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2009:

Tweet-Up for Newbies at ALA MW?

Update – Time & Place:

The ALA MW Newbies (& Veterans) Tweet-up will take place at Green Dragon Tavern on 1/16 Saturday 8pm.

RSVP: http://twtvite.com/73m5bt

Green Dragon Tavern is in North End/Faneuil Hall and a short walk from three different T-stops in Green/Orange/Blue line: Government Center, Haymarket, State Street.
Address:  11 Marshall Street, Boston, MA‎ – (800) 543-9002‎
Menu: http://www.somerspubs.com/blogcategory/green-dragon-menus/

Also for newbies’ interests, Green Dragon Tavern is also very close to both NMRT social (Bell-in-Hand Tavern; 5:30-7:30pm) and After Hours Social (Black Rose, 10pm) on the same day.  Hope to see lots of newbies there. Cheers!

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Update:

Interested folks, please go to http://www.doodle.com/pzzbxi6ehakhp9y9 and check all times that you are available for a tweet-up.
Once time and place are determined, it will be tweeted and posted here as well. Thanks!

Also, a MW Wiki page for ALA MW first-timers  have events for first-timers:
http://www.alamw.ala.org/2010/index.php?title=Events_for_First-Timers

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It is unbelievable that ALA midwinter at Boston is just around the corner. I can hardly wait for snow and slush of Boston and to revisit all the used bookstores that I used to frequent. But the business first, I haven’t still had time for creating a schedule for the midwinter. It is tough for me because I am going to be at the Midwinter first-time. As a newbie librarian, I have no committee commitments, and the midwinter program listing lots of meetings of lots of groups to which I don’t really belong to (yet!) – instead of programs with explicit topics unlike ALA annual – is somewhat baffling to me. I am sure I will figure it out just in time.

But in the meantime, I wonder, if any other librarians are going to ALA Midwinter as a first-timer and are interested in a tweet-up at Boston?

I attended my first ALA in the summer. I crammed all the interesting programs into my schedule, and I had barely time for lunch and passed out sometimes even before dinner. (I was so serious!)  So this time, I am focusing some efforts in socializing and networking. For newbies like me, however, networking and socializing are a more daunting task than attending some programs. I don’t know many people and am not sure where I fit in or can be fitted in. But I know I can most certainly fit in the newbie group.

I know that there are many social hours for already defined groups and sections. (I am going to try a few this time.) I know that there are lots of free breakfasts and luncheons that are sponsored by vendors to which so far I had no success in obtaining any RSVP. But a tweet-up would consist of totally random group of people. And there would be no pressure!

I have already received some responses via Twitter. So we newbies should meet up!

[ Thanks to @memclaughlin; @artficlinanity; @mojo_girl ; @lejwa; @library_chan; @wawoodworth; @jenniferwaller; @heidisteiner) ]

Leave a comment below to express your interests or holler at me on Twitter (@bohyunkim). Time and place will be determined in a democratic but ruthlessly efficient manner later on. (Veterans with newbie spirit are quite welcome too!)

Praise for Librarians?

I was reading this book review by ricklibrarian today morning.  The review was about Marilyn Johnson’s new book, This Book Is Overdue: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All.  In the book review, it was stated “most librarians knock themselves out serving their clients regardless of pay, institutional support, or appreciation from society at large.”

And is this supposed to be praises for librarians?  No librarian would argue against the fact that librarians tend to be more than 100 percent service-oriented.  Yes, librarians are eager to help, librarians are willing to do almost any kind of work that may contribute to library users’ better understanding and use of library resources, librarians are friendly, librarians are polite, and librarians protect the public’s freedom and privacy.

But I don’t think librarians are to be praised for knocking themselves out serving their clients regardless of pay, institutional support, or appreciation from society at large.  That is just crazy, isn’t it?  Not because there is something wrong with librarians being devoted to their work but because librarians’ services rendered in such a way may well make them almost meaningless.

