Saturday, September 18, 2010

Why Nobody Knows the Library is Suffering...and Why It's All Our Fault

Several conversations both online and in person) with fellow librarians has me thinking about how very hard we work to make sure our services are not impacted by the significant budget cuts we've experienced over the past few years. And I find myself aggravated to the point of a blog post.

If you haven't already, you need to mosey on over and read the"Netflix in Libraries and Hypocrisy post by Meredith Farkas. In a nutshell, due to inability to buy media they need, libraries are using Netflix as a media ILL service. Which its terms of service explicitly prohibit. And yea, so libraries, Bastions of Fair Use and Copyright Banshees, are distributing content they neither own nor have the rights to, in a very teenager-like "Well, I haven't gotten in trouble yet" attitude. Because heck, if libraries can't afford it, our users still need it, and we promise to get it to them. Even if it goes against our professional ethics. Because our users need it. And so the foundation of service is sound...but the execution is not.

Over at Pegasus Librarian, Iris's post on the perception of what it means to be "doing well" highlights that just because you don;t see what cuts are made, and what losses are happening, doesn't mean those cuts and losses don't exist. Nor does it mean that they don't hurt, deeply.

I heard somewhere that an academic library should, in theory, receive 3 to 5% of the college or university's budget in order to properly develop. The Ivies come closest, but most of the rest of us languish around the 2% mark, and sometimes below, in bad years. Our collections get decimated first through less monograph spending, and then through rigorous serials reviews and cancellations. I've been at libraries who need to shrink spending even after those measures, which led to serious redistributions of work, closing and consolidating some boutique service points, and additional painful collections cuts. Furloughs. Layoffs. Not replacing staff and faculty who leave.

And through it all, we stiff-upper-lip it, and work as hard as we can to make sure our patrons feel very little of this impact. In most cases, the cutting of collections, consolidating staff and even layoffs don;t actually reduce the amount of work that needs to be done to keep library operations and services running. If anything, library staff and faculty take on more responsibilities (with static or reduced pay) to ensure the highest levels of service.

And still teaching faculty complain about the cute little media services center they no longer have, since it has been absorbed. They can't believe we can't order a thousand dollars worth of videos for them to place on reserve. Students are furious that the library does not purchase copies of required textbooks to directly support their coursework. And *everyone* gets pissed when library hours get shortened, not understanding the relationship between cut budgets and paying people to staff the building.

And why shouldn't they? Faculty get loudly aggravated when their curriculum is touched, when their department loses positions, and it makes the school newspaper (and perhaps the local one, too) when majors are sloughed off due to budget issues. Every student newspaper - and some national ones - decry the price of textbooks and the impact on poor college students every fall.

Librarians are polite and service-oriented. Our deans and directors may get red under the collar while pitching for funds in the provost's office, but to all outward appearances, we're doing just fine, and can we help you find something, dear?

Librarians do not agitate. People hear about the university budget cuts, but we rarely point out - loudly - what this means for the library, and those who use its resources. perhaps its time to let folks know what exactly lack of funds is doing to the libraries they use without thinking about what it takes to keep them running. No one would dare suggest that you can reduce teaching faculty and still maintain a high quality curriculum, but that's exactly the picture we paint when we let our library users think that our services and resources are unscathed.

Are we properly planning for the future? Not at the rate we're going, and not by grinning, bearing it, and pretending all's well, and we'll just work ourselves to death so nobody notices we've been cut to the bone. "Well," they must think, "I'm getting just as much service as I was before. They must not have needed that money after all. If we get flush again, why on earth should we give it back? They're functioning just fine."

We are not functioning just fine. We just find it too impolitic to say aloud. Are we afraid it would be rude? Afraid that we'll get back an "everyone else is suffering too, suck it up"? Interlibrary loan can only fill the gap for so long - most of us are finding that as we slash our collections and subscriptions, our ILL borrowing budgets are increasing astronomically, so it's not like it's not costing us. But our patrons wouldn't know that - we tout ILL as a free service.

