Moving Right Along

Ahoy! Hallo there! Why yes, it's me.

Just thought I'd drop a line to say that both my e-portfolio and my new blog are now hosted at:

...see ya there!


Thoughts on Academic Library Mission

I was planning to write about how reading about the board of trustees duties this week coincided with the abrupt announcement of Dr. Bataille's departure... but I read a classmate's post that mentioned library and museum missions, and it sparked lots of thoughts!

When I first started my MS in library science in 2002, I didn't understand the academic library mission. Library missions tend to be more straightforward in public libraries than university libraries, probably for the same reasons that university missions themselves are complex and the subject of much debate!

At any academic library (meaning college & university libraries, not primary or secondary school libraries) there is definitely the preservation or "conserving knowledge" mission that Bogue/Aper describes. The weight of that mission varies from institution from institution--part of the variance is related to the institutional mission, part of it relates to individual library collections.

We're currently refashioning our UNT Libraries mission statement because it does not adequately express our vision of the libraries. We have a particularly rich preservation mission, because we have a number of unique collections in the UNT Archives (like university records and photographs), the Rare Books Room (old manuscripts, miniature books), the Music Library (LP's from the Library of Congress, jazz scores), etc. This is part of the "conservation of knowledge" mission that Bogue mentions, but it's also simply the physical preservation of old and valuable materials.

The "conservation of knowledge" portion is expressed in the UNT Digital Library, where all electronic theses/dissertations written by UNT students are kept; the same department is also working with university leaders on a digital repository to store faculty research and publications. The subject librarians for each department similarly work with their associated academic departments (for instance, mine is the Dept. of Philosophy and Religion Studies) to collect and preserve all publications by their faculty in that department, particulary print books.

But we have two more imperative missions. The first, perhaps most obvious, mission is to serve the students, staff, and faculty of UNT by providing the information that they need. This is done in all kinds of ways (reference question answering, workshops, collection purchasing, developing new services) and delivered in person, by phone, text message, IM, online chat software, email, fax--you get the idea, any format you want! This mission in large research universities tends to be focused more on support of faculty research, so that the books purchased are oriented more toward faculty needs than those of undergraduates needing term paper resources. Similarly in liberal arts colleges, the library collection tends to focus on general resources for undergraduates, and less in-depth materials that support faculty research (although this is often supported through services like Inter-Library Loan). UNT of course being a mixed-mission university, the libraries are similarly mixed in their collection and service focus.

Finally, the UNT Libraries have also been designated as a federal and state depository library. This is a designation that brings with it a broad collection of nearly one million documents produced by the government that our library is given for free, assuming we meet government regulations of a depository library. As a federal depository, for instance, we are by law required to serve any member of the public with our documents collection. This goes beyond merely helping people look up regulations on adoption or do-it-yourself divorce forms; our documents collection is rich with primary historic resources and many valuable maps and books that are worth thousands of dollars a piece. This is another key piece of keeping American democracy alive: providing the public free and permanent access to the documents that created our government and the documents that our government creates. It's all part of that famous quote attributed to Thomas Jefferson, the key to a democracy is having an informed citizenry.

So in a broad sense, our particular mission at the UNT Libraries is to preserve a variety of rich, unique collections, to support our university's students, staff, faculty, and to serve the general public. It's a thrilling mission to serve every day, let me tell you!!

I do have to mention that Bogue/Aper's comment on page 21 about digital library access pushed a few of my buttons. I'm a professed bibliophile, but I'm also a hugely geeky techie and love to play with technology--which comes in handy, since my title is Librarian for Digital Collections! One of my primary research interests is library support for distance learners, which goes far beyond mere email reference answers or e-book collections.

Bogue/Aper's statement about the future of libraries makes me feel conflicted, as this great debate in the library world always does. Page 21 says that "we are probably not far from that moment when we will not go to the library but simply purchase a computer disk or other information storage device... and take it home... and have every page of the library available at our intellectual disposal. Such convenience and power, however, may never replace the joy and wonder that comes from browsing the quiet and musty stacks of libraries."

