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Do You Feel Inadequate? For Hard-Working Overachievers

I have not been a very diligent blog writer in the year of 2013. So on the last day of 2013, I decided to write a post. I thought about writing a post with the title of “Adieu 2013!” but then I changed my mind. So here is a more sensational title, “Do you feel inadequate?”

Inadequacy is an interesting feeling. While I often felt inadequate as a college and grad student in academia and sometimes as a librarian in the libraryland, I was also pretty convinced that I was quite smart and bright. (Don’t throw stones at me just yet; Look what I said is ‘was’!) So how do you feel smart and inadequate at the same time? The answer is actually quite simple. You feel inadequate because you are smart enough to know that there are smarter people than you. So feeling inadequate itself is not a bad thing. But being unable to set the goal for you to overcome that feeling is a problem. Being unable to be at peace with the fact that there will always be people who are more bright and talented than you is a problem.

I wish I realized this, much earlier in my life. But it should still count just the same. I do no longer believe that I am particularly bright nor that I am seriously inadequate. I am just OK. That’s really not bad at all. I think that actually, this is a great place to be – knowing that I am OK to be who I am. This may sound mundane to many. But I guarantee you that if you are one of those exceptionally bright and successful over-achievers with little experience in failure then this would be a particularly hard belief for you to subscribe to.

[ADDED: I also want to emphasize that smart or brilliant is not an innate quality. You have to work on it to become smart or brilliant. So if you do work on things you want to become smart about, you will become smart. Believe me and go for it. On the other hand, you also need to 'actively decide' on what boundary you will set up in pushing yourself towards smartness or brilliance because there will be certain things you want to preserve such as sanity and work-life balance. For example, are you willing to sacrifice your 2 hours at a gym everyday and spend that time instead for getting smarter? How about sleeping only 4 hours a day and use the rest of it on some project you love? It will work, but maybe that is or is not what you really want. (Also consider if it will be a long-term or a short-term thing.) And so, you will be less smart than those who take those measures. So you are just OK. But it is you who decide to be so! No hard feelings, right?]

(On the other hand, if you have had this belief that you are just OK in your entire career and have never been discontent with yourself, maybe that is a clear warning sign. Don’t be a seat-warmer and go find a challenge that excites your librarian heart!)

Back in January, 2013. I read this blog post by Miss July, “ego, thy name is librarianship”. Many librarians shared the angst of wanting to be recognized widely and quickly for their hard work and intelligence. But the thing is, a lot of times, what makes someone recognized is chance and luck more than anything. Sometimes, a project you put a lot of work into and is completely worthy of others’ acclaim will go unnoticed. At other times, something you haphazardly put together to meet a deadline may make you famous! When I was a babybrarian, one of my friends, Will, who was a few years senior to me in being a librarian, asked if I recognized someone’s name. I had zero idea who that person was. But during his LIS days, that person was beyond famous in the libraryland, I was told.

I am not saying that luck and chance are important to fame than hard work and intelligence to dismiss the famous ‘and’ brilliant ‘and’ hard-working people in the libraryland, whom I  admire. I just want to point out that hard work and brilliance is only a sufficient condition for being a good librarian and professional, not for gaining fame. If you are aiming at the former, your hard work and brilliance will be more than rewarded. If you are aiming at the latter, on the other hand, achieving that will be way trickier since it is mostly up to others. I am simply sharing this to help other bright librarians who are struggling with the work-life balance and the feeling of inadequacy in spite of hard work and many achievements.

I also want all LIS students and grads in the library job market to know that something similar applies to the hiring process. I used to believe that only the best candidate with the most achievements gets hired. (Just like the grades given on an absolute scale!) But this naive belief is simply not true. From serving on multiple search committees at academic libraries, I have learned that candidates’ applications, resume/CVs, and cover letters are evaluated on a relative, not an absolute scale. And each organization has different priorities, specific needs, and most of all, unique individuals on their search committees or as hiring officials at any given time. You need to be the right fit for a given position at a given time and at a specific place. Being that right fit requires a lot of luck and chance beyond your many achievements. I also saw many cases in which some candidates whom the search committee I belonged to rejected but who found jobs that are just as good as or even better than what we had to offer. So no need to fall into despair by a rejection letter. You just have to try a little longer until you get selected.

From Flickr Creative Commons by Mari Z

If I were wiser, perhaps I would have written “How to Overcome Your Feeling of Inadequacy in Five Easy Steps(!)” instead of “Do You Feel Inadequate?” Unfortunately, I don’t have such five easy steps. I can only say that it took very many years for me to understand that working on the stuff that seems to you most difficult and unenjoyable doesn’t make you the most brilliant and hard-working person (It is probably a rather poor investment of your time and brain and so please don’t do that.) and that being a good supporter and follower can make just as great a contribution to a project as being its leader. A good thing about becoming a mid-career professional and getting old is that you get to care less about stupid stuff like what others think about you and more about important stuff like what you can do to make yourself better at things you want to do because you think they matter. How smart I look to others or whether I can be famous becomes rather trivial compared to whether I can get this thing done or to work, I understand something correctly, and what I do makes me happy and proud. I also recommend great blog posts by Andromeda and Coral about how to overcome the feeling of inadequacy, particularly in library technology and coding. Like they recommend, go sit at the table and develop your own swagger!

The New Year’s Eve is a great moment for reflection. In Müdigkeitsgesellschaft (Fatigue Society) (Berlin: Matthes & Seitz, 2010), which I’ve read recently (not in German but in Korean translation), a Korean-German philosopher Byung-Chul Han writes that driven by the goal of maximizing production, the contemporary society no longer disciplines people and instead makes all of us into individual entrepreneurs. He calls this new society ‘achievement society’ over-saturated with positivity and affirmation. All of us are now free to exploit ourselves, and there is no limit to how far we can go in our own free self-exploitation.  Doesn’t this sound familiar and similar to the mantra of managing oneself and the celebration of creativity?

Happy New Year to you all!

Suzanne Briet’s Document Antelop in Celebration of Ada Lovelace Day

**This is part of the blog bomb that all the librarians at LibTechWomen planned and I am excited to participate. : )  Find more posts celebrating Briet today in Twitter with #briet**

Ada Lovelace from Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ada_Lovelace_portrait.jpg)

Ada Lovelace from Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ada_Lovelace_portrait.jpg)

 

In celebration of Ada Lovelace Day, I am posting this short blog post on a female librarian, Suzanne Briet, the author of “Qu’est-ce que la documentation? (What is Documentation?). For those who do not know Ada Lovelace, she was ‘the world’s first computer programmer, and the first person to realise that a general purpose computing machine such as Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine could do more than just calculate large tables of numbers.’

