KISS and Julie Andrews: My (unlikely) muses for effective information literacy instruction

by Megan Kennedy
Leslie and Irene Dubé Health Sciences Library
University of Saskatchewan

Perhaps strange bedfellows, but Julie Andrews and the rock band KISS are my muses for effective information literacy instruction.

In the classic film, The Sound of Music, Julie Andrews sings “let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start” – this little ditty has been a guiding principle for all my information literacy instruction thus far in my academic career.

Starting at the beginning is so simple, and yet, at least for myself, I often assume that I can jump ahead. When I began delivering information literacy instruction to students this earlier this year, I assumed a few things:

1. Students would be familiar with and understand some of the jargon I would be using (search engine, catalogue, index, database, metadata, indexing fields/record fields, Boolean operators, controlled vocabulary/subject terms and many other librarian-y terms)
2. Students would have some familiarity with the databases I was going to be talking about because they had used them in the past
3. Students would be familiar with the library website enough that they could comfortably navigate to things I was talking about

After just one session – that admittedly ended with a group of very confused looking students – I realized that this was not going to work; my students needed to know do-re-mi before they could sing! So how did I fix these issues going forward? By always starting at the very beginning and never underestimating the importance of providing simple navigational guidance – it doesn’t do students any good to know the ins and outs of searching CINAHL if they can never find the database on the library website. I’ve also tried to incorporate informal polls/assessments in my teaching to gauge current understanding about the topic I am talking about and to help me assess where more attention needs to be paid and what can perhaps simply be a refresher. Something that still needed to be addressed was the language I was using when talking with students, notably my use of unexplained library jargon.

KISS stands for Keep It Simple, Stupid – a wonderful little phrase I picked up from my high school history teacher. The premise is not novel but I find that this plucky acronym helps to center my focus when explaining particularly “librarian-y” concepts. For example, did you know that the only people genuinely excited to talk about metadata are librarians and other information folks? Students, for the most part, are not interested in the specific details of data about data, discovery, findability, indexing, etc. I learned this the hard way when talking to a student about how citation managers get the information needed to generate a complete citation. Unfortunately for this student, my librarian brain took over and I talked for a good ten minutes about the intricacies and importance of record metadata. The wide-eyed look I got at the end of my speech told me everything I needed to know, I had not kept it simple and had now confused this poor student. I tried again and slowed down and thought about it from their perspective, what are the essential bits of information they need to know to understand this concept (no more and no less)? I then gave the student a much simpler explanation, something along the lines of “metadata is the behind the scenes information of an item that makes it possible for you to find it. Citation managers can read this information from the item to compile what’s needed to make a citation”. I could practically hear the light switch flip on in their head – they got it.

When it comes to information literacy instruction, our tacit knowledge as librarians can be a double-edged sword. It makes us excellent “knowers of things”, “information wizards”, “database Yodas” and other delightful monikers, but it can be a somewhat unnatural and awkward process for us to actively stop and think about what we know, how we know it, and how we can explain it in simple and relatable terms. I let Julie Andrews and KISS lead the way for me* – start at the beginning and keep it simple.

*I also like to imagine Julie Andrews as Maria von Trapp teaching the band KISS to sing using the do-re-mi song so that also keeps things interesting.

This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

Serendipity, Algorithms, and Managing Down the Collective Print Collection

by Frank Winter, Librarian Emeritus
University of Saskatchewan

My first contribution to Brain-Work introduced the conceit of the Gone-Away World, and explored the mindset exhibited by Traditionalist librarians who believe that the traditional rationale for developing a local collection and the traditional collection-based services of reference, information literacy and so on are still in existence (Winter, 2014). The core belief of this mindset is the overarching importance of the local print collection. I asked, “[i]f the local collection of printed scholarly books by-and-large just Goes-Away as a useful and important service, what choice will we have as university libraries and university librarians but to adapt? Evidence-based solutions will be increasingly necessary for good decisions in this environment.” In the paragraphs below I explore in a bit more detail the use of serendipity by Traditionalist librarians as one specific example of resistance against any evidence-based reduction of the local collection.

The concept of the collective print collection (where print = books, rather than journals which have long-since migrated almost completely to digital format) has been a very significant development in the options available to research libraries as they consider how they might allocate their resources to meet the existing, evolving, and competing demands of their users within the overarching expectations of what the library must contribute to the mission of the university. Specifically, this concept offers options to “manage down” local print collections so that some of the substantial resources required to maintain them can be reallocated to address other priorities.

