Weeding – a.k.a. Recycling, Withdrawing, De-selecting

One of the challenges of being a small library is that we cannot collect or keep everything.  We don’t have the space to keep things “for historical purposes.”  We would like to keep acquiring materials, and this means that we have to find space somewhere.  This means weeding materials from our collection (aka, recycling books and journals).

Outside factors can make these space pressures more acute – in the summer, our library will be kicked out of one of our on-campus storage locations (the building will eventually be demolished).  We will be simply moving some of the materials to another location, but other materials will be withdrawn from the collection to make room.

I have been working on several projects to make this possible.

First, I have been looking at our print indexes to see what can be withdrawn.  Sometimes this is an easy decision: We can withdraw the print versions of Chemical Abstracts and the Bibliography of North American Geology because we have subscriptions to their electronic versions, and those subscriptions won’t be going away any time soon.  I know that some librarians will say “but those print indexes are valuable learning and research tools – it’s easier to use the electronic version when you know how to use the print.”  To be honest, I’m not sure that I agree with this statement, especially since the electronic tools offer so many more options for finding information.  In any case, we simply can’t afford to hang on to them.

The next items to go are low use print journal volumes that we have stable electronic access to.  This is a bit more complicated, because what does “stable” access mean?  Publishers who have made certain journal volumes open access now could always take away that access in the future.  What happens when we can no longer subscribe to online access for a journal?  These decisions were made on a individual basis.

At the same time I am looking at our collection of USGS documents with our government documents librarian.  Our collection is a bit odd.  Much of it was never entered into our OPAC, so we don’t have a complete sense of what we have.  Much of it is now available online, but access is a bit dodgy for students used to clicking on the open url resolver button in GeoRef (which doesn’t work as we’d like for these documents).  I’ll be meeting with our geology faculty in the next couple of weeks to develop a plan for these documents – I suspect we will withdraw items that are available online.

Recycling books is never pretty. Image courtesy of Flickr user Mark Blevis

And finally we have a large collection of books in the storage location that is being closed.  These books were moved out of our main library 5 years ago, based on their previous usage.  At the time, these books hadn’t been used (checked out or taken off the shelf) in 10 years.  Students could still check them out by requesting them from storage.  If they were requested they were put back in our main library.  So right now, the books in storage haven’t been used in 15 years.  Most of them will be withdrawn.  I plan to have a quick look through them, however, since they were moved before I arrived here.

Of course, one of the trickiest parts of this is communicating this with the faculty.  The most visible part of all this is the big recycling dumpster into which all of these volumes are thrown.  It isn’t pretty.  And you don’t want that dumpster to be the first clue to faculty about what is going on.  So I have been trying to communicate with faculty about what we are doing.  Sometimes I am asking for advice, sometimes I am simply informing them of our decisions.  And I haven’t always done this in the best way possible.  For example, I didn’t give the faculty a lot of notice about the Spring Break withdrawal of indexes.  At this point the only thing I can do is make a plan to communicate with faculty about the next phases.

So I will send emails and request face-to-face meetings with our department representatives over the next couple of months in an effort to be open with the faculty about our decisions.  Hopefully they will still see me as an advocate for science resources in the library.

Faculty workshops, discussions and library initiatives: My big ideas and plans

In addition to my normal stuff (library instruction, reference, web design, committees) I’m been thinking about various discussions/workshops/plans for the future I’d like to pursue over the next few months:

lightbulb. Courtesy of Flickr user Tim Cummins
  • A faculty workshop about managing research and teaching information.  Most faculty are overwhelmed with information for their scholarly activities.  Some of them are familiar with citation managers (Endnote, Zotero, etc.) but not all.  I’d like to offer a workshop to discuss various free and not-free citation and document managers, as well as bookmarking tools like Connotea, CiteULike, delicious and Diigo.  I’ve explored many of these tools.  Some work for me, some don’t.  Faculty may appreciate being introduced to some of them.
  • A faculty workshop about creating assignments that effectively teach students literature research skills.  Some faculty aren’t interested in having a librarian come to their class and teach an information literacy session.  Would they be interested in how to make their assignments a bit better?  I recently chatted with a faculty member and gave him some feedback on a library assignment that he regularly gave his students – it hadn’t been updated in years, nor had he ever received feedback.  I was able to tell him what questions we were seeing at the reference desk.  He was thankful for the feedback.  I’m not sure that faculty would respond to a workshop like this, but it may be worth trying.
  • A series of campus-wide discussions.  The new “Scholarly Communication” group at my library is starting to think about ways to engage the college faculty and what role the library (and librarians) play in promoting/assisting/recognizing faculty scholarship.  We are talking about hosting (with the teaching and learning center) a discussion on open access.  Perhaps there could be a series of discussions about trends in Scholarly Communication:  digital humanities, sharing data, discovery of research via social networking, unusual new publications (incorporating video, for example).
  • Preserving student scholarship.  Each Spring, SUNY Geneseo hosts Great Day: “a college-wide symposium celebrating the creative and scholarly endeavors of our students.”  After Great Day, some of the posters are displayed for a year or two in the library or other academic buildings, but many are lost.  What if the library tried to preserve digital versions of these posters and presentations in an institutional repository?  What would be involved (organizationally)?  How do we deal with copyright?  What options do we offer students? Creative commons? Transfer copyright to Geneseo?  Maintain copyright?  Access?
  • Should I try to convince library staff to adopt an open access policy for their publications?  Gold?  Green?  (See Peter Suber’s excellent introduction to OA for definitions.)  Would folks object to such a policy?
  • I would love to have a discussion with library staff about the future of librarianship.  Recent discussions at the ScienceOnline2010 conference, friendfeed discussions, blog posts and other items make me think about where my profession is headed.  I would love to sit down with my colleagues to chat about it.  Trying to find a time when more than two or three of us can get together?  That’s the challenge.

There’s the list that I thought of this afternoon.  Nothing groundbreaking, but it should keep me busy for a little while.

Why academic librarians need to stop going to library conferences

ala conference - 'the stacks'
The vendors at the ALA conference, "The Stacks". From flickr.com user Squid!

And start going to the conferences our users – especially the faculty we work with – go to.

OK, we don’t have to completely stop going to library conferences, but unless we engage with our users more fully, I think we run the risk of being forgotten.

A bit of background.

At the ScienceOnline2010 conference, two librarians held a session attempting to tell scientists and researchers about library tools that were available.  The ensuing discussion between librarians and scientists solidified some ideas that I’ve been having for a while now about the library world.

Overall, there was a disconnect between the library world and the research world.  Scientists and scholars aren’t aware of what librarians do, beyond the whole ‘buying books’ thing.  And I don’t think that librarians are spending enough time listening to scientists and scholars to figure out what they really need and want.

After reading about this discussion online, a medical researcher responded in a blog post with a rather provocative title about what he thinks librarians can do for researchers.

Librarians – we need to listen to what the researchers are saying, and we need to play an active role in the discussion.  As a profession, I think we are more insular than we should be.  This needs to change.

That’s why we need to start attending the same conferences as the scholars we serve.

By engaging more fully with our users, we will better understand their needs (perhaps even anticipate some of them), and the library conferences we do attend will be more useful.

So, to that end, even though the freebies are more plentiful, I will not be attending the ALA annual conference this summer.  Hopefully, I will head to Denver for the Geological Society of America national meeting in October.  And perhaps the year after that I will make it to the American Chemical Society conference.

Relationships online and off – ScienceOnline2010

ScienceOnline2010 Logo
ScienceOnline2010

One of the major themes of the ScienceOnline2010 conference was actually personal relationships.

