social justice librarianship


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Barbara Fister’s latest Library Babel Fish essay is on point for me in so many ways.

It’s not easy to write this well, to combine edge-of-your-seat narrative momentum with scholarly rigor. Not only is it not easy, but we’re schooled to write in an inaccessible style, as if our ideas are somehow better if written in a hard-to-decipher script that only the elite can decode because if people who haven’t been schooled that way can understand it, it’s somehow base and common, not valuable enough.

Yes. So much this. I think it’s possibly one of the reasons why librar* blogs burned so brightly and fiercely before other social media sites took on that space. It gave us a platform to share our thoughts and work in ways that were not stifling like the journals that normally published librar* scholarship. Bloggers who could write eloquently and pointedly about the issues of the day and what they thought of them gained quite a bit of attention (and still do, for those that have continued to write in this type of forum). I certainly read them more consistently and thoroughly than any professional publication filled with strict form and complex sentence structures.

…it’s immoral to study poor people and publish the results of that study in journal run by a for-profit company that charges more for your article than what the household you studied has to buy food this week. I cannot think of any valid excuse for publishing social research this way.

Many of the economic arguments for open access have grown stale, but this one is fresh and new to me, and it hits hard. Much like when those of us in library acquisitions roles submit articles to closed publications, we are choosing the expectations of our peers for tenure requirements over our professional ethics. If we want the contents of scholarly journals to be accessible to all who need them, then we need to make sure our own house is in order before we go out and ask faculty to do the same.

You can reserve the right to share your work, and we’re finding sustainable ways to fund public knowledge. Will it take a little more of your time? Yeah, it’s a cultural shift, which is obviously complex, and you’re so busy.

But if you actually think your research matters, if you think research could make people’s lives better, if you use the phrase “social justice” when you describe your work, you should take that time. It’s unethical not to.

NASIG 2015 – Somewhere To Run To, Nowhere To Hide


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info free fridge
information wants to be free?

Speaker: Stephen Rhind-Tutt, President, Alexander Street Press

His perspective is primary source collections, mostly video and audio, created by a small company of 100 or so people.

There are billions and trillions of photos, videos, and audio files being added to the Internet every year, and it’s growing year over year. We’re going to need a bigger boat.

He reviewed past presentations at NASIG, and there are reoccurring nightmares of OA replacing publishers, Wikipedia replacing reference sources, vendors will bypass libraries and go direct to faculty, online learning will replace universities, etc.

All technologies evolve and die. Many worry about the future, many hold onto the past, and we’re not responding quickly enough to the user. Dispense with the things that are less relevant. Users don’t want to search, they want to find.

You can project the future, and not just by guessing. You don’t have to know how it’s going to happen, but you can look at what people want and project from that.

Even decades after the motor car was developed, we were still framing it within the context and limitations of the horse-drawn carriage. We’re doing that with our ebooks and ejournals today. If we look to the leaders in the consumer space, we can guess where the information industry is heading.

If we understand the medium, we can understand how best to use it. Louis Kahn says, “Honor the material you use.” The medium of electronic publications favors small pieces (articles, clips) and is infinitely pliable, which means it can be layered and made more complex. Everything is interconnected with links, and the links are more important than the destination. We are fighting against the medium when we put DRM on content, limit the simultaneous use, and hide the metadata.

“I don’t know how long it will take, but I truly believe information will become free.”

Video is a terrible medium for information if you want it fast — 30 min of video can be read in 5 minutes. ASP has noticed that the use of the text content is on par with the use of the associated video content.

Mobile is becoming very important.

Linking — needs to work going out and coming in. The metadata for linking must be made free so that it can be used broadly and lead users to the content.

The researcher wants every piece of information created on every topic for free. From where he is as a publisher, he’s seeing better content moving more and more to open access. And, as a result of that, ASP is developing an open music library that will point to both fee and free content, to make it shareable with other researchers.

In the near future, publishers will be able to make far more money developing the research process ecosystem than by selling one journal.

battle decks


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my #erl15 Battle Decks topic
my #erl15 Battle Decks topic

I participated in my first Battle Decks competition at ER&L this year. I almost did last year, and a friend encouraged me to put my name in the hat this year, so I did.

I was somewhat surprisingly not nervous as I waited for my name to be chosen to present next (the order was random — names drawn from a bag). Rather, I was anxiously waiting for my turn, because I knew I could pull it off, and well.

This confidence is not some arrogance I carry with me all the time. I’ve got spades of impostor syndrome when it comes to conference presentations and the like. Battle Decks, however, is not a presentation on a topic I’m supposed to know more about but secretly suspect I know less about than the audience. They are more in the dark than I am, and my job isn’t to inform so much as to entertain.

Improv — I can do that. I spent a few seasons with the improv troupe in college, and while I was certainly not remarkable or talented, I did learn a lot about “yes, and”. My “yes, and” with the Battle Decks was the slides — no matter what came up, I took it and connected it back to the topic and vice-versa.