I will admit I have been very lucky, but behind the scenes, I can see where the budget cuts are touching the library, and deeply. And I can see the massive amount of work librarians and staff put in so that our users are affected as little as possible. And while this is admirable and falls within our desire to serve, it can also have unpretty consequences.

Ladder to the Cloud: WMS Update

The Cloud is puffy and waiting for us...but the ladder to get there is a bit more rickety than expected.

Our go-live date of August 20th proved a bit ambitious. While certain parts of the WMS system are up and running, there are important connections and functionality that we are still working with OCLC to get just right before we can jump ship from our current ILS.

If you're keeping track of us, you'll have read Jason Griffey's "Are We Live?" post from August 30. From there, we were hoping for a mid-September date, now we'll be pushed back a bit beyond that.

Circ is not ready yet to go live - while the check-in and check-out functionality is up and running, there are a few more things that make circ-side "go," and some of those things (like our billing practices and reports) have to be approved by folks like our auditors. The OCLC folks are shucking their buns to get us what we need, and we're currently having cross-departmental meetings declaring what we need immediately for a go-live, what can wait, and what can wait a bit longer. This is helping us all get on the same page about things, as well as realize some of the more finely-tuned interdependencies of our systems, data, and display that we hadn't realized. While it's a bit frustrating (we would *love* to go live yesterday), we want to do it right, and for now, that means waiting on OCLC's fast-paced development cycle to get us what we need. I've found this to be a really fascinating glimpse into the inner guts of the working of library records and systems. Even more interesting has been the division between what a vendor/partner thinks libraries need to function and what librarians think a library needs in order to function.

This is still a system I'm excited we'll be working in. The functionality - once it's all up and running - should prove a boon over our current system. But reality intrudes, in the form of some essential functionality, and in the end, our decisions to postpone our go-live date are based upon our attitude toward service. If it negatively impacts our patrons, whether through delaying our processes, item discoverability, or interface, we'd rather wait.

And such are the results of being a development partner. The system is still developing, and it's great to see how each update chews things off the list of functionalities we are waiting on - even as we're chomping at the bit and looking at the calendar.

And all along the way, we're preparing, altering workflows, debating patron as well as staff-side impact, cleaning data, testing WMS and making lists of needs, wants, and what's ready. There's a ways to go, and since we measure our professional lives in semester-weeks (and the paltry twelve of those that are left in Fall 2010), we don't have time to hold our breath. We're making plans, we're taking action, we're working hard...and we're waiting on the ladder to the cloudware to be complete.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

On Book Burning and Responses

Burning any book whatsoever goes against the very core of my personal and professional values. I joked once in college about having a grand end-of-semester barbecuing of our econometrics textbook, and couldn't bring myself to actually participate. I don't even joke about it anymore, mostly because I don't find it funny.

If you've been anywhere near FriendFeed (or the rest of the internet) lately, you'll have heard about the "International Burn a Koran Day" planned by U.S. pastor Terry Jones for September 11, 2010. If you're anything like any of the folks who have commented on the story, you're probably offended, appalled, or ashamed. To me, it's a despicable practice, to hold a whole group responsible for the actions of a few.

I am concerned, though, that the sentiment that "Christians the world over would be in danger over the Koran-burning stunt" paints Islam as a bloodthirsty religion. With Interpol, the U.S. Government, and even President Obama claiming that the burning could provoke "violent attacks on innocent people" result in a "recruitment bonanza" for Al-Quaeda, they've essentially undone much of the good work that has gone into demonstrating that Muslims are no more bloodthirsty and irrational than any other religious group.

I much prefer Stephen Abram's approach in his latest blog post, "We Strengthen Our Rights by Exercising Them," in whcih he recommends a counter protest on a personal level by reading the Koran, reaching some understanding, bringing light to ignorance. Please go read his post - he eloquently states, "The forces for book burning do have a right to their views and actions and good and decent people have a right to object to their views and actions." He continues with his recommendation for what that action should be. You might be surprised, but it's not to have a vitriolic counter-protest.

