Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large
ISSN 1534-0937
Libraries · Policy · Technology · Media

Selection from Cites & Insights 10, Number 9: August 2010

Making it Work

It’s summer (except for readers in Australia and New Zealand)—maybe not the ideal time for a Serious Perspective on a major aspect of making it (libraries, that is) work. Instead, let’s look at a miscellaneous set of items I’ve saved over the past couple of years. Think of this as a reversion to The Library Stuff—comments on a range of interesting pieces from liblogs, some you may have missed, some you might want to revisit.

Image Problems? You Bet Your Sweet Database!

Did I say “couple of years”? Make that three. This post, by Rochelle Hartman at Tinfoil + Raccoon, dates from July 12, 2007. She notes discussion of a New York Times piece on “A Hipper Crowd of Shushers” and relates it to some “one-on-one bibliographic instruction” she was doing via IM, helping a student in his early 30’s working on a (first) bachelor’s degree. This is someone Hartman has known for some time.

He had started work on his second paper and pinged me via IM. He had a rough thesis statement, and what he wanted from me was advice on how to read the four books he had chosen to use for research. I said that first I would go to the indexes to look for words related to my thesis, but offered that I’m able to skim and synthesize pretty quickly, a skill that not a lot of people have. Then I paused. “Wait a minute. Did you look at ProQuest for articles?” After a few more questions, it became clear that it had not occurred to him at all to use his university library website, or his employer’s website to get started on his research.

Did I mention that my friend is a webmaster for a public library? And that he has spent a lot of time trying to make the library’s databases as accessible as possible? Think about this. If online library resources are not on the radar of a pretty smart guy, in a decent undergraduate program, with mad web skillz and a library job, something is seriously wrong. (Don’t even think about dissing my many people in your library know all its resources?)

I convinced him to use the books to get started, and assured him that he could find tons of articles about the concepts written about in the books. First, he tried his university’s library website, without much guidance from me. He came back asking about results from what I figured out was a state union catalog. That, I told him, would only (mostly) list titles of print sources held by libraries. I explained that he needed an article database that he could search by keyword and from which he could get full-text articles. I reviewed the e-resources for the university library—it was just too much for what he was working on, so I told him that he could get everything he needed from the public library.

I suggested ProQuest again, and he took off on his own, reporting back that he got very few results, none of them useful. My hunch that he was using subject search was correct. “Never start with a subject search,” I coached. I explained that subject headings were made up by librarians and wanna-be librarians who did not think the same way as real people. At this point, he gave me access to the database so I could offer some more specific advice, and challenged me, “Race you.” I came up with an unwieldy list of results in short order. He was not too far behind, clicked on one that looked good, then asked “Where’s the article? All I see is an abstract.” I explained that there were limiters that could narrow his search, including one for “full-text.” Even though I use databases every day, I had to stop and study the interface and make sure I was being very clear, specific and jargon-free in my coaching. As hard I as I try, I still catch myself using librarianese when working with patrons. I gave him a couple more tips and he finally started getting appropriate results. My friend had a “eureka” moment when he realized just what a powerful tool he was working with, and I regret not saving the chat transcript. It was really a high-fiving/Chariots of Fire themesong sort of moment…

My friend apologized for being dense, for not just knowing in his bones how to do this. I told him that he owed apologies to no one and that, truthfully, apologies were owed to him. Something is really wrong if library services make people feel stupid. While I appreciate the discussion about the nuances and implications of the NYT article, I’ve found it entirely beside the point of what our concerns should be. Patrons could give a crap about the image of the folks behind the big desks or in the stacks. I’ve read recently that the only survey question you need to ask a patron/user/customer is “After using the library today, would you come back?”

True confession: As a “library person” married to a librarian, I’ve always found the whole image thing a little odd—but then, I think Marian Paroo as portrayed by Shirley Jones is a great character, so what do I know? I do know this: Hartman’s right, in that patron attitudes about the library and its services—and the usability of those services—matter a lot more to the future of libraries than whether librarians are perceived as hip.

