Wednesday, April 21, 2010

On Ubiquitous Instruction

David Michalski
Humanities and Social Sciences Librarian
University of California, Davis

Unlike our counterparts in the bookstores, corporate libraries and even some public libraries, education is central to our mission in the research university. The social promise of the university is to improve the society that supports it by making its members more knowledgeable, more inventive, more skilled, and wiser. As librarians we have a unique role in this mission. Our instruction differs from that of the lecturer or professor. Our teaching is at its core dialogical. Our pedagogy is based on a certain art of conversation.

There is no shortage of studies in the library literature on the “reference interview” or “reference transaction” as it is often called. The reference process has been meticulously analyzed by information scientists and planners who seek to break it into bits in the effort to locate the kernel, or coin of value passed from the librarian to the patron. The interview, however, is not like a vending machine. The student cannot simply pay for information and walk away. Our practice is better understood as a diagnostic one, one that assesses both the interpersonal and social context of each project, and leads to decisions, which attempt to enable not only access, but the incrementally improved ability of the patron to take possession of library as a tool and field in their quest to reorganize information as knowledge.

Librarians, who imagine their role reduced to the mechanics of information delivery, are often left with a sense of purposelessness. A symptom of this lack arises in the current anxiety about the future. It surfaces in a discourse that depicts a contemporary competition between the librarian and the machine. Such questions about the future, dismiss the historic impact librarians and scholars have had on information technology since the profession began. Librarians have had prominent roles working to marshal the efficiencies of technology in the service of our core values. Today, we must reaffirm these efforts by translating our values and pedagogic mission into the info-space of the digital environment, not positioning our values against the digital realm. In part, this means imbuing our machines with the conversational and dialogic skills nurtured by our human practice. We ought to ask: How can people leaving library interaction (whether online or in person) be better prepared to discover and understand the information environment? How can our tools, websites and our people, not only provide easy access to known documents, but teach discovery techniques and the diverse ways in which information is organized? As heuristic devices, how can our tools train better researchers? It is no more appropriate for a search engine or catalog to simply churn out singular responses to a question than it is for a reference librarian to act simply as a medium for the exchange of information. Our exchanges must be value-added. Our catalogs and search tools must facilitate the construction of better formed questions and more sophisticated thinking. It is not an easy task to develop such tools and sites, and it is made even more difficult by a growing gap between search tool designers and librarians, but it is our professional charge and it is worth the effort.

One alarming consequence of treating our tools as simply location devices is the impact this outlook has on our own service roles. When the digital reference experience is diminished to a mechanical transaction, our own interviewing, listening and questioning skills tend to atrophy. Without use ours skills can be forgotten, and as I mentioned in a previous post, our disconnection can make us lose track of our public. With so many databases marketed as automatic, simple and direct we can be tempted to forgo the hard work education demands. We can forget that even our most powerful tools for indexing information are inadequate surrogates for teaching the social life of information. In exchange for expediency and mass capacity they can treat Works as the inert products of remote labor, as objects detached from authors and readers alike, as removed from cause or argument. We ought not to replicate this disregard.

Undoubtedly, the disintermediation of the information world has positively transformed the way knowledge is distributed and produced. Information seekers have more direct access to information providers and the mundane middling tasks of the librarian have largely evaporated. The trend towards disintermediation, however, does not dissipate the mediation of the intellect, which takes form in the course of learning. Technological immediacy does not substitute for the work of critical thinking. In the best instances it may support it, but in the worst instances it can disguise its necessity.

One of the foremost roles of the reference librarian has always been to persuade the patron to think out-loud, to state and restate, to read and question, and to read, write and return with a deeper understanding. Unnecessary difficulties and formalities can not be tolerated, but where information is complex, it can not be represented as falsely simple. Instead, we ought to help our students acquire the skills appropriate to the challenges their projects face. At each stage, helping them see a little bit more by encouraging a deeper engagement with their topics.