I have also been concerned and, to be honest, horrified at how folks seem more than willing to forgo the freedom of speech this *nonviolent* protest would have been, by not just protesting back or pointing out that pastor Jones is a bit of an ass for a so-called "Christian," but by actively seeking ways to prevent him from completing the exercise. Was the burning distasteful in the extreme? Absolutely, and an insult to followers of Islam who hold the Koran holy. Did it meet the "yelling 'Fire!' in a crowded theater" test of being disallowed as free speech? I'm not a lawyer, but I doubt it. And personally, I find the implications of those willing to toss free speech out the window for an offensive display far more vexing than one mediawhore miscreant's attempt to start a holybook bonfire.

And so, in the spirit of Mr. Abrams' post, I also ask that instead of seeking to limit the rights of one who would use them for personal gain and fame, exercise your own rights, whether it be loudly or quietly. When the only people who exercise their rights do so out of a damaging place, the rest of us are culpable for not speaking out, or dimming their example with our own. Why should a public reading from the Koran be planned only in response to something like Pastor Jones? Perhaps an interfaith reading would be the perfect way to commemorate September 11th, reminding us that this is a place of equality, that any who want to may speak aloud, and that we hope the most voices fall into a place of peace and attempted understanding.

And while I understand that it is your right to burn books (given that you've acquired the proper permits for a fire and such), I would really rather prefer you find a more eloquent way to make your point. All knowledge is worth having, and there has got to be a less blatantly ignorant way of getting your point across.

Friday, September 03, 2010

On the Great Myth of the Librarian Grays

Lately, there's been a lot of discussion (and bitching) about the promised graying/retirement within the library profession that was supposed to open up endless job opportunities for new librarians. The LITA-L email list, a recent American Libraries article, and a post by Peter Brantley calling for an overthrow by the young'uns have all been pretty popular topics of late.

January 15, 2004, Rachel Singer Gordon published a piece in Library Journal titled "NextGen: Get Over the "Graying" Profession Hype". I say again: this was 2004.

It would appear no one took the advice, given that today - despite very obvious evidence to the contrary, American Libraries just printed an ill-advised article on recruiting undergrads to the profession, citing the graying of the profession as a reason for folks to sign up for library work. Jessamyn West, in her recent post "show us the numbers re: new librarian jobs", calls for more than the ever-present empty anecdata touted by library schools, ALA, and professional publications alike. And all of the librarians who have been pounding the pavement (or internet) jobhunting for multiple years agree.

The economy is in the toilet. Any librarian looking for a job is up against hundreds of his or her peers. Those recently out of school are competing against folks with decades of experience under their belt and probably wider networks (though social media is closing this gap quickly). A few things:


For goodness' sake, how myopic are we? Librarianship isn't the only profession where the number of qualified grads outnumbers the available positions. Speak to any English PhD who received their degree in the past 30 years. Political Science PhDs have seen the same trend since I was working in polisci back in 2001.

In fact, while librarianship writ-large isn't "academia" per se, the job market for the profession certainly works a whole lot like that for would-be-professor PhDs. Jobs are very limited, check. There are more qualified degree holders than there are full time well paying positions, check. If you want to be a particular type of librarian (particularly academic, but it applies to other types too), you'll more than likely have to do a regional or national job hunt and not be terribly geographically limited, check. It's funny, but my becoming a librarian did not at all save me from the dangers of jobhunting as a PoliSci PhD.

We're not the only ones who suffer from this. We just act like we are. For all of the social networking we do with each other, we seem to have less a grasp on other professions. Talk to someone who got their master's in social work sometime. Navel-gazing: as a profession, we haz it, as the kitties say.


No, really. A lot of the folks who are burned that the grays won't retire so they can have their jobs (entitlement much?) are only applying for positions within libraries (per their anecdatal stories). Libraries, if no one has noticed, have been receiving giant financial wedgies for some time now, and the recent economic upheaval added some fund-draining noogies on top of that. No, libraries aren't hiring. No, library work often doesn't pay well. But you're perfectly qualified (if you took your courses with an eye more toward being useful than with an eye toward getting out quickly and via the easy route) to deal with knowledge and information management in the corporate setting. Also, the pay is better. Also, you'll be using your library science skills in a completely different environment, which may actually be just what you need in your next job hunt to give you a leg up.


