Librarians need bigger egos

Obviously, not all of them.  Some of us have big enough egos and need to tone things down a notch.  I’m not talking about the big egos and so-called “rock star librarians,” but the egos of regular working librarians.

In a 2008 article in Library Journal, Casey and Stephens argue that egos are bad for libraries:

The ego, we concluded, can be a very damaging thing. Inflated. Overbearing. Egos create rules for rules’ sake. Egos complicate procedures and keep good people down. Egos squash good ideas and can take the best of an organization and turn it on itself.

But they really refer to over-inflated egos.  I argue that a healthy, reasonable ego is a good thing. For all of us. Perhaps this is semantics: since the word ego has some pretty negative connotations, maybe I really mean to suggest that librarians need more professional self-confidence or self-esteem.

Because librarians are smart. Damned smart. They are talented, knowledgable, hardworking and willing to go out their way to help others out. If you want to find something out or get something done you should definitely ask a librarian.

But I’ve seen colleagues acquiesce without any discussion to poorly thought out faculty demands regarding library instruction. I’ve seen librarians sit quietly through meetings with bosses or administrators and then provide intelligent, thoughtful criticism after the meeting when the boss isn’t listening.  I’ve heard colleagues at conferences complain about faculty not including them in learning management systems and I find out that they never asked.

What contributes to this quietness, this passivity, this inability to assert ourselves even in the areas of our expertise?

Is it gender? Over 80% of librarians are female, and workplace gender dynamics might come into play.  I’m certainly no expert on this topic, but books like Nice Girls Never Get the Corner Office and Lean In seem to suggest that women need to be more assertive at work and stop confusing “being nice” with asking questions and stating opinions. NPR has an interesting new series called the Changing Lives of Women. As a part of that series, they have created a tumblr project called She Works: Notes to Self encouraging women to share their slogans, affirmations and advice. Many of submitted slogans encourage women to speak up, “Sit at the table and speak up,” and “Don’t be shy. Promote your accomplishments.”  But there are also of slogans encouraging women to be nice or be quiet, “Smile on the outside, tell them off on the inside” or “Work hard and be nice to people,” advice that I’d bet wouldn’t be posted a similar site geared to men.

Sit at the table and speak up

Is it education?  Although librarians often have faculty status, we most often do not have PhDs like most of the rest of the faculty. I routinely call professors by their first name since we are colleagues and that’s what colleagues do these days.  But other librarians routinely call professors “Professor Smith” even when the professor uses the librarian’s first name.  Are librarians intimidated by the title or the degree? Are some folks less likely to state opposing opinions or ask challenging questions?

Is it the library’s place within the institution?  Although we are often faculty, we are different than classroom faculty. No matter how robust our library instruction programs, we sit outside of the classroom and teacher model that serves as the core of most high education institutions. And in a digital world, some faculty start to question the ongoing relevance of the brick-and-mortar library.  Are we stymied by our kind-of-outsider status?

I don’t know what the answer is.  But I’ve met and spoken with lots of librarians, and I know what they are capable of.  They are amazing, articulate professionals with a deep understanding of how folks search for information and the knowledge of what kinds of information is out there. We know about scholarly publishing, instructional design, data resources, pedagogy and a gazillion other things.

Let’s dust off those egos. Let’s make sure other folks know our strengths. Let’s stand up for our accomplishments.


The difficulty of counting scholarly activity

I had a really interesting conversation yesterday with my colleagues in our library’s Scholarly Communication Group.  It started with a simple question – should we keep track of faculty art?

One of the things this group does is try to keep track of faculty publications (via CiteULike and LibraryThing) and host a celebration in November celebrating our faculty authors.  We have alerts set up for author affiliations in relevant databases, and we also send out a call to faculty asking them what they published this year.

The biggest challenge is trying to figure out what should be on these lists and what shouldn’t.  In the case of books and journal articles, it’s a pretty easy call.  But what about other stuff? We would like to create a record of faculty scholarship without judging the quality of that scholarship.  That’s not our job. But in creating a list, we end up doing a bit of judging.

What's in and what's out?  Courtesy of the Boston Public Library on Flickr
What's in and what's out? Courtesy of the Boston Public Library on Flickr

For example:

  • Conference Proceedings:  some are peer reviewed, some aren’t.  Do we include all?  None?
  • Book reviews: while we wouldn’t normally include these on a list of faculty publications, some faculty have sent them along when we ask for them.  Do we say no?
  • Artistic works: How could we include this type of scholarship?  What would we include?  My colleague, the liaison to the School of Art was absent at this meeting, so we are no closer to a resolution.
  • Magazine articles:  If one of our economists had an article in The Economist, we would want to celebrate that.  But a letter to the editor of the local newspaper?  Not so much.

Our conversation rapidly delved into the disciplinary differences seen across campus.  Importantly, we recognize that scholarship in each field is different.  And we would like our lists and our party to be inclusive – once again, we aren’t trying to judge.

Last year, we had a faculty member complain that we were including the authors of journal articles as well as book authors in our celebration.  They felt that the work required for an article was slight compared with that of a book.  But this would largely leave out whole departments (like the sciences) where the highest level of scholarship is the primary research article.  Certainly the last thing we want to do is fan the flames of existing disagreements among faculty about what qualifies as “scholarship.”