Getting back to Briet, in her manifesto published in 1951, she argued that the antelope in the wild is not a document but the antelope in the zoo is. If you ever hear “Is the antelope a document or not?,” now you know that the antelope example comes from Briet’s manifesto.

Unfortunately, this idea of the document antelope was often wrongly attributed to Michael Buckland, a professor at the School of Information, University of California, Berkeley, who actually introduced Briet to many students in library and information science.

About Suzanne Briet’s manifesto, Michael Buckland wrote:

In her manifesto, “What is Documentation?” Briet argued that the scope of Documentation extended beyond text to evidence and she defined “document” as any material form of evidence.
(Source: http://people.ischool.berkeley.edu/~buckland/briet.html)

According to Briet, the antelope in the zoo was a document just as much as the stone in the museum or the photo of the star in the sky.

For more information, see:

Happy Ada Lovelace Day, everyone!

10 Practical Tips for Compiling Your Promotion or Tenure File

 This post was originally published in ACRL TechConnect on Sep. 23, 2013.

Flickr image by Frederic Bisson http://www.flickr.com/photos/38712296@N07/3604417507/

If you work at an academic library, you may count as faculty. Whether the faculty status comes with a tenure track or not, it usually entails a more complicated procedure for promotion than the professional staff status. At some libraries, the promotion policy and procedure is well documented, and a lot of help and guidance are given to those who are new to the process. At other libraries, on the other hand, there may be less help available and the procedure documentation can be not quite clear. I recently had the experience of compiling my promotion file. I thought that creating a promotion file would not be too difficult since I have been collecting most of my academic and professional activities. But this was not the case at all. Looking back, there are many things I would have done differently to make the process less stressful.

While this post does not really cover a technology topic that we at ACRL TechConnect usually write about, applying for promotion and/or tenure is something that many academic librarians go through. So I wanted to share some lessons that I learned from my first-time experience of crating a promotion binder as a non-tenure track faculty.

Please bear in mind that the actual process of assembling your promotion or tenure file can differ depending on your institution. At my university, everything has to be printed and filed in a binder and multiple copies of such a binder are required for the use of the tenure and promotion committee. At some places, librarians may only need to print all documentation but don’t need to actually create a binder. At other places, you may do everything online using a system such as Digital Measures, Sedona or Interfolio, and you do not have to deal with papers or binders at all. Be aware that if you do have to deal with actual photocopying, filing, and creating a binder, there will be some additional challenges.

Also my experience described here was for promotion, not tenure. If you are applying for a tenure, see these posts that may be helpful:

1. Get a copy of the promotion and tenure policy manual of your library and institution.

In my case, this was not possible since my library as well as the College of Medicine, to which the library belongs, did not have the promotion policy until very recently. But if you work at an established academic library, there will be a promotion/tenure procedure and policy manual for librarians. Some of the manual may refer to the institution’s faculty promotion and tenure policy manual as well. So get a copy of both and make sure to find out under which category librarians fall. You may count as non-tenured faculty, tenure-track faculty, or simply professionals. You may also belong to an academic department and a specific college, or you may belong to simply your library which counts as a college with a library dean.

You do not have to read the manual as soon as you start working. It will certainly not be a gripping read. But do get a copy and file it in your binder. (It is good to have a binder for promotion-related records even if you do not actually have to create a promotion binder yourself or everything can be filed electronically.)

2. Know when you become eligible for the application for promotion/tenure and what the criteria are.

Once you obtain a copy of your library’s promotion/tenure policy, take a quick look at the section that specifies how many years of work is required for you to apply for promotion or tenure and what the promotion / tenure criteria are. An example of the rankings of non-tenure track librarians at an academic library are: Instructor, Assistant, Associate, and University Librarian. This mirrors the academic faculty rankings of Instructor, Assistant, Associate, and Full Professor. But again, your institution may have a different system. Each level of promotion will have a minimum number of years required, such as 2 years for the promotion from Instructor to Assistant Librarian, and specific criteria applied to that type of promotion. This is good to know early in your career, so that you can coordinate and organize your academic and professional activities to match what your institution expects its librarians to perform as much as possible.

3. Ask those who went through the same process already.

Needless to day, the most helpful advice comes from those librarians who went through the same process. They have a wealth of knowledge to share. So don’t hesitate to ask them what the good preparatory steps are for future application. Even if you have a very general question, they will always point out what to pay attention to in advance.

Also at some libraries, the promotion and tenure committee holds an annual workshop for those who are interested in submitting an application. Even if you are not yet planning to apply and it seems way too early to even consider such a thing, it may be a good idea to attend one just to get an overview. The committee is very knowledgeable about the whole process and consists of librarians experienced in the promotion and tenure process.

4. Collect and gather documentation under the same categories that your application file requires.

The promotion file can require a lot of documentation that you may neglect to collect on a daily basis. For example, I never bothered to keep track of the committee appointment notification e-mails, and the only reason I saved the conference program booklets were because of a colleague’s advice that I got to save them for the promotion binder in the future as the proof of attendance. (It would have never dawned on me. And even then, I lost some program booklets for conferences I attended.) This is not a good thing.

Since there was no official promotion policy for my library when I started, I simply created a binder and filed anything and everything that might be relevant to the promotion file some day. However, over the last five years, this binder got extremely fat. This is also not a good practice. When I needed those documentation to actually create and organize my promotion file, it was a mess. It was good that I had at least quite a bit of documentation saved. But I had to look through all of them again because they belonged to different categories and the dates were all mixed up.

So, it is highly recommended that you should check the categories of the application file that your library/institution requires before creating a binder. Do not just throw things into a binder or a drawer if possible. Make separate binders or drawers under the same categories that your application file requires such as publication, presentation, university service, community service, professional services, etc. Also organize the documentation by year and keep the list of items in each category. Add to the list every time you file something. Pretend that you are doing this for your work, not for your promotion, to motivate yourself.

Depending on your preference and the way your institution handles the documentation for your promotion or tenure application, it may make a better sense to scan and organize everything in a digital form as long as the original document is not required. You can use citation management system such as Mendeley or Refworks to keep the copies of all your publications for example. These will easily generate the up-to-date bibliography of your publications for your CV. If your institution uses a system that keeps track of faculty’s research, grant, publication, teaching, and service activities such as Digital Measures or Sedona, those systems may suit you better as you can keep track of more types of activities than just publications. You can also keep a personal digital archive of everything that will go into your application file either on your local computer or on your Dropbox, Google Drive, or SkyDrive account. The key is to save and organize when you have something that would count towards promotion and tenure in hand “right away.”

One more thing. If you publish a book chapter, depending on the situation, you may not get the copy of the book or the final version of your book chapter as a PDF from your editor or publisher. This is no big deal until you have to ask your college to do a rush ILL for you. So take time in advance to obtain at least one hard copy or the finished PDF version of your publication particularly in the case of book chapters.

