The Infofuture White Paper

I’m trying to catch up on my reading and other things this weekend. Finally, I got around to looking up the white paper that I read about in the latest issue of American Libraries. That white paper is in reference to the article starting on page 40, “The Future of the MLS: Rethinking Librarian Education” by John Carolo Bertot and Lindsay Sarin. The author’s summary of our current situation is well known to many of us: significant reductions in work force, variety of information sources open to people, changing nature of information and how people find and access it, changing communities, etc. These are arguments that we’ve heard before. Our users, how those users access information, and what information is is changing and will continue to change in the future. What I found interesting about the article was the question: how can future librarians be trained for this ever changing landscape or rather landscapes? The authors had 8 main points: inform, enable, equalize, lead, adaptable, create, lead, be tech-savy. In the white paper referenced by the authors, these points are echoed with concepts such as innovation, creativity, transformation, life-long learning, or incentives. Honestly, my library school days didn’t prepare me for much of my current job much or my other jobs I’ve had since graduating. This is partly due to the fact that the information landscape is changing and evolving all the time. It is extremely difficult to prepare others for unknown changes. On the flip side, it could be helpful to prepare others how to deal with change. When faced with disappearing staff and low budgets, being creative and adapting to new realities become necessary. This is not necessarily negative. It is necessary to think out of the box. Yes, there are many information sources available for users. However, that doesn’t mean that users get the information they need or want. Many of those information sources are confusing and hard to navigate. Today, librarians are in an amazing situation to be mediators of information. Further, we can learn from those other information sources, determine what we do best and what they do best, and grow and improve our services. Though the article was geared towards those teaching future librarians, the main points and white paper provide insight for working librarians. It is not so much the future where we have to be adaptable, creative, innovative, flexible and learn. It is right now. I would definitely recommend reading this article and looking at the white paper/poster. Though I learn more on the job than I did in library school, perhaps this is the point. This article spoke more to me now that if I would have read it during library school. In fact, this article spoke to me about what we can be doing as librarians now and in the future not just librarians in training.

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Evolving Role of E-Resources Librarian

I didn’t find my session on workflow efficiency. However, I attended a great session on how the role of electronic resources librarian is changing. I wanted to share with you my notes from the session because the presenter did a great job of asking the question about how everyone’s role in the library is changing. The presenter was Monica Moore from the University of Notre Dame Libraries; her slides should be up soon on ALA Connect.

Notes:

Monica Moore presented a captivating topic which she introduced as how the role of electronic resources librarians has evolved. What made this topic interesting was that Monica delved into the meaning of “role”. She began by looking at how job titles have changed over the years. Is the title “electronic resources librarian” meaningful? Does it represent what these librarians do? Is it an outmoded title almost akin to the phrase “technical services”? Monica began asking these question because her role has changed. Increasingly, it is becoming apparent that librarians in technical services have to be better communicators and educators. Monica explained that her role has increasingly become one of an interpreter. As such, she must not only communicate but also educate her colleagues about the technology and systems underlying her work in electronic resources. This begs the question of how to communicate this effectively when certain issues that are brought to the attention of the electronic resources librarian might not be directly be about technology or systems but policies that affect the institution as a whole. Also, these technology and systems have an impact whose influences are felt throughout the staff and user community. Monica provided two examples of how complex this new role can be and how misunderstandings need to be fielded by an interpreter. The first example was a ticket logged that asked a record be fixed because of an inconsistent date range. The problem was not necessarily the date range in the record in the catalog but SFX and several systems that need to talk to each other to delivery information. The second example was a request to fix records to disallow a certain type of content. This was not so much a technical question but that of policy in terms of what goes into the collection or not. Monica explained that there is a lot of information that is lost in translation. Long detailed emails are insufficient in helping to really bridging the divide between those who rely on e-resources and the librarians who make it happen. It is also misleading to think that answers boil down to that of technical systems or technical services. Instead of the “who needs to address this”, we need to look at “what needs to be done”. This change in perspective will help bring this issues to the institution as a whole. Electronic resources do not fall solely under one person’s job anymore.

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Change

In several of my past posts, I’ve talked about change. In relation to the metadata services, I put out the survey because I feel that a change is needed where I work. More specifically, as users’ needs change, the way we help them, aka do business, also has to change. I’m not advocating for giving up cataloging or saying goodbye to MARC. Our users also need our expertise in describing materials that the library owns, borrows, leases and might potential lease, own or rent. This is one aspect to metadata services that is complex. It means advocating for change while also keeping the same services levels that we’ve kept with other workflows. This is not always easy or wanted because unfortunately it does mean extra work and inevitably training and skill building.

