Saturday, September 8, 2012

You are doing it wrong! 6 presentations/posts on librarianship that impressed me

So we librarians are failing (or are we? See Walt Crawford's analysis of public library closures in US). Amazon is eating our lunches. Google is where people go. Surely we must be doing something wrong? Below are some of the critiques about how we librarians do things that perhaps deserve our consideration. The fact that some of it comes from people who are not librarians (or traditional librarians) but working in the library field is interesting...

1. I wouldn't start from here - Dave Pattern

Dave Pattern is a Library System manager at University of Huddersfield and one of my favourite people in the library industry to watch.

His awards speak for themselves, he was one of the first ever Library Journal Mover & Shakers from outside US and Canada in 2009, won IWR Information Professional of the Year 2010 and is involved in so many amazing and innovative projects from his contributions on Library Impact Data Project , his experiments/tinkering with the catalogue to add recommenders "people who borrowed this also borrowed this" , his contributions on Lemon Tree - Library game (a gamification project I covered before) and more.

So when he speaks I tend to give him the benefit of the doubt....

I wouldn't start from here is a entertaining presentation about what Dave Pattern is unhappy with in the library world (Sessions blogged here). The list includes
  • Librarians fixation with boolean operators
  • MARC 
  • OPACs
  • and in general why things are so hard to access in libraries. 
I noticed prior to the presentation he was tweeting a lot about the need to cut down his content, so one wonders if the list was initially even longer :)

There's a pretty entertaining section on 3 conspiracy theories, though I suspect he is half tongue in cheek, like "We ensure every interface is different"? Though he notes

"Sadly, I’ve been in a meeting where a librarian essentially said that eresources should be difficult to use as it teaches students that somehow effort equates to quality ."

This could be in the context of discovery systems like Summon.

Oh well.

Or could it be we librarians want to make things complex to give ourselves a job? Matthew who we shall meet later has this to say...

Dave Pattern is a self described Shambrarian. I was going to say don't ask , but essentially it refers to people who work in the library industry but don't have a MLIS or similar. It's another tongue in cheek reference, but  a lot of the members are systems IT people working in libraries and because of their background have very different views from typical librarians and that is where I feel their strength lies in seeing things from a different angle.

2. Your library website stinks and it's your fault - Matthew Reidsma

Dave Pattern in his presentation mentions he wanted to rant about terrible library websites but said he didnt need to because Matthew Reidsma of Grand Valley State University did already.

You can watch the presentation referred to here and slides here

Matthew Reidsma is a web developer/eservices librarian with Grand Valley State. Like Dave Pattern, Matthew's institution is one of the pioneer Summon universities, and both are in my opinion among some of the most knowledgable people out Serials Solutions on Summon, Matthew has done extensive hacking of 360 Link screens  and enable creating of scoped searches for Summon without javascript for example.

A lot of his unhappiness with library websites can be summed up as follow.

He wants us librarians to say "User is not like me" and "The website is not for you"

At GSVU he does usability testing every month. He explains
"Why We Do Usability Testing" and even more useful the exact steps he does when doing usability testing at his libraries (including scripts, protocol etc).  

In his presentation, he talks about easy cuts of content, how to handle politics and more.

Do note that Matthew is technically not a shambrarian  , a mistake I made, but he is honoured to be mistaken as one... :)

3. The user is not broken - K.G. Schneider
Karen Schneider also known as Free Range Librarian is University Library of Cushing Libraries. She is a well known and respected speaker and writer in library circles.

The user is not broken is relatively old posted in 2006 but still a goodie. The line "User is not broken" has become a classic and is still referenced even now see here and "Stop blaming the user".

As noted in "Stop blaming the user"

"The user is not broken in that our job is to fulfill the user’s needs, and the user’s needs are, while not always well-defined, possible to meet, or understood by either side, valid — so accusing the user of Doing It Wrong is counterproductive to our goals and needs, and should be avoided. This applies to space usage, reference inquiries, customer service, and use of our online tools."