5. What do I put into my promotion file or tenure dossier?

There are common items such as personal statement, CV, publications, and services, which are specified in the promotion/tenure policy manual. But some of the things that may not belong to these categories or that make you wonder if it is worth putting into your promotion file. It really depends on what else you have it in your application file. If your application file is strong enough, you may skip things like miscellaneous talks that you gave or newsletter articles that you wrote for a regional professional organization. But ask a colleague for advice first and check if your file looks balanced in all areas.

6. Make sure to keep documentation for projects that only lived a short life.

Another thing to keep in mind is to keep track of all the projects you worked on. As time goes on, you may forget some of the work you did. If you create a website, a LibGuide, a database application, a section in the staff intranet, etc., some of those may last a long time, but others may get used only for a while and then disappear or be removed. Once disappeared projects are hard to show in your file as part of your work and achievement unless you documented the final project result when it was up and running and being used. So take the screenshots, print out the color copies of those screenshots, and keep the record of the dates during which you worked on the project and of the date on which the project result was released, implemented etc.

If you work in technology, you may have more of this type of work than academic publications. Check your library’s promotion and tenure policy manual to see if it has the category of ‘Creative Works’ or something similar under which you can add these items.

If you are assembling your binder right now, and some projects you worked on are completely gone, check the WayBack machine from the Internet Archive and see if you can find an archived copy. Not always available, but if you don’t have anything else, this may the only way to find some evidence of your work that you can document.

7. Update your CV and the list of Continuing Education activities on a regular basis.

Ideally, you will be doing this every year when you do your performance review. But it may not be required. Updating your CV is certainly not the most exciting thing to do, but it must be done. Over the last five years, I have done CV updates only when it was required for accreditation purposes (which requires the current CVs of all faculty). This was better than not having updated my CV at all for sure. But since I did not really update it with the promotion application in mind, when I needed to create one for the promotion application file, I had to redo the CV moving items and organizing them in different categories. So make sure to check your library’s or your institution’s faculty promotion/tenure policy manual. The manual includes the format of CV that the dossier needs to adopt. Use that format for your CV and update it every year. (I think that during the Christmas holidays may be a good time for this kind of task from now on for me.)

Some people keep the most up-to-date CV in their Dropbox’s public folder, and that is also a good idea if you have a website and share your CV there.

Some of the systems I have mentioned earlier – Digital Measure and Sedona – also allow you to create a custom template which you can utilize for the promotion/tenure application purpose. If the system has been in use for many years in your institution, there may be a pre-made template for promotion and tenure purposes.

8. Make sure to collect all appointment e-mails to committees and other types of services you do.

Keeping the records of all services is a tricky thing as we tend to pay little attention to the appointment e-mails to committees or other types of services that we perform for universities or professional organizations. I assumed that they were all in my inbox somewhere and did not properly organize them. As a result, I had to spend hours looking for them when I was compiling my binder.

This can be easily avoided if you keep a well-organized e-mail archive where you file e-mails as they come in. Sometimes, I found that I either lost the appointment e-mail or never received one. You can file other email correspondences as documentation for that service. But the official appointment e-mail would certainly be better in this case.

This also reminded me that I should write thank-you e-mails to the members of my committees that I chaired and to the committee chairs I worked with as a board member of ALA New Members Round Table. It is always nice to file a letter of appreciation rather than a letter of appointment. And as a committee chair or a board member, it should be something that you do without being asked. By sending these thank you e-mails, your committee members or chairs can file and use them when they need for their performance, promotion, or tenure review without requesting and waiting.

9. Check the timeline dates for the application.

Universities and colleges usually have a set of deadlines you have to meet in order for you to be considered for promotion or tenure. For example, you may have to have a meeting by a certain date with your supervisor or your library dean and get the green light to go for promotion. Your supervisor may have to file an official memorandum to the dean’s office until a certain date as a formal notification. Your department chair (if you are appointed to an academic department) may have to receive a memo about your application by a certain date. Your promotion file may have to be submitted to your academic department’s Promotion and Tenure committee by some time in advance before it gets forwarded to the Promotion and Tenure committee of the college. The list goes on and on. These deadlines are hard to keep tabs on but have to be tracked carefully not to miss them.

10. Plan ahead

I had to compile and create my promotion binder and three copies within a week’s notice, but this is a very unusual case due to special circumstances. Something like this is unlikely to happen to you, but remember that creating the whole application file will take much more time than you imagine. I could have done some of the sorting out and organizing documentation work myself in advance but delayed it because there was a web data application which I was developing for my library. Looking back, I should have at least started working on the promotion file even if things were unclear and even if I had little time to spare outside of my ongoing work projects. It would have given me a much more accurate sense of how much time I will have to spend eventually on the whole dossier.

Also remember to request evaluation letters in advance. This was the most crazy part for me because I was literally given one week to request and get letters from internal and external reviewers. Asking people of a letter in a week’s time is close to asking for the impossible particularly if the reviewers are outside of your institution and have to be contacted not by you but by a third party. I was very lucky to get all the signed PDF letters in time, but I do not recommend this kind of experience to anyone.

Plan ahead and plan well in advance. Find out whether you need letters from internal or external reviewers, how many, and what the letters need to cover. Make sure to create a list of colleagues you can request a letter from who are familiar with your work. When you request a letter, make sure to highlight the promotion or tenure criteria and what the letter needs to address, so that letter writers can quickly see what they need to focus on when they review your work. If there are any supplementary materials such as publications, book chapters, presentations, etc., make sure to forward them as well along with your CV and statement.

Lastly, if Your Application File Must be In Print…

You are lucky if you have the option to submit everything electronically or to simply submit the documentation to someone who will do the rest of work such as photocopying, filing, making binders, etc. But your institution may require the application file to be submitted in print, in multiple copies sometimes. And you may be responsible for creating those binders and copies yourself. I had to submit 4 binders, each of which exactly identical, and I was the one who had to do all the photocopying, punching holes, and filing them into a binder. I can tell you photocopying and punching holes for the documents that fill up a very thick binder and doing that multiple times was not exactly inspiring work. If this is your case as well, I recommend creating one binder as a master copy and using the professional photocopy/binding service to create copies. It would have been so much better for my sanity. In my case, the time was too short for me to create one master copy and then bring it to the outside service to make additional copies. So plan ahead and make sure you have time to use outside service. I highly recommend not using your own labor for photocopying and filing.

* * *

If you have any extra tips or experience to share about the promotion or tenure process at an academic library, please share them in the comments section. Hopefully in the future, all institutions will allow people to file their documentation electronically. There are also tools such as Interfolio (http://www.interfolio.com/) that you can use, which is particularly convenient for those who has to get external letters that directly have to go to the tenure and promotion committee.

