The joys of small conferences

Today and tomorrow I am attending the SUNY Librarians Association Annual Conference, held at SUNY Brockport.  SUNYLA (as it’s known) is one of my favorite conferences, despite my recent call for librarians to stop going to library conference.

First, I get to find out about lots of exciting things that are happening at SUNY Libraries.  We are a pretty smart group of people, and I can learn a lot from my colleagues.  As a plus, the group is dominated by librarians from 2 and 4 year colleges, so the activities that are being presented almost always seem manageable.

Second, I get to see old friends and make new friends from the other campuses.  I find it much easier to meet people at a small conference like this than at the larger ALA or SLA conferences.

Third, it’s a great place to make a presentation to a forgiving audience.  Sometimes I’d like to share information with colleagues, but I don’t feel that what I’m doing is new and unique enough to warrant a major presentation or paper.  The SUNYLA conference is great for this kind of thing.  Plus I get more experience presenting.  This year I’ll give a small presentation about strategies for reaching out to faculty, and a larger presentation about using assessment to evaluate information literacy goals.

It should be fun.


A small collection of resources about the University of California ‘negotiation’ with Nature Publishing Group

This week, the University of California announced a possible boycott by faculty and researchers of Nature Publishing Group.  UC felt they had to act after NPG was proposing a 400% increase in the UC site license subscription cost.  The proposal is for faculty to stop submitting articles to the journal, stop reviewing articles, resign from editorial boards, etc., in addition to canceling subscriptions to NPG journals.

Open Access - one solution to exorbitate journal prices

Official resources about the ongoing issue:

A small selection of commentary by people smarter than me:

Is this the start of something?  I emailed the Chronicle of Higher Education article to the faculty listserv at my institution, and one person actually responded saying ‘thank you’ for sending along the article.  The library is just now formulating plans for an Open Access Week event on Campus – could this raise faculty awareness of some of these issues?

Is this what was needed to bring the problems with the scholarly research and publication economy to light?  Or will all of this be forgotten by the time the fall semester starts?

I guess we’ll find out.

What should my students call me?

During one-shot library instruction session, the issue of what to call the librarian instructor rarely arises.  Now that I’m teaching a geology class again as an instructor, the “what should students call me” question comes up.

Title options for the Royal Opera House website registration form
Title options for the Royal Opera House website registration form

Students often take the path of least resistance – they don’t call me anything.  Emails don’t begin with a salutation and there is rarely a need for them to refer to me by name in class.  I used to give extra credit on quizzes and exams if students could correctly answer the question “What is your instructors name?”  Fewer students than you would think got it right.

So far this summer, the students who call me anything seem to default to “Professor Swoger”.  Is this appropriate?  While I am the instructor for the class, and I certainly like to profess things, none of my official titles contain the words “professor”.  My “budget title” says Senior Assistant Librarian, my “local title” says Visiting Reference Instruction Librarian and the title on my business cards says Science and Technology Librarian.  We don’t use the term librarian as a title in the same way that professor is used.  “Librarian Swoger” sounds a bit odd.

Generally, I don’t correct students if they use the title Professor, but I do correct them if they default to “Dr. Swoger”.  I don’t have a PhD, so that title doesn’t apply.  I also have a sense that Professor also applies to PhD recipients or folks with the appropriate job title.

I’m kind of ambivalent about telling students to use my first name.  Sometimes I use it, sometimes I don’t.

Of course, I could be Mrs. Swoger, but I always look for my mother-in-law when that is used.  I prefer Ms.

So, when I send my class an email, how should I sign my name at the bottom?  Perhaps I’ll try to be consistent by the time the course ends, or I could follow the lead of my students and just not sign my name at all!

A time for changes

Bringing power to the people
Bringing power to the people

Each summer my library undergoes a lot of change.  In past years we created new classrooms or redesigned old ones.  We have added electrical outlets to our main study areas through a variety of creative methods (see photo at left).  This summer we are expanding the Cafe, rearranging office space, and rearranging (and weeding) our reference collection.

Electricians are busy running power and data cables to new computer stations, campus telephone technicians are trying to restore phone service to our staff as quickly as possible, and lots of panelling is being taken down and reassembled.

This yearly change is vital to our library.  We are never standing still.  We are constantly evaluating the needs of our students and trying to accommodate those needs within our 50 year old library building.

Rearranging and weeding the reference collection is one of the librarians biggest tasks.  We are opening up our reference area by removing some tall shelving, and we need to pair down the collection.   Overall, our print reference collection is getting much less use than it used to, and the students can put this area to better use.  Some reference materials are being reshelved in our circulating collection.  Other reference materials are being removed from the collection entirely (I’m pretty sure a guide to graduate fellowships from 1988 won’t be very useful to our undergraduates anymore).

The renovated space will be more useful to our students, more aesthetically pleasing, and represents our response to our users needs.

My problem with the Chemical Abstracts Service

I don’t have a problem with their product, just their support.

Chemical Abstracts Service is the force behind SciFinder, the best database for chemical information available. It is an outstanding resource for chemists, with some of the best indexing available.

CAS recently conducted a survey, asking the “key contacts” from each library to rate the quality of the training materials they provide and their support for training chemists on SciFinder.  While they have some high quality training materials, their support for teaching undergraduates how to use SciFinder is awful.

Because they limit user access to their product (we pay for 3 simultaneous users), we have to request special “training” logins for our information literacy sessions in the chemistry department.  While this is a pain, this isn’t a big problem.  The problem is that they limit the number of training seats they will grant us, and communication poorly about how many training seats might be accessible.

We have a well developed information literacy program at my library, and the limitations on training seats mean that we have to ration the instruction we give on this incredible database.  If students aren’t exposed to this database in a hands-on session, they will turn to more easily available resources (such as Google) to find their information.

I think it would make good business sense for CAS to be more open with the number of training seats they grant.  Here’s why:  if chemistry students are thoroughly convinced at the undergraduate level that SciFinder is their best source for information, they will want access to it in graduate school and in the workplace, putting pressure on more institutions and corporations to purchase access.

My recommendation:  don’t limit the number of training log-ins available to an institution and your product will see more use outside of the classroom.

Working with faculty to manage resources

Librarians and classroom faculty spend their time thinking about different things. Classroom faculty concentrate on teaching their students the subject matter, while librarians tend to focus on the resources students need to learn those subjects.

I just started two important dialogs with faculty about our library resources:

  • The Chemistry department and I need to make a decision about whether to move the web version of SciFinder, or stick with the client version for now.
  • Subject guides for Astronomy and Physics have been neglected for years and were missing several vital resources. As I update these guides, I am asking for assistance from the Physics and Astronomy department to make sure that the resources included in the guides are the resources their students are using.

I’m waiting to find out how engaged the faculty will be in these discussions. My initial overture was an email explaining what was going on. I will probably follow this up with in-person discussions. I have found that a quick trip over the an academic department can save a lot of time typing up emails, and leads to a better overall relationship. As the semester draws to a close, classroom faculty get very busy with final exams and projects and it is often easier for them to express their opinions in a quick face-to-face conversation.

Looking for Astronomy Resources

In my quest to update the science subject guides at my library, I have started in alphabetical order with Astronomy. The astronomy subject guide is one of the least used guides at my institution, and it does not have many resources listed.

In my quest to update this resource, I am employing several strategies.

  1. Adding appropriate resources from our list of paid databases
  2. Adding resources I am already familiar with that may be useful in astronomy
  3. Examining other subject guides created by specialty librarians at larger universities on the subject
  4. Working with the astronomy faculty to add resources that they point their students to

Since I am not an astronomer, part of this process involves learning about the literature research methods of astronomers, and the needs of these particular undergraduates at my institution.

A few of the resources I will be adding to the guide include: