30 March 2010

“did you mean…?”, ILL, and next steps

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , at 11:49 am by Andromeda

I finally figured out why my overall ILL experience has left an unpleasant taste in my mouth.

So, a large fraction of the ILL requests I issue get shot down for reasons I find incomprehensible. (A reason is always given — it’s just clearly couched in a culture or policy I have no exposure to, so it feels totally arbitrary to me.)

But what is not given is a next step. OK, so you won’t give me this book because it’s too new and for some reason that’s a problem — so ask me, “Would you like to reissue this request in 3 months?” And give me a one-click way to do that. I interact with ILL solely by computer, and computers are awesome at keeping track of that in a way I am not.[*]

Even a link to more explanation, context that makes the explanation comprehensible, would be nice. But really…it’s like spellcheck. It’s like what we kept talking about in my library software class last term — user requests should not fail. If they searched for something with no hits, you should look for spelling mistakes and ask “did you mean…?”, or give them some kind of suggestion for the closest match you can find — some way of continuing the search, of feeling like you tried to help, something other than a blank wall of electrons. Some next step.

ILL rejections don’t give me next steps. (Or they do, and apparently not prominently enough for me to remember.) And that’s just frustrating.

[*] Actually, these days, a lot of the magic of the library experience for me is getting unexpected presents from past-me. Past-me sees some book she wants to read, say, Checklist Manifesto (after seeing Atul Gawande speak at ALA Midwinter), or Girl with a Dragon Tattoo (after seeing Bohyun Kim and pretty much the entire internet rave about it), and drops a request. There are a million holds on the first returned copy, so I forget, but the computer doesn’t, and a month or two later I get an email saying that this book I have totally forgotten I wanted to read, this present from past-me and the library, has arrived! It makes me feel all warm and happy.

23 March 2010

in which FRBR clarifies my thinking on citation styles

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 1:11 pm by Andromeda

Hey, I finally figured out that thing about citation styles that annoys me. Basically, it’s FRBR.

Let me back up a moment. Back when electronic content was starting to explode, lots of citation styles were getting all persnickety about how to cite the electronic vs. the paper version of different things, and which database it came from, and all this crud. And I was thinking, why? Do I care? Does it really matter where I found an article? What possible way does its provenance matter to my argument?

In other words, I’m really not interested in item- or manifestation-level citations. The kind of arguments I make — the kind of arguments people in most disciplines, I think, make — are expression-level, caring only about the content in question and not the particular form in which it’s realized.

It reminds me of some of the discussion at The Past’s Digital Presence about the Google Books digitization, which went off in the opposite direction — that, by treating books solely in terms of their intellectual content and treating physical distinctions among items as irrelevant or uninteresting, Google Books was stripping out a vital part of the historical record. And that’s true, too — there are kinds of scholarship for which you need to see how history has nicked and scratched a particular object. There are kinds of scholarship where subtle differences among versions are important. And for those kinds of scholarship, we need both access (one of those distinct advantages of libraries, by the way) and citation with fine levels of granularity. Even in everyday but monograph-heavy scholarship, where we’re going to be citing page numbers, we need enough edition-specific description to contextualize that (except where there are discipline-specific conventions for avoiding that — yay, classics!).

But most of the papers I’ve written? I’m reading journal articles, and it really does not matter where I accessed them. So, dear citation formats of the world, thank you for noticing, and chilling the heck out a bit about this.

(Why, yes, my entire life has been eaten lately by putting together a paper for the LITA/Ex Libris student writing contest…it’s a good thing I didn’t realize in advance that “3000-5000 words” meant I would be writing a 20-page paper in the scraps of time during the 2 weeks when my daughter, presently on spring break, was asleep! Because, I mean, that’s impossible, and if I’d known it was impossible…

…oh hell, I would’ve done it anyway.)

12 March 2010

a statistical morsel on the serials crisis

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 10:57 am by Andromeda

Well there’s a statement that underscores the serials crisis:

At the high end, the Association of Research Libraries, representing the top 122 research libraries in North America, reports that its members have been forced to cut six percent of their subscriptions since the late 1980s, and that figure was only kept that small by chopping 26 percent off their book budgets during the same period.

(Willinsky J. (2003) The Nine Flavours of Open Access Scholarly Publishing. J Postgrad Med, 49:263-7.

(This post, btw, brought to you by open access publishing! I could’ve read the article without it — scholarly database access ftw — but I couldn’t have linked you to it.)