Are there any other tools? Please share them in the comments section as well. Best of luck to all librarians going for promotion and tenure!

 

What to Do with a Professional Association (with LITA as an example)

From Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/21232564@N06/2234726613/

Many of us – librarians – are members of some professional organizations. We tend to join one and pay dues every year but don’t do much about or with those organizations beyond that. But that would be probably not the best way to make use of your professional organization. In order to best utilize your organization, you need to know what it does first and see if their activities fit with your interests. So do some research to see if it is a good fit for you. Secondly, you need to figure out how the organization works, what structure it has, what is the mode of operation, etc.

  • What interest groups does it have?
  • What kind of programs does it put up at conferences?
  • What committees does it have?
  • Who belong to the organization and what do they do for the organization?
  • What is the procedure for being involved with an IG or becoming a member of a committee (and the timeline)?
  • Is there a mentoring program?
  • What are, if any, tangible benefits for being a member?
  • Is there a board?
  • What does the board do?
  • What is the relationship between the board and the members?
  • Who do I contact if I have a suggestion?

I confess that I do not know the answers to all these questions for all organizations that I am a member of. I only got to know about a few organizations a little, while I was doing things that were of interest to me. But I think that organizations need to make answers to these questions as clear and transparent as possible to current and potential members and that members should also demand that organizations do so if not.

That having been said, here are some thoughts of mine about the organization that I have been involved for a while: LITA (Library Information Technology Association), a division of ALA (American Library Association). Andromeda Yelton, who is running for the the LITA board of directors, is interviewing many librarians involved with LITA as part of her campaign. I think it is a great project for not just those who are in the LITA leadership positions but also those who are interested in LITA and want to hear from other people’s thoughts on LITA as an organization. I am recording the video interview with Andromeda tomorrow, but I thought Andromeda’s three questions would be interesting to many others as well.  So you can check out my answers here if you prefer reading a write-up to watching a video (as I do). If you are a member of ALA and are interested in LITA, hopefully this will be useful. If your primary organization is not LITA, you can think about that other organization instead and think about how your organization does compared to LITA.

How did you get involved with LITA?

I went to the 2009 ALA Annual Conference in Chicago. That was my very first ALA conference, and at that time I had zero understanding about the structure of ALA such as a division, a roundtable, a committee, an interest group (IG) etc. But while I was planning what programs to attend, LITA kept popping up. And then I happened to go to this meeting of LITA Emerging Technologies IG, and there were maybe three dozens of librarians who were very much like me, early in their career, doing technology stuff, and was somewhat confused about this new title of Emerging Technologies Librarian and the job duties of this title. We had a fantastic conversation, and I ended up volunteering to put together the resources we discussed after the program. I eventually wrote a program proposal on the topic for the next ALA Annual conference with the vice-chair of that IG at that time, Jacquelyn (Erdman) after the conference. It got accepted, and so Jacquelyn and I put together the program for the 2010 ALA Annual, “What Are Your Libraries Doing about Emerging Technologies?” which was amazingly well received. So that was my first experience of getting involved with LITA at an active level. In 2010, I also volunteered to chair the quite new Mobile Computing Interest Group because the first chair, Cody (Hanson) was steeping down. So that’s how I started being involved with LITA.

At that time, I didn’t think that I was getting involved with LITA. I was just doing things that were interesting to me. But this is just my experience. There are many different ways to be involved with LITA. For example, I have a friend who joined LITA and then e-mailed to the LITA president asking to put him on a LITA committee. He was put on a committee almost immediately and then later also became an ALA Emerging Leader sponsored by LITA. So you can do that. Not many people would think of e-mailing the LITA president with a request for a committee spot. That’s out-of-the-box thinking! Some people also start by creating an Interest Group and/or by going to the LITA Happy Hour, which is also an excellent way to be involved with LITA.

What are the strengths of LITA?

LITA is a very big group because it is a division of an even bigger organization, ALA. So there are a great number of people who deal with technology at many different levels in many different types of institutions: public libraries, academic libraries, special libraries, small libraries, large libraries, system administrators, web masters, IT department heads, metadata librarians, etc. So you are almost guaranteed to meet fascinating people whom you did not know about and they always have interesting ideas and thoughts on the current trends of library technology.

Another strength of LITA that I see is its Interest Group(IG)s. There are a great number of them, and they are highly informal and welcoming to new members. If you cannot find a LITA IG you like, you can even start one yourself with not much effort. I know that many people gravitate towards bigger programs because IG meetings don’t always post a clear agenda in advance. But that is a mistake. You are more likely to learn about things you did not expect from IG meetings than from large programs.

I also think that the simplified program proposal process for the ALA Annual conference and the LITA Forum is a huge strength of LITA. It cuts down so many levels of bureaucracy, and this only has been implemented only recently (3 years ago or so I think). You just fill out a Google Form, and you don’t have to be even associated with LITA IG or even LITA (if I am correct) as long as the proposal is relevant to library technologies. (Now wouldn’t it be dreamy if we can simplify an organization’s structure just like that too? Just thinking…) The simplified procedure attracts more qualified potential speakers, thereby enriching the programs offered from LITA at conferences.

What are the challenges for LITA?

LITA members, particularly the new members, have an amazing amount of energy. I don’t think that LITA knows how to harness this energy to the maximum benefit to itself. I understand that there are existing structural and procedural practices, but those practices may be ill-suited for gathering and implementing the creative ideas from new members. A lot of times, what confuses and intimidates new LITA members are the structure and the operation of the organization. Now that I have been active with LITA for some years, it doesn’t seem too bad to me any longer! But this is probably what happened to many who lead LITA. They are probably too familiar to notice what barriers of entry exist to new members. You get used to it. So there needs to be a strong mechanism to get input from new members inside LITA and then do something about the input. LITA really needs to do more to reach out to new members to let them know what they can use LITA for and how to do so. It has gotten better over the years but it can still be much more improved.

Also, LITA has a few high-profile programs such as Top Tech Trends. So LITA is well-known at least to ALA members. But that popularity and recognition is connected to the strength of LITA only at a very abstract level. LITA needs to change that. I was one of the two LITA-sponsored ALA Emerging Leaders in 2010-2011, and my team did a big project about what to do to give a stronger brand and identity to LITA. And I am hoping to see that some of those ideas from our team project get picked up by the LITA leadership. I am also serving on the LITA Top Tech Trends committee and working on transforming the Top Tech Trends program into a more dynamic and participatory event. So far the idea was received with enthusiasm at the committee meeting last week. So we will see.

Overall, changes have been slow, and I think LITA members are not cut out for a slow process. They deal with very fast-paced information technology every day after all. So the speed of things getting done really needs to pick up to respond to the average high energy of LITA members.

