Collection policies and collection potential

Last week I was chatting to my Mum and she was telling me about this radio interview she had heard, that discussed library collections, weeding and the importance of content that isn't actually the content of the books.

Turns out it was this Radio National program: Marginalia in a Digital World and it made me think about what libraries collect and what we don't and what the different types of libraries prioritise. It also made me think about the importance of national and state libraries, institutions truly devoted to conserving our history and heritage.

I am fairly certain there aren't many academic libraries that could prioritise the types of resources discussed on the Radio National program, we just can't afford to, as it would eventually be at the expense of our other, more significant priorities. But it would be beautiful if we could. It would be beautiful to have the capacity to save all the worlds information, printed or otherwise. But reality isn't beautiful like this, at least not right now, but maybe one day.

People Don't Notice The Things We Do For Them Until We Stop Doing Them

This post was inspired by the title of this lifehack article - 'People Don't Notice The Things We Do For Them Until We Stop Doing Them' (which it turns out has nothing whatsoever to do with its' title - very annoying) and it immediately made me think about how true this is for libraries.

Some particularly disheartening days I feel like this idea perfectly describes our work and that we should shut it all down for a month or two, until all of our clients realise what we provide and come crawling to us, begging us to come back (which of course is crazy, because many of them would never notice and most of the rest would just get angry). We are always here, always helpful, always taking on more without dropping anything, often going unnoticed.

And we really are always taking on more in libraries, while still maintaining everything else. There is always something else we should be into - Open Access, 3D printing, social media for researchers, gamification, more and more and more. But we are really bad at endings. Budgets are tight, staffing isn't increasing, and still we do more without dropping a thing. I am guilty of this too, we all are, no one likes to remove a service and then have people notice that we aren't doing that thing for them any more. But maybe we should just embrace it, embrace people noticing and show them what we have begun instead, explain how we are freeing ourselves to do even better things for them.

I would love to stop doing things, so we can engage people in the new stuff instead.

Librarian Shame - YA fiction, Qualifications and Customers

It seems safe to assume that if you are in the library world, by now you have seen the newish website Librarian Shaming (there is nothing librarians seem to like more than a librarian meme - except maybe cats). It is a great site, really quite funny and a nice play on Cat Shaming and Dog Shaming.

The thing I keep coming back to is the things people are ashamed of and what it says about our industry and our perceptions of it. Quite a lot of the posters are admitting to being ashamed about reading the 'wrong' thing - whether it is Young Adult Fiction, trashy fiction or not liking the classics. Others are admitting to having issues that centre around  professional/qualified debate (eg. 'non-librarians' doing reference work or hating 'non-professional' staff representing themselves as librarians). To me, these things are complete non-issues, but they seem to consume the thoughts of people in the library industry and it is something I have never really understood. Themes like this come up in all sorts of library related discussions.

My thinking has always been, so long as library staff are doing a good job at what needs to be done in their libraries, so long as customers are getting information they need, learning, developing skills and creating, so long as we are connecting people with what they need, WHO CARES?!?!?!

It is great to be able to laugh at ourselves and the little self obsessed world we work in, but there are some things we really just need to get over..

Teaching and Learning for library staff - problem solving, critical thinking and other skills I assumed everyone had

The library world is full of blog posts, journal articles and conference papers that are about professional development/staff development/training/etc for library staff. I probably wouldn't get through a week of reading library 'stuff' online without seeing at least one discussion or analysis of the topic. But, although I have always known and understood and engaged in the importance of continuing education for library staff, the last several months of staff training in my work team have really clarified a few important things for me on this topic.

I don't think I have ever before fully realised the vital importance of the 'soft' skills that skilled, experienced and educated librarians bring to their roles. The work team I am part of is currently undertaking a huge staff up-skilling programme, so that lower level staff can gain the skills and experience they will need to fit in with the changing nature of their jobs. Staff are receiving an intense period of training, so that the non-professional staff can take over the majority of help desk interactions with students (including reference and IT help, as well as lending tasks, which is the area these staff were originally employed in). This training programme has been carefully designed to deliver the necessary background knowledge and skills to support reference and IT help and the progress of staff is measured and assessed but helping with this programme over the last few weeks has really highlighted to me how incredibly vital skills like problem solving and critical thinking are and how few of our current staff are experienced in using these skills.  