So what’s the answer?  Well, there isn’t one really.  If you wrote a book or an article, let us know.  As for everything else, well, let us know about that, too.  We’ll try to figure it out without pissing people off.  And everyone will be invited to eat cake at the party.

Talking with faculty

Over at Confessions of a Science Librarian, John Dupuis has set out a delightful “Stealth Librarianship Manifesto” that echoes many of the comments I have made about how librarians need to get out of the library (physically and virtually) and interact with our users in their spaces, including conferences and publications.

At my library, we are currently working through a big project to help us do that.  We have a relatively new “scholarly communications” team and our goal over the next 6 months or so is to talk to faculty members across campus to learn about what they are doing.  I’ve mentioned this project before, and noted that there are some resources available to help folks understand various disciplines.  It is vitally important for us to understand what is going on on our campus.  Our faculty are amazing, but they have different pressures than the folks at research universities.

So every week I meet with two or three faculty from the disciplines I serve and chat with them about the research and publication efforts:

  • What are they working on right now?
  • Are they incorporating undergraduates into their research?  Have they co-authored publications with these students? (Quite often)
  • How do they select which journal to publish in?  Do they pay attention to impact factors or not? (Although my faculty pay attention to general reputation, they rarely mention the metrics)
  • Have they posted a copy of one of the publications online?  Do they know if they kept the right to do so? (They have no idea what rights they have to their papers)
  • What kinds of data are they producing?  What do they do with it? (I’ve already learned a lot about the distinctions between the theorists and the applied folks in math and computer science)

The conversations I have had so far have been incredibly interesting and educational.  I service 6 departments (Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science, Geological Sciences, Mathematics, and Physics & Astronomy).  My educational background is in Geology, so I don’t have a native understanding of what the mathematicians or physicists are doing, for example.  These conversations have given me remarkable glimpses into our faculty’s values, assumptions and goals.

One of the important distinctions I’ve noticed is the disconnect between the highly active science online community (bloggers and tweeters, etc.) and your average run of the mill faculty.  Scholarly communication may be changing, but many of the faculty I’ve talked with (including those who are still publishing actively) are barely aware of some of the fascinating changes and experiments taking place.

So far, I’ve only had a chance to talk with 13% of the faculty I work with, and an upcoming maternity leave will delay my conversations with some, but it has been an incredible experience so far, and I look forward to the rest.

Managing your scholarly identity

When someone Googles your name, do you know what they will find?  When a colleague, student or potential employer go searching for your scholarly record, will they find accurate information?  When you are looking for a collaborator, a reviewer or a potential hire what sources do you trust for reliable and up-to-date information about that scholar?

Have you Googled yourself lately?

Unfortunately, faculty websites and college faculty profiles can often be absent, out-of-date, or impossible to find.

Enter the database of scholars.  There are several types out there – those that require registration and constant maintenance by individual scholars, those that automatically pull data from other sources, and those that do a bit of both.

My college has recently acquired access to one of the latter, Scholar Universe.  SUNY has negotiated with Scholar Universe (normally a subscription database) to provide open searching of SUNY scholar profiles.  Check out my SUNY colleagues and especially my SUNY Geneseo colleagues.

Faculty at my institution are now confronted with their public profiles, and a renewed interest in making sure that the information available about them is accurate and complete.  Yesterday, in collaboration with the Office of Sponsored Research, we held a workshop for faculty on editing their Scholar Universe profiles and otherwise managing their scholarly identity.

So, what can an individual researcher do to take control of their scholarly identity?  Here are some of my thoughts:

First, know how others see you.  Google yourself.  Do vanity searches in the databases used in your discipline.  Are you happy with the results?  While a database might not list all of your publications (because of which journals they choose to include), is a list of your publications available online?

Second, if you see wrong information – correct it.  Is your webpage 8 years old?  Make a few updates.  Remove time sensitive stuff like office hours and course schedules so that it doesn’t get so easily out of date.  Add stuff that won’t get out of date like publications, current and prior affiliations, and expertise.  If you see wrong information in a database or on another website, try to correct it by contacting the editor of the site (of course, sometimes this just isn’t possible.)

Third, add to the body of scholarly information available about you.  Create profiles on Nature Network or Mendeley and include your list of publications.  Post a copy of your CV (if you don’t know how to post a document online, try using Google Docs to upload a copy to the web). Assuming you have permission to do so, upload a pre-print of your publications to your website, an institutional repository (ask your librarian) or a disciplinary repository.

Fourth, do what you can do help scholars find all of your publications in one place, especially if you have a common name.  Register with to collect all of your publications in one place, and make sure that you only have one identity on Scopus.

What else can a researcher do?  How do you manage your scholarly identity?

Understanding the culture of the disciplines

Books! Image courtesy of Flickr user babblingdweeb

A brief story: When I was in library school, I took a course called “Reference Sources in the Humanities”.  I figured that perhaps I ought to learn a bit about the humanities since my last English class was in High School.  While most of the class was largely useless (even my colleague the arts librarian doesn’t really use the art encyclopedias we talked about), the first couple of weeks were very useful.  It was there that I learned that scholars in the humanities primarily use books in their research, rather than journal articles.