Even when patrons come in demanding immediate results, my colleagues and I have discovered creative ways to widen their bibliographic imagination. I’ve met thousands of students over the years and no one approach can be applied uniformly. Not one reference conversation is the same as the next. Each takes on its own shape. Sometimes I am unsuccessful in my application of, what I like to call, ubiquitous non-invasive reference instruction. Some students cannot be bothered, sometime I become impatient, but with each encounter I try to improve. I try to learn more about the public I serve, and find better ways of providing the unique service reference librarians at a research university can provide. These include new ways of fostering critical thinking, information literacy, and new ways of expanding the potential of our collections.

By practicing and honing our unique form of pedagogy, in formal library classes, in the design of our online tools, and in our everyday interactions with our public we can renew our sense of purpose and positively support the educational mission of our university.

The Qualitative Place of the Reference Desk Today

From General Reference to Subject Specialty


UCB Spring Assembly Discussion Topics

#1 – Reference

Various types of online reference are popular, reference by appointment is popular. Reference desk usage is declining but not dead. Ideas for staffing the latter include having students serve as front line staff who will refer to reference staff as needed, and combining circulation and reference desks.

There was a discussion of current reference models, including:

Ask a Librarian: 24/7 chat reference service via OCLC Questionpoint software
o UCB librarians currently staff 8 hours/week
o UCB students have access 24/7
o Questions run the gamut from directional to substantive
o Many questions can be answered using online resources (not all; and referral to subject specialists do take place)
o Discussion of differences – lack visual cues, but librarians feel they can/must ask user more questions; more followup than for in-person reference; challenge of answering questions from non-UC patrons; takes longer; does it reduce ageism and reverse-ageism?
o Will it lead to offshoring of reference? (or not: local information still very important)

Email reference

o Doe/Moffitt has a general e-mail reference service
o Many units and many individual librarians answer reference via e-mail

IM chat reference
o Done at some libraries on campus (including Gov Info, Sciences, Transportation, et al)
o Necessary at units like Transportation Studies with very dispersed clientele

o Engineering does texting, meebo chat and Lisa participates in Questionpoint
o Questionpoint will start implementing texting

Reference by appointment (in-person)
o Many libraries do this
o Doe/Moffitt: Research Advisory Service (by appointment for undergraduates) recently started online signups; use of the service has increased with relatively few no-shows; Law also has online signups for appointments

Reference desks
o Statistics down for most units; many units have cut staffing (1 person not 2) and/or hours
o Is the reference desk less about reference and more about marketing – our availability?
o Valuable for reference staff to be “out” in the library seeing how users use it
o Location of reference desk vis-à-vis users and vis-à-vis circulation desk makes a difference
o @ some units, students have first contact and refer when necessary; in the new Moffitt building, a similar tiered reference service is being considered, with trained students as first contact point
o combined desks also being considered at some units
o @ UC Merced, all reference is on call (student employees refer); NYU moving to something similar
o but: in surveys, library users say they like being able to talk face to face to someone

? Question: Anyone using Skype for reference? No one knew of any instances at UCB.

#2 – Scholarly Communication / Information Providers

Random discussion points on the topic of Relationship to Information
Providers at LAUC-B Assembly, April 13, 2010 (we decided to rename this
topic “Scholarly Communication.”)

** As librarians, our role is to support our faculty and to share with them information about alternative publishing options that are available. Sometimes that information is hard to find and not all librarians feel equipped to answer the question that we might get from a faculty member who asks, “If Elsevier journals are so expensive, can you
suggest another journal title that might be less expensive (but that is still has a high impact factor, etc.)?”

** Where do faculty publish? One member of our breakout session cited the recent Ithaka Faculty Survey 2009 (

In this survey, respondents stated that being read by peers in their discipline is the most important consideration when deciding where to publish. The least important factor is whether the article is freely available on the web; this suggests that open access is not important to faculty.

