Monday, 13 July 2015

Library School: What I'd Fix

It's been a while since I graduated from my Master of Librarian and Information Science program (in 2001) but I just read "The future of library education: reflections of a newly educated librarian" from Open Shelf, and it made me think back to my glory days on campus learning to do what I've been doing ever since.  Specifically, I was thinking about what I would have preferred in the program:

A better understanding of what the program and each course was going to focus on: practical skills versus theory.

As it said in the inspirational article above, "library schools could better communicate to students exactly what parts of their education are intended to target" each.  These are professional masters degrees so a certain amount of both is required:  we need to be able to both do the job and know why we're doing it so we can maybe do it better.  It would be ideal if every course, regardless of subject had a clear balance of each.  In my experience, some courses had it and others didn't, and my school seemed to particularly focus on the practical skills when I was yearning for more theory.

More education on the collections management side.

My current position (and previous position, and probably several future positions) is in collections management and other technical services functions.  Sure, I had a reference resources course but having worked with resources, vendors, publishers and all the technology involved, I've found that I've had to learn much of it on the job.  Part of the problem is certainly the fact that electronic resources were still pretty young in 2001, but I don't recall learning anything about the publishing industry, in general or regarding specific players.  Evaluation of resources would have been very useful, even in general principles since they shouldn't have changed that much despite the resources themselves changing.

More information about the details of the library school's focus.

A not-too-recent blog entry stated that "it really does not matter which library school you attend".  I beg to differ.  It might not matter whether you come from a "top rated" school or not (although this article basically says that it's pretty much the only thing that matters in most fields), but there are certainly differences between library schools that, when I was applying and for many years after graduating, I didn't know at all.  But in speaking with colleagues from various institutions, particularly ones that were actually smart enough to look into the matter before handing over the tuition dough, library schools can differ greatly.  Some are best for producing mass quantities of just general librarians, whereas others are more suitable for those looking to continue on with a PhD; some have a great Archivists' program, while others are better for public librarians.  Perhaps this has changed since I was really looking into choosing a school, but, just like with any institution of higher education, marketing yourself as a solution for everyone when you aren't isn't good for you or your students.

Don't worry about making the argument for the program being a good investment or not.

Honestly, this was never really a concern of mine but I see it more and more in higher education.  I'm not sure a Master of Library and Information Science program or the like could be described as a good investment (sometimes yes, sometimes maybesometimes no) but I'm not sure it really matters.  Heading down a career path shouldn't be considered in the same way as sizing up stocks and bonds.  Deciding to take a certain academic or professional program that tends to lead to a certain career is all about whether YOU will be able to at least live with it if not enjoy it.  You don't have to like the company that you're investing in, at least not as much as you're going to have to like the job you may be doing for the rest of your life.

Make it less about books and more about information.

Yes, I know that we all like books (see the first paragraph from "So You've Decided to Go to Library School"), but we shouldn't be basing our choice of a profession on such a stereotypical understand of what librarians do.  Libraries are, and always have been about more than just books.  Yes, we can take advantage of the public's seemingly permanent connection between libraries and books, but if we don't make a bit of a connection with other things, then the second society loses their love affair with the dusty old tomes, we're toast.  In fact, in some libraries, books aren't even the thing the collections budget is spent most on.  I would like to see more focus on the Information part of the MLIS than on the Library part.  Don't get me wrong, I like that it's in the degree name (I don't like the MIS or the, shudder, MI) but I would gladly get rid if it if that's what it took to make our profession a little more respectable.

Ok, so I've had my rant.  What do you think?  What would you change (or not) about librarianship education?

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

What I think Canada is.

Happy Canada Day, everyone!  For those of you who don't know, I'm a Canadian and have lived in Canada all my life but for a handful of years living in NJ and working in NYC.  As is typical, I'm, by default, proud of my country but I've hardly experienced the rest of the world so I can hardly compare really.  And, as all Canadians do, I have experienced a pile o' American culture (through TV, movies, books, music, etc.) so I'm heavily influenced by all that despite being part of that culture.

From the Canadian Heritage site on the "History of Canada Day", you can see that Canada Day was originally called Dominion Day, based on the day of the 'creation' of the "Dominion of Canada" by the British North America Act on July 1, 1867.  In a way, Canada Day is Canada's birthday so happy 147th birthday, Canada!