Despite the stereotypes of scientists, effective communication of science comes down to effective personal relationships online or off.  For bloggers, journalists, researchers and librarians, personal relationships are an essential part of doing their job well.  In a session called “Trust and Critical Thinking” moderator Stephanie Zvan and panelists Greg Laden, PZ Meyers, Deiree Schell and Kirsten Sanford discussed how essential it was to establish trust and authority in your online or media presence.  We discussed the hope that as more scientists communicate authentically with the public, pseudoscience might be pushed aside – it would be nice if the top Google search results on certain science subjects would come from authoritative folks.

A lightly attended session from librarians Dorothea Salo and Stephanie Willen Brown entitled “Scientists! What can your librarian do for you?” turned into a great discussion about the need for scientists and librarians to work together.  The librarians discussed repositories, how they can help scientists understand copyright, and how they can help teach students about scientific communication.  Since most researchers get a lot of information from their peers, the scientists suggested that one of the ways librarians can be helpful is to help them make these connections – recommending social networks and other tools to assist them in finding collaborators.  (A great list of resources discussed at the session can be found here, and Dorothea’s slides are available here.)

The last session of the conference got a little interesting – called “Online Civility and Its (Muppethugging) Discontents”.  Panelists Dr. Isis, Dr. Free Ride and Sheril Kirshenbaum lead a discussion about what “civility” means and how it applies to online environments.  At one point two participants were kind enough to demonstrate one type of online disagreement – the kind where two folks disagree vehemently about something, but it turns out that they were both talking about something slightly different.  I tend to dislike conflict, but the session gave me an opportunity to think about how ‘civility’ can be used as an excuse to prevent some members of a community from participating fully.

Of course, one of the best parts about a small conference like this is the chance to talk with folks over snacks, tea and available power outlets.  I got a chance to talk with some other librarians and a few scientists – these conversations are wonderful for helping me make sense of the formal talks and giving me ideas for how some of the concepts I learned about can be applied at my library and my college.

ScienceOnline 2010

This weekend I am in the Raleigh-Durham area for the Science Online 2010 conference.ScienceOnline2010 Logo

The ScienceOnline 2010 conference is a collection of science writers, bloggers and researchers gathered to discuss the dissemination of scientific information in all its forms online.  Of course, I think one could make the argument that almost all scientific communication is now online.  How many scientific publications aren’t available online?  None come to mind.

More specifically, topics at the conference relate to some of the new forms of communicating science (to the public and among scientists) – blogs, twitter, new forms of scientific journals, software applications and more.

I spend a large part of my time at work teaching undergraduate students about how scientists communicate with each other – teaching them to tell the difference between news stories aimed at the general public and scientific articles, teaching them how a review article is different than a primary research article.

One of the things I struggle with is how we teach students to deal with the new and exciting changes that are developing in science communication.  How can students evaluate a comment on a journal article over at PLoS ONE?  How can they locate a journal article that is available free in an institutional repository but not on the publishers web site?  Where does a blog post about a primary research article (like those at ResearchBlogging.org) fit in with news articles, primary research articles or review articles?

So far I have only attended one workshop and the opening keynote address, both of which have been excellent.  This conference is a great opportunity to discuss some of these issues with other folks who are thinking about the same things – I’m really looking forward to the sessions over the weekend.

Decreasing budgets and increasing costs – working with faculty to mitigate the damage

Image courtesy of Flickr user ehisforadam
Image courtesy of Flickr user ehisforadam

Like many academic libraries, our library budget has recently been cut.  Last year, we dealt with the cuts by severely cutting our book budget and our student employee budget.  This year, the additional budget cuts made some journal cancellations necessary.  Most of our cuts involve canceling individual print or online subscriptions if we already had access via an aggregator (like ProQuest or Ebsco).  We have (thankfully) been able to almost completely make up our budget gap without loosing access to any content.