Additional thoughts – Join or Not Join

I know that many people get put off by various things when they join LITA, or any other professional organizations. They feel that the organization is not welcoming enough, don’t do much for the benefit of individual members, seem to have an awful bureaucracy, have too many unproductive committees, and even have cliques. And probably all of these are true to a degree. But those cannot be changed immediately and it won’t help you in the mean time. Besides if you are interested in library technology and an ALA member, you cannot but cross paths with LITA at some point. So you might as well make the best out of it as much as you can. And that doesn’t necessarily entail being a member.

I think it is the best if people join an organization because it is actually useful to them. If you are interested in LITA, don’t just join and wait for things to happen. Start somewhere else instead. First check out the LITA listserv, go to LITA meetings and programs, meet with people in LITA, and see if something clicks with you, your interests, and what you want to do, learn, or try. If it does, then go ahead and do those things you want to do. While doing those things, if it turns out that you cannot proceed without joining LITA, then join it. Now you have something you are doing using the organization for your benefit. Consequently the membership will be worthwhile, and the organization will also benefit from your participation. This way the connection between you and the organization will be meaningful and concrete. And down the line after doing many things that excite you, perhaps when you get to care enough about the organization itself, you can also do some work for the organization itself to improve things that you did not not like much or to create things you would have liked to see.

 

Making Your Work Hours Less Stressful and More Productive by Sitting Less

I recently read this article “Sitting Is the Smoking of Our Generation” from Harvard Business Review Blog recently. And I couldn’t agree more. Like many, I spend long hours at the desk ‘sitting’. I sometimes sit all my eight hours of work in the office chair (not even a fancy ergonomic one) working through lunch until I go home. When this happens, which is often, it really doesn’t help my productivity nor my mood. My mind fears to take a break once I am glued to the computer screen although I also know in full that it is counter-productive. My Outlook keeps beeping every five minutes with new emails. My calendar shows a series of meetings. I become a slave to the computer and the office chair everyday. So when I read this, I thought I need to take an action to break this habit for real.

As we work, we sit more than we do anything else. We’re averaging 9.3 hours a day, compared to 7.7 hours of sleeping. Sitting is so prevalent and so pervasive that we don’t even question how much we’re doing it. And, everyone else is doing it also, so it doesn’t even occur to us that it’s not okay. …… Of course, health studies conclude that people should sit less, and get up and move around. After 1 hour of sitting, the production of enzymes that burn fat declines by as much as 90%. Extended sitting slows the body’s metabolism affecting things like (good cholesterol) HDL levels in our bodies. Research shows that this lack of physical activity is directly tied to 6% of the impact for heart diseases, 7% for type 2 diabetes, and 10% for breast cancer, or colon cancer. You might already know that the death rate associated with obesity in the US is now 35 million.

So what can I do? Here are a few things I did. A while ago, I ran into this idea of a standing desk to reduce some of the hours we spend sitting. I can use a laptop at work and I have a bookshelf in my office. So I emptied two top rows of the bookshelf in the office and removed one top shelf. But the problem was I was rarely standing up to even do this. If you don’t get off the chair, there is no way you are going to use this.

For this reason, this time around, I also decided to add a timer. When I arrive in the office, I turn this on and set it to ring a bell every 60 minutes during my 8 hours of work. When the bell rings I get up and move around for a few minutes or use a standing desk even if it is only for 10 minutes. I like the sound of the meditation bell. So I use a meditation timer but you can use any timer for this, either on your work computer or on your smartphone. I set the timer program, so that it would run automatically whenever I power up the work laptop. And all I need to do is to just press the start button once a day. Easy!

Lastly, I turned off my new e-mail notification in my work e-mail. The frequent beep from my email has been always breaking my concentration and I realized that I am most productive if I can just do work without checking my emails. But like many people, I could not habituate myself to check work e-mails only two or three times a day and  people often expected my replies in an hour or less. But by turning off the notification sound, at least I was not being interrupted when I was in the middle of doing something.

These three simple things I did – a standing desk, a timer reminder, turning off the new e-mail notification beeping sound -so far have been successful in making me move a bit more and preventing me from sitting for eight hours straight and leaving the office physically miserable and mentally tired at the end of the day.

If you have any other simple tricks that work well to make you sit less and move more during your office hours, please share in the comments!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Effectively Learning How To Code: Tips and Resources

*** This post has been originally published in ACRL TechConnect on Dec. 10, 2012. ***

Librarians’ strong interest in programming is not surprising considering that programming skills are crucial and often essential to making today’s library systems and services more user-friendly and efficient for use. Not only for system-customization, computer-programming skills can also make it possible to create and provide a completely new type of service that didn’t exist before. However, programming skills are not part of most LIS curricula, and librarians often experience difficulty in picking up programming skills.

In this post, I would like to share some effective strategies to obtain coding skills and cover common mistakes and obstacles that librarians make and encounter while trying to learn how to code in the library environment based upon the presentation that I gave at Charleston Conference last month, “Geek out: Adding Coding Skills to Your Professional Repertoire.” (slides: http://www.slideshare.net/bohyunkim/geek-out-adding-coding-skills-to-your-professional-repertoire). At the end of this post, you will also find a selection of learning and community resources.

How To Obtain Coding Skills, Effectively

1. Pick a language and concentrate on it.

There are a huge number of resources available on the Web for those who want to learn how to program. Often librarians start with some knowledge in markup languages such as HTML and CSS. These markup languages determine how a block of text are marked up and presented on the computer screen. On the other hand, programming languages involve programming logic and functions. An understanding of the basic programming concepts and logic can be obtained by learning any programming language. There are many options, and some popular choices are JavaScript, PHP, Python, Ruby, Perl, etc. But there are many more.  For example, if you are interested in automating tasks in Microsoft applications such as Excel, you may want to work with Visual Basic. If you are unsure about which language to pick, search for a few online tutorials for a few languages to see what their different syntaxes and examples are like. Even if you do not understand the content completely, this will help you to pick the language to learn first.

2. Write and run the code.

Once you choose a language to learn, there are many paths that you can follow. Taking classes at a local community college or through an online school may speed up the initial process of learning, but it could be time-consuming and costly. Following online tutorials and trying each example is a good alternative that many people take. You may also pick up a few books along the way to supplement the tutorials and use them for reference purposes.

If you decide on self-study, make sure that you actually write and run the code in the examples as you follow along the books and the tutorials. Most of the examples will appear simple and straightforward. But there is a big difference between reading through a code example and being actually able to write the code on your own and to run it successfully. If you read through programming tutorials and books without actually doing the hands-on examples on your own, you won’t get much benefit out of your investment. Programming is a hands-on skill as much as an intellectual understanding.