As a librarian (who also currently provides IT support as well) I use my problem-solving skills every day, in virtually every interaction with a client. Very little of my job is 'transactional' in nature, instead clients come to me for help with problems they often don't understand and sometimes can't even articulate fully. Then, the problem-solving skills kick in, without me even having to think about it. I had sort of just assumed that everyone else could do this too.

As someone who has completed a faintly ridiculous number of university courses, I am very familiar with 'Problem-Solving Skills' as a graduate attribute, but I have never really thought about how to actually acquire these skills, or more importantly now, how to teach them to others. I feel like this ability is something that I have always had and I certainly don't ever remember being consciously taught problem solving skills (although I am sure I was, I just didn't realise it). Which leaves me asking, how on earth can we teach a large number of people this skill in a short time frame?

I know there are a variety of methods of teaching problem-solving (I found them when trying to solve my problem-solving problem), but the ones I scanned through this week all feel like they rely on the learner developing the skills over time and having some kind of innate capacity that just needs to be activated. But the staff in this team need these skills ASAP and many have never really had to use this kind of thinking before. It all leaves me feeling a little helpless, but I am just going to bit the bullet and jump in the deep end of teaching problem-solving skills, because as any problem-solver knows, the only way to really solve any problem is to just do it.

Bibliometrics, Altmetrics and research quality

How do you measure research quality? This is a question the university world and its funding bodies have been asking for many years, but which I have only just developed an interest in.  

I attended a short course on Research Support for academics a few weeks ago and the issue of how universities, governments and researchers prove the quality of their research output came up a number of times and we spent a full day discussing it as well (and the wide variety of tools that purport to measure some aspect of it). 

I can certainly see the importance of research quality to universities, governments and funding bodies and the reasons why proving it in the ‘acceptable’ ways has become a key driver for researchers, but I do worry that by instituting these measures of quality, we are actually just creating a system that only values a particular type of research.

Current measures of research quality include the journal impact or rank, citations (per paper, per person, per year and more), collaborations and peer review quality, as well as how many people are talking about a paper, viewing it, and downloading it. And although the creators of the various scores and tools don’t claim that they are the ultimate resource for assessing quality, this often looks like it is overlooked in the mad rush to prove that researchers are providing value-for-research dollars.

It is much more difficult for institutions to measure impact in areas like community engagement or contribution to the profession, but I would really like to see some attempts. I certainly don't have a solution, just an interest in the problem. It is definitely an area I will be keeping an eye on.


Research support in academic libraries

This week I am attending a course at QUT on research support services for academic and special libraries. I enrolled to help me get back to being enthusiastic about the library industry and obviously to learn more about research support.

We kicked off this morning and managed to not have to do any 'getting to know you'  games, which immediately meant a big thumbs up from me.

But, as my fellow students and I introduced ourselves and worked on activities together, it turned out that we were from a really diverse range of backgrounds (well, diverse range of universities really, I guess). I was certainly surprised about this, going into the course I had assumed it would be a bunch of QUT library studies students and recent graduates and me - there are actually people from all over Australia.

I was also worried that I would stand out as someone with both more 'experience' (time in a job) and less 'experience' (actual skills in research support), but in reality the people doing this course have a variety of roles in libraries and universities and a variety of experience with research support. This has been really reassuring to me, to know that I haven't 'missed the boat' on this area of libraries.

Today we discussed the national research context and broad ideas of what research support is and what research data management is. Nat Simons and Sam Searle from Griffith also came to talk to us about their roles in eResearch services, which was fantastic.

Can't wait till tomorrow!

Blog every day of June, twitter and a professional online persona

So this is the first post on my new blog, a part of my new website, which I have created for a few reasons. 

I had been increasingly disengaged and disheartened about libraries and the industry in general for at least 6 months now, but a few weeks ago I decided that I needed to take some steps to change my perspective and refocus on the interesting, creative and positive things about libraries and my role in them

The 'blog every day in June' project that so many of the awesome information professionals I follow on twitter and in other online spaces are doing, has really helped with this. This got me more engaged in reading library blogs and articles and actually focusing on the content, rather than skimming over it.

I had also been thinking about how I really needed to improve my professional online persona, to re-engage with my colleagues on twitter, and to make it easy to find out about who I am. I created a separate twitter account for my 'professional' content.

This then inspired me to start designing and creating a real website for myself, that would have a blogging space, as well as functioning as an online resume. And this is the result.

I'm looking forward to writing a bit more and getting back into the library and information professional community.