Originating with Lorcan Dempsey, the concept has been developed by OCLC as it investigates how and why some library services might now be more efficiently and effectively organized and delivered at supra-institutional or network levels (Dempsey, 2013). As part of its research, OCLC began to more systematically investigate the characteristics of the print holdings of its members with respect to overlap, uniqueness, and geographical distribution. What has emerged is a deeper and more nuanced understanding of how non-local print book collections could be organized and managed including the importance of proximity as it relates to delivery options. OCLC has identified as many as twelve North American mega-regions as well as other, smaller regions. One of the smaller regions has been named Canada Extra-Regional, which includes libraries in the prairie provinces (Demspey and Malpas, 2015). Careful reading of the research reveals many caveats such as the awareness that implementing various actions that might work in larger mega-regions might not work as well in smaller ones such as the Canadian prairies, which have smaller aggregate print collections distributed across relatively larger geographic areas.[1]

Proposals to manage down the local collection – even ones to shift materials to an on-campus repository let alone into a regional print storage facility – typically encounter resistance from local users and librarians based on any number of factors. One factor that is often invoked is that removing materials from the open stacks will reduce opportunities for serendipitous discovery by users. Preserving the opportunity for serendipity is advanced by some librarians and some users as a positive value to be privileged when making decisions with respect to how and where collections are housed.

Although I once heard a very senior and accomplished professor tartly dismiss serendipity as “the tool of the lazy scholar,” we all have our serendipity stories. The most amusing serendipity story I ever heard was told by Dan Cohen, Founding Executive Director of the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA). A colleague went into the stacks and reached up to the top shelf to pull off his desired book. The book beside it dropped on his head and led to a lifelong program of research (Cohen, 2014). Well, who among us would not want to preserve the conditions for such fruitful accidents? In the same blog posting, Cohen described some interesting work at the DPLA to determine whether they could “engineer serendipity” into its user interface although, regrettably, without any capacity for virtual book bonking.

It always has struck me how contingent serendipity is, depending as it does on a chain of events such as a physical book being published, being collected, being on the shelf in a particular spot, having a user actually go into the stacks and coming across the item, as well as the innumerable, unknowable factors taking place inside the mind of the user.[2] The deliberate incorporation into the local collection of hundreds of thousands of e-books let alone hundreds of thousands of other digital objects over the past decade seems to me to only further attenuate serendipity in the stacks as a factor to be given much weight.[3]

Librarians mask the complexity that underlies their operations so that their users can get their hands on the desired object in as friction-free a manner as possible. The invocation of serendipity when making decisions about the disposition of local collections in research libraries conceals and even, in some cases, denies the decades- and even centuries-long application of a long chain of information labour and expertise that brought about these local collections in the first place. Those books did not just happen to be there. The librarian-related actions that got them there such as collection building, describing, organizing, and preserving, have been termed “epistemological engineering” (Guédon, 2001).

It is but a short step from engineering to algorithms if one considers the algorithm to be a codification of the innumerable operations involved in such engineering. Currently there is considerable discussion concerned the algorithms that permeate our lives, from Google’s 200+ “signals,” through Facebook, Amazon, and eHarmony, to the relevance ranking in online catalogs and discovery systems. I have found the work of Tarleton Gillespie especially helpful here with his careful unpacking of the many parts of algorithmic culture (Gillespie, 2014). And Ian Bogost has written recently that, “Concepts like ‘algorithm’ have become sloppy shorthands, slang terms for the act of mistaking multipart complex systems for simple, singular ones. Of treating computation theologically rather than scientifically or culturally.” (Bogost, 2015). For him, it is imperative to recognize all the other inputs (even preceding data and many of them human) that are required in order for an algorithm to produce its answer. One of these multipart complex systems is the library collection and the services that surround it.

I have contrasted serendipity, a somewhat Latinish neologism originating in the 18th Century, with the Arabic-derived algorithm as a way of foregrounding the information labour that is often concealed in the order of books on the shelves and their discovery by users. For me, however, the word fluke, a pithy 19th century, vaguely Anglo-Saxonish neologism, more accurately describes what happens in cases of serendipity in the stacks of the local print book collection. There are so many variables that determine whether a user stumbles across something relevant that they are almost impossible to identify. It is far less impressive defending flukiness than invoking serendipity as an operating principle when deciding how to manage down print collections

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[1] It is important to acknowledge the caution with which university librarians have approached any “managing down” of the local physical collection as a result of the existence of digital surrogates. It took at least ten years for most librarians to become comfortable that appropriate institutional arrangements were place before acting to discard some local print runs of e-journals. It will take at least as long and probably much longer for equivalent actions to take place with respect to print books. And although some commentators invoke initiatives such as Google Books, the Internet Archive, and Project Gutenberg as replacements and supplements for print book collections, these resources are clearly not library collections in any sense recognized by librarians and not acceptable as long term solutions.

