All work and no play..??

This blog has been neglected. There is no other way to put it. I have published more on my Norwegian academic blog, and I have kept some other, more personal blogs, updated, but for some reason this blog has been pushed aside whenever I have had the need for some written reflections. Partly, I guess it is because it is easier to just write in Norwegian, and partly because I have blogged less overall these past few months. I usually blog more when I have read something interesting or found something new to test, and it is a sign of the times that more time has been spent on meetings and administrative tasks than before, and therefore leaving less time for professional development. The pandemic is partly to blame, as I now have daily meetings online with the rest of the staff at the library where I work as well as more meetings and e-mails and chat messages with other staff at the other libraries at my university. I have had just as many planned lectures etc. as before, but of course, the impromptu counselling that comes with being physically at campus are no more. Still – I get a lot of e-mails, and I have tried to take on some other responsibilities to help take a little pressure off some others, who have to staff the circulation desks etc. at the various campuses. When my closest colleagues and I were planning 2021, we realised that we were spending a lot more time in meetings and other administrative tasks than before. Some have more administrative work concerning inter-library loans etc. than before because our students and staff are working from home and need their documents sent to their home addresses (which in turn requires finding home addresses, packing everything manually etc). Some are staffing the virtual library desks, and that takes a lot of time and effort, and some have been involved in more collaborative groups (which usually is a good thing, but I mean.. I think we have to ask ourselves: What is the goal of this project? How can this benefit our patrons? What are we willing to give up in order to make it happen? How much time do we have to spend in meetings? etc. before we just jump into another project). To make matters worse, the University Library have to save money, as this conservative, current government has decided to cut budgets for higher education (yeah! THAT makes sense these days!) in order to give tax cuts to the wealthiest people in this country. (As you can probably tell by this rant, I am not a fan of the conservative party, though I am not often as explicit on this blog.) This means that, even though nobody is being laid off, library staff that retire are not necessarily replaced. We were already understaffed, and while we are always looking for things to do more efficiently, we cannot innovate our way out of this. At my section, we are six librarians serving 4000 students and approx. 350 staff, and that is considered an indulgence?

My point of this rant is.. what happens when a library is understaffed and underfunded? We focus on day to day operations. Answering e-mails and phone calls, getting the inter-library loans sent and received, teaching the planned sessions, helping researchers getting their papers registered, taking the meetings you are required to be in.. these things have a way of forcing their way to the front of whatever other things you were hoping to do. I am worried about the long term effects of never having time to reading the new research in your field of interest, never developing a new idea (unless it is directly involving efficiency measures), never just sitting quietly to reflect and think about something. I am worried that we’ll become a University Library that not only never evolves, but simply forgets how to do it or that we at one time had ambitions beyond the day to day routines to just give the patrons what they want in the moment. We know that students are very happy with the library services, and that is nice, of course, but it doesn’t mean much. When you have no expectations, it is easy to be pleasantly surprised. We cannot expect the patrons to ask for services they have no idea that we can give them. It is our job to dream up the best library we can think of and then strive to fulfil that vision. If we are just running around in our carefully crafted hamster wheel – how can we expect that to happen?

I consider myself extremely lucky. I have close colleagues that I respect and admire. We are doing the best we can every day, and the fact that we each have a field of expertise has done wonders for us. I am just worried that if we have all work and no play, that even this will eventually fade.

As a local initiative to help us staying current and working with projects, my manager started having a project week once a semester. We are still just testing this idea, but I love it. For one week, we push meetings that can be pushed, we avoid booking teaching sessions as much as possible, we focus on just the bare necessities of day to day operations, and then we either decide on a joint project or set aside time for reading articles etc. Last week was such a week. The overall theme for the week was to get better acquainted with the APA 7th style. We have never supported APA at my library, because all students were required to use either the Harvard style or the Vancouver style. Now, two study programmes have transitioned to APA 7th. That means that we’ll get lots of questions this spring, and we needed to be prepared. We chose different approaches to this, but we all read the Norwegian APA manual, and I chose to read some research articles that I have had in my “To be read” pile for months, and then writing them up in an annoted bibliography. We also had a few other projects going in the physical library as well as reading some internal papers on a reorganising of the library services.

Having a “professional development week” or a project week, as we chose to call it, really makes some difference. To have some time to think and reflect on how we can do things differently, or to imagine another kind of library, to discuss something about the future or state of things with colleagues that are not just about the details.. that is such an important break from everyday operations. I think it did us all some good. I know that some have a hard time letting go of the day to day stuff, and it is not my notion that we should just ignore everything for a week, but I really think that we need to practice saying: “Hi – and thank you for your message/e-mail/phone call. We are working on new services and developing new ideas this week, but we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.” I really do think that patrons would not have a big problem with that. I still believe that good librarians are crucial to the institutions we serve, but it is not like we are working in the ER. Sometimes, people can wait – and nobody will think less of us for trying to create something better long term.

graphic art of a tree cut like a human head, and leaves blowing away from it.

Bouquet of sharpened pencils

coloured pencilsIn the 90´s movie called “You got mail”, the male protagonist exclaims that autumn always makes him want to buy school supplies, and if he knew the female protagonist he sends e-mails to in person, he would get her a bouquet of sharpened pencils. I get that. August, though technically still summer, has that effect on me too.

The new semester has not formally started yet. We will receive our new students next week. Still, the light rain today got me into work mode, and I got the strong feeling that summer is over (noooo!).

There are so many things to get ready for the new students, and the returning students and staff members. I will give more open courses this semester than ever before, and I try to navigate the changes in study programmes etc. that the merger a few years back made here at our campus. Study programmes are being merged, some are shut down or changed significantly and others are new. In June, I discovered that some of the students I will be teaching this semester had been transferred to another programme and that some were still finishing their programmes according to the old models. Very confusing! What makes it even more difficult is that so much of the information is spread out over many different platforms. Some information is available on the open web, some on the intranet, some in the LMS rooms. The latter is a significant stumbling block for me, seeing as I am usually just a “visiting professor” in most courses, and the administrators very often do not think of including me in the list of people who should have access to the rooms. Therefore, a lot of information that could have been useful to me is not available until I ask directly for access. I am not writing this to complain – it is just a little frustrating to try to puzzle the pieces together on my own. No matter what I read about or write about concerning teaching librarians, I keep coming back to the point that without a well-working teacher-librarian collaboration, we are lost.

There are so many exciting things happening on campus, and I wish I had more time and a better overview of everything. The control freak in me is not happy unless I feel I know what is going on:). I recently had a tip from my former manager of a journal article about how libraries tackle the rapid shifts in higher education with regards to our services. I haven’t had time to dig into it yet, but it is a fascinating subject. Seeing as my