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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Valuing Librarian Work: McMaster is Not The Only Model

By all accounts, Jeff Trzeciak at McMaster University appears to have jumped on the Taiga Train and is ringing in the end of the age of librarians in libraries. Jenica has a fantastic post detailing the myriad ways Trzeciak is undermining librarianship.

Mita goes even further on her New Jack Librarian Blog, discussing the implications of librarians being faculty-but-not-really, outsourcing information science work to vendors who now control and the library being a cost center maintained only by the good will of our communities. These are slightly longer term implications (though not, as Mita points out, for all three Mt. Hood full time faculty librarians, who were given pink slips).

A common thread here seems to be that administrators feel undergraduates will garner research skills on their own, somehow, without the benefit of librarians, despite the literature which demonstrates that such skills are not taught by the teaching faculty, who assume that librarians will take care of that, and despite the literature which demonstrates a strong correlation between library funding and number of full time librarians, and student achievement outcomes. Maybe McMaster's instruction numbers are declining because the Canadian students are just that awesome right out of the box. Or maybe it's because there are fewer librarians around to give instruction.

Regarding Trzeciak's "Likely to come out of IT, including audio/video production" piece of his slide - well, don't you just know, there are some dynamite librarians coming out with just those skills - and the ability to teach folks how to do advanced creation and editing in layman's terms. The librarians with these skills would probably also applaud Trzeciak for his ability to sit through an hour-long screencast (!) as opposed to a live-instructor session, where individual questions and confusions can be addressed.

This week we've been bombarded with tales of the librarianless library. Let me tell you about another kind of library. I won't call it the librarian-centered library, because the focus is actually on student needs, but perhaps the librarian-leveraged library.

Mine is a library where we are taking full advantage of new library technologies, as we:

-- implement OCLC's WMS system, which appears as though it will save us an incredible amount of time in materials processing

-- implement best practices and streamlined workflows for interlibrary loan

-- expand existing services and implement new services based on demand

In fact, with automated systems increasingly doing the rote work that library staff used to do, this has opened up new opportunities in our library for librarians. Automating routine processes frees human resources to do more of the work that requires creativity and critical thinking - two librarian strengths.

Unlike the McMaster model where librarians have been replaced at service desks, the more we advertise that our service desks are staffed by real, live research-expert librarians, the more excited our students and faculty become. The more our instruction librarians impress the faculty with their engagement, enthusiasm, and talent, the more sessions they are asked to teach, until our large R&I department is at capacity for the number of classes they teach each week of the semester, with increased interest from faculty teaching upper-level undergraduate and graduate courses a happy dilemma for us.

And we manage to balance this with our own activities and scholarship off-campus as well. Our Spring newsletter highlights that ten of our sixteen librarians - including our dean - are involved in presenting, publishing, contributing to research guides and instructional video databases, writing and earning grants, and keynoting library conferences. And those were just the folks who remembered to reply to the email solicitation for information!

So, Mr. Trzeciak, I want to add to the cacophony of voices reminding the world that your path is not the only path. That your vision for your library is not our vision for our libraries. That your disdain for the work, passion, and skill of librarians to be a part of the sea change of library engagement with the university is a mismatch for our own optimism and enthusiasm over the possibilities for how many ways we can contribute in this, and the future, information environment.

At my own library, the more quality service we provide our users with, the more they want us. Facing the happy-sad situation where one of my staff members left for a fantastic new job, and one of our awesome librarians is heading to an awesome new job, we're looking at how this could possibly change our current structure. And instead of banking the cash and leaving us short of needed expertise, or just going ahead and filling the slots as a staff position and a librarian position, the possibility of combining and breaking apart the lines and getting TWO librarians is a non-trivial option on the table.

That's right. Increasing the number of librarians. Because we are so damned good at our work, that our university administration, our library dean, our faculty, and our students challenge us to be more, and to be better. And if that means we need more librarians to make that happen, and we can creatively figure out how to make that happen within budget, well then, we will.

Because that's what we do. We make things happen. We come up with creative solutions. And we fill the gaps that PhDs can't - more administrators should read up on the literature about the research skills of PhDs. I've got a literature review article forthcoming that provides quite a bit of evidence that our faculty, much as I love them, don't know quite as much about research skills as we assume they do. At my library we knew that anecdotally, because so many of our faculty come to our nifty research workshops targeted at showing faculty how they can leverage things like auto-alerts and RSS feeds for their own research. We know it because our librarians talk about what's going on at the reference desk, including noting what our faculty are asking for help with, and noting when the wording of an assignment is leading students astray, and we help faculty redesign it so students are better directed to the proper resources. We know it because our faculty are begging us to become involved in populating their courseware with research aids.

All with our 16 librarians and 12 staff to serve our almost-11,000 FTE constituents. And we're hoping to eventually make the ratio even more librarian-heavy -- not because we want to make librarians look important/needed/sexy, but because we have that much work to do. Because we have not exhausted developing the services our community needs. Because our librarians demonstrate their value every day, and we have some great ideas we would love to implement, but our current librarians are already full-up on the awesome meter.

Meeting and exceeding needs and expectations. With librarians.

The mind boggles.

I'll admit, I give a healthy dose of side-eye to any library that feels it can do without the higher-level work and creative energy of librarians. Computers - incredible as they are - can only do so much. Non-librarians may be good at their part of the world, but developing a library staffed by people without a broad understanding of information organization and theory, without a sense of the bigger picture of how the myriad pieces of a library work together, without any focus on the needs of your undergraduates who will become your graduate students and eventual faculty, is terribly short-sighted.

I don't disagree with Mr. Trzeciak's call for systemic change - quite the contrary. But I suppose I see librarians as integral to creating and maintaining that change while increasing the quality of our contributions - not standing in the way of it.

I don't know whose vision will be more widespread over the long-term, but I'm happy to be on this side of my library's walls, beside my colleagues and our students, while we wait to find out.

6 comments:

~Kathy Dempsey said...

Right on. Just shared your post on my Libraries Are Essential facebook page.
http://www.facebook.com/LibrariesAreEssential

Colleen said...

Thanks so much, Kathy!

bluestockinglibrarian said...

> I've got a literature review article forthcoming that provides quite a bit of evidence that our faculty, much as I love them, don't know quite as much about research skills as we assume they do.

Ooh! I'd love to read this.

Mike Furlough said...

I've written "I'm Nobody! Who are you?" Reactions to Jeff Trzeciak and posted it on my own blog.

Colleen said...

@Bluestocking - as soon as it's up! Looks like it'll be in Vol. 60 Issue 6 - I'll be posting about it once it's available. @Mike - do please repost your link - I tried to Google your post but the site was unavailable!

Colleen said...

Here's the link to Mike's post! http://www.personal.psu.edu/mjf25/blogs/on_furlough/2011/04/im-nobody-who-are-you-reactions-to-jeff-trzeciak.html