** Reference to John Lewis, UL at Indiana University, who writes, “More precisely, libraries are the mechanism for providing the subsidy that is required if information is to be used efficiently in communities and organizations.” Within an online environment, perhaps it is time to transform this economic model. Lewis makes a number of interesting
(provocative) statements in this article “A Strategy for Academic Libraries in the First Quarter of the 21^st Century” C&RL News, September 2007

** Changing the scholarly communication landscape is difficult because we are fighting against a longstanding culture. Does this mean we should be targeting younger faculty and graduate students? (But they can’t take those kinds of risks until they have tenure.) Or, maybe it means we should be targeting the older faculty who already have tenure and,
therefore, are in a better position to take risks.

** Everyone agreed that Tenure and Promotion is the elephant in the room. We didn’t want to go there.

** How do we change things? Librarians don’t have much influence. Faculty have some, but they are caught up in a deeply embedded culture that doesn’t give them much room to change their behavior. Maybe we should be targeting administrators who control the purse strings and would support libraries when we walk away from expensive journal packets.

** We have mixed feelings about eScholarship. Not much uptake from faculty. On the other hand, it is a great place for publishing so-called grey literature and eScholarship is very good at surfacing its contents in Google.

** We all have to understand that while some of us may be excited about Open Access, it is not free. Many question whether it is even a sustainable model. On the other hand, just because there are questions about its sustainability we should not discount it (as many faculty and publishers do). Most importantly, we need scholars to understand that
open access IS peer reviewed; it is not vanity publishing!

** The good news: some in-roads have been made in the health and medical sciences. The NIH Mandate requires all recipients of NIH funding to submit an electronic version of their final, peer reviewed manuscript to PubMed Central. Now anyone with NIH funding knows about open access and the fact that research in traditional journals creates a barrier to accessing their findings.

** More good news: there is starting to be a buzz about textbook affordability. Maybe this is a good way to get attention from the academy about the sustainability (or lack thereof) of the current publishing industry.

#3 – Library Personnel

Hiring of library personnel depends not only on the amount of staff
needed, but also the training required. What is missing is succession planning. Right now, there is nothing formal in place for succession
planning (moving into a new job, leadership training, management
training, etc). Potential reasons for the lack of succession planning
could be that supervisors are not used to thinking about it.

When replacing library personnel, things to consider are what skills to
advertise for, the person’s strengths, and also what is required and
desired. It all depends on the individual. Even if you find someone who
has all of the necessary skills, is that person someone you want to work with? On the other hand, how much time/energy can we put into getting people trained and up to speed? What we need for job descriptions is the core elements/values of what makes a library employee.

With reduced staffing and large workloads, people need to be realistic.
How can you provide the same amount of services with fewer people? It
feels bad to cut public services, but if funding for collections is
protected, then only thing to cut is public service.

Student employees are so important to the Library. They work late shifts and some even do higher-level technical processing work. There are some interns, who can work on special projects, but these interns do not typically help with daily workloads.

The MLS or MLIS is a degree that is important to the field of librarianship. Obtaining the degree is key, because there is something
you learn when you’re in the program that makes librarians different
from library staff.

#4 – Technology
Bolded, top-level bullet items are the “conversation starters” we started with, and there are very loosely thrown summaries of the comments into each category, even though we did not address the topics strictly or in any particular order.