As a result of examining our journal subscriptions, the opportunity arose to subscribe to the full text geology resource GeoScienceWorld.  If we canceled individual subscriptions to journals that were available in GeoScienceWorld, we could almost make up the difference.  We would need to cancel a couple of other journals in order to make this feasible.

I thought that the increased content and ease of use provided by GeoScienceWorld made this a good move, and I took the question to the Geosciences department.

I created a list of individual journals we would need to cancel (that would be available GeoScienceWorld).  I created a list of journals that we would gain access to.  I also created a list of suggested cancellations we would have to make in order to make up the difference.  In creating my list of suggested cancellations, I worked hard to minimize the loss of content.

In a meeting with the Geosciences library representative and department chair, they were very receptive to my plan, even suggested some cancellations that I assumed would be ‘off limits’.

Overall, they understood the budget pressures – their departmental budget had also been cut – and they appreciated the fact that this decision was being left (mostly) in their hands.  The department chair was going to bring the information back to the department for a final decision – making sure that all the faculty are in the loop.

I am pleased with the communication between the library and the faculty on this issue, and I will try to use this example as a model in future decisions regarding departmental resources.

Librarians and Open Access – What are we Actually Doing?

ResearchBlogging.org

The librarians I’ve met at workshops, at conferences, and on the web, are generally strong supporters of open access. My impression has always been that our professional philosophy of providing information to our users free of charge (to them) fits very nicely with the philosophy of the open access movement.

Recently, I’ve started to wonder if our actions with regard to open access have any correlation with our professed opinions.

A recent article in the (subscription only) journal College and Research Libraries seems to support the idea that while we talk the talk, we aren’t very good at walking the walk, so to speak.

Kristi L. Palmer, Emily Dill, & Charlene Christie (2009). Where There’s a Will There’s a Way?: Survey of Academic Librarian Attitudes about Open Access College and Research Libraries, 70 (4), 315-335 Issue TOC

In this study, the authors surveyed academic librarians about their attitudes and certain actions regarding open access.

The authors conclude that while librarians believe that libraries should be educating users about open access and encouraging faculty to publish in open-access journals, they aren’t actually engaging in conversations about these activities. Librarians are also hesitant about devoting library resources to support open access.

One significant problem with this study was the failure to examine the publishing actions of librarians.  The actions discussed in the article mainly involved reading about open access and talking about open access with colleagues and faculty.  I was disappointed when reading the article, because to me, publishing in open access journals is one of the highest profile actions a librarian can take in support of open access.

In fact, if librarians are to have any credibility with others when we encourage them to explore open access publishing options, shouldn’t we be publishing in open access journals ourselves?

Symptomatic of the problem seems to be the lack of high-impact open access journals in library and information studies.  Open access journals in librarianship exist – there are 96 listed on the Directory of Open Access Journals website – but many of these service particular countries, specialties or publish infrequently.

This is something that librarians can change – publish in an open access journal, then talk about the experience with your colleagues and the faculty at your institution.  Support your beliefs with measurable action.

UPDATE – A College and Research Libraries Pre-print was posted this morning – The Open Access Availability of Library and Information Science Literature (PDF) – indicating that 27.5% of articles from the top 20 library journals could be found in open access full text online (either on the publishers website or in an institutional repository). So we aren’t publishing in OA journals, and we aren’t self-archiving most of the time either.

Are recent developments in scholarly communication relevant to undergraduates?


SCIENCE!
Originally uploaded by
viscousplatypus

On a weekly basis, a new article or editorial comes out discussing the shifting paradigm of how scientists communicate with one another.  According to many, the journal article – the mainstay of scientific communication – is about to undergo a major metamorphosis as blogs and new journal concepts affect how science is done.  A recent report from the Science Online London 2009 conference exemplifies this.

I am very excited about these changes, and I spend some of my time checking out real-time science blogs like Useful Chemistry, participating on online science networks like Nature Network, and exploring what PLOS ONE has to offer.