Well... yes and no. Certainly our library catalog can be accessed online, as can many of the e-books, online gov documents, and databases that allow us to access the majority of our journal articles electronically. And that's fantastic--even working in the library, I love being able to email myself articles instead of walk down four floors to make a photocopy. But no, the printed matter isn't going anywhere soon. Full-text searching of our digital collections is a vast improvement on searching a paper index, but talk to any art student about trying to find a certain visual reference for a sketch, and that's much more easily accomplished by visually browsing tangible books than searching using a textbox online. And those unique collections at UNT libraries? We're digitizing them, but researchers will always want to look at the originals, to mine more information from the "real thing," and to touch the actual objects that past giants touched.

Bogue/Aper do acknowledge some of the physical pleasures of books in the "joy and wonder" part of that statement... but as a librarian I have to huffily protest the stereotypical image of "quiet and musty stacks!" My guess is that my personal appearance wouldn't fit into their standard definition of "librarian," either... but that's a conversation for another time and another class.

Hmm. Didn't mean to provide such a wordy post; the words "library" and "democracy" tend to get me very excited!


Ponderings on the "American Idea"

I'm taking a course on the role of higher education in a democracy, and class discussion is bringing up interesting thoughts.

I was fascinated by "A Religious Idea Called 'America'" by David Gelernter (Bradley Lecture, Washington, February 13, 2006). Many of the statements the author makes solidify aspects of America that had puzzled me for some time.

The first of these is what the author refers to as "American Zionism." This is a particularly apt metaphor for this feeling that seems to be inherent in many Americans that America is the best country that ever is or was, a chosen country, perhaps even chosen by God. This is something that I never questioned growing up, but became abruptly aware of when I took my first trip abroad after my sophomore year of college. It seems bizarre now, but before then the "outside world" (meaning anyplace outside of America) was simply an abstraction to me. I believed that other countries existed, that people lived in them, but I didn't truly grasp what that meant. When I landed in Italy, suddenly the rest of the world was concretely real to me. I realized that the faceless people I had imagined living in these countries were individuals just like me, who were simply born somewhere else. I realized that there were other worldviews, other contexts from which to understand world events.

And that made me suddenly question America's historic foreign policy of helping (or meddling, depending on your perspective) in other countries' issues. Helping when asked is one thing, but as we all know, America has done more than that--just look to Vietnam or Iraq, to use the obvious examples. I can see why the potential to free a people and give them a democracy is an attractive idea, but is it our business to do so? Why do so many of us seem to think that it is our right, perhaps our divine right, to decide that a country should be governed in a certain way, and to invade and wage war to ensure that this is so?

I find it difficult to define ethics outside of a specific moral code (as is discussed in James Campbell's Understanding John Dewey, chapter 4, the idea of ethics as a secular moral code). I find it difficult to define "right" and "wrong" without a specific code or criteria. I'm sure that some of this difficulty is because I was brought up in a religious home, and my natural pattern of thinking has been defined by a specific moral code. However, regardless of my own beliefs, I believe that America as a country is defined by and exists in large part to protect religious freedom, and as such should be ruled in as secular and nonbiased a manner as possible. It's simply difficult for me to define how that governing should run, what moral code it should adhere to, without having something specific against which to judge that government's actions.

This post doesn't specifically relate to education thus far, but I have had similar intellectual struggles with education in similar manners. How can we teach a variety of worldviews, values, and perspectives in an honest manner to students? Is disclosing our own personal perspective a helpful insight, a cautionary disclosure of our bias, or a harmful influence that creates more bias?

The more I study and think, the fewer answers and more questions I have.


Busy Week...

I'm currently at a conference on civic engagement and deliberative democracy called "No Better Time" at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. It's incredibly cool, and their conference logo this year was made using Wordle! On Saturday, I'll fly directly to Chicago for the rest of ALA Annual (hey, if anyone's free Tuesday morning/early afternoon, want to join me on an architectural boat tour?). Rather than flood my blog with live-blogging sessions, I'm posting notes on my wiki and brief thoughts/greetings/blatherings on my twitter feed.