Are we leveraging technology as best we can?
o We need to be more cutting edge - leaders, not followers … Berkeley was more so in the 90s - what happened? So much happens off campus now (e.g., CDL). Fracturing of technical support offices makes for a confusing system to navigate and slows innovation.
o Flexibility - many library changes require many layers of committees etc. - need to be able to make decisions faster

o Some changes libraries have made have been by going rogue, against advice of IST - too often the response is simply "oh we don't support that"… (e.g., metasearching/federated searching - resistance to trying).

o Affiliates and institutes as drivers of and experimenters with new technology
o Get rid of bureaucracy - need to move quickly, need to trust staff to try out new techs and capture their innovations

o Importance of staff re: training and time to play with new technologies. Librarians testing new products – raising awareness of resources, but also able to evaluate quality

o We need a dedicated position to proactively seek out new technologies. Current model is systemically more passive and reactive, relying on individuals with other responsibilities to innovate

o How about a Library Office of Technology [or Innovation] (maybe a library committee?) - Library Systems Office is focused on (overworked) keeping existing systems working. A lot of universities have an emerging techs office - Duke Digital Initiatives (developed to foster use of digital repository) -

o changed structure to make Digital Initiatives report directly to university president - freed from university layers of bureaucracy

o can direct IT, Libraries, teaching/learning, Academic Senate, etc.

o situated in the library (powerful symbolic meaning).

o Responsible to interpret and facilitate; three groups (IT, Library, Teaching/learning) sitting together, working together as functional group.

o Need a librarian in the systems office; lack of structured liaison with IST and Library Systems Office Is also a barrier to innovation

o Difficult/expensive to do video conferencing from this campus. It saves money but there seems to be resistance/barriers

o Working remotely … using Skype for videoconferencing, pushing webpages … A lot of ways to do things cheaply, on the fly (even if deemed "not supported"?)

o using iChat to run remote discussion for distance learning interesting experience. (But is there a resistance about distance education?)

o Looking towards the future - the students who will be here 5 years from now - comfort level in using technology. We need to be there, and just as flexible, adaptive and curious as they are with technologies and change.

Technology for technology's sake?

o Talk about tech is often outside the context of library values …

o Tech should be a tool for where we want to go, not the driver. It is important for librarians to determine for themselves where to go based on our goals & mission (quality, authority, etc.) rather than tech for its own sake.

o Tech changes so quickly - We can't let tech guide us blindly, but at the same time we have to be flexible to be able to explore the ways it can support librarians’ core values

o Library values - Focus on end-user support: don't conceptualize based on traditional functional groups like buying, maintenance, etc., but supporting teaching/learning, research

o why try to reinvent Google when Google already exists? Instead, focus on what librarians can contribute that is a value-add –

o e.g., Open Gov Initiatives is coming (datasets, etc., from all federally funded research must be uploaded) … Libraries can contribute by creating standards for data structure for access across different possible future platforms

o Ebook readers - should libraries lend these? We don't even have laptop checkout. But what about the Amazon experiment with Kindles for textbooks at Princeton – wildly unpopular because readers wanted to be able to highlight, take notes, use easily ….

Letting patrons (undergrads) lead the way

o Being reactive versus leading and planning – UCB tends [too much] toward the former mode

o Stuff that works on mobile devices are what users want …. - SFSU model, a couple of people developed their library enhancements to make “mobile friendly”

o We often move in reaction to what we think students want
o making video tutorials …Has anyone had any reactions or done assessment of user reaction to this? –

o there are barriers: Not thinking outside the box (e.g. instance where selector was told Schoolhouse Rock "I'm Just a Bill" was not academic enough) means not being able to take advantage (quickly) of things that our students find useful

What about Google?

o We can't reinvent Google, but we can improve on it

o No one wants Local Worldcat – always want to search everywhere

o Google as model - experimentation with new technologies, trying to change

o Don't tell an engineer to design a bridge, tell her to design a way to get from here to there

Open Source, Digital Rights Management

o Can we reclaim from CDL control over tech initiative? (e.g. CDL’s digital archiving – several Affiliated Libraries pay for outside service for DRM). CDL is great for managing shared collections, negotiating contracts, and similar functions – but by ceding to CDL control over so much tech innovation, de facto it becomes a work of centralizing. Centralization of so much from all 10 campuses slows things down too much to be able to keep up with technology.