There are obvious and clear limitations to ‘individual’ librarians’ devoted services that is unsupported by proper pay, institutional support, and appreciation from society at large.  No matter how excellent their services are, without the proper recognition and support from society and institutions that govern and fund libraries, the value of libraries and librarians’ services will go unnoticed or taken for granted.

I wonder how many people are even aware of the fact that librarians are required to finish a graduate school to be a librarian and also have to invest additional years as a library assistant for experience enduring a surprisingly low salary for their education and previous experience.  Probably not that many.  I wonder how many academic faculty members at a college/university know that at their institution, librarians may also be faculty just like them (although it may not be tenure-track)?

Some may question why what makes someone qualify as a librarian should be common knowledge.  Why not?  After all, everyone knows that what doctors, lawyers, journalists should do to become qualified in their professions.  The point is not bragging that it is not easy to become a librarian nor claiming that librarians are intelligent, knowledgeable, and talented people (although both of them may be quite accurate a description for librarians in general).

Rather, my questions is this.  If the basic qualifications of a librarian is unknown to library users -either faculty and students or the general public, why would they respect, listen to, and work with librarians?  Without such knowledge, there is going to be little appreciation and understanding about what librarians provide and offer to library users.  It seems to me that there is some serious work to be done in libraries’ outreach activities and that it may concern more librarians than library services or resources.

So, librarians, let’s please not knock ourselves out regardless of pay, institutional support, or appreciation from society at large.  Instead, libraries and librarians have to help people understand what kind of places libraries are these days – certainly not just a warehouse of books – and what kind of work librarians perform -certainly not just shelving books.

As the cataloguing librarian describes so vividly in the recent blog post, the general public’s perception and understanding of a librarian is sadly obsolete and dismal.  How did it happen that a used car salesman is so convinced that he knows so much about what a librarian does and laughs at librarianship as a profession?  Although deplorable, I don’t believe that this car salesman is any unique exception.  But in my opinion, it is mostly those outside a library who declare the death of librarianship.  If you are working at a library, you will be so busy that you won’t even have time to worry about the death of a library.

Microsoft Surface Table at Libraries

There is this table that has recently fascinated me.  It is Microsoft Surface table.  With both the commercial and the development version, this table looks absolutely fabulous to my librarian eyes.

What is Microsoft Surface table?  Imagine a coffee table whose surface works like an iPhone responsive to touch with its full computing power.

I can see so many applications of this table at a library. I work at a medical library and our students love to use the anatomy software that is loaded on the computers at the library.  For this particular resource in mind, the library has ordered a large screen monitor for library computers.  Medical students absolutely love it.  But as any librarian can testify, today’s students study together.  At libraries, group study rooms are always in a short supply and all the tables tend to be moved in a group by students who want to study together.  Our library provides forty something carrels for each individual medical student.  But students prefer studying as a group in our two group study rooms.

So it is no coincidence that when I saw this MS surface table I immediately came to think about putting anatomy software on it.  Students can not only see clear large anatomical images on the table but also can manipulate them with their hands.  Even more cool is the fact that multiple students can simultaneously interact with the surface. One can zoom, the other can rotate, and another can annotate.

At this year’s ALA conference at Chicago, DOK Library Concept Center‘s in-house application for MS surface table was also shown, making a lot of librarians fall in love with the table and the possibility of providing useful applications for it at a library.

Multitouch Microsoft Surface: Cultural Heritage Browser from Jaap van de Geer on Vimeo.

Yesterday I have learned that actually the university of Nevada- Reno-library owns two MS Surface tables and that the library’s application development librarian, Will Kurt, wrote an anatomy flash card application for it.  (He also published his anatomy application codes for everyone’s use.)   A news article from University of Nevada, Reno, reports that these surface tables are in high demand from students. In the first week of the semester, they were used for 70 hours over just seven days at University of Nevada, Reno.