In one comment, Laura Crossett says “I got in big trouble once for saying to a patron, ‘No, you’re not stupid—the catalog is’—but I stand by what I said and would say it again.” As one who spent years working on online databases and user interfaces, I think Hartman and Crossett are both on the money. Have things improved since 2007? In some ways, yes; in other ways—I wonder.

What are Reference Works Good for in the Google Age?

Iris Jastram asks this question in a March 14, 2008 post at Pegasus Librarian. She notes that—as of 2008, at least—student use of her library’s reference collection was steady “and possibly even increasing.”

And while I love this (I mean… obviously… cuz I’m a reference librarian), I’m also always just a little bit surprised by it. I mean, they’ve got Wikipedia and Google, and goodness knows they use them for everything. Hey, even I use them umpteen thousand times per day, so I certainly can’t fault anyone.

An area meeting discussed the future of reference collections, which got Jastram thinking about “what the actual value of a reference collection is these days.”

With a few exceptions, I think the value of a reference collection is not in the ability to locate facts. That’s what it used to be good for, but unless I’m looking for pretty specialized facts that I don’t think would get published on the web, or that would be hard to digest on a screen, I generally go to my friend Google. And while I’m sure that reference collections were never just about finding facts, that was one of their key roles before, and continues to be their perceived function. But, for me the reference collection is valuable in a completely different way these days. It’s not about discrete facts; it’s about context. It’s not a place to find what you need; it’s a place to find a beginning and get help interpreting result lists. [Emphasis added.]

As a library user, that sounds right to me—it’s been a long time since I thought library reference collections were the place to go to get simple facts, but I still use them (from time to time). Jastram notes three ways that print reference can provide contemporary value: built-in bibliographies, “term harvesting” (by providing disciplinary context for concepts) and managing result lists.

There were only three comments but each added something. “Martha” noted that specialized subject dictionaries can still be hugely helpful and that subject encyclopedias and textbooks help for finding background information and “information that is already distilled” for patrons. Mark quotes the section I highlighted and adds (in part):

I adore having brilliant friends who can state the obvious which many of us still manage to miss.

I think this has always been one of the prime roles for many reference works and we have been either too blind, too naive (hoping instructors were imparting this info), or too something to just get this and to vocally pass this info on to others.

Finally, Courtney S. notes that she uses these same reasons when doing BI—”I let the students know that the specialized books in reference will help them with the terminology and background information they need in order to understand their search results.”

I’d add that some print reference works also provide essays with authority and (sometimes) readability that’s hard to replicate on the open web—and some of the best specialized works can be engrossing and fascinating as well as useful.

teaching technology/ies.

char booth, April 23, 2008 at info-mational. She’s responding to an April 1, 2008 post at ACRLog by Steven Bell that questions LIS courses that require students to create and use blogs, wikis, social networks and podcasts. Quoting from Bell’s post:

Now maybe I’m being narrow-minded here. Yes, right now these technologies are all the rage, and you could take the perspective that the courses are focusing on teaching students to be risk takers who can experiment, take chances, exploit new technology, etc. All good lessons indeed. But does that require a semester long course? Could a week dedicated to the topic of hot new technologies communicate the same information, especially in the context of a broader course about developing skills that will allow for constant adaptation to the latest technologies?

…The current web 2.0 technologies will no doubt be bypassed by disruptive new technologies before we know it, and then what will our library 2.0 savvy students be left with from these courses. Put another way, are you still using those skills you learned in that course you took on putting cd-roms and laserdisks to practice in libraries?

I was always bemused by the sheer number of Mandatory Liblogs, blogs clearly created to fulfill course requirements, most of which are abandoned as soon as the course is complete. I suspect there are quite a few Mandatory Wikis out there as well, but I’ve never tried to survey those. I don’t know: Are current students required to tweet?

booth supports “Bell’s call for integration of instructional design and technology (ID/T) methodology into the LIS curriculum”—but disagrees on the specifics:

That said, I disagree with Bell’s assessment of social/2.0/etc. classes. My feeling is that rather than being pop-tech overkill, these are an important step towards integrating a broader design ethic into the LIS curriculum. They signal a experiential, hands-on focus that I wish had been available to me as a MLIS student—one that gives students the ability create and evaluate projects over time that mirror those being developed by libraries… our own version of real-world skills. What the curriculum doesn’t offer enough of is a simulation of the working environment of most libraries, which at its best includes trying out and modifying existing products to our advantage, thus creating inexpensive services from commonly accessible technological platforms.