So what does Canada 'mean'?  Well, according to that vignette that Canadians saw on TV (in, what, the eighties?) the word "Canada" comes from a misunderstanding of the Iroquois word, "kanata" or village.  (You can also look here and here.)  But what does the country named Canada mean?  What is different about it?  Well, not much, at least in comparison with the United States.  I would say that, at least in southern Ontario, Canadian culture is much the same as American culture, particularly the US east coast and the midwest.  We're pretty white, quite materialistic, like our franchised restaurants, based primarily on European culture and Britain in particular, reasonably well-off compared to much of the rest of the world, youngish (only 147 years old), and individualistic.  I get the feeling that we're a little more European, socialist, and calm when compared to the US, and we certainly aren't as militaristic or politically active as Americans.  We have plenty and enjoy plenty of British imports like our chocolate/candy bars and TV like Coronation Street.  It's hard for me to compare Canada and Canadians with the rest of the world other than saying we're similar to the US so I'm not going to even try.

The other regions of Canada have some other unique cultures that, although I haven't experienced directly, I am aware of the basics and the stereotypes.  Quebec is francophone which brings with it cultural behaviours related to France, Catholocism, and a feeling of independence when defending against the encroaching anglophone culture from the States and the rest of Canada.  Eastern Canada borrows more from Irish and Scottish culture (as opposed to the English cultural background in Ontario), and IMHO is a little more safe from American influence.  The Prairie Provinces have a lot of similarity with the American Midwest in that they tend to be more rural and conservative.  I would suspect that much of BC is the same except for the more urban Vancouver area which I've been told is similar to the American West Coast.  Vancouver is like Canada's California...  damn hippies.  lol  And the northern territories are also very rural in terms of culture by necessity but also quite influenced by native culture.

(Of course, much of what I've included here is based on very little direct experience of the people or living in the area so please correct me if I've painted incorrect or overly broad strokes on the different regions of Canada.)

I like living in Ontario, Canada.  Weather is a nice mix between snow and cold in the winter (down to about -30 to degrees Celsius, though it does regularly get down to -40 in northern Ontario and probably lower) and pretty hot in the summer (upwards of maybe 30 degrees Celsius).  And we don't tend to have extreme and dangerous weather like tornadoes (although there was a bit of tornado damage a couple months ago in Toronto), hurricanes, floods, tidal waves (we're well inland expect for four of the five largest lakes in the world), landslides, etc.  Cold tends to be the worst weather extreme that we have and that can certainly take its toll in terms of hypothermia, damage to power lines and roads, difficulty in travelling, etc.  But I'd rather have too much cold than, say, earthquakes.

What is Canada to you?  Or, at least, what is YOUR part of Canada to you?

Thursday, 15 May 2014

What I learned at that licensing and collections event I went to

I attended "Thinking OCUL-y: A Licensing and Collections Symposium", a full day conference organized by OCUL (Ontario Council of University Libraries) institution members.  It was held at the beautiful Robarts Library, University of Toronto's main library on campus, in the heart of Toronto, Ontario.

But what did I learn?

  1. The first thing I learned was that I wish I knew more about contract law.  I'm reading and implementing the licenses my Library signs for electronic resources all the time as well as supporting the decisions made to sign them in the first place and, although I think of myself as a smart enough cookie, contracts are not straightforward, understandably so.  There were two great presentations on the "anatomy of a license", one from the perspective of contract law, and one from the perspective of librarians signing them and creating model ones.  Lots of good information, both new and now properly labeled in my mind, but it made clear that there's even more to learn.  I should learn it.
  2. Specifically, we should be requiring some things in our licenses that are not always getting in there.  For example, every license should have "integration" which basically means that the contract itself makes it clear that this is the entire deal, and that other communications are not to be taken as binding unless they're in this one.  Lots of our big ones do but many don't.  We should also be making it clear which legal jurisdiction will apply in case of having to deal with contract problems in court, particularly since we Canadian libraries are working with so many American information vendors.  Jurisdiction is not necessarily clear unless it's written into the contract.  And while we're at it, we should be insisting on WRITTEN contracts instead of going by verbal agreements as we occasionally do for smaller products with smaller companies.
  3. Part of the evaluation process needs to include more consideration of license details.  When asking for information about a potential acquisition, we should ask for a sample license, looking it over to ensure that what we might be paying for is actually in there.  We could also share our licensing requirements and ideals at that point as well, to ensure that the vendor knows what we want right out of the gate.  The more time each party has this information, the easier we can work together.
  4. Local loading is increasingly important but the vendors don't always know what it is or why we want it.  To get it, we libraries need to "sell" the concept of local loading to them, and therefore negotiators needs to understand the issues, players and history of local loading.  Also, typically, the usual vendor sales rep isn't going to know much about the topic or the issues involved so negotiations may need to include the people who do.
  5. Although it involves more work, it's valuable to invite other non-collections librarians and staff into doing collections related work, such as reading/coding license terms for easier access.  It lightens the load of course, but it also increases the amount of expertise to be called upon when doing similar work in the future and it really helps them in their primary responsibilities, regardless of where in the library they are.
This is just a sample of some of the things I gleaned from the various presentations.  But there are still some questions or thoughts that I had left over:
  1. Given those clauses that state that this contract is the "entire agreement", how can addenda be added on to contracts?  This happens all the time with licenses, such as changing or updating the terms of a license at renewal, but I don't think that all these licenses have an "except for addenda" clause.
  2. Is the text of contracts under copyright?  A joke was made that many model licenses copy liberally from each other which suggests that they're not, or that at least no one cares.
  3. Patrons seem to have contradictory opinions on print versus electronic reading.  On the one hand, they typically say that prefer print to electronic for deep reading and that ebooks, for example, are just not easy to read for long periods of time.  This may be true but then they also tend to say that print books are better for quickly skimming or browsing to find key pieces of information.  This suggests to me that they're not really saying that one format is better than the other but rather that THEY have that preference which, taken together, suggests that there's just a preference for print that's probably based in familiarity.  We've all used print books longer that there have even been ebooks so of course we're going to be more comfortable with the former.  That doesn't mean we really think one is better than the other.
  4. Is demand driven acquisition really professional collection development?  The Library's collection is valuable not just because of quantity but because the content has been selected for quality with the particular patron groups in mind.  If we directly link that selection to something outside of the professional work, can we really say that the collection has been professionally selected for quality?  This is more a question of the role of the Librarian in collection development and not a matter of creating the best collection.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