Staff Training/keeping up-to-date
o coexistence of people who somewhat resist change and those who are early adopters

o A good combination?

o control issues - feels better to have rigid controls, but may not be able to keep up, given pace of change

o Duke model – sometimes a top-down model is needed to force and encourage change

o innovations at low level need to bubble up quickly and then be propagated back down

#5 – Collections

Are librarians wizards for their ability to find information, as Marilyn Johnson suggests in This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All, or lizards, changing colors and losing their tails while adapting to danger and varying environments?

The recent CDC report "University of California Library Collection: Content for the 21st Century and Beyond" maps out changes in library roles without ever mentioning the word librarian but rather using "library staff" and "curatorial role." Librarians provide vital services to our users not only in collecting research materials but also at reference desks, in classroom and in myriad other ways.

Next Generation Tech Services groups are changing the way we manage
collections. The "CDL Shared Print Steering Task Force Findings and
Recommendations Report to CDC" is an attempt to find ways to make similar changes to how UC collects materials and take current collaborative projects to new levels. UCB refuses to shed its insular attitudes toward ownership.
Another viewpoint is that UC librarians have worked out many ooperative
agreements in the UC system, with Stanford and other research libraries, and this report might make honoring the terms of those agreements difficult or impossible. UCB has successful arrangements covering Latin America, Africa and other areas. These agreements define collection areas for sharing ofacquisition and processing. For years UC has had informal arrangements such as buying two copies of some research materials, one in the north and one in the south. Many research materials are at RLFs and meant to be shared in the UC system.

Collections are fluid since faculty retire and faculty with new research interests join the institution. Librarians must decide whether to maintain historical strengths or concentrate on current needs, especially difficult as budgets shrink.

All libraries are concerned with ownership, historically important in
determining ARL rankings and in attracting top faculty and graduate
students. Shared ownership might not be as problematic for the sciences and health fields since so much is online, although copyright and lending are issues. Eastern Europe is increasingly turning to digital only; digitization is supported by grants, leading to crucial questions of sustainability and preservation.

CDL cancellations lead to other issues since campuses cancel the paper and rely on the CDL licenses for digital only to have the CDL cancel the title. For example, one paper journal was held by 5 campuses, all of which canceled when the CDL subscribed to the online version. Now that CDL has canceled, no UC library has the journal. The paper journal was cheap but necessary to a small number of scholars; the e-journal was expensive and had low usage so didn't meet the metric to retain. This pattern is not unusual in the humanities. UC needs more coordination between CDL cancellations and campus cancellations and also between bibliographer group request priorities and what CDL licenses.

Preservation is a key issue. Many research libraries, including those in UC, are canceling foreign newspapers and relying on digital versions. What will happen in 100 years when scholars will have to travel to other countries to see these newspapers? What if the local country has not preserved them or a disaster has destroyed them? Digitized newspapers often do not contain all the content, such as ads and editorials. We are increasingly relying on the digital without a (secure) backup.

Key to collections is coping with current problems in collections-funding, preservation, etc.-while still striving to keep in mind the needs of future scholars. We must consider what they will need in the centuries to come and how to deliver it.

UCLA and UCB have long been the campus of last resort for expensive research material. We must address the questions of how much duplication is too much and how catalogs serve as discovery tools. For decades UC has encouraged the acquisition of duplicate materials. Each campus has an engineering program, necessitating an engineering collection. Should the system cut programs to save money? Campus planning needs to consider library funding when adding new programs; the library should be at the table when decisions to add are made. Departments/schools should involve the library when interviewing candidates for new positions; their research needs may not be
met by the collection, and they should be encouraged to make
collection funding part of their start up funding. Archival units are
making fundraising arrangements with donors before accepting their papers. Librarians must be aware of shifts in departmental programs and faculty research.

Library funding brings quality collections; quality collections attract the best faculty and students. As State support for UCB decreases, so will the number of Nobel prizes and the ability to retain the best faculty will wither. At what point will the public notice?