Skipping over some discussion, booth says:

In terms of the rate at which 2.0 technologies are outdating, I don’t think tools such as blogs and/or wikis will be going anywhere soon. Morphing, perhaps, but not cratering. Moreover, new applications will undoubtedly be built on the shoulders of those that preceded them, meaning that given the a foundation in current social apps LIS students will have the ability to anticipate what upcoming approaches might look like, and the basic skills to modify and adapt these as needed. Library school doesn’t tend to train us to be programmers, so gaining practical experience with lo-fi user-generated tools instills students with what I consider to be an extremely practical introduction to what they’ll be doing on the job—namely, evaluating technologies for their best purposes. LIS graduates need to know how to practically integrate into libraries that, more often than not, use some instance of every 2.0 technology under the sun to varying degrees of effectiveness.

I’m a bit surprised that there appear to be no comments at all on this post (there were 19 on Bell’s, many of them somewhat orthogonal to the point Bell was making). And, again as an outsider, I find myself somewhere in the middle. Sure, it makes sense for LIS students to be familiar with blogs and wikis and podcasts—but does it make sense for them to spend a lot of time creating such things, which involves specific tools more than it does principles? Are librarians of 2012 really likely to find wikimarkup and wiki installation particularly useful tools, so useful that every new librarian needs them? Maybe. Maybe not. As for blogs, I believe the only real lesson you learn from starting a blog is that the technology is absurdly simple—and the content isn’t. That’s worth 15 minutes, no more. But maybe I’m wrong. (Podcasts? Are podcasts really thriving to such an extent, and so important for library services, that every new librarian should be an experienced podcaster? Should they also be required to edit and post YouTube videos—wait, maybe I better not ask that question.)

The user is not broken

No, it’s not what you’re thinking—in this case “the user” is the library and its expectations of its vendors. Jenica Rogers wrote this at Attempting Elegance on June 5, 2008, after spending a frustrating morning with a sales rep—one representing a vendor with inscrutable pricing policies that essentially require haggling and navigating options. Part of what Rogers had to say to this person (noting that she removed the vendor name):

If I wanted to spend my time navigating options, haggling, and being a hard-line negotiator, I could take my middle management experience and go work in the corporate world, making double what I make now. I don’t want that, and I don’t want to have to do the tasks related to that environment. What I want is for all library vendors selling to the academic market to offer sane, reasonable, fair, and consistent prices, at all times, to all customers. I want prices and the pricing schemes to be published on the web or otherwise readily available. I want prices to be the same from month to month, barring incentive sales and discounts. I want vendors to tell me why their product is good and what it costs, and then walk away until I make my decision. I don’t want to spend an entire day figuring out how to make this all work because I’m operating in the dark as to what’s available, at what cost, and under what parameters. [Emphasis added.]

And if that sounds like an unreasonable request, look around you. EBSCO, JSTOR, Project Muse, and Gale, just to name the first four that came to mind, all operate the way I described. I may not always like the pricing they feel is appropriate, but I always know what it is. And it works far more effectively for us than this dance that we do with you every year. Frankly, I have colleagues who’ve requested that we cancel our [Vendor name removed] subscriptions because they don’t like the process.

I’ll keep dealing because it’s how your company works, and I still think the content you can provide is, in the end, worth the time and effort, if I don’t have any other options. But I’d rather have another option.

I have not the slightest idea who this vendor might be. Rogers tells us the vendor responded to her email a few hours later:

It said, taking four pages or so to say it, that their business model is the right one, and that they were vaguely sorry that I felt differently, and then explained why those other vendors do what they do, and then explained why their own way is clearly the only way they can do what they do, and, frankly, too damned bad for me if I don’t like it. No options were offered. No olive branch extended. Only justifications.

To which Rogers responds: “I. Am. Not. Wrong.” She repeats the core request (boldfaced in the quotation above).