But how relevant are all of these new changes to the average undergraduate?  Do they need to know about them?  If they don’t need to know now, will they in the near future?

Most of the writing assignments I’m seeing are still asking students to find traditional scholarly articles as the only sources for their papers.  Most of the faculty at my small undergraduate institution are still very traditional with regard to scholarly communication.  A (very) few faculty still have to be convinced that an online journal is acceptable, and I wrote an email a few months ago explaining that PLOS Medicine is a highly regarded journal.

Until a consensus develops around what is scholarly and what isn’t in the online world, how are undergraduate students (who still need help telling apart a review article and a piece of original research) supposed to navigate these on-going changes?

In the short term, I don’t think that undergraduates need to know a lot about these developments, beyond their own personal interest in science blogs or online science news.  For the time being, a science student can successfully navigate his or her undergraduate education without an awareness of the scientific blogosphere or the concept of open science.

As much as I would love to share my excitement of all of these fascinating changes, I don’t think students need to know about them.  At the moment, I teach students about the basic differences between review articles, primary research articles and news articles.

In the future I will probably talk about blogs and social networks and how to access primary data sets – I’m looking forward to it.

Faculty Outreach


Handshake

Originally uploaded by Aidan Jones

Apparently, our day-long meeting last Tuesday started out as a collection development retreat.  Somewhere in the planning, our collection development librarian realized that we needed to take a step back and talk about how we communicate with faculty in general.  The topic is related to collection development through the library liaison program (or lack there of).

And so, as a result, almost all of the librarians at my library gathered off campus for a full day of discussion about what we are currently doing to reach out to faculty, what we wish we were doing, and what will be possible for us to do in the future.

I am one of the few librarians at my library with a very firm group of “constituents” – the science departments.  We have never had the staff to develop a complete library liaison program and have concentrated our energies on information literacy instruction, rather than hiring subject-specific bibliographers.

In our day-long retreat about faculty outreach, we were able to identify areas where we have been successful at reaching out to faculty (instruction), areas that we need some improvement in (collection development), and areas that we haven’t even dipped our toes in yet (scholarly communication).

After a lot of discussion, we were able to come up with a few goals for faculty outreach for the library as a whole:

  • Organize a faculty luncheon for department chairs, faculty reps, and other interested parties to discuss library issues (especially resources).
  • Improve and update our social networking presence.

We also decided to set a few goals for ourselves.  I wanted to set myself a few modest, concrete goals that I could check off (or not) at the end of the year.

  1. Contact each of my departments about visiting a department meeting for 10 minutes to discuss library resources and services
  2. Meet with Chemistry faculty to talk about changes to our chemistry information literacy program.
  3. Advertise our science-related library workshops to the science faculty

This is in addition to my normal reference, instruction and web design duties.  Perhaps I will write another post at the end of the year to see if I was able to meet my modest faculty outreach goals.

Libraries and mobile devices

Our new mobile web page
Our new mobile web page

Today is the Handheld Librarian conference. You can follow the tweets from the conference.  Around 11am I wish I had registered for it. Looking at all of the tweets about the technical problems, I’m not so disappointed. I am hoping that some of the information will be made available later on, because this is a subject I have been thinking about a lot for my library.

Recently, I created a very basic mobile webpage for our library.  At the moment, it contains three main pieces of information:  library hours, contact information, and links to a (very) few databases with mobile interfaces.

In my search for databases to include on this list, I was surprised by the low number of vendors with such interfaces.  I also wondered exactly how users would use these mobile resources.

In addition, we have been paying attention to what is happening with Kindle eBook readers.  There seems to be a lot of debate about how/if libraries can lend these out or take advantage of the eBook market in anyway.

I am an avid reader of eBooks on my iPhone, through the Kindle reader for iPhone and now the new Barnes and Noble eBook reader.  So far, the Kindle reader is easier to use.

I’m looking forward to seeing what other libraries are doing with mobile devices to provide content and services.