3. Continue to think about how coding can be applied to your library.

Also important is to continue to think about how your knowledge can be applied to your library systems and environment, which is often the source of the initial motivation for many librarians who decide to learn how to program. The best way to learn how to program is to program, and the more you program the better you will become at programming. So at every chance of building something with the new programming language that you are learning, no matter how small it is, build it and test out the code to see if it works the way you intended.

4. Get used to debugging.

While many who struggle with learning how to code cite lack of time as a reason, the real cause is likely to be failing to keep up the initial interest and persist in what you decided to learn. Learning how to code can be exciting, but it can also be a huge time-sink and the biggest source of frustration from time to time. Since the computer code is written for a machine to read, not for a human being, one typo or a missing semicolon can make the program non-functional. Finding out and correcting this type of error can be time-consuming and demoralizing. But learning how to debug is half of programming. So don’t be discouraged.

5. Find a community for social learning and support.

Having someone to talk to about coding problems while you are learning can be a great help. Sign up for listservs where coding librarians or library coders frequent, such as code4lib and web4lib to get feedback when you need. Research the cause of the problem that you encounter as much as possible on your own. When you still are unsure about how to go about tackling it, post your question to the sites such as Stack Overflow for suggestions and answers from more experienced programmers. It is also a good idea to organize a study group with like-minded people and get support for both coding-related and learning-related problems. You may also find local meet-ups available in your area using sites like MeetUp.com.

Don’t be intimidated by those who seem to know much more than you in those groups (as you know much more about libraries than they do and you have things to contribute as well), but be aware of the cultural differences between the developer community and the librarian community. Unlike the librarian community that is highly accommodating for new librarians and sometimes not-well-thought-out questions, the developer community that you get to interact with may appear much less accommodating, less friendly, and less patient. However, remember that reading many lines of code, understanding what they are supposed to do, and helping someone to solve a problem occurring in those lines can be time-consuming and difficult even to a professional programmer. So it is polite to do a thorough research on the Web and with some reference resources first before asking for others’ help. Also, always post back a working solution when your problem is solved and make sure to say thank you to people who helped you. This way, you are contributing back to the community.

6. Start working on a real-life problem ‘now.’ Don’t wait!

Librarians are often motivated to learn how to code in order to solve real-life problems they encounter at their workplace. Solving a real-life problem with programming is therefore the most effective way to learn and to keep up the interest in programming. One of the greatest mistake in learning programming is putting off writing one’s own code and waiting to work on a real-life problem for the reason that one doesn’t know yet enough to do so. While it is easy to think that once you learn a bit more, it would be easier to approach a problem, this is actually a counter-productive learning strategy as far as programming is concerned because often the only way to find out what to learn is by trying to solve a problem.

7. Build on what you learned.

Another mistake to avoid in learning how to program is failing to build on what one has learned. Having solved one set of problem doesn’t mean that you will remember that programming solution you created next time when you have to solve a similar problem. Repeating what one has succeeded at and expanding on that knowledge will lead to a stronger foundation for more advanced programming knowledge. Also instead of trying to learn more than one programming language (e.g. Python, PHP, Ruby, etc.) and/or a web framework (e.g. Django, cakePHP, Ruby On Rails, etc.) at the same time, first try to become reasonably good at one. This will make it much easier to pick up another language later in the future.

8. Code regularly and be persistent.

It is important to understand that learning how to program and becoming good at it will take time. Regular coding practice is the only way to get there. Solving a problem is a good way to learn, but doing so on a regular basis as often as possible is the best way to make what you learned stick and stay in your head.

While is it easy to say practice coding regularly and try to apply it as much as possible to the library environment, actually doing so is quite difficult. There are not many well-established communities for fledgling coders in libraries that provide needed guidance and support. And while you may want to work with library systems at your workplace right away, your lack of experience may prove problematic in gaining a necessary permission to tinker with them. Also as a full-time librarian, programming is likely to be thrown to the bottom of your to-do list.

Be aware of these obstacles and try to find a way to overcome them as you go. Set small goals and use them as milestones. Be persistent and don’t be discouraged by poor documentation, syntax errors, and failures. With consistent practice and continuous learning, programming can surely be learned.

Resources

A. Resources for learning

B. Communities

 

Tips for Everyone Doing the #codeyear

***   This post has been originally posted to the ACRL TechConnect blog.  ***

Learn to Code in 2012!

If you are a librarian interested in learning how to code, 2012 is a perfect year for you to start the project. Thanks to CodeAcademy (http://codeacademy.com), free JavaScript lessons are provided every week at http://codeyear.com/. The lessons are interactive and geared towards beginners. So even if you do not have any previous experience in programming, you will be able to pick up the new skill soon enough as long as you are patient and willing to spend time on mastering each lesson every week.

A great thing about this learn-how-to-program project, called #codeyear in Twitter (#libcodeyear and #catcode in the library-land) is that there are +375,443 people (and counting up) out there who are doing exactly the same lessons as you are. The greatest thing about this #libcodeyear / #catcode project is that librarians have organized themselves around this project for the collective learning experience.  How librarian-like, don’t you think?

Now, if you are ready to dive in, here are some useful resources.  And after these Resources, I will tell you a little bit more about how to best ask help about your codes when they are not working for you.

Resources for Collective Learning

Syntax Error: Catch the most frustrating bugs!

Now what I really like about #codeyear lessons so far is that some of the lessons trip you by trivial things like a typo! So you need to find a typo and fix it to pass a certain lesson. Now you may ask “How the hell does fixing a typo count as a programming lesson?”

Let me tell you. Finding a typo is no triviality in coding. Catching a similar syntax error will save you from the most frustrating experience in coding.

The examples of seemingly innocuous syntax errors are:

  • var myFunction = funtction (){blah, blah, blah … };
  • var myNewFunction = function (]{blah, blah, blah … };
  • for(i=0,  i<10, i++;)
  • var substr=’Hello World’; alert(subst);
  • –//This is my first JavaScript

Can you figure out why these lines would not work?  Give it a try! You won’t be sorry. Post your answers in the comments section.

How to Ask Help about Your Codes      

by Matteo De Felice in Flickr (http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3577/3502347936_43b5e2a886.jpg)

I am assuming that as #codeyear, #catcode, #libcodeyear project progresses, more people are going to ask questions about problems that stump them. Some lessons already have Q&A in the CodeAcademy site. So check those out. Reading through others’ questions will give valuable insight to how codes work and where they can easily trip you.

That having been said, you may want to ask questions to the places mentioned in the Resources section above. If you do, it’s a good idea to follow some rules. This will make your question more likely to be looked at by others and way more likely to be answered correctly.