Asking for fair pricing, transparency in financial structures, and respect in our transactions is not wrong. I refuse to concede this point. It may be best for certain businesses to operate as they currently do in order to maintain their profit margins—but it is not wrong to ask for fair play, transparent operations, and consistent access to information from my vendors. It. Is. Not. Wrong. [Emphases in the original.]

I’d be hard-pressed to find rational ground for disagreeing with Rogers. Nor did the 10-odd commenters; this is a case where high-fives were in order (and provided).

Changing Academic Librarianship Scholarship Criteria

I’ve written before (e.g., August 2007) about my sense that (much of) the most important literature on librarianship and library issues is in the gray literature (blogs and the like, including this here ejournal) rather than the formal peer-reviewed journal literature. Eric Schnell writes on October 6, 2008 at The Medium is the Message, noting that he was serving as chair of Ohio State’s University Libraries Promotion and Tenure Committee.

He’s looked at “the criteria used to define and evaluate scholarship in tenure and promotion cases” and wonders about “the increasing gap between how scholarship in academic librarianship is defined and the practices of the profession.” He’s finding that some libraries are redefining how they define and evaluate scholarship.

So, for example, Florida Atlantic University

does not appear to distinguish scholarship as being independent from job related activities. The creation of curriculum and courses relating to a specialty are considered. Grants and external funding in support of library services, not just the associated publications are considered. Software or technologies created or adapted in support of library services are also considered.

The University at Buffalo includes traditional contributions—but also “Significant web based publications that can be peer reviewed.” What does that mean? Quoting Buffalo:

Peer review is characterized by the disinterested, critical review of the candidate’s research or creative activity by respected members of that community.

Schnell notes how they do not define peer review—that is, it’s not limited to pre-publication review.

One therefore could assume that peer-review includes feedback obtained after publication. What I like here is that one could define blogging as a ‘significant web based publication’ and comments and track backs becoming evidence of peer review.

And Oregon State University “has an interesting way of defining scholarship:”

In some fields, refereed journals and monographs are the traditional media for communication and peer validation; in others, exhibitions and performances. In still other fields, emerging technologies are creating, and will continue to create, entirely new media and methods.

So: Could blogging count? Perhaps. One comment notes that evaluation is a stumbling block for considering alternative scholarship but raises what strikes me as a red herring:

Another concern to me is how much of the content is “original” or was truly written by the person taking credit for it. If the blog is a collection of links out to work written by others OR like your entry here a critical synthesis of what you are finding in your searches - it is a reflection of the overall quality of it.

Does an unannotated bibliography count as “scholarship” for tenure purposes? If so, and for that matter if literature reviews count as scholarship, then I’m not entirely certain I see the critical distinction. In any case, a scholarly blog should be judged on its own merits—I don’t see Schnell suggesting that “I haz a blog” is, in and of itself, a sign of tenure-deserving scholarship. (It doesn’t help that this commenter, who has served on several promotion and tenure committees, uses “complimentary” where “complementary” was almost certainly intended.) Hmm. The comment seems to suggest that alternative publications suffer due to “lack of visible impact on the profession.” OK: How many refereed LIS articles in scholarly journals have had as much impact as, say, Library 2.0 and “Library 2.0”? I could probably list a hundred blog posts with far more impact on the field than the average article in the typical second-tier (or even first-tier) journal…although, of course, none of those posts would have Impact Factors.

Don’t Friend Me!

Here’s a case—several related posts, beginning with one by David Lee King on November 7, 2008 at his eponymous blog—where I wonder whether the arguments would be the same in mid-2010.

I’m quoting the original post in full before commenting and adding notes on comments and responses:

Libraries… stop friending me! What???

I’m noticing that when a library decides to start a flickr account, a twitter feed, or create a Facebook page, they naturally want to start “making friends.” So what do they do? They friend me. Or you. Or they friend other libraries.

This is bad.


Social networks exist to connect with other people, right? When your organization decides, say, to create a Facebook page … who are you trying to connect with? Me? I don’t live in your neighborhood. Another library on the other side of the world? They’re not going to use your services.