I return on Tuesday evening and shall immediately collapse.


Mac & iPhone Tidbits

Great quote:
"If we had a dime for every blog rumor about an Apple tablet we've seen, we'd have at least enough for a large soy-based coffee beverage from Starbucks."
-- Dan Ackerman, "Five things still missing from Apple MacBooks" from CNET.com

MacWorld reviews iPhone 3.0.

For iPhone OmniFocus users (and if you have an iPhone without OmniFocus, let me encourage you to check it out--it's the best task-management tool I've ever seen):
"The Coolest Feature You’re Probably Not Using"
-- Brian, The Omni Mouth
Going from 3G to 3GS?
"How to Avoid Paying the iPhone 3GS Upgrade Tax"
-- Brian X. Chen, Wired.com

In Other News...
Rebecca Blakeley has posted some fantastic resources for reading up on Iran and the current conflict, as well as background info.


Research Update

I blogged earlier this semester about three projects I'm researching:
  • practices & experiences of academic librarians embedded in online courses
  • factors that affect the adoption of electronic reference in academic libraries
  • ...and a project on educational background of academic library deans (with fellow librarian Annie Downey)
So the status updates on those three are as follows:
  • embedded librarians project:
    • finishing up the presentation portion of the project (organizing it as 6 case studies, with trends and discussion)
    • writing lit review for written portion of project
    • since this is for a client (as well as my class), I'm planning to format it as a thick binder with tabs for the lit review/trends, each institutional case study, and will also include a matrix of activities, as well as a summary of commonalities and differences in experiences across the case studies
  • electronic reference adoption study:
    • this is a paper for a statistics course, so it's a statistical analysis...
    • I downloaded the Academic Library Survey datasets from NCES (National Center for Educational Statistics) for 1996 - 2006 (though in the end for various reasons I was only able to use 2000 - 2006; I hope to include the other data this summer)
    • reformatting all the data and framing it correctly took quite a while!
    • I performed an ANCOVA for a binary response variable using the program "R"
    • I did some related analyses, and created graphical displays for each
    • I'm now writing the results as an article (it's my first quantitative methods article, and it's proving a bit of a tough writing job for me)
  • education of academic library deans study:
    • Annie's got us a head start on the lit review
    • we plan to do the majority of the data gathering this summer
    • we're currently working on an abstract to propose to ASHE for this fall
I'm proud of myself for actually taking the time to thoughtfully consider this semester's projects as future publications/presentations. And the more I work on the embedded librarians project, the more I see a future dissertation idea coalescing there... it's pointing in many directions, any of which could prove a fruitful topic. It's pretty exciting to feel that I'm not only researching useful topics, but that the last several semesters combined, I've managed to do at least one project each time on library support for distance learning, which I knew I wanted to pursue broadly all along. Huzzah!

And a brief note, in case I haven't mentioned it here before (I've been tweeting it alot): the task management software OmniFocus (and specifically the iPhone version, although I also have the original program on my Mac) has saved my life this semester. It's tracking my personal errands, house projects, work projects, school research, you name it. It's amazing, and if you have an iPhone it will be the best $19 you've spent.

And thus ends my flagrant advertising. (But seriously, busy techie librarians, try it out!) Or at least consider some form of task management software, no matter what computer or handheld you've got.


She's Alive!

...just barely. Was in Houston for a whole week for the Texas Library Association's Annual Conference--thoroughly enjoyed the experience of being a Program Planner, and am now thoroughly enjoying not working on that at all for awhile!

In my personal life, we moved into a new house--in the middle of a semester of fulltime work, fulltime school for me... so that's why I haven't been around much. The general theme of my life at this moment is: "Eeek." And also, "Is it May yet?"

May 15th, I get a tiny piece of my life back. I'm looking forward to having the time to explore several class projects in more depth--two of them have potential as pilots for more in-depth research projects, and I have a separate research project I've wanted to work on for awhile now. All three revolve around libraries, and two of them are directly related to library interfaces with distance learning.

I'd better get back to all of it--just wanted to let this poor little blog know I haven't abandoned it!