See the demo here:

Some may say, “OK, I see that the table looks cool and maybe good for anatomy and maps etc. But what other use could it have at a library?”  Well, Darien public Library purchased this table in December, 2008 and there the surface table was placed at the library’s children’s room.  In his blog post, John Blyberg talks about the idea of tagging certain picture books, so that when they were placed on the Surface, a video-recording of a story-time with that book would pop up in his blog post.

The surface table can also be used for gaming, music, and probably history, math, physics, and other humanities and sciences.  Just imagine classicists studying old manuscripts on the surface table to decipher the annotations on them!  Applied to medicine, the surface table can do so much more than showing two-dimensional images.   See this video in which the images of a human heart rendered in 3D being studied, annotated, and discussed. Depending on the quality of images and the sophistication of 3D rendering applied, a whole surgery can be recorded and studied.

I see the use of this MS surface table in architecture too, in which 3D image-rendering is common.  Actually any 3D image viewing and analysis would be fantastic on this kind of surface, and the surface would be a wonderful tool for many people to study such images together at the same time.

But guess how much it would cost to get one of these tables?  I asked around today in Twitter and found out that it costs $12,500 + shipping and handling.  Ok, so it won’t be in any near future that libraries can offer these tables for library users.  Will Kurt made a good point saying that these tables are not only heavily used by students but also not extremely expensive compared to some of the online journals and databases that libraries license.   However, the table is still hardware, not part of a library’s collection.  At the current stage, the purchase of this table would also be wise only if a library already has an in-house application developer who can write some custom applications for the table.  So the real costs for a library are even more than the cost of the table itself.  Consequently, not many libraries won’t be able to afford a surface table any time soon.

Still, I can’t stop thinking about all potential applications of this surface table at a library because it can make coming to a library much more fun and useful for students.  Surface computing enables us to use a computer in an environment that is not designed specifically for computing.  Surface computing replaces traditional input devices such as a keyboard and a mouse with our human hands and fingers.  And as a result, it can also accommodate collaboration and group study in a more natural manner.

My undying curiosity also prompted me to find out how a surfacetable is built.  This excellent blog post by Stewart Greenhill shows how to build a home-made surface table with a relatively cheap LCD monitor with the total cost of $500.  There are many youTube videos but this blog post is much more thorough in explaining the mechanism of a surface table.

Now, $500, that’s the price a library can probably afford.

Does Your Library Have a Vision on e-Books?

I have to say I have a love-hate relationship with e-books. I love the idea of e-books. No matter where I am, I can instantly access it and start reading it on an electronic device. That’s great. As an expatriate, I dream about the day in which all the books I want to read written and published in Korean become available in an electronic format, so that the exorbitant international shipping charge (for heavy heavy books) can be instead used for more books I want to read. I love to underline, highlight and save the passage in an e-book for future references as a text file, so that I don’t need to retype it again later. I want to carry multiple e-books in my smart phone, so that my bag won’t drag me down stuffed with multiple paperbacks.

But how so much I hate e-books! Every time I search for certain books on my library’s online catalog and it turned out that the book is available as an e-book, I grind my teeth. I don’t want to read any books in front of my computer. It simply isn’t my favorite manner of reading books.  And how so much I hate that restriction that I can only print one page at a time from an e-book! You gotta be kidding me to think that I would need one page of a book for my reference purposes whether I am accessing the book via a library or whether I bought it through Amazon or any other online bookstores. Besides,  I want to hold a book in my hands and I want to read it in my comfortable reading chair, not in front of my computer straining my eyes and back. I desperately want a book in paper, particularly the ones that I am going to take some time to read it through. When a book that I look for is not available as an e-book at my library, I get relieved because it means that I can request the book via Interlibrary loan. And I count days until the book arrives! How ironic.

So I am desperate for the growth and maturation of the e-book market. It is just that the vendors are not getting it. That is, what they need to do to make their market to expand. Here are my suggestions.