Who are you trying to connect with? If you can’t answer this question, take a breather from the web for a couple of days and figure out your answer. Think about it for a sec–you wouldn’t open a new branch if you didn’t know your target audience, would you? Do you invite people to a book group with no idea of what book to read or who the target audience is? I hope not.

It’s the same with social network sites–you need to establish a target audience, and then work on finding that audience. Once you do that, my guess is this–the friends you want to attract probably don’t include me or a library from the other side of the country!

Another way to look at this is from your customers’ point of view. If I use [fill in your favorite social tool here], and I discover your page, one of the first things I might do is check out who your friends are. If they are mainly other libraries, I might decide it’s a librarian thing, and not for me. I’m gone!

Don’t get me wrong. It’s great to get ideas from other libraries, and to spy on their social media tools to see what they’re doing. But if you can, try not to accept too many friend requests from other libraries … or your friend page will look more like an ALA reunion rather than a true reflection of your local community.

That’s an extremely cogent statement in less than 400 words—and apart from disliking “customers,” I really don’t have any disagreements here. It’s something I’d noted and wondered about earlier, including back in the days when I still tried to make sense of library use of Second Life. I was acutely aware of the first issue—that is, that a library’s social-network space only succeeds if it’s reaching its own community. I hadn’t thought about the second: Would-be local users may be turned off by an excess of other libraries and librarians.

The comments are interesting, some disagreeing and some agreeing, and at least one not only agreeing but disliking Twitter-as-news-feed “social” networking. One person who disagreed took a “we mustn’t offer any criticism of library involvement in social networking” stance, which I always find a little sad. (Frankly, if librarians are looking for reasons to avoid library presence on social networks, there are a lot better ones than “David Lee King may not like the way we’re doing it.”)

A few days later (November 12, 2008), King wrote a followup post, “More on Friending.” He refers to a Darren Rowse post on defining goals for social networking (in this case Twitter). It’s an interesting issue in general—what are your (or your library’s) goals in using a new tool of any sort?—but perhaps more pointed for institutional involvement. “I just want to try this out and see whether I like it” is a perfectly valid initial goal for a personal Twitter, Friendfeed, Facebook or Flickr account and possibly even for a new blog—but I’d expect a library to have something a little more concrete in mind.

King says:

I think that many libraries haven’t really figured out goals for their shiny, new social networking sites/tools. When they start collecting friends, they immediately pick the safe route–friending primarily other libraries that are doing the same thing.

And that’s great for learning the new tool. But at some point, it’s a good thing to figure out what you really want out of the SN site, and then start pursuing that. My guess is this: the goal in friending isn’t to gather other libraries–it’s to gather patrons as friends.

[Yeah David: “patrons” is so much better than “customers”!] He responds to comments that disagreed with his fundamental premise—and here we’re dealing with issues specific enough that you really should read the post. I must admit, when Bobbi Newman informed us that “By nature people are joiners,” I had an immediate “sez who?” reaction. Some people are, some aren’t—and for those of us who are a lot introverted and a little gun-shy, the nature of other people in a community may well influence whether we’ll join. (Using the same tool King links to, I appear to be in a grotesquely generalized demographic where only 22% are joiners.) And King offers this anecdotal point: “Speaking for myself, I always look–I don’t want to friend a spam site, a person more interested in selling me something, etc…”—and King’s certainly not the only one, not by a few million.

When you’re on David Lee King’s blog, you might also jump forward to May 29, 2009 and “Making Connections—the Institutional Version.” Here, King offers some suggestions for who institutional social network accounts should friend or follow. The first three make excellent sense from the perspective of a library as a local, community-centered institution: Friend patrons, friend other local organizations—and friend others who are “interested in your stuff.”

Does King’s advice still apply in mid-2010? I think it does. Do libraries heed it? I don’t know.

The humble index

This excellent 1,000-word entry comes from Dorothea Salo, writing August 25, 2009 at The Book of Trogool. Salo, who says she does “not have the chops to be a good indexer,” respects those who do:

Go find a book with an index and flip through it. Seriously, go ahead. I’ll wait. Just bask in the lovely indentedness and order of it all.