This week, I read a fantastic post by Sally Gore at “A Librarian by Any Other Name” called “Follow the leader”. She refers to an article, “Convincing Employees to Use New Technology” by Didier Bonnet at the Harvard Business Review. Briefly the article provides tips on how to go beyond technology implementation and how to successfully have technology adoption. According to the article, one of the primary reasons for not adopting a technology is that the effort was in the technology’s implementation and not its adoption. Further, new technology tend not to affect a change in how business is done creating a noted conflict from the start. To help adoption and change business practices in our digital working environment, Bonnet provides the following tips: do fewer things better, plan and budget for adoption, lead by example, engage true believers, engage HR and organizational people sooner and better, align rewards and recognition.

Sally Gore focuses her post on leading by example. She explains that many still say no to new technology. I would go further and say that many still say no to change that makes one feel vulnerable in the workplace. Her post has some great examples but finishes with the idea that in library land, our leaders need to be examples.

We need this same kind of leadership in libraries, in the Academy, and in other areas of science. Those of us who see and/or have experienced the value of implementing new technologies into our work need to be fairly tireless in banging the can for them. We need to continue to lead by example and hopefully, in time, we will all reap the rewards.

This is a great post and the original article is worth reading. I agree with Sally that our leaders need to be examples for not just new technologies but changes that help us meet the changing needs of users. However, it is not always the case that our leaders are ready to lead by example. It is important to incorporate the change and new technologies into your own workflow. In other words, everyone needs to lead by example.

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Resources

In my last post, I ended with the question of how to get the resources you need to create and deliver metadata services. I should say right now that I’m not sure really how to do this effectively. One issues is that metadata services is a very vague subject. What are metadata services? And then who delivers those services? There’s also the question of change and how change is accepted in your institution.

One of the reasons I put out a survey on metadata practices in digital scholarship was to find out what these practices were. Further I wanted to see it people had any suggestions or things that they tried at their institution that helped create and deliver such services. The second reason was that I was interested in seeing what is meant by a “public” metadata service. I wrote the survey around the time of the ALCTS e-forum on public service and cataloging. The majority of participants told stories of how they work at a public “desk” in the library and how their cataloging skills helped them find information faster and more efficiently for the patron.  With metadata services, I believe there is a public component. You might not sit at a desk for a couple of hours per day. But you are on call to answer questions from staff or patrons and then also you set up appointments for longer consultations. For myself, these public reference and consultation services concern almost exclusively digital initiatives (research data, digital humanities, and our digital repository).

Let me return to resources because I wanted to know how people responded to needs of metadata (creating, enhancing, transforming between various standards, best practices, etc.) in digital scholarship with a small staff and few resources for training. There was one respondent who described a pilot project at their institution. The respondent explained that the pilot project was a new attempt to provide services to those who work with research data. Essentially this pilot brought together several staff across units: metadata librarian, subject specialists, programers, digital librarians. Their goal was to draw on each others strengths to create a toolkit for faculty who produce research data (most likely in the sciences). This toolkit included tips and ways to get help from this team in the library. What I found interesting was that to have the staff resources necessary, this institution brought together a team of people who work in different areas. To help with training and time, this team helped each other learn together as they developed this toolkit for faculty.

This is something that my institution has had to do as well. No one person can handle all of these services together. This includes metadata services. With research data, often the researcher has the best handle on their data or at least you hope so. They might need guidance in terms of making it more accessible to a certain user base or more consistent for re-use for visualizations for example. However, they are the data owners not you. This allows the metadata specialists to work with a fellow data expert. When you add a subject specialists, you add another specialist who understands the researcher, their work and their “framework”. In some cases, the subject specialists has or participates in the researcher’s type of project. What is more is that the subject specialist also understands the library’s goal of helping the researcher with whatever they need help with (perhaps a data management plan, a digital humanities project, creating a timeline, submitting research to a repository, …). When you add a digital initiatives or even a programmer, then there are more people to share ideas and move forward. Instead of one person or one unit trying to respond to needs, you have a group working across silos.

With the survey, I would say that a majority of respondents worked across silos in their institution. I would venture to say that even the largest and well funded institutions don’t have all the resources they would like. To offer services, it is necessary to have a group effort. That way staff rely, learn, teach, and help each other.

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