[2] Frederick Kilgour’s study examining the sources of user failure incurred in obtaining the desired item in the stacks included factors such as a book never being acquired, being in on order, awaiting cataloguing and processing, circulation, awaiting reshelving, or misshelved, as well as user error (Kilgour, 1989). One could add any number of other contingencies such as being allowed into the stacks in the first place, books that disappeared into in-library graduate study carrels and faculty offices, and so on. Kilgour’s interest was estimating the impact that an automated library information system would have on these factors. It would be interesting to update Kilgour’s work and the literature of user failure generally to determine what effect the incorporation of e-books into the collection would have on those factors.

[3] See, for example, a recent article by David Woolwine (2014). Woolwine writes from the perspective of supporting undergraduate learning in a small to medium size academic library and includes references to studies involving serendipity. I wonder about the relevance of these earlier studies in an age of digital abundance, scholarly e-books, and changing user practices.

References

Bogost, Ian. 2015. Cathedral of computation. The Atlantic. January 15, 2015. http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/01/the-cathedral-of-computation/384300/

Cohen, Dan. 2014. Planning for Serendipity. http://dp.la/info/2014/02/07/planning-for-serendipity/.

Dempsey, Lorcan. 2013. The Emergence of the Collective Collection: Analyzing Aggregate Print Library Holdings. http://www.oclc.org/content/dam/research/publications/library/2013/2013-09intro.pdf. In: Dempsey, Lorcan, Brian Lavoie, Constance Malpas, Lynn Silipigni Connaway, Roger C. Schonfeld, JD Shipengrover, and Günter Waibel. 2013. Understanding the Collective Collection: Towards a System-wide Perspective on Library Print Collections. Dublin, Ohio: OCLC Research. http://www.oclc.org/content/dam/research/publications/library/2013/2013-09.pdf.

Dempsey, Lorcan and Malpas, Constance. 2015. Evolving Collection Directions. Collection Development Strategies in an Evolving Marketplace: An ALCTS Symposium. Chicago, 30 January 2015. http://www.slideshare.net/lisld/alctssymposium.

Gillespie, Tarleton. 2014. The relevance of algorithms, in Media Technologies: Essays on Communication, Materiality, and Society, ed. Tarleton Gillespie, Pablo Boczkowski and Kirsten Foot. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Guédon, Jean-Claude. 2001. In Oldenburg’s Long Shadow: Librarians, Research Scientists, Publishers, and the Control of Scientific Publishing. Washington, D.C., Association of Research Libraries. http://www.arl.org/storage/documents/publications/in-oldenburgs-long-shadow.pdf.

Kilgour, Frederick G. 1989. Toward 100 percent availability. Library Journal, 11450-53.

Winter, Frank. 2014. Traditionalists, Progressives and the Gone-Away World. Brain-Work. http://words.usask.ca/ceblipblog/2014/10/14/traditionalistsprogressives-and-the-gone-away-world/.

Woolwine, David E. 2014. Collection development in the humanities and social sciences in a transitional age: Deaccession of print items. Library Philosophy and Practice. http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/libphilprac/1173/.

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

Open Data and EBLIP – How open are we?

by Pam Ryan
Director, Collections & Technology at Edmonton Public Library

When we talk about evidence based library and information practice (EBLIP), we’re most often talking about research – conducting our own or finding and integrating research and best-available evidence into our practice. Part of this continuum should also include working towards making our own library service and operations data openly available for analysis and re-use.

This isn’t out of line with current library initiatives. Academic libraries have long supported the open access movement and for many, services around managing institutional research data are a current priority. Influenced by open government developments in their municipalities, public libraries are increasingly working to increase open data literacy through programming, encouraging citizens to think critically about government services and learn how to unlock the value of open data.

Why does open data matter for libraries? It aligns with our core values of access to information, sharing, openness, transparency, accountability, and stewardship. It supports our missions to provide information and data literacy, it can provide others with information to help us in our advocacy and value of libraries initiatives, and maybe most importantly, it can fuel research and initiatives we ourselves haven’t yet thought of.