  • Go for textbook market particularly in science. They are expensive and heavy. And students need them for classes. They will “buy” them.
  • Make e-books “significantly cheaper” than print ones. Unless it is cheaper by 50 % or more, people won’t go for e-books. I would personally pay 30 %. The utility of e-books is much less than that of print books. This applies to particularly for non-textbooks such as fiction, bestsellers, etc.
  • “Standardize” the e-book reader software. Agree on one software that can be used for all types of devices including computer, smart phone, PDA etc. regardless of where they are purchased.
  • “Don’t go crazy on DRM” to make e-book buyers keep entering password every time people open the e-books they already bought. Make it easy for the owner of the e-book to use it.
  • Let e-book owners “own” the book. Don’t make them feel that they pay for ownership but are treated as if they were actually only getting a license for the ebooks they pay for. That’s just unfair.

But I now realize that for e-books to become popular, we also need a right device for them. It may be something like Kindle. But it probably should be better than that. If it can be something like a bendable  touch-screen e-paper with memory and internet connection, that would work great because right now what bothers potential ebook consumers most seems to be the fact that they cannot read e-books like normal paper books. They need a proper device for e-books. But devices currently available for e-books are hardly ideal for comfortable reading.

Phillipse e-paper technology from YouTube

While I was reading a news article about the University Librarian of University of Michigan, Paul Courant, I came to wonder if libraries should have a vision about e-books.

Let’s see what Paul Courant thinks about books at future libraries. (Source: http://www.michigandaily.com/content/evolution-paul-courant-reshapes-concept-library?page=0,1)

Despite the advantages of having tangible books on hand, Courant said the University Library’s books will be uselessly sitting on shelves while students browse them on their laptops.“This is blasphemous,” he said. “But it’s true. We don’t need to have 3 million books in the middle of campus.” Courant said he predicts the University Library will use converted files to make materials even more digitally accessible in the future.  “In a few years, most of what I expect will be in the library (will be) in a form where you’ll be able to load it into something that looks like a Kindle or a Sony Reader and read it very easily,” he said.  He added that the stacks will eventually disappear. With this shift, Courant said the role of universities and libraries will become increasingly important as society moves into the “information age,” where loads of information are available at people’s fingertips.  “The problem of converting information into knowledge and knowledge into wisdom is every bit as important as it always was,” he said. “The University is the place that’s going to figure out how to do that, and within it, the library is going to be the place in the University that figures that out.”

Well, if the stacks disappear, I don’t think that it will be any time soon because the current technology for ebook devices are still quite below users’ expectations.

But my question is whether this is something libraries should think about and include in their vision. How do libraries plan to deliver information and knowledge in the future? Is it going to be an espresso book machine that can print out and bind whatever old book that a user happens to need to use? Or is it going to be a computer file that can be downloaded immediately to whatever device a user has in their hands? Or maybe both? It is not a matter of whether it is possible now or not. It is a matter of planning for unpredictable future and doing something about it to make the best vision to come true by conscious efforts. That is something that online bookstores or e-book publishers may not be interested in but something that libraries can play a significant role.

Librarians are mediators between knowledge and people.  Paul Courant says: The problem of converting information into knowledge and knowledge into wisdom is every bit as important as it always was. I see a great role that libraries can play in solving this problem. We are digitizing a lot of information and knowledge. Now how do we want to deliver it to users? Until the mode of access to digitized information and the manner of utilizing it become almost effortless, digitized information will be less than optimal in being absorbed by people to become their knowledge and wisdom.



How Personal Should a Library Be in Social Media?

How many social media accounts does your library maintain? How do you keep them lively and up-to-date? OK, keeping up-to-date part is relatively easy. You just need to post updates on your library’s Facebook page, to add new posts to your library’s blog, and to keep twittering in your library’s Twitter.