There should be a rating system for information resources

The Idea

Someone or some organization should develop and promote a system of "rating" information resources, possibly including anything from databases and full text collections down to individual books and articles, that describe the "quality" of the resource within some framework.  The rating could be applied by different players (and be clearly labelled as such) such as the creator, the publisher, academic societies, libraries or library consortia, or consumers or consumer groups.  This rating could include suggested audience, value to specific audiences, to what degree of analysis the rating was subject to (with reference to documentation of the analysis), and how recently such analysis was completed.

The Inspiration

Reading "Realizing the Value of Non-Purchased Content" (, which discusses the value of free resources in a library's collection.  Thinking of my own library's process of dealing with this, my concern is that, because they're free, they don't get as much evaluation before "adding it to the collection" as do paid-for resources.  This might be fine but our patrons don't always understand the work that goes into deciding on whether something goes into a library's collection or not and so may falsely believe that a free resource, linked to on the library's web site is just as good as an index for which tens of thousands of dollars was paid.  Some level of information about how much consideration was made should be included.  But perhaps this can't or shouldn't be done for every single resource, and other perspectives can be just as valuable as the library so this assessment could be made by almost anyone, given a similar procedure.  It brings to mind Cochrane Systematic Reviews that thoroughly provide the "final answer" on a clinical issue and keep that answer up to date.

The Reasoning

There seems to be a dearth of assessment information out there, particularly about information products.  They are already difficult to compare since no two journals, no two books, no two articles, no two collections are really comparable in the same way as, say, a toaster or a car or a banking service is.  Some kind of systematic and therefore more trustworthy method of providing at least some perspective of value should be provided to consumers (meaning libraries or end users).  This would be a complex measurement of course, but something's better than nothing.

The Impact

As mentioned above, this would be a complex and multifaceted measurement and would therefore require a lot of work on the part of whoever's evaluating the product.  Some products might not be suitable for such a system.  But, if done properly, this could streamline the use of information products by everyone in the demand chain (almost the same as the supply chain but from the opposite angle), as well as motivating creators and publishers to meet certain criteria and hopefully tend toward improvement.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Top four things I've learned cataloguing my own books

For several weeks now, I've been (somewhat amateurly) cataloguing my personal collection of books with LibraryThing.  I love it.  Basically I'm just ensuring the proper and well-formatted title, checking it has the right cover, including the main authors and other responsibility holders, tagging them with my own main "categories", putting  them in collections of who in my family it really belongs to, specifying where and when I got it (if I can remember or figure it out), and putting in a Dewey number.  It's fun, of course, being the librarian nerd that I am, but it's also fascinating and I was thinking about how valuable but impossible it would be to have library school students actually do some personal cataloguing of at least a hundred titles.  Here are some of the interesting things I've found:

  1. I've never really thought about the categories of books I've had before.  I've collected books from many sources and over a long period of time so I've never really had a very clear personal "collection policy" so there's plenty of odd stuff in there.  It's mostly graphic novels, reference books, philosophy stuff, science stuff, and of course kid's books but there are ones that stand out:  "Sesshu's Long Scroll", a spiral bound copy of "Understanding Neural Networks", and a nicely bound copy of the Qu'ran.  In the course of cataloguing some of these works, particularly when I'm tagging them with my basic subject areas of interest -- figuring out how broad or specific to make those tags or whether to use them at all if there's only going to be one or two with that tag anyway -- it really makes me think about subject headings and how they can and/or should be used.  I initially just wanted to be able to see the numbers of certain books in a subject that I find interesting and retrieve them easily.  But then I had to add non-subject tags like ".damaged" or ".gift".  And then format tags, such as "REFERENCE" or "GRAPHIC NOVELS".  I came across my copy of "Dark side of the moon : the making of the Pink Floyd masterpiece" and realized that, although I like music, I don't really have a lot of books on the subject.  Should I get more?  Is it worth my time?  I have so many other interests.  Going through my books subject-wise is like walking through a list of my interests, both proven by past actions and potential or maybe just hinted at.
  2. Dewey numbers are crap for fiction.  Ok, everybody knows that but trying to put my books into some sort of order led to using Dewey numbers which led to the hard fact that Dewey doesn't do any kind of fiction justice, especially comic strip compilations and graphic novels.  I had to invent a personal organization method to use instead, roughly based on the solutions I've seen in public library.  For example, "FIC A Smi 1997" is a work of fiction, considered an "adult" novel (not sexual, just grown-up, to differentiate it from my YA books and juvenile books, or other formats), by someone with the last name starting with "Smi" published (or originally created) in the year 1997.  It's mostly, as Dewey is supposed to do, to lump alike things together.
  3. It's a lot of work.  Again, not a new discovery here but it's really hit home.  And I'm not even truly cataloguing them.  Just cleaning up a few key pieces of metadata.  I was tidying up the publication statement and ensuring it had the right ISBNs but that starting taking too long and I didn't think it was really worth it.  And besides, I think LibraryThing records include ISBNs that I can't easily see since I get records with a search for an ISBN that doesn't end up being the in field.  Odd.  Anyway, not really important, and not worrying about it made things go a little quicker.
  4. Finally, although you have to "judge a book by it's cover" it's better if you don't have to.  Describing a book, or really anything, should be done with someone that has a good deal of knowledge about the work (or thing).  Some key access points may not be immediately clear to someone who hasn't read the book.  If you don't know the subject area, then how could you know the place this particular work has in it?  Ideally, cataloguing should be done slowly by a few people who love the particular work, perhaps the particular author.  Philosophy texts should be catalogued by philosphers, collections of poetry, by poets.  How can I truly describe my book on neural networks?  I know very little about cognitive science.  But cataloguers don't and can't know the subject matter to that degree.  The work is done by people who know classification and the rules of AACR2 and RDA.  But when keying in even the tiny specks of metadata about my own collection, I find it much easier and much more rewarding to work with a book I have written a review of, like "Knitting the Semantic Web", or read a million times, like "Waiting for Godot".  Sometimes it makes me think of the part of "Farhenheit 451" when the main character meets the "books", the people who have memorized entire novels and have saved them that way.  Perhaps each book should have it's own cataloguer, who gets to know the work, inside and out, and therefore is the only one qualified to know how to describe it and give access to it.  Not good for the people in those jobs though, I guess, right?
Oh, and one more thing.  I've discovered that I'm really weird.  I take great pleasure in considering the proper capitalization of my books.  For example, in AACR2, the only title words that get capitalized are the first one and any proper nouns.  I have the graphic novel "Star trek : countdown".  Although it looks weird, "trek" doesn't get capitalized because, in the context of the title, it's not a proper noun.  It's just a "trek" through the "stars".  But I also have "Star Trek : The Next Generation : technical manual".  In this case, "Trek" is capitalized because this is a technical manual for the ship in the TV show "Star Trek : The Next Generation".  TV show names are proper nouns.  (I mean, technically, the book should have been called something like "Technical manual for the USS Enterprise, NCC-1701D" or something like that, and not had a cool cover, but publishers like to think they're tricking us into buying their crap...  which they are.)  In the first case, the work is using the term as a name for the work and isn't referring to itself.  It's just using the words as they are, as the entire "Star trek" universe does.  The second case is using the term in reference to the series, to the previous works, to the fictional universe that the TV shows, movies, comics, etc. make up.

Of course, I'm only half way through my books so far so perhaps I'll learn more (or learn better?) as I go.  And then there's my movies and video games...  I need a "LibraryThing" for those.