through physical media distribution for this who lack the bandwidth to either download their operating systems or download them in a timely fashion. This physical alternative to virtual distribution could become a new stream of revenue for ALA, too. Selling sets of DVDs of proceedings could potentially take events to members who could not be there. As Andrew Tannenbaum wrote in Computer Networks: “Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of tapes hurtling down the highway.

All of this discussion may be great but it points out a separate issue. Is ALA Annual becoming unwieldy in its size and growth? Could more be accomplished if it was broken down into a set of separate events spread across the entire year? If that were to happen, keeping a court reporter in-house would be more cost effective and would mean an ALA film team could be utilized perhaps.

The matter now stands at a question point. What is it the membership wants? What is your ALA?

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Stephen Michael Kellat received his Master of Science in Library Science from Clarion University of Pennsylvania in 2004. He presently is a librarian in private practice in southern Nevada after having worked in academic cataloging, private sector retail, and alpaca husbandry.

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, 171 Second Street, Suite 300, San Francisco, California, 94105, USA.

Announcing The LISNews Summer Series

A few weeks ago Blake Carver commissioned me to come up with a summer guest author series. Unexpected twists and turns helped delay the launch of the series until now. With this post I can now kick off the series.

Guests will be joining us for the next couple of weeks to contribute essays. A particular author has been set for each week and that author will be posting two or more essays. These are intended to spark new lines of thought as well as to perhaps amuse you.

I will be kicking off the series with essays this week. The guests to come will be surprises. Our very own Blake Carver will wrap up the series in its last week.

There are a variety of ways to follow the series. The first option would be to come to the site. The branch of the taxonomy tree to watch is "Summer Series". Another option would be to utilize RSS. The feed to plug into your feed reader is: http://feeds.feedburner.com/SummerSeries.

If you wish to receive an e-mail containing whole essays when they are posted, you can sign up using the form below. E-mails post between 1100 GMT and 1500 GMT. This is a two step process. After going through the first step below as well as the consequential pop-up, you will need to look for an e-mail in your inbox bearing the subject line Activate your Email Subscription to: LISNews Summer Series and click on the verification link. If you forget to do that, you will not receive anything in your inbox.

Enter your email address:

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Essays will be posted under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. In the end, the collected essays will be posted to Internet Archive. For those not favorably disposed to online archives, the collection will also be made available at cost in print form through Lulu.

Creative Commons License
Announcing The LISNews Summer Series by Stephen Michael Kellat is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.

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