However, keeping it lively is much more difficult. How do you draw attention of library users to library’s social media accounts? How can a library provide the feeling that the library is there for you, its users? What it takes might be just the right amount of personal touch.

Jeff Swain recently wrote this blog post, Thoughts on the CIC Tech Forum” which reflcts on this issue.  He says:

“So the question becomes, why should our audience care to follow us? And how do we stay connected with them through these medium? Do we make informal chit-chat or do we simply post official announcements? It’s not a simple question to answer.

I know I struggle with representing myself and my unit in these areas. When I joined Twitter and Facebook I joined as myself (Twitter: jeffswain; Facebook: Jeff Swain). Quickly I encountered the problem of separating my personal stuff from my work stuff. It all bleeds together in the either where everyone can connect. Now I also am the persona for our symposium and e-portfolio initiative. Well, how do I represent them? Is it strictly business or is it personal?”

I struggle with the same question as a librarian who maintains and updates various social media accounts.  How do you engage your audience? The whole point of having a library’s presence in social media is to interact with library users.  But most libraries use their social media tools as an one-way announcement mechanism. While it may work fine for library staff as an easy broadcasting mechanism, how do you ensure that those messages will capture the scarce attention of library users?

social media

Image from https://blogs.psu.edu/mt4/mt-tb.cgi/94153

The problem is that people are much more interested in other people than in organizations, and in everyday miscellaneous stuff than in research and other library-related stuff. No matter how interesting library events are and how exciting new library databases can be, it just may not be interesting enough for library users to initiate a conversation with their library. Of course, there is an easy solution to this problem. Librarians can run library’s social media accounts as themselves with a little bit of personal voice added to them. But then, it seems that that is not quite a right thing to do because one individual cannot represent an organization properly.

While I am quite happy to babble about my daily activities in my personal Twitter account, I am often unsure about what to twitter for my library’s Twitter account. I don’t want to keep twittering about library events and research tools because I wonder that may simply bore my library users. But then what else can I twitter about that may be interesting to them without my personal interests mixed in? How should a library’s social media policy reflect address dilemma? What would users want from a library’s social media channels?

Academics and Web 2.0

I was reading an interesting article from Research Information the other day, “Web 2.0 fails to excite today’s researchers” by David Stuart.  My job as a librarian is to help researchers at my institution do their research more efficiently and productively, and technology plays a big role in that.  There is a number of useful tools that can help research, and I am planning regular workshops on those for researchers at my library beginning next semester.

But the nagging question is how much interests it will draw from the target audience, that is, academics.  Librarians often worry about marketing and outreach. But there is also the undeniable fact that researchers like to do their research themselves.  Also, they tend to think that they already know what the best way of going about doing their own research.

Once I was told by a colleague that ILL requests are highly confidential because that may reveal what a researcher is currently working on. That is, nobody wants to be scooped in their research.

I often thought that the promotion guidelines for academic librarians in a faculty system should be changed to put less emphasis on traditional paper publishing and more on services and activities that vitalizes library services and the profession. Perhaps, should something similar take place for academic faculty?  There is no doubt that Web 2.0 technologies open up great possibilities for facilitating and promoting more fresh research agendas.

“Scholarly publishing 2.0 offers much more to the research process than the simple content management system of blogs and wikis. It does not just give the opportunity to help find collaborators for a project, and possibility of easing the communication process within a research group. It also offers the opportunity to publish new forms of data and can blur the barriers of the research group. The traditional research paper has obvious limitations in terms of the type of information that can be conveyed. It is not just video and audio that are unsuitable for the paper format, but also the huge amounts of data that may be collected in the research process. The open data movement is about sharing as much of the data as possible, while the open notebook science movement is about sharing as much of the whole primary record as possible. Both of these are focused on enabling others to use the mass of information behind a journal article to inform further research. The web also offers new opportunities for more open peer review, widening the opportunity for those who want to provide and receive feedback on research.”