My own place of work has a current business plan goal to: Develop an open data policy that includes how we will use and share our own data; participate in Edmonton’s Open Data community and support data literacy initiatives. We’ve begun to make progress in these areas by developing a statement on open data and collaborating with the City of Edmonton on public programs:

• Edmonton Public Library’s Statement on Open Data:
http://www.epl.ca/opendata

• EPL’s 2014 Open Data Day program:
http://www.epl.ca/odd2014

Has your library started a discussion about what your library’s approach to open data will be?

Further Reading:

Thompson, B, The open library and its enemies, Insights, 2014, 27(3), 229–232; DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1629/2048-7754.172

Data is Law / Civic Innovations: The Future is Open http://civic.io/2014/12/28/data-is-law/

pryan@epl.ca / Twitter: @pamryan

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

The Value of Big Picture Trends in the Smaller Context

By Vicki Williamson
Dean, University Library, University of Saskatchewan

Library trend summaries and forecasts are becoming more prevalent in our professional literature. Maybe it just seems that way to me because more often I am thinking about the future of our profession and the role of libraries and therefore I am noticing such reports more often. One such report, which I think is one of the best, is Riding the Waves or Caught in the Tide? – an IFLA Trend Report. Visit here: http://trends.ifla.org/insights-document

What I like to do with such high levels reports is to take the key elements and think about them in a local (institutional and library specific context) and then extrapolate why and how the various factors might impact on our planning for the future.

The IFLA Trend Report is billed as ‘the global voice of the library and information profession.” It is the result of twelve months’ consultation with experts and stakeholders from a range of disciplines to explore and discuss emerging trends in our new information environment. It is more than a static report because it includes a dynamic and evolving set of online resources for library and information professionals to contribute to.

The IFLA Trend Report identifies five high level trends shaping the global information environment:

  • New technologies will both expand and limit who has access to information
  • Online education will democratise and disrupt global learning
  • The boundaries of privacy and data protection will be redefined
  • Hyper-connected societies will listen to and empower new voices and groups
  • The global information economy will be transformed by new technologies.

As I read and reflected on these trends they helped me to make sense of my local and institutional environment. For example, at the University of Saskatchewan we have come through some very demanding financial and leadership challenges over the last few years. When I reflect on how new technologies (especially social media) fed into and fueled those challenges over the summer months, it somehow helped to put events and players into some perspective. Not being a big user of social media, I had to rely on others to forward me postings, share information and assist me to become more confident in using social media tools. I think others had similar experiences as I heard from another senior colleague that he took the lead and tutoring from his daughter to access and use social media to follow the unfolding events at the university this last summer.

Returning to the IFLA Trend Report, what I really like about this report is that it focusses on the broader environment leaving the reader to place the world of libraries (individually and collectively) into that context and then to think and plan accordingly at both the local, national, and international level. I would encourage you to explore the report and the IFLA website to learn more and then to think about what the trend messages mean for your professional practice and that of your local library.

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

Technological Disruption in Technical Services

by Donna Frederick
Services to Libraries, University of Saskatchewan

In hearing discussions among technical services librarians at conferences, it is hard to deny that the majority are dealing with the impact of disruptive technical change within the field.

In his book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, Christensen (1997) talks about how disruptive innovations typically “result in worse product performance, at least in the near term” and generally “underperform established products in mainstream markets” (p. xv) but eventually can come to dominate the market and surpass the established products because of a combination of characteristics. These characteristics include that the product appeals to a new significant audience and that the product is generally cheaper, simpler, smaller, and more convenient to use than previous products.