Books!  Who knew?

Having ‘grown up’ in the scholarly culture of the sciences (geology specifically), I assumed that most scholars relied on journal articles as their primary form of scholarly communication.

I have limited knowledge of how scholars in the humanities do their research, combined with a limited knowledge of the types of resources they use.  My non-science colleagues on the other hand, have a very limited knowledge of the scientific literature and types of resources scientists used.  A ‘primary source’ in history takes a very different form than a ‘primary source’ in chemistry, even thought the basic idea is the same.

Understanding these scholarly cultures is a very important part of being a good academic librarian.  It isn’t just about knowing the publishers and the databases, you have to understand how scholars in the disciplines use these resources and the types of materials they are using and expecting to find.

Why isn’t this something that is focused on more in library school?  Most of us learn this on-the-job.  At the moment, I’m trying to figure out the subtleties of the science disciplines I work with, but I’ve only found a few good resources to help me out.  How do the needs of the physicists differ from the molecular biologists?  And what on earth are they doing over in the computer science department?

The new emphasis on “Scholarly Communication” services in libraries has expanded the number of resources available to help librarians figure this stuff out.

Some relevant reading:

Importantly, the librarians are talking to faculty here at Geneseo.  Our goal over the next year is to sit down with most of our faculty to talk about their research and publication needs.  One of our primary goals is to investigate how the needs of our faculty at a small, mostly undergraduate university differ from the needs of scholars at larger research universities.  How are our scholars similar?  What are they doing differently?

After we all complete our chats, I am hoping that we will spend some time talking to each other about what we learned.  Knowing more about the culture of the disciplines will allow us to target our resources and services better, and make us better librarians.

I believe I would be a “Data-Driven Nerd”

CC licensed image from flickr user bionicteaching

Virginia Hughs just posted her classification of scientists, and I believe this classification helps me understand why I ended up in librarianship.  According to her classifications (in which I see almost all of my scientist friends), I would be a “Data-Driven Nerd”:

These are guys and gals who seem to spend every waking hour in the lab. They’re precise and thorough. They like new technologies that get them better — and more, always more — data. They hate writing up their papers because there’s never enough good data to say something definitive. They generally see no need for (and have no patience for) journalists, unless lapsing into an effusive geek-out moment over some surprising new data.

I think it was my love of data and data analysis (although I didn’t love collecting the data in the field so much) that pushed me over into librarianship, where I get to look at other peoples data and publications all day.

I was a geologist by training, but I always felt like a bit of an outsider because while I love being outside, I didn’t love fieldwork particularly.

Check out her excellent post:  where do you fit in?

“A blog of substance” meme

John Dupuis from the excellent Confessions of a Science Librarian blog tagged me with this meme, so here’s my take on it.

I’m supposed to “Sum up [my] blogging motivation, philosophy and experience in exactly 10 words.”  After that I need to tag 10 more blogs.  It’s like a chain letter.  I figured it would be a good exercise to sit down and think about my motivation, but I’m only going to tag a couple of blogs.

I started this blog as I was starting back at work after a maternity leave as a way to help me make sense of my job and my place in the larger worlds of science and librarianship.  My 10-word blogging motivation would be in the form of a question:

How do library and science communication issues apply to undergraduates?

A lot of the conversation about science communication issues surrounds researchers at large universities, or graduate students at those same universities.  How do these issues affect undergraduates (and faculty) at a predominantly undergraduate institution?  What are the differences?  What are the similarities?  I feel like a large part of my job is to figure this out at the moment.

I’d like to challenge some of the members of my writing group to think about the same question for their blogs – what is your blogging motivation, philosophy and experience (in exactly 10 words)?

  • e-Merging – Reflections on collaborative information literacy instruction
  • The Delicious Burden – From Milne Library’s collection development librarian

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 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.

The not-so-sciencey part of “Undergraduate Science Librarian”

Not this kind of crucible, courtesy of Flickr user Andy.Schultz

I work at a predominantly undergraduate institution where all the librarians have to be generalists at least part of the time.  As a result, some of the instruction I do falls outside of the sciences, and some of my additional projects aren’t directly related to the departments I serve.

For example, this week I will be teaching a one-shot session for a first year writing seminar.  The overall topic for this seminar is Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. A couple of weeks ago I taught a session to some local high school students who were looking for information on contemporary poets.

Back in library school, I took a class on “reference sources in the humanities”.  While the actual reference sources covered haven’t been especially useful to me, the insights into the research culture of the humanities was very helpful.  Did you know that books are much more important to scholarship in the humanities than they are in the sciences?

While I get nervous when students come to the reference desk looking for poetry information in the same way some of my colleagues probably get nervous when a student comes to the desk looking for NMR spectra, I have the skills to help most of them find the resources they need.

And when they have in-depth, senior-thesis, primary-sources-in-history types of questions, we have a well established research consultation service at my library so that I can refer them to one of my amazingly capable colleagues for the help they need.