  • Before asking a question, try to research yourself. Google the question, check out the Q&A section in the CodeAcademy website, check out other online tutorials about JS (see below for some of the recommended ones).
  • If this fails, do the following:
    • Specify your problem clearly.
      (Don’t say things like “I don’t get lesson 3.5.” or “JavaScript function is too hard” unless the purpose is just to rant.)
    • Provide your codes with any parts/details that are related to the lines with a problem.
      (Bear in mind that you might think there is a problem in line 10 but the problem may lie in line 1, which you are not looking.) Highlight/color code the line you are having a problem. Make it easy for others to immediately see the problematic part.
    • Describe what you have done to troubleshoot this (even if it didn’t work.)
      : This helps the possible commenter to know what your reasoning is behind your codes and what solutions you have already tried, thereby saving their time. So this will make it more likely that someone will actually help you. To believe it or not, what seems completely obvious and clear to you can be completely alien and unfathomable to others.

Some JavaScript Resources

There are many resources that will facilitate your learning JavaScript. In addition to the lessons provided by CodeAcademy, you may also find these other tutorials helpful to get a quick overview of JavaScript syntax, usage, functions, etc. From my experience, I know that I get a better understanding when I review the same subject from more than one resource.

If you have other favorite Javascript please share in the comment section.

ACRL TechConnect blog will continue to cover #libcodeyear / #catcode related topics throughout the year!  The post up next will tell you all about some of the excuses people deploy to postpone learning how to code and what might break the mental blockage!

Making Years of Service Meaningful – My thought on #hlth

By now, I believe almost everyone in the library-land would have heard about the Harvard Libraries Town Hall meeting debacle. (If not, see this post by Tom Bruno.) Like everyone else, I don’t have an inkling about whether the reorganization going on at Harvard is going to succeed or not.  But the news somehow made me think quite a bit about this :  As the library staff work at the same library for many years, how can ‘____’ make the years or service meaningful as their contribution to the library beyond mere loyalty?

This is a tough question as years of service doesn’t necessarily equate with how much contribution you make to the library you work at.  It’s a tough question because improving on whatever you learned already is almost always more difficult than learning it first time. This is also a tough question whether you are a library employer or an employee (fill the ‘____’ above with either library or the library staff) as this is something both an employer and an employee should work together.

As a library employee, I think about this more and more as I am getting out of the new librarian phase. Being a professional librarian for more than 3 years now, it is hard to argue that I am still new at this point. I try hard not to settle in the everyday work that is familiar to me and not to get comfortable with the status quo. I try to keep taking up on a new project that would improve library’s services and operation even if no one is asking for it. I try to learn new things even if that would not affect the work I do immediately because I know that in the long run, there is a good chance that the stuff I am teaching myself today would be come in handy.

What I am trying to is to meet the challenge of how to make my years of service meaningful. I want it to represent the amount of experience and knowledge I have as a librarian, not the mere number of years I was staying at one place.  That is a tough call.  Many librarians face this challenge in one way or another, as they gain more experience at their workplace unless they are continuously hopping from one job to another for higher rank/salary, which will also make it inevitable to learn some new skills and assume new responsibilities).

Now shifting the focus from employees to employers, even to observers who do not know the internal workings of the Harvard libraries system, what made the librarians and library staff at Harvard most upset about the town hall meeting seems to be the feeling of betrayal, aside from the unclear meeting agenda and the lack of answers to obvious questions. It appears that many Harvard library staff were loyal to their workplace (legitimately perhaps considering its collection size and scale of service) and took pride in working there, which is reflected in many staff’s long years of service (i.e. low rate of staff turnover). However, the unclear messages from the top and the impending layoff announcement seemed to have demoralized them, as shown in one of the comments in this LJ article “After Furor, Harvard Library Spokesperson Says ‘Inaccurate’ That All Staff Will Have to Reapply” :

“I acknowledge that change is inevitable, but what I feel, after yesterday’s meeting, was the unnecessary devaluation of the librarians and library assistants, many of whom have worked at Harvard for decades and are experts in their particular field or have particular skills. I didn’t feel we were valued as employees or as persons. So many of us asked after the meeting yesterday, what was the point of the it? Why call a meeting when there are no answers ready for our biggest questions? Was the purpose of it to instill fear? Because, sadly, that was the main result. Fear for ourselves and for the future of one of the best library systems in the world.”

In her blog post “on #hlth and bearpoking,” Jenica Rogers pointed out why the years of service argument would work against the library staff in the re-organization situation rather than in favor. As she correctly notes, effectiveness, relevance, skills do not correlate to years of service by themselves. To the management, this argument has no real merit.

This is a valid point. In times in which permanent jobs are a joke, asking loyalty for employees is an absurd idea. The flip side of it is, however, that it would be equally silly for employees to think that loyalty itself would have any significant meaning (beyond maybe the fact that the low staff-turnover rate will save operating costs related to hiring replacements), particularly when the employer goes through re-organization (based upon the belief that the ‘past’ operation was not optimal ).

But nothing is ever so black-and-white. As a 100% observer, I would have liked to see what systematic incentives and measures Harvard libraries are creating in order to help its staff to continuously improve their skills and knowledge in their jobs. More so when they are planning a big layoff and asking all their staff to submit a summary of their skills and qualifications. (I am not even going to comment on how bureaucratic and utterly ineffective this sounds like. )

I believe that experienced library staffs are not just employees with the long-years-of-service tag on them. Some of them may be chair warmers. (Yes, we have all seen chair warmers!)  ‘But’ many of them are the precious enablers in library operation and the best deliverers of quality library service.  This is not a ‘sentimental’ argument. Losing these people will cost the organization no matter how hard it is to quantitatively measure its impact.

You may say those people with good performance will be saved one way or another. But what I am saying is that an organization has the responsibility to beclear about what it values in its employees.  As an employer, an organization may ask for and demand whatever qualifications it sees fit for employees to be equipped with. But it would help employees if an organization can state them clearly and, if possible, provide concrete steps to take to actually attain that goal.

So looking forward, I suggest any library that goes through re-organization should ask this question: What kind of system do you have in place to help and enable for your staff to stay relevant, skilled, effective, and efficient over the long period of time? What are the standards you would like to see in your staff in terms of skills and knowledge? Why are those relevant skills and knowledge in your organization in light of its mission and vision? What kinds of initiatives and activities would you like your staff to work on and be engaged in on a daily basis?  Communicating clear answers to these questions alone would greatly alleviate the concern of library staff during any reorganization process.  I hope that Harvard libraries staff would use this reorganization as an opportunity to ask these questions and get satisfactory answers.

Reorganization can be painful. But reorganization without a clear vision and goal and the road-map to achieve the goal would be disastrous. I am worried about the possibility of library re-organization done in the absence of clear vision and strategies. I am concerned about the possibility that libraries may dive into reorganization in lieu of establishing first assessing clearly where they want to go and how they plan to get there.