While it is easy to imagine an application of Christensen’s conceptualization of the disruptive innovation in the area of electronic gadgets including cell phones and other personal electronic devices, the connection with what has been happening in technical services in libraries in the past 5 years or so and the idea of disruptive innovation is less readily understood. The reality is that recently a number of technological developments in combination with the blooming of related theoretical frameworks has gradually moved both technical services theory and practice into a new realm where the old tried and true concepts and practices have been completely challenged and many have been overturned. Evidence that the innovations have had a disruptive impact are seen in the fact that many of the newer processes are judged by seasoned professionals to result in work of inferior quality relative to the past. However, the new practices offer library workers the ability to process large volumes of information and resources at a relatively low cost while offering new functionalities to users. As the demands on technical services staff increase and the rate at which libraries are expected to make the latest information available to users accelerates, so does the pressure increase on libraries to let go some of the older practices in favour of innovations which hold the potential for allowing rapid but informed and intelligent preparation and processing of information resources. A dilemma occurs when technical services librarians can see that to adopt the innovations some of the perfection and stability of the past is lost in favour of what, while functional, is hard to describe as anything less than a lower technical quality product. The question is why a library might even want to adopt a disruptive innovation if it is known in advance that the product will be of a lesser quality. My answer to that question is that the decision is made in the attempt to remain useful and relevant in the current information environment. A slightly reduced technical quality of product which is still highly functional and even offers some value added features is tremendously more valuable to users than creating a massive multi-year backlog of work which will eventually be completed to a hard-to-justify standard of perfection. In fact, when I have taken an objective look at what makes the outcomes of the newer processes lower-quality, the vast majority of what I have discovered to be “problematic” or “mistakes” consists of either cosmetic flaws, variations in style which don’t impact on function, and slight deviations from display conventions which are likely not even recognized as such by individuals besides library workers. The final conclusion in my mind is that if libraries can’t do it all, so to speak, the best approach is to try to remain useful and relevant to their patrons and, where the choice needs to be made, to prefer function over form.

So, what role might evidence-based practice take in helping libraries’ technical services functions successfully navigate from the past into a fast-paced, highly-demanding future? The reality is that a lot of choices will need to be made as libraries make the transition. In his book The Search for Survival: Lessons from Disruptive Technologies, Lucas (2012) has described eight signs that an organization is failing in the face of a disruption. The following lists those signs and explains how they might be observed in a library context:
1) Denial: This is a denial that a disruption has occurred or is important. It could take the form of denying the importance of the role of cloud computing information storage, discovery and access.
2) History: When libraries believe that they will always be the key provider of information to their patrons without having to adjust their approaches to changing realities, they have fallen into the trap of history.
3) Resistance to change
4) Mind-set: This is often displayed as “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” despite the growing evidence that the status quo is failing. It is denial that exists at the level of the individual.
5) Brand: When libraries assume that all of their patrons will automatically recognize the library as the superior source for reliable information and do nothing to continue to build the brand in the mind of their users, over-reliance on brand is evident.
6) Sunk costs: When libraries decide to not adopt changes because much has already been invested in older systems despite the fact that those systems are failing in critical ways, a problem with sunk costs is present.
7) Profitability: If libraries keep getting donations, grants, and other types of funding by maintaining the status quo and use this to justify their inertia, concerns for profitability may be overwhelming the bigger picture.
8) Lack of imagination

Reading through this list and reflecting on various other ways the signs might be present in libraries reinforced in my mind that the librarian who makes decisions based on evidence is significantly more likely to thrive in the face of disruptive change than the librarian who does not.

References:
Christensen, C. 1997. The Innovator’s Dilemma: When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Lucas, H. 2012. The Search for Survival: Lessons from Disruptive Technologies. Denver: Praeger.

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

Traditionalists, Progressives and the Gone-Away World

by Frank Winter, Librarian Emeritus
University Library, University of Saskatchewan

The question of what the role and mission of academic libraries and librarians should be has occupied my attention for a long time. My answers have evolved over time as circumstances have evolved. Underlying my answers, however, is my belief that every important factor in the evolving mission and role of university libraries is exogenous. We have no meaningful control or influence over the ecosystem of scholarly communication where Elsevier and its ilk and Google are the dominant players. In the Canadian context, the librarians responsible for data services, GIS services, and government documents saw their respective areas of responsibility restructure almost unrecognizably in real time over 3 years because of the exogenous forces of Open government information, Open data and Open GIS. Government goals for universities and university mission statements are developed without input from libraries. We react and try to shape these factors as best we can to meet our own values and goals based on the mission of the Library within the University.

Successfully engaging with these factors requires a clear understanding of how we interpret them and act on those interpretations. In this context, the rise to prominence of the work of cognitive scientists with respect to decision-making is important. In his Presidential Address at the 2013 annual meeting of the Canadian Political Science Association (published as “Policy, politics and political science,” Canadian Journal of Political Science, 46(4), 751-772. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S000842391300084X) Dr. Michael Atkinson identified numerous decision-making pitfalls including framing, prospect theory, status quo bias, loss aversion, overconfidence bias, confirmation bias, my-side bias and recency bias. These pitfalls ought, in his opinion, to be much more formally incorporated into the theoretical underpinning of policy studies and political science. Atkinson notes, “In addition, we draw conclusions based on personally evocative but statistically dubious evidence.” As in policy studies, so in librarianship, I suggest. I would like to focus on another of these pitfalls – mindsets, the mental models of how the world ought to run – that each of us carries in our head.