Mutual Sharing

Photo from: http://bbs.chinadaily.com.cn/attachments/month_0908/385045_1_wCtIMwnz5I5Z.jpg

But academics have been quite slow in adopting Web 2.0 technologies. Much of it can be blamed on the over-emphasis on the traditional research paper in academia.

“Academics worry as much about being scooped and not getting credit for their work as the potential for slipping standards in scholarship.”

There should be a way to give credit to academics who try an alternative way of scholarly publishing such as blogs, wikis, etc.  Ideas only get better through feedback and open discussion.  Publishing traditional research papers can’t be the only means to contribute to scholarship.  On the other hand, researchers should know that like in any other groups, if you won’t share with others, others’ won’t share with you.

Also, think about the amount of work that goes into writing up one small research paper.  There is a long literature search process.  Large sets of data are often compiled.  Interesting but not necessarily relevant papers are discovered, read, and then set aside.  If these pre-research work can be shared among scholars, how much more effective can research be?

Now, what kind of systems can help us to store, organize, and share such pre-research work?  It is a fertile ground for research.

Present Policies for Future Special/Archival Collections

If you have a brand-new library for a brand-new organization, how would  you build special collections for the organization?  Ironically, it is easier to work on special collections when you already somehow have some stuff under the category of special collections. This is the case whether there existed any concrete plan and guidelines for collecting items for the special collections or not in the past. Most old libraries and archives have lots of backlogs that they need to work on. There is not much time to spare on collecting items for the future special/archival collections.

On the other hand, if you are a new library for a new organization, it is hard to think of ways to build and preserve special collections for the future. Special collections mean literally items with special values, and those values are often determined by their enduring historic value and also their rarity.  So how can you claim documents that are one month old as an item for special collections? And what can a new library do for the not-yet-existing future special collections?

There is a unique opportunity for a new library that belongs to an equally new organization. The library can systemically plan and collect important items from the beginning of the organization’s history.

The challenge is, however, how to identify the materials that will have a historic importance in the future. Some of the materials are easier to identify. For example, today, I have deposited the first three items for the space given to the medical library inside the university’s institutional repository.  Those items were the program, the invitation, and the ticket for the new medical school’s white coat ceremony for its inaugural class. Yes, these items are right now only one and a half month old. However, not many people would dispute the fact that many years later, these items will attest to the significant moment of the school’s official opening. However, the historic value and importance of some other items may well be much more difficult to determine.

How do you selectively collect items when their values are not yet tested by time? You may end up with junk. On the other hand, if you wait too long, you may find that important items have been already lost because no one was planning to systemically collect them for future reference.

So, what policies can guide a new library, so that the library can build a rich special/archival collections for the organization it serves? Collect first then weed later? Or collect items only after a certain amount of time? Add to these difficulties the fact that most of the items that will be collected for the future special/archival collection will be in a digital format. In what system are you going to store them in a way that the future library staff can go through later on to determine which to keep and which to discard?

Being a new library planning a rich future special/archival collection doesn’t seem so easy.

Information Unfettered – Augmented Reality

We often say we need to go online to find information about something. But the piece of information that we want is mostly about physical things in the real world. When you assemble scattered data and bring relations to one another, those data produce additional information because they were given a context, which is essential to human understanding.

Now we can bring those data to our current surroundings to gain an immediate understanding about our surroundings in real time. Apps on smart phones are ready to give us “Augmented Reality” (AR).

You place your smart phone in front of you and scan your surroundings. The smart phone can show you the menu or restaurants that you are passing by. Check Yelp. The nearest subway stations from you? Use Nearest Tube. Want to layer a Real Estate filter on the world and find out the prices of houses on the street you are walking down? Try Layar.

“When I shift my thinking about AR apps to the physical library space I see our whole collection opening up before our eyeballs. Imagine the ability to walk down an aisle and see the reviews and popularity of an entire shelf titles just by pointing the camera lens on your phone at the spines (or outfacing covers),” writes Helene Blowers in her blog, Library Bytes.