There was one slide that came up that was dense with text or imagery or something that just couldn’t register in the split second I looked at it. I turned back to the audience and found I had nothing to say, so I looked at it again, and then made an apology, stating that my assistant had put together the slide deck and I wasn’t sure what this one was supposed to be about. It brought the laughs and on I went.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Jesse Koennecke for organizing the event, as well as Bonnie Tijerina, Elizabeth Winters, and Carmen Mitchell for judging the event. And, of course, thanks also to April Hathcock for sharing the win with me.

#erl15 Battledecks Monday
photo by Sandy Tijerina

ER&L 2014 — Beyond COUNTER: The changing definition of “usage” in an open access economy


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Speakers: Kathy Perry (VIVA), Melissa Blaney (American Chemical Society), and Nan Butkovitch (Pennsylvania State University)

In 1998, ICOLC created guidelines for delivering usage information, and they have endorsed COUNTER and SUSHI. COUNTER works because all the players are involved and agree to reasonable timeframes.

COUNTER Code of Practice 4 now recognizes media and tracking of use through mobile devices.

PIRUS (Publisher and Institutional Repository Usage Statistics) is the next step, but they are going to drop the term and incorporate it as an optional report in COUNTER (Article Report 1). There is a code of practice and guidelines on the website.

Usage Factor metric as a tool for assessing journals that aren’t covered by impact factor. It won’t be comparable across subject groups because they are measuring different things.

If your publishers are not COUNTER compliant, ask them to do it.

ACS chose to go to COUNTER 4 in part because it covers all formats. They like being able to highlight usage of gold open access titles and denials due to lack of license. They also appreciated the requirement for the ability to provide JR5, which reports usage by year of publication.

Big increases in search can also mean that people aren’t finding what they want.

ACS notes that users are increasingly coming from Google, Mendeley, and other indexing sources, rather than the publisher’s site itself.

They hear a lot that users want platforms that allow sharing and collaborating across disciplines and institutions. Authors are wanting to measure the impact of their work in traditional and new ways.

Science librarian suggests using citation reports to expand upon the assessment of usage reports. If you have time for that sort of thing and only care about journals that are covered by ISI.

Chemistry authors have been resistant to open access publishing, particularly if they think they can make money off of a patent, etc. She thinks it will be useful to have OA article usage information, but needs to be put in the context of how many OA articles there are available.

What you want to measure in usage can determine your sources. Every measurement method has bias. Multiple usage measurements can have duplication. A new metric is just around the corner.

ER&L 2014 — Freeing Knowldege: A Values Proposition


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Barbara Fister at Left Coast Crime in 2008.
“Barbara Fister” by Mark Coggins

Speaker: Barbara Fister, Gustavus Adolphus College

She looked at a number of library mission statements, and they have a lot of passive terminology like “providing” for people and “life-long learning”. Our missions should be stronger to mirror the value the people see in libraries and our most deeply-held values.

Sometimes we’re more assertive. Take the Darien Statements from a few years ago, for example. “The purpose of the library is to preserve the integrity of civilization.” Char Booth says we’re shape-shifters, which is why we’re uncomfortable with these grandiose statements. But underneath all this, libraries remain the mavens of the information world.

We’ve internalized the commercialization of library services (from being like Barnes & Noble to becoming a copy of the Apple Genius Bar), to the detriment of our core values. We’re not a consumer good, but we are being viewed by some as such. Faculty, for example, consider us to be the purchaser of the things they need, and much less so a partner in information literacy.

We’re not Google or Amazon — we don’t spy on our users. So, it’s harder to figure out what our users need. And, our focus is hyper-local compared to the global data collected by G & A. Then there’s the financial piece — life-long learning means something different when we can’t (or won’t) provide access to our eresource once the student becomes an alumnus.

In the journal cancelation wars, big and global tends to win out over the small and quirky. But, now we can’t even afford the big and local, so we’re relying on ILL. “We’ll get it to you somehow.” The library isn’t really free to all, as much as we may want it to be.

One possible solution is to create communities of interest that isn’t limited by affiliation. We need to stop thinking of providers of stuff for a limited community, and to expand to connect our broader communities to knowledge. We need to work collectively across our borders to connect our infrastructures and services.

We need to provide alternatives to the market-driven philosophy that is destroying and corrupting our information ecosystem.

Another world is possible. Some associations, for example, are shifting their journals to open access models as they can. Some libraries are setting aside parts of their budgets to support open access experimental projects. The Oberlin Group is in conversations about creating a collective open access university press run by their libraries.

She spoke at length about faculty and library leadership opinions on this, which are pretty much what you would expect, and then went on at length about why we need open access, which is again, pretty much what you would expect.

We need libraries without borders.