At the present time, my thinking has focused on two different mindsets: the Traditionalist and the Progressive. Traditionalists are those librarians who believe that the overarching importance of the Library in the University is its local collection (consisting predominantly of published, almost exclusively English-language, secondary academic monographic literature, balanced and representative, and assembled for current and future scholars) and the services that support that local collection.

Progressives are those librarians who view “the Library” and its contributions to the host institution as a bundle of services of which the local collection (a subset of the collective collection) is one of the services.

When discussions arise that challenge a Traditionalist’s mindset, my experience is that evidence-based conclusions and proposals arising from those conclusions are often met with a combination of normative responses (“well, even if that is accurate it shouldn’t be given any weight given on this, that, or the other principle”) and heuristic, anecdotal empiricism (“I know my faculty members”) which are challenging to engage with.

As always, however, things are not black and white. It is quite possible, for example, that life science liaison librarians, for example, are Progressives by this definition and meet the needs for their users very well while humanities liaison librarians are predominantly Traditionalists because the relevant faculty members and graduate student users are traditionalists themselves. There is nothing wrong with that and this arguably is the correct approach to take. So perhaps, at a minimum, more precision and segmentation is needed when discussing options, not just referring to an undifferentiated lump called “the Library.”

But the heading that I now use when thinking about Traditionalist and Progessive mindsets is “the Gone-Away World.” This phrase is taken from the title of a very funny/ sad 2008 science fiction novel by Nick Harkaway. You can read the book yourself but in essence the title refers to a fearsome weapon (called the Go-Away weapon) developed to bring an end to an endless, ugly war between evenly-matched opponents. The weapon – some sort of entropy device – would cause the enemy to just “go away” by, as far as I could understand this narrative MacGuffin, causing information to decohere in the objects it is aimed at. Well, unintended consequences and all that (I think the author intended to show how the 2nd law of thermodynamics and the law of conservation of matter interacted in unexpected ways) but half the book deals with the results of deploying this weapon – the Gone-Away World.

I think, getting to the point, is that our Traditionalists are living (mostly) in a Gone-Away World. The traditional rationale for and way of delivering local collection-based services, traditional reference, traditional information literacy and so on has, for the most part, gone away but they act as if it were still in existence or perhaps are expecting a cyclical return to the status quo ante. Meanwhile, the Canadian tri-council granting agencies, planning processes from the university-wide to the local unit level, and professional bodies such as CARL, OCLC, and Ithaka S+R, among many others, have tried to explain why that world is no more and what roles libraries and librarians might play in the evolving world.

Re-reading these paragraphs I realize that I sound rather preachy. I have no reason to expect that I am any more insightful than any other person. There are lots of other opinions out there from some very informed, very engaged librarians and others who are engaged with issues of the library in the communities that they serve who see the world differently. But you can see some of this impact of these changes in many support staff positions lost over the past few years at MPOW. Many were dealing with physical stuff – stuff that has just Gone-Away. If the local collection of printed scholarly books by-and-large just Goes-Away as a useful and important service, what choice will we have as university libraries and university librarians but to adapt? Evidence-based solutions will be increasingly necessary for good decisions in this environment.

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

Oh, the Humanities: A Literature Scholar Turned Librarian Ponders the Art and Science of Librarianship

by Heidi LM Jacobs
Leddy Library, University of Windsor

When librarians with humanities backgrounds have an opportunity to meet and talk, I am struck by how we seem to cling to each other, relieved and grateful to have someone to talk with who understands us. It also strikes me as strange that while there are many, many academic librarians with backgrounds in the humanities, we feel so alone within LIS.

It seems unchallengeable that LIS is a social science: indeed it is and there is nothing at all wrong with this. Yet I often wonder what would happen if we thought about librarianship as a humanities endeavor, bringing together, as Denise Koufogiannakis writes, “the art and science of our profession”:

“We need to embrace both the science and the art of evidence based practice — otherwise, we will overlook important elements of the whole situation that practitioners work within. Doing so is not neat and tidy, but does that really matter? LIS is a social science, and the “social” implies “messy” because people and real-life situations are not easily controlled. The art of our craft allows us to embrace the messy situation, find ways to be creative, put our professional judgments to use and find the best solutions to meet the needs of individual users by applying the best of what we find in the research literature together with the best of what we know is likely to help this person.” (49)

I’m not at all disagreeing with Denise and the countless others who have called LIS a social science, but I do want to raise this question: what would happen if we called LIS a humanities subject? How would our ideas of evidence change? What kinds of evidence would we use? What kinds of evidence would inform the questions that we ask? Our decisions? Our profession?