When I think about AR, I see the whole world, the real physical world in which I move, live, play, and work, being transformed into a gigantic library. The library is no longer one place where you go for information. AR brings information to the world and makes it a library of your own. This library is not only extremely fun because you can interact with it in real time, but also immediately intelligible. Your perception is augmented by your mind. Information is provided in its context. This library is the real world layered with information over it. AR presents the world infused with information, an amazing library that is your breathing, living environment.

Recently, the MIT Media Lab developed a wearable computer which brings information on the object you are holding or looking at to any surface. Can you imagine? You can walk around and find all the information you want about anything you would like, and you may not even need a smart phone to get the information or to manipulate it.

Perhaps we really won’t need a library in the future because the library will be with us anywhere we go.

  • Layar, worlds first mobile Augmented Reality browser

  • TED talk: Talks Pattie Maes and Pranav Mistry demo SixthSense

Libraries – Organizational Culture

Libraries often talk about changes. But for an organization that aspires to achieve a significant transformation from a real-time learning and information center, there seems to be not so much discussion about the change of organizational culture. Even at libraries where librarians are appointed as faculty rather than staff, there is often a strict hierarchy of ranks, and this hierarchical culture may hinder open discussions on various issues.

What is quite interesting is that librarians themselves are quite well aware of this issue. In “Views and Dreams: A Delphi Investigation into Library 2.0 Applications,” Jenny Bronstein and Noa Aharony present the survey results to the question of how probable and desirable for all library staff members to collaborate in the development and/or planning of new library services, procedures, or policies. The result showed that while 73 percent thought it was desirable, only 30.5 percent believed it was probable. So while the majority wants something, the same majority also understands that it would probably not happen.

This survey results emphasize the gap between what librarians deem to be desirable for libraries and how present libraries as organizations are likely to respond to various challenges that they are facing.

I think that the gap may be partly the result of libraries’ hierarchical organizational structure and conservative and reserved organizational culture. I often wonder how great it would be if librarians can work at libraries that are more like innovative think-tanks than any run-of-the-mill companies, where staff are encouraged to experiment and to openly discuss issues about library programs and services. But the reality is that we want to make libraries a civilized workplace!

Michael Stephens at Tame the Web has posted a inspiring code of conduct which belongs to the Menasha Public library staff. There are two agreements, one for staff and one for supervisors. The agreement is so simple and commonsensical. After all, one of the items in the agreement is “Everyone will say good morning, please, and thank you to everyone with good will, no matter what their relative position.” Someone may wonder what kind of code this is if it states such an obvious thing. However, kindness and respect begin with small steps and those small steps can have a big impact on the morale of a library staff.

Robert Sutton, a professor in Stanford Business School regards nasty and demeaning behavior as something similar to an infectious disease in his book, The No Asshole Rule. Even without explanation, we understand from experience that our emotions are easily transferred to others and that particularly negative emotions are powerfully infectious.

Now, this is something all supervisors need to keep in mind in my opinion. It is impossible for one to be always happy and cheerful. There are days on which one is down, tired, and grumpy. But if you are a supervisor, you have the obligation to stop those emotions from getting in the way of interacting with your staff. If negative emotions from peers have a negative impact on people’s emotions, how greater the impact would be when those negative emotions come from their bosses?

Like many people, I had the experience of working with a boss who sometimes became cranky and moody. My boss was usually cheerful, but sometimes I could tell that s/he was grumpy. S/he was in many ways a wonderful supervisor, but what I most admired about her/him was that when s/he was having a bad day, s/he rarely failed to tell me so directly. As a result, I was rarely stressed out nor wondered if it was something I did wrong. Of course, theoretically we all should be able to separate our life from work and put aside our personal issues. But when that fails, the best thing one can do is to simply admit it. This will prevent others from assuming that you are mean and nasty. Even Sutton points out that almost all of us turn into temporary assholes from time to time and we can always overcome the asshole inside us by recognizing it.