Now answer me a question: Should Google be calling that huge mass of crawled web data it computes upon an index?

Warning: Don’t use the indexes in my self-published books as examples; they’re truly crappy when compared to professional indexes. Still, they are something more than what Google offers—which Salo thinks of as a concordance (that is, the words in a text with pointers to where those words are used).

Google’s index is a bit more than a straight-up concordance: they do stemming and some n-gram analysis and other fancy-pants tricks. But it is still qualitatively different from a back-of-book index. How? I’ll adduce three major differences: human intervention, terminological insularity, and intentional grouping.

The rest of the post discusses these differences and what makes really good indexing so difficult. One may be obvious to some of you: A good index deals with concepts, not just words and phrases…and indexed concepts might never actually appear in the text of the book. Intentional grouping? Consider see and see also entries.

A fine essay worth reading and thinking about. Too many people believe full-text searching makes indexes irrelevant. That’s not true, and if we lose indexes, we lose something useful.

The bookless library

Mostly noted as a pointer: Historiann, Ann M. Little, November 14, 2009. As a historian—as a humanist—she’s upset at the notion that academic libraries should just get rid of their books (or even move them to remote storage) and repurpose all that lovely prime-campus space as learning commons or study space. It’s not exactly a rant; it is a strong, heartfelt argument. “Speaking as a historian–we still need the damn books.” Since I’m trying to tread lightly in this particular area, I’ll just say: Go read it. []

Libraries dying for bandwidth—where’s the fiber (and cash)?

That’s the title of a November 24, 2009 story by Nate Anderson at ars technica, a story that works from an ALA report on public library connectivity. The first three paragraphs:

Most of America’s libraries make it a part of their mission to offer Internet access to anyone in the community, but a severe bandwidth crunch is hobbling those efforts. That’s one of the conclusions reached by the American Library Association, which says that 59.6 percent of American libraries “report their connectivity speed is inadequate some or all of the time to meet patrons’ needs.”

One of the problems is funding; in a recession, and especially a recession where housing prices (and therefore property taxes) are dropping in many communities, it can be hard to scrape the cash together for a library bandwidth upgrade.

But another problem is simple availability. As the ALA’s report (PDF) points out, “moving from a 56Kbps circuit to 1.5Mbps is one thing. Moving from 1.5Mbps to 20Mbps or to 100Mbps or even to a gigabit—depending on the size and need of the library—is another.” Even when they can pay for it, many libraries are finding that higher speeds simply aren’t available.

It’s an excellent brief commentary; ars technica generally seems to get it. Some commenters, of course, don’t: The first one grumps because ALA is focusing on broadband when “libraries are closing all over the country, cutting hours and laying off staff.” This person seems to feel libraries shouldn’t be in the access business. You won’t be surprised that another commenter claims “the homeless” monopolize all the library computers all the time…but there are also library users who see what’s happening and understand how important library computers and access actually are. (One responds directly to the “why should libraries provide access?” comment by noting that public libraries have always been “THE source for public, readily accessible, free information. The actual format was irrelevant.” And, of course, you get the usual arguments over e-rate and CIPA and the usual claim that automated filtering by a third party is just the same as content selection. And, of course, at least one commenter says they should just shut down the library ‘cause, you know, it’s all online. I’d say two-thirds of the commenters were actual library users and appreciated what libraries do.

The future of bookstores is the…

“…present of public and academic libraries?” That’s how John Dupuis begins this November 30, 2009 post at Confessions of a Science Librarian. He’s quoting from a Clay Shirky post basically saying physical bookstores are doomed as bookstores (‘cuz, you know, digital always wins) but that they could succeed as social places.

And, as Dupuis notes, the role that Shirky suggests for bookstores is a role that libraries are carrying out right now.

Public and academic libraries are mutualized resources—they literally belong to their communities already. If we as a society want to expand the realm of public spaces, to reclaim previously commercialized spaces and integrate them into the public sphere, there’s already a template in place for those public spaces. Building and investing in our libraries and community centres seems like a great place to start.