In 2013, John Horgan published an interesting blog post on the Scientific American site called “Why Study Humanities? What I tell Engineering Freshman.” This post raises ideas that pick up on points I made in my last blog post and helps me think more fully about what the humanities could offer librarianship in terms of both research and practice.

Horgan writes, “We live in a world increasingly dominated by science. And that’s fine. I became a science writer because I think science is the most exciting, dynamic, consequential part of human culture, and I wanted to be a part of that.”

“But,” he goes on to argue, that “it is precisely because science is so powerful that we need the humanities now more than ever. In your science, mathematics and engineering classes, you’re given facts, answers, knowledge, truth. Your professors say, “This is how things are.” They give you certainty. The humanities, at least the way I teach them, give you uncertainty, doubt, skepticism.”

“The humanities,” Horgan tells his students, “are subversive. They undermine the claims of all authorities, whether political, religious or scientific. . . The humanities are more about questions than answers, and we’re going to wrestle with some ridiculously big questions in this class.”

I’m particularly drawn to Horgan telling his students that they are going to “wrestle with some ridiculously big questions.” It seems to me that if we focus our research and our inquiry into things that we can count or quantify or that we can collect a particular kind of evidence about, then we’re scaling back the questions we can ask about our practice and our profession.

Literature students are trained to ask questions, look for fissures in logic, notice how meaning can hang on a single word or the placement of a comma. We look for the silences and gaps that reveal significant things through omission or silences. We are taught to question continuously. We are taught that never arriving at an answer is perfectly fine as the journey of asking questions is not only valid, it’s vital. In short, we are taught that things that you cannot count do count.

As an information literacy librarian, I continually bring questions to my students: where is this information coming from? Who wrote it? Who is presenting or sponsoring this information? Who is benefitting from having this particular kind of information published? What kinds of information aren’t we finding, why might that be? While we cannot always answer these questions definitively or answer them without a qualifier like “it depends,” it is imperative that we ask these questions of them and with them.

I want our profession to embody what we teach our students about information: doubt it, question it, be skeptical, be critical. It is not that I am against quantifiable evidence but I want to ensure we are using it carefully and critically and not complacently. And also that we don’t exclude other kinds of evidence that – though it cannot be counted – still counts.

Horgan concludes his essay arguing the point of the humanities is that they “keep us from being trapped by our own desire for certainty.” Librarianship is at a point where we are bombarded by “some ridiculously big questions” and if we limit our inquiries to what we can answer, prove, quantify, and chart, we’re doing ourselves and our profession a disservice.

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

The Library Researcher Series: A Team Approach to Planning and Teaching

by Tasha Maddison
Engineering Library, University of Saskatchewan

During the summer of 2012, a chance meeting of two science liaison librarians led to the creation and development of the initial Library Workshop Series for Scientists and Engineers. DeDe Dawson was eager to address the needs of graduate students and faculty – often these two groups do not receive library instruction and could benefit from sessions on literature searching and research productivity skills. I had just started as a liaison librarian and was eager to begin providing instruction and expand my contacts within the College of Engineering. The idea of providing a series sounded like a perfect opportunity for both of us. Although we acknowledged that the initial course offerings might appeal to a broader audience, we focused our pilot project on our primary areas of liaison work and targeted these graduate students and faculty members specifically in all promotion and marketing initiatives of the series. The series was launched that fall with an initial offering of four classes. All sessions were taught collaboratively and the series was repeated with two additional classes in the winter semester.

Building upon the initial success of the fall semester, the Library Instruction Interest Group piloted a concurrent series that offered RefWorks training in the winter semester of 2013. Based on the initial pilot project, the collaboration with the Library Instruction Interest Group, a planning team was formed and the Library Researcher Series was born. DeDe Dawson, Carolyn Doi, Vicky Duncan, Angie Gerrard, Maha Kumaran and Tasha Maddison are the founding and current members of the planning team. The team members represent five of the seven library branches which includes discipline coverage in the Sciences, Social Sciences, Education and Fine Arts. Due to the interdisciplinary approach to planning, the team is able to offer a series with a broader scope, as well as an expanded breadth and depth than the original pilot project. The team continues to utilize a collaborative approach to teaching, reaching out to librarians and other instructors in the university community to offer sessions as part of the series.