Archivists live with the reality that not every item can be cataloged and that rapid digitization, such as done by Google, is not possible with their fragile and unique materials. Creating metadata is costly. Standards change rapidly, and turnover of personnel is a factor in deterring priorities. Large digital collections, which draw from many places, can be frustrating because the collection managers massage interfaces/metadata to funnel material from different libraries into one collection. Individual collections may not operate in the way the owning library intended.

Library silos are problematic; users must have a way to discover material and a vigorous interlibrary loan to obtain.

We must take care not to embrace mediocrity but continue the tradition of excellence.

#6 – Library Buildings “Back to the Future: space planning”

Library Space NEEDS: We thought these were desirable for all patrons particularly students and faculty -
group study, quiet study, presentation rooms, instruction rooms, wireless internet, wireless printing, copying, printing, scanning, computer software on library pc’s, include a café, allow food, longer hours.

Space GRABS: when the departments or campus want to acquire library space for teaching or academic purposes, be clear about the impact on students, in order to engender a positive outcome for all concerned. Work with the university and the departments to create tradeoffs that will benefit the library. When this comes up, present it to library committees, and donors; supporters who have an interest.

UC wide: collections increasingly electronic move more to storage.

Look FORWARD and be prepared – as print collections change to electronic, down size, and go to storage, have a plan, be ready to repurpose exiting space in older buildings – upgrade physical environment, wiring.

Look for OPPORTUNITIES to upgrade facilities, improve furniture and work areas,
change presentations in the library, keep the environment fresh. The library can look more current by adding displays, new technology, promoting online – blog, wikis, facebook, rss feeds from your own blog.

Topics for discussion.
• Staying relevant in an online
• Campus space grabs
• Space for computers and computer labs
• Quiet study and group study
• Social gathering: cafes, programs, meeting friends

# 7 - Technical Services

1. NextGen Melvyl

Many people, in both technical and public services, are unhappy with Next Gen Melvyl. We at the Law Library don’t like it because it continues to regard us as unaffiliated with UC Berkeley. Anyone wanting to find books in Melvyl has to know to click the button for libraries in the rest of the world. This will apparently be fixed, but for the moment it’s not good.

Other complaints include the screen display – unnecessarily cluttered; the fact that you cannot limit by campus – something essential for cooperative book selection, or indeed any book selection; the inclusion of some articles in some search results – it seems to patrons that they are getting back all available articles on a topic, which is not true. The advanced search possibilities should be a lot better.

We all agreed that LAUC could play a role in providing feedback on NextGen Melyvl. Having a good catalog is too important to continue with the current status.

We considered how we would go about providing feedback.

Another problem is that it’s really not “NextGen” enough (see below).

2. Local vs. universal needs

We then discussed the problem of local needs vs. a centralized technical services department. There are times when a branch librarian has the subject knowledge to know when a book will be looked for under a certain subject. Debbie offered the example of books about local places. The local place may not be included as a subject heading, but that heading would be very useful to the patrons at Environmental Design. Presently, the branches do not have the ability to add subject headings, even in a very restricted way, and Technical Services does not have the manpower to handle requests in a timely way. Another issue is dissertations, which are hugely backed up. We wondered if there was not some way of using the abstract which is presumably available electronically in California Hall to automatically create a catalog record. This seems like a great idea, but of course, does technical Services have the staffing to be able to figure out how to do something like this. There is also the question of social tagging, which apparently is being done at Penn State. Again, this would require a capacity that Oskicat may or may not have, plus the staffing to develop and then maintain it.

3. Cooperative technical services

We also considered the idea of cooperative technical services – for example, what if one campus hired an Armenian cataloger. All Armenian books ordered at UC would be delivered to her/him for cataloging and then shipped off to wherever they belonged. Could we centralize all cataloging? All selection? All ordering? There may be a savings, but it might also make it harder for Debbie to get her local subject headings added – or maybe it wouldn’t. Something to consider.