Friday, April 29, 2011

The Current Collection and Services

wild dogwood, Blackwood woods
Thanks flickr. This photo displays *much* better than when I try to use blogger.

Let me begin by saying that our library's collection of printed books is increasingly out-of-date and shrinking. Printed books, once perhaps the primary focus of library collections, have for a number of years been demoted to just one of many available types of media. The Internet is not entirely to blame -- even before electronic collections hit their heyday, printed books faced stiff competition for dollars from periodicals. (Although, come to think of it, was electronic access to journals partly to blame for the disproportionate rise in periodical subscription costs?)

Unfortunately, a certain segment of our student population is not particularly sophisticated academically or technologically. And for these students, the easiest gateway to learning to use the library is through printed books. I think this is why plenty of instructors specifically assign students to use printed books. Invariably, these students reject our selection of e-books because they see them as too complicated or equivalent to the Internet, which their instructors warned them away from. This is a pity, particularly in light of the wealth of academic e-book titles we have available through ebrary, but it's not always something librarians can correct, no matter how gently or persistently we try.

I feel I'm swimming against the tide when I try to make the case that printed books are still important to our users. And I do understand that at a commuter school where enrollment for online classes is growing, off-campus access must be a priority. The climate is not right to advocate for allocating more money to improve and increase the size of our printed book collection. 

There is a company advertising on NPR right now with the slogan "People when you want them, technology when you don't," and I think that captures what we are struggling with. We try to staff a physical reference desk in addition to providing chat (instant messaging), phone, email, and SMS (text messaging) reference services, as well as providing largely unmediated web resources such as LibGuides, LibAnswers, and a vibrant library web page -- not to mention library presence on Facebook and Twitter.

Similarly, we try to have a physical library with books and DVDs and even archives of certain printed periodicals, while also collecting e-books, streaming media, and of course online subscriptions to journals. But rather than building a coherent collection, sometimes it feels like we are just being spread thinner and thinner -- our printed books are all old in one area because we subscribe to a great e-book collection in the same discipline; the streaming media fails when there is not enough bandwidth; we have foreign language dictionaries online but not in print for the student who wants to take one to a test; our e-books can't be used outside of our system or borrowed on interlibrary loan, etc. etc. etc.

Of course, we usually only hear about the problems rather than the successes, and it's possible our library is serving the majority of patrons admirably.  And I don't really have a solution to offer, except that perhaps we should be treating this as a difficult balancing act rather than irreversibly prioritizing one type of media, format, or access point over another.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Future Projects

 yellow viola / wild pansy

I've been mulling over a few ideas I picked up at ACRL, and as a result there are some projects I'd like to pursue as part of my job over the next year or two:

-More outreach to college staff. I'm coming to realize that here at the community college, staff members have more research needs than faculty. Staff members are frequently working on second degrees (often in education / public administration / management) or are working on projects that should be backed by credible research. I think we could be doing more to support these activities, and simultaneously we could be establishing a home-grown base of loyal library patrons.

-Learning Commons done well. We expect to hire a new library director in the next few months, and I hope at that point we'll take the reins on transitioning toward a more fully integrated learning commons. I know these types of changes can create tension, but when they are done well they improve not only the institution but the library and library services.

-More Reserves. As I'm in charge of library reserves, I'd really like to expand the collection from just textbooks to technology that would be useful to our students. Of course, that immediately begs the question of how to fund such technology. But maybe this is not an insurmountable obstacle; after all, we didn't have any money for a textbook collection either, and we got that done. This might fit with some of the college IT department's priorities, and I can't imagine it wouldn't be popular; the trick would be to make the service manageable.

In other news, for some reason blogger is making my photographs look particularly bad lately. I understand I'm no Tartine Gourmande, but my botanical images look crisp and clear all the way until I upload them here; this week is no exception. So I may just stop doing this for a while until I figure out why it's happening.

Friday, April 15, 2011

ACRL Part 2

Viola, in the grass

I finally got around to sorting through my notes and reviewing what I did at ACRL. Instead of dragging readers through a detailed play-by-play, I'll just make a few points here: 

Many events I hoped to attend were scheduled simultaneously, and I was disappointed not to be able to do everything I wanted to. This may have been inevitable at a highly relevant conference like ACRL, as opposed to a conference with fewer events targeted at academic libraries. In any case, I now really appreciate the existence of the Virtual Conference, which I'm just starting to explore. It sounds like I will be able to catch some of the things I missed this way. I hope the Virtual Conference continues to be active during the summer when things slow down a little at the college.

Sarah Faye Cohen over at The Sheck Spot put it well when she said of ACRL: "I heard an awful lot of the same talk as I've heard before" and "I feel like those are the same talks we've been having on blogs, in articles, and at conferences for years." This was my first time attending an ACRL conference, and to be honest I thought I would encounter more that was new to me. Particularly working at a community college, my reaction at professional events is often 'ack, there's so much we should be doing that we need to catch up with!' -- but not this time. While I was inspired and motivated, I didn't have any huge revelations.

Along similar lines, I thought some of the ideas presented could have been very satisfactory blog posts rather than events at a national conference. However, I do understand, and I can report from personal experience, that a blog post does not typically generate as much fanfare or professional accolades as presenting a paper on a stage as large as ACRL's. When testing a hypothesis was carefully planned around a project (rather than analyzing a project upon completion, which results in more of a report); when literature was thoroughly reviewed and methodological questions were anticipated; and when ideas had the potential to be applied beyond one single library or institution, the resulting presentation at ACRL was impressive. And there were plenty of presentations of this caliber, but to be honest I thought they all would be that good. At certain events I expected better. 

I'm sorry if all this doesn't sound as upbeat as my posts about ALA in Chicago in 2009 (found here, here and here), but to be honest my expectations were a little higher for ACRL. I definitely found the conference valuable, though, and will do my best to attend again. 

      Saturday, April 9, 2011

      ACRL Part 1

      cherry tree, blooming on campus

      I'm still organizing my thoughts and notes from ACRL, and I'll try to have a summary here next week. 

      In the meantime I wanted to comment that I was glad to participate in a conference where attendees shared such a deep sense of mission and relevance. One of the things I worry about constantly at the community college is whether the library is still relevant to campus (and off-campus, in the case of students taking online classes) life, but there was no question of this at ACRL. Participants and presenters all displayed a vibrancy and engagement that was refreshing. It's true there was the usual talk of the changing needs of our patrons, but academic libraries seem to be working to meet those needs, figuring out how to best support them, rather than blandly accepting marginalization and obsolescence. This was consistent across a range of topics, from access to collections and information literacy to supporting traditional and non-traditional scholarship. I was glad to be in there.