A core element of each series since the beginning has been the collection of statistics and feedback associated with each session. This evidence has shown us which sessions are popular and should be offered again, what additional sessions could be developed based on comments received, and how best to market our series. The data collected has also allowed us to document our successes! Since the fall semester of 2012, we have seen an increase in attendance each subsequent semester. Most recently, in the winter of 2014, we averaged 13 participants per session. We also worked hard to brand our series last year, creating a logo and consistent promotional materials such as posters and advertisements in On Campus News, the University of Saskatchewan’s newspaper. Our most successful marketing tool remains the direct emails which are sent to faculty and graduate students from liaison librarians.

Planning is currently underway for the fall of 2014 with a roster of approximately 21 classes being offered with topics such as: Comprehensive Literature Review (Part A – Subject Searching, Part B – Keyword Searching), Plagiarism, Scholarly Identity, Making the most of Google and Managing Citations Series (RefWorks, EndNote, Mendeley and Zotero). We are also exploring live streaming and recording some sessions. Part of each planning meeting is dedicated to a review of existing classes, deciding which ones to keep and when is the most suitable time for them to be offered again. We have generated a list of new topics which are added to the series when appropriate. Expressions of interest are also requested from our colleagues and instructors within our University community. Some classes are favourites and are offered every term, while others come and go from the series.

For more information, please see: http://libguides.usask.ca/LibraryResearcherSeries

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

Perpetual Access, Perpetually Confusing? C-EBLIP Journal Club, August 25, 2014

by Charlene Sorensen
Services to Libraries, University of Saskatchewan

I’m really enjoying the C-EBLIP journal club and I’ve been trying to figure out why since I’ve never been one for book clubs. It certainly helps that journal articles are short but that isn’t the whole reason. I find all areas of librarianship so interesting, but I don’t have enough time to explore areas outside of my own (technical services and collections). So the exposure to others’ article selections, combined with the small time commitment to read the articles and attend the meetings, is very exciting to me.

The third meeting of the C-EBLIP Journal Club was held on August 25, 2014 to discuss this journal article of my choosing:

Bulock, Chris. “Tracking Perpetual Access: A Survey of Librarian Practices.” Serials Review 40, no. 2 (2014): 97-104
http://doi.org/10.1080/00987913.2014.923369

I chose this article because it was from the area of the library literature that I typically follow but would probably be a topic unfamiliar to the journal club members. It was also relevant to a project I am involved in and it was short (do you see a theme here?). I also liked it because the research study was pretty straightforward and was an example of what any one of us might undertake.

The author undertook a survey that asked librarians about their practices with respect to tracking perpetual access to e-journals, e-books, and multimedia resources. That is, even if perpetual access is contained with a license agreement, the perpetual access entitlements must then be tracked and holdings must be adjusted if changes occur. The author concludes that librarians seem committed to securing the perpetual access rights, but they were less dedicated to maintaining the access as evidenced by the fact that a great many weren’t actually tracking the access.

The conversation started out innocently enough. We identified a couple of inconsistencies in the paper and yearned for better definitions of some of the concepts. But the discussion took off from there and we wondered if the advent of electronic resources has changed our perspective on long-term access of any online resource. Libraries struggle with electronic resources every step of the way, from selection and acquisition, to description and discovery, right through to current and long-term access. We are so very good at managing these processes for print materials, but are nowhere near having the same control over e-resources. BUT maybe we just can’t have the same ‘control’ over these materials and should dial back our expectations. For example, I have a shoebox of letters I received throughout my life up until 1996, when email came along and now correspondence with friends and family is regularly deleted. Many of us have photos on our phones that will be deleted accidentally or on purpose. Maybe history matters less now that it’s harder to preserve?

But are libraries supposed to stand up to these difficulties and be responsible for the long-term access to its resources for the benefit of the university community? The author of this paper isn’t very hopeful and concludes:

“It remains to be seen whether librarians will develop the tools necessary to bring their practices into alignment with their ideals, or whether the goal of perpetual access will simply fall by the wayside” (p. 103).

I personally believe that libraries do have the responsibility to ensure perpetual access, though the ideal may be different from that of print materials. I look forward to further discussions on this topic throughout the library.

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.