Good point. One of many differences between Dupuis and me is that he’s “always thought that Shirky was one of the smartest and most sensible commentators out there so I find it unfortunate that he has such a library blindspot.” The library blindspot doesn’t surprise me; it’s in line with Shirky’s general blindspot toward anything that doesn’t fit his theories. (Don’t get me started on Shirky and women or what seems to be a general attitude of “If everybody else isn’t just like me, they damn well should be.”)

That’s a secondary issue (and why I don’t quote Shirky much, since he’s one of the many ever-right gurus whom it’s pointless to disagree with). The primary issue here is sound: Good libraries already do what Shirky thinks bookstores could do in the future. Oh, and provide free (that is, prepaid) books and other resources as well.

85 Reasons to be Thankful for Librarians

I have mixed feelings about mentioning this piece, which appeared in December 2009. On the one hand, it’s a moderately cute list of what it says, some of the “reasons” silly, some significant. Here are the first five:

1. Librarians take care of libraries, which are still invaluable today.

2. Not all information is on the internet.

3. Older books still hold great cultural significance.

4. Libraries are still repositories for some of the most valuable works of literature in the world.

5. Even with the internet, the library is still the best place to do research.

Some are fairly insulting, too, such as #17: “‘Librarian’ is still a better career choice for spinsters over ‘School Lunch Lady.’”

On the other hand, the site is…sigh…yet another one of a seemingly endless set of sites with different names featuring Lots O’ Numbered Lists, always sponsored by online colleges, always effectively leading people to for-profit online colleges. I’m not citing the site. If you’re interested, you can find it.

Academic libraries, a view from the administration building

Here’s another one I’m noting mostly because, if you haven’t read it (and you work in an academic library), you should. It’s by Barbara Fister, published on May 1, 2010 by Library Journal. You can find it online at

Fister begins by combining four of the Taiga provocations with another from Daniel Greenstein at UC—and goes on to show that most university administrators don’t really seem interested in getting the books off campus or cutting library budgets. Beyond that, it’s an interesting article with some survey results attached. The whole thing runs 3,500 words and is well worth your time.

Why people continue to work in libraries (survey results)

Speaking of surveys, this one’s more a poll than a survey, taken by Sarah Houghton-Jan of Librarian in Black. She posted an initial commentary on May 10, 2010, when there were 92 respondents, and later added updated results as of June 9, 2010. (As of July 2, 2010, there were more than 400 responses.)

The results as of June 9 for “Why do you continue to work in libraries?”—noting that people could choose more than one option:

68% – Belief in the library’s mission in society

62% – Love the work itself

32% – Good work environment

26% – Love the customers

24% – Love my co-workers

15% – Good pay/benefits

9% – Fear that I’m not qualified for anything else

8% – Other

7% – Convenience (e.g. job close to home)

7% – Laziness (changing jobs is too hard)

6% – Holding on a little longer to get vested/get better retirement benefits

Since this was an anonymous poll, there’s no particular reason for people to give loftier reasons than the reality. Houghton-Jan found it interesting that “love for customers” only scored 26%; I wonder whether “Love serving library patrons” (avoiding the c-word) might have scored higher?

Houghton-Jan was in danger of being laid off in July 2010 and had this to say:

The thought of moving out of libraries after my impending probable lay-off in July is both exhilarating and scary. Exhilarating at the possibility of making much better wages and benefits in private industry or non-profits with my skill set and willingness to work long hours. Scary because I really like libraries and I want to work in them longer. I want to contribute to the great equalizer in our society. I want to better people’s lives in a non-profit environment. And also scary because maybe private industry doesn’t have a role for a tech-savvy project manager, information architect, and writer. In some ways, I think about moving into consulting full time—speaking and writing my days away, but the thought of not having stable income or health insurance scares the devil out of me. But in the end, I just like libraries too much to leave. And maybe that’s the case for most of us. What we do is admirable in my book. We make differences in people’s lives, and that’s something that I think we should all be proud of at the end of the day.

There’s more to the post, including a sense that the field will lose “many quality library employees to other industries better positioned to reward them.”

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 10, Number 9, Whole Issue 132, ISSN 1534-0937, a journal of libraries, policy, technology and media, is written and produced by Walt Crawford.

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