What surprised me when I looked up this line was that it was actually a line in a whole manifesto, many of which look very prescient to me. Some examples

"The OPAC is not the sun. The OPAC is at best a distant planet, every year moving farther from the orbit of its solar system."

Very true. She also elaborated further on OPACs in the How OPACs Suck series in the same year.

 Six years later, pretty much nobody dispute this. See this blog post by me on my assessment on the shift in expectations for library search 6 years later.

Web Scale Discovery Systems are I believe the industry's current best approach to solve these problems that hopefully aren't simply lipstick on a pig as memorably popularized by Roy Tennant.

"It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than to find a library website that is usable and friendly and provides services rather than talking about them in weird library jargon."

Same point made in #2

"You cannot change the user, but you can transform the user experience to meet the user."

One thought that occurs to me, is teaching information literacy or transliteracy (big dispute over whether it's the same thing) the same as trying to "change the user" ? A rallying cry I have heard recently against the need to teach Boolean Operators to all users is that we shouldn't be obsessed to teach that to everyone as we are not trying to turn users into "mini-librarians" (Dave's law? states that one shouldn't need to become a mini-librarian to use the library effectively). Which brings me to the next subject on library instruction.

4. Librarians: confusing process for product on a regular basis - Iris Jastram

Iris Jastram is a Reference and Instruction Librarian at Carleton College. Her blog Pegasus Librarian is one of my favourite blogs on Library Information Literacy and instruction. For the record other great librarians to read in roughly this area includes Barbara Fister (though she blogs a bit wider), Meredith Farkas (assessment) and more philosophically Lane Wilkinson & Wayne Bivens-Tatum 

Iris's blog which dates back to 2005, is a wealth of her thoughts and insights about teaching classes from a librarian point of view. Many of them have made me evaluate how I do information literacy.
The idea in the post Librarians: confusing process for product on a regular basis  which points out that Librarians are doing library instruction wrongly can in fact be applied to a lot of her posts.

We do seem to focus a lot on process "do this, click that" rather than the actual goal, though I don't want to get into the information literacy vs transliteracy debate aka - "Transliteracy is Information Literacy for latecomers". :)

Some of my favourite posts include

5. MARC must die - Roy Tennant

Roy Tennant like many on this list hardly needs an introduction, but if one is needed he is yet another international known writer and speaker in the library world and is currently with OCLC research.

Similar to "user is not broken", Roy Tennant popularised the phrase "MARC must die" , about the shortcomings of MARC in 2002. Since then the call has being repeated by many including Dave Pattern (see above), Lukas Koster  etc. The details are a bit technical but among many reasons despite MARC standing for "MAchine Readable Cataloging", the Machine readable part is not actually true. For more details see this

What's the alternative? Linked Data it seems. Watch the recent "Linked Data for Libraries" video . I confess I am still figuring this out.

6. Pretty much anything by David Lankes

Professor Lankes is a Professor and Dean's Scholar for the New Librarianship at Syracuse University's School of Information Studies & the Director of the Information Institute of Syracuse (IIS), his book "The Atlas of New Librarianship" won the 2012 ABC-CLIO/Greenwood Award for the Best Book in Library Literature. As I have written in the past, David Lankes wants to inspire Librarians to create a new age of librarianship. 
Rallying call 

Bad Libraries build collections. Good libraries build services (of which a collection is only one). Great libraries build Communities

Here's one presented "reinventing librarianship".


I have listed 6 presentations where people in the library industry have made sweeping general critiques of the way we do things in libraryland that have impressed me. They are also not simply just predictions of doom  (as "fun" they are to read) but make calls for positive changes we can do with much effort.

I could easily double the list of entries , eg Aaron Schmidt work on user experience,  Brian Matthew's Think Like a Start-Up: a White Paper , is a recent one that impressed me but in my current obsessions/roles these are the ones that are most relevant to me.

There are no doubt many brilliant calls for change (open access, open data, big data/data curation roles, maker spaces etc) that will prove prescient in time to come but I lack the wisdom to recognise as yet.

Which presentations or critiques about the way we do things in libraryland have impressed you in the past few years? Do leave them in the comments.

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