The fact that emotions are infectious is not a necessarily bad thing. That means that if you are nice to someone, that itself may suffice to make the person happy. Although this seems like such a trivial thing,  it is not. Just by saying “Good Job” or “Thank you”, you may just increase the level of your staff’s job satisfaction by a notch!

Sutton also demonstrates that there is a clear inverse relationship between workplace productivity and efficiency and the nasty and demeaning behavior among workers.  As Kate Sheehan points out in her posting as a TTW guest, while this usually works as a sufficient reason for for-profit organizations to establish and practice no asshole rules as their hiring guidelines while libraries, like most non-profit organizations, deal more in intangibles and don’t look to the balance sheet for guidance.

So in these critical times of rapid changes and numerous challenges, libraries struggle to be a “civilized” workplace. I know that this is a desirable goal and we should all try to adopt and practice such a code of conduct like that of the Menasha Public Library.  Still, I wondered for a minute if we also need to address a more fundamental issue such as whether the current organizational structure and culture of libraries can enable and support the libraries of the future that all of us seem to want – innovative and inspiring information and learning commons.

Magic is more in your staff than in technologies

Roy Tennant recently posted “The Top Ten Things Library Administrators Should Know About Technology” in TechEssence blog. Among the ten things, what I like most is No. 4: “Maximize the effectiveness of your most costly technology investment — your people.”  In the other post, “Your ideas for “Top Ten Things“” a similar suggestion appears: “Allow your staff time and resources to experiment – even if nothing comes of it. Innovation comes with risks.”

I wholeheartedly agree with these as a solo web services librarian. One of the challenges for solo web-services librarians is the scarcity of R&D time. It may be true that technologies are getting easier and cheaper all the time. But that doesn’t mean that there will be less things that the staff should learn and experiment with every day. Actually, more technologies usually require more human efforts for maintenance.

As a librarian who work in e-resources management (ERM), I am often surprised by the fact that most people are simply unaware of how much maintenance is required to make those electronic resources to be accessible by one-click as many library users expect. There is no magic in online resources that would make accessing them more easy and efforless than in print resources. There are systems to be configured, maintained, and updated on a daily basis, and there are people who are configuring, maintaining, updaing those systems every day. If a library user is clicking one link and is taken to the full-text page of an article immediately, that means that a lot of people spent a lot of time on making that happen wihtout an error. Technologies do not necessarily cut down on the work that the library staff have to do in order make those technologies work as expected. Many users take it for granted that links in OPAC records work. But they rarely think about how many times catalogers have been updating those links over and over again in order to keep them up-to-date.

In a similar way, technology librarians have the burden of learning new technologies, deciding on whether they would be a good fit for a given organization, implementing them the way they would get widely adopted, tweaking them in the way that they would fit better with either users or staff’s workflows, and supporting and maintaining them so that they would continue to be tools that boost productivity. Even if it were true that technologies get cheaper and easier all the time, it isn’t true that technologies simply work and work better and better all the time.

Most solo web services librarians know too well that they have to continuously train themselves and learn new things. But not often are they given sufficient time to do so. And that is because there are many more urgent day-to-day tasks to be taken care of.  It is important to complete those tasks in a timely manner. However, without sufficient time for R&D, learn, and experiment, technology librarians are likely to be either burned out or become less effective. On the other hand, they are likely to blossom when encouraged to experiment and take initiatives in new technologies. After all, they are the ones who love to work with technologies and want to show how those technologies can improve everyday work.

Imagine a library that can afford best technologies all the time regardless of costs. Still, that library won’t be the best unless it has techie librarian staff who would work on how to make those technologies fit and work in the way that would best benefit library users and staff. One can buy technologies any time, but dedicated and knowledgeable staff cannot be established in a day. The magic is in staff, more than in technologies.