Sadly, the data from Ithaka S+R Library Survey 2010: Insights from U.S. Academic Library Directors doesn’t make me feel so optimistic. (See this blog post “My peers are not my tribe” by Jenica Rogers and despair. 65 percent of US academic library directors confirmed that their library does NOT have a well-developed strategy to meet changing user needs and research habits!)

I do so hope that this is not the whole story. But are you surprised at this finding?

Published! Chapter 8. Mobile Use in Medicine: Taking a Cue from Specialized Resources and Devices

The presentation that I gave with my colleague, Marissa Ball, at Handheld Librarian Online Conference II (February 17, 2010.) is now out as a book chapter in the new book published by Routledge, Mobile Devices and the Library: Handheld Tech, Handheld Reference (ed. Joe Murphy).

This is the first time my article has been published as a book chapter. So I am pretty excited. On the other hand, I am realizing how much time can pass between a presentation and a publication.

Almost two years have been passed since the presentation, but many of the observations we made in the presentation seem to still remain the case so far. Still the time passed alone makes me think that perhaps it’s time to revisit what I have reviewed back then two years ago…

You can see the original presentation slides here: http://www.slideshare.net/bohyunkim/mobile-access-to-licensed-databases-in-medicine-and-other-subject-areas.

Before becoming the book chapter, this presentation was also published as an article in The Reference Librarian 52(1), 2011.

I greatly appreciate that my library purchased this book as part of the professional development collection for the library staff.  (I didn’t get a copy of the book probably because the copyright belongs to the Taylor and Francis, the publisher of The Reference Librarian, on which the article originally appeared…)

I took a few shots from the book processed today at the library.

First page

 

Mobile Devices and the Library, Routledge, 2012

Contents

 

Posted at ACRLog – “Research Librarianship in Crisis: Mediate When, Where, and How?”

 

*** This has been originally posted on ACRLog ***

Research Librarianship in Crisis: Mediate When, Where, and How?

 

The talk about the crisis of librarianship is nothing new. Most recently, back in May, Seth Godin, a marketing guru, has written on his blog a post about the future of libraries. Many librarians criticized that Godin failed to fully understand the value of librarians and libraries.  But his point that libraries and librarians may no longer be needed was not entirely without merit (See my post “Beyond the Middlemen and the Warehouse Business”). Whether we librarians like it or not, more and more library users are obtaining information without our help.

One may think academic research libraries are an exception from this. Unfortunately, the same trend prevails even at research libraries. In his guest editorial for the Journal of Academic Librarianship“The Crisis in Research Librarianship (pre-print version)”, Rick Anderson makes the case that patrons are finding information effectively without librarians’ help, citing the drastic decline of reference transactions in Association of Research Libraries (ARL).  According the ARL statistics, the number of reference transactions went down by more than 50-60 % since 1995.

This is particularly worrisome considering that at research libraries, we tend to place reference and instruction services at the center of the library operation and services. These services delivered by physical or online contact are still deemed to be one of the most prominent and important parts of the academic library operation. But the actual user behavior shows that they can and do get their research done without much help from librarians.  To make matters worse, existing library functions and structures that we consider to be central appear to play only a marginal role in the real lives of academic library users.  Anderson states: “Virtually none of them begins a research project at the library’s website; the average student at a major research university has fewer than four interactions with a reference librarian in a year (and even fewer of those are substantive reference interviews); printed books circulate at lower and lower rates every year.”

We have heard this before. So why are we still going in the same direction as we were a decade ago? Could this be perhaps because we haven’t figured out yet what other than reference and instruction to place in the heart of the library services?

For almost three years, my library has been offering workshops for library users. Workshops are a precious opportunity for academic librarians to engage in instruction, the most highly regarded activity at an academic library. But our workshop attendance has been constantly low. Interestingly, however, those who attended always rated the workshops highly. So the low attendance wasn’t the result of the workshops being bad or not useful. Library users simply preferred to spend their time and attention on something other than library workshops.  I remember two things that brought out palpable appreciation from users during those workshops: how to get the full-text of an article immediately and how to use the library’s LibX toolbar to make that process even faster and shorter.

What users seemed to want to know most was how to get the tasks for their research done fast, and they preferred to do so by themselves. They appreciated any tools that help them to achieve this if the tools were easy to use.  But they were not interested in being mediated by a librarian.

What does this mean?  It means that those library services and programs that aim at increasing contact between librarians and patrons are likely to fail and to be received poorly by users. Not necessarily because those offerings are bad but because users prefer not to be mediated by librarians in locating and using information and resources.

This is a serious dilemma. Librarians exist to serve as a mediator between users and resources. We try to guide them to the best resources and help them to make the best use of those resources.  But the users consider our mediation as a speed bump rather than as value-added service. So where do research libraries and librarians go from here?

I think that librarians will still be needed for research in the digital era. However, the point at which librarians’ mediation is sought for and appreciated may vastly differ from that in the past when information was scarce and hard to obtain.  Users will no longer need nor desire human mediation in basic and simple tasks such as locating and accessing information. Most of them already have no patience to sit through a bibliographic instruction class and/or to read through a subject guide.

But users may appreciate and even seek for mediation in more complicated tasks such as creating a relevant and manageable data set for their research.  Users may welcome any tool that libraries offer that makes the process of research from the beginning to the final product easier and faster. They will want better user interfaces for library systems. They will appreciate better bridges that will connect them with non-library systems to make library resources more easily discoverable and retrievable.  They will want libraries to be an invisible interface that removes any barrier between them and information.  This type of mediation is new to librarians and libraries.  Is it possible that in the future the libraries and librarians’ work is deemed successful exactly in inverse proportion to how visible and noticeable their mediation is?

In his guest editorial, Anderson presents several scenarios of research libraries “going out of business.” Libraries being absorbed into an IT group; Libraries losing computer labs, thereby losing a source of transaction with users as laptops and handheld devices become widely adopted; Libraries budget taken away for better investments; Libraries’ roles and functions being eroded slowly by other units; Information resources that libraries provide being purchased directly by users.

So if a library comes to lose its facilities such as a computer lab, a reading room, carrels, and group study rooms, would there still remain the need for librarians? If a library ends up removing its reference desk, workshops, and other instruction classes, what would librarians be left to do?  If we consider the library space that can be offered and managed by any other unit on campus as the essential part of library services and operation, the answer to these questions would be negative.  As long as we consider reference and instruction – the direct contact with users to mediate between them and resources – as the primary purpose of a library, the answer to these questions would be negative.

Libraries may never lose their facilities, and the need for users to have a direct contact with librarians may never completely go away. But these questions are still worth for us to ponder if we do not want to build a library’s main mission upon something on which the library’s patrons do not place much value. The prospect for the future libraries and librarians may not necessarily be dreary. But we need to rethink where the heart of research librarianship should lie.

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