Also, public email list posts with comments like " current job is the second one that I have had where I’ve been working for someone who has been ELIGIBLE to retire for multiple years, and who for whatever reason will not give up their position..." - not going to help you much. You come across looking entitled at best, nor is this sort of attitude something those in the position to hire want to hear. Yes, we have old folk in libraries. Actually, we have five generations in the workplace now. FIVE. Diversity - getcha some. No one owes you a job just because you want one, and while I'm pals with a number of "young'uns" in the profession, some of the most effective librarians I know are in their 40s, 50s and older.

I'm quite tired of hearing that only those in their 20s and 30s can change the shape of the profession. From Brantley's post, there is "wide acknowledgment that the greatest sea change of vision and perspective among librarians, museum and archive staff, rests primarily among those (more or less) in their 20s, into their early to mid 30s. This generation has completely different expectations for information management, privacy, direct access to data and people, interaction with services, and organizational behavior." What folks seem to fail to realize is that it's midlevel librarians in their late 30s, 40s and 50s who will be managing those librarians in their 20s and early 30s for the next three decades. Another quote from the Brantley piece: "There should be no directors present, no associate directors present. This is not about them. It is about those who will truly redefine the future of libraries." How silly. The AULs? Are prepped to become ULs. Some of them are *GASP* even in their early 30s. And until this profession realizes that its managers and leaders are essential because they are the ones who fight for and acquire resources that we need to actually get things done, the Young Uprising will remain not much more than pie-in-the-sky talk.

You might also note that those in agreement with Brantley (and I agree with the sentiment, if not the entire post and mechanisms presented) span age boundaries. To be fair, perhaps the vitriol is directed more at ARL ULs than at older generations in general - but it's not phrased that way. This is a "get the old people out of the way" call. And "old people" are not the problem. Sometimes gray is sexy, particularly when it's The Grays who are accomplishing excellent things.


There seems to be a general belief that a school has a moral imperative to let you know the degree they offer you has an oversaturated market and that the job prospects are poor. In fact, library schools are trying to stay open. In further fact, you look like delectable, juicy, tuition dollars.

At the point you are going to graduate school - and much is made the SLIS students tend to be older students, moving into librarianship as a career later in life - you are responsible for knowing what the job market is. Don't you think that rather than listening to the proselytizing of schools and associations that want your money, you should perhaps be scouring the job boards and talking to folks in the field? I have little patience for the "I was told there would be lots of jobs!" complaint. Every field is the same. No art department tells their students they won't be able to get a job as an artist. MFA programs are not lining up to announce that their terminal MFAs are being usurped by the development of creative writing PhD programs. And few graduate advisors tell their entering PhD students that they'll likely be ABD, crushed to death by a dissertation that bears little resemblance to why they entered their program. Law schools are not exactly running to shut themselves down despite a law market that has been oversaturated for years.

There is a serious abdication of personal responsibility when we blame the schools for continuing to graduate MLS folks, and I'm growing weary of hearing it.

I do think, however, we need to hold our associations and professional publications (I'm looking at YOU, American Libraries and ALA) to account for perpetuating false claims. If you find a good way to do that, do let me know.

And so, in closing, yes, the cake is a lie. The profession may be graying, but gray doesn't mean dead or retiring. There has been published work decrying this myth out for the better part of a decade or two, and older librarians remember being fed the same hogwash in the 70s. This does not mean you should be pushing your leaders down stairs in the hopes you'll get their jobs. It does mean that you need to drink a great big glass of suck-it-up-atine, work extra hard at the job hunt (you know who I'm talking about - I am STILL seeing Comic Sans, clip art, and crappy cover letters, people), and developing skills needed in places other than libraries.

Good luck. Go forth. Be useful. And gods forbid you should ever get older than 35, because your so-called colleagues will be plotting your demise.