(Also: one of the recurring thoughts i have is about the different ways that debates about library budgets, resources, collection decisions, etc. play out in different disciplines — having seriously studied both math at an engineering school and classics at a liberal arts school I cannot fail to be aware that there are dramatically different assumptions and scholarly use patterns. And does this not underscore how the serials crisis differently affects different disciplines, when journal prices (driven by STEM fields) cut into monographs (crucial for humanities)? I say this not to make trouble for STEM, which I dearly love, but to emphasize that there are social justice and digital divide questions here, even inside one university, one library.)

9 March 2010

the information commons: why didn’t I get this before

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 10:33 am by Andromeda

Doing reading for my academic libraries class last night[1] I had one of those blinding-flash moments and though, OK, now I get what the Information Commons idea is for. It’s for everyone’s favorite ongoing conversation, marketing the library — but not in the sense of getting people in the door because you have comfy chairs and coffee.[2]

What it is, is…

Academic libraries are next to useless if they model themselves as sources of fact. The world is full of sources of fact, or at least satisfice-y factiness, and lots of them are free and easy; you can get them on a whim and on your couch.[3] And if I need more depth, and lazy is better for me than free, I can one-click on Amazon and get it next day via Prime (or, if I owned an ereader, instantly). And yet, as Andy just said, “most talks about the library budget are controlled by the things we buy“.

The things we buy — a place where libraries have less and less comparative advantage.

But academic libraries are great as guides through a process. There are all kinds of facts and “facts” and books out there on the intarwubs, but if I don’t know how to construct a good search? or evaluate the trustworthiness and utility of materials I find? or identify materials best suited to a particular kind of paper or research project? or select tools for manipulating and presenting that information? Or if, purely hypothetically, I have never had to write a research paper before college and suddenly I have a 25-page term paper due and I have literally no idea how to organize an argument that size in my head and keep track of all my notes?[4] Woo, that’s hard to google for.

The model of the information commons in the article I was reading was — not just comfy chairs and ready availability of technology, although that’s part of it — but staffing by cross-functional teams who are able to help people with all phases of their research process (including, possibly, partnerships with the writing center, the computer help desk, et cetera…). It’s a physical and conceptual model that makes the library a potential partner across all phases of, say, writing a term paper — not just the first step where you’re looking for sources.

And this is what gets back to marketing. Libraries have to be understood, by the world at large, on a broader basis than “the things we buy”, or there really is little point to library funding. There are lots of ways to buy stuff. But a physical and conceptual model which facilitates collaboration across all phases of the research process, which embeds help where and when patrons need it, gets the point across that libraries are about process and partnership. And that, my friends, I cannot order overnight, not even if Amazon had Optimus Prime.

Right. I get that now. Information commons: a good thing. And not just because I really, really like coffee.

[1] Beagle, Donald. (2002, September). “Extending the Information Commons: From Instructional Testbed to Internet2.” The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 28, pp. 287-296.

[2] OK, not just in that sense.

[3] e.g. you could google the Wikipedia article on zeugma. That was easy!

[4] In practice what I will do is not know librarians are useful for this, put it off until 24 hours before it’s due, blitz through whatever happens to be not checked out from the library at that point, get two hours of sleep, and make it work. Hey, kids: don’t take me as a model of study skills. Please. (I’m better now.)[5]

[5]Perhaps not entirely coincidentally, my undergraduate campus’s library has since closed, and graduate program #1 now has a coffeehouse (which makes me jealous like whoa).

3 March 2010

rhino milk and collaboration tools

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 1:06 pm by Andromeda

For class I need to make a thesaurus (not thesaurus-like-Roget but thesaurus-like-library-science; it’s a vocabulary structured with term relationships (including hierarchical), preferred and non-preferred terms, and lots of nitpicky formatting). We also need to present (some of) the data in some more fun way.

I used as my corpus-of-terms my daughter’s vocabulary at 18 months (yeah, I’m the nerdcore mom). In thinking about how to present this, I used this super-awesome map of collaboration tools — it covers document sharing, private social networking, mind mapping, video conferencing, screencasting…all kinds of good stuff. I ended up using the mindmapping tool from the same site (MindMeister), because it looked pretty and the first three hits are free. In some ways it’s easy to use (actions often did what I expected, help was easy to find, looks like it is leveraging the web in some slick ways like automatically suggesting images if you want); some features frustrated me (limits on depth of tree, typing + zoomed rather than inserting a + sign in the text, don’t see how to embed HTML which makes attributing flickr photos properly a pain in the butt — seriously, internet, make it easier for me to do that already).

Anyway, it also gave me an embeddable version a link(wordpress, do not inexplicably hate on my copy/paste html!). This is only a small fraction of the entire thesaurus — it’s much more time-consuming doing things this way than in text form — but it represents the terms that my daughter would have found most important (certainly this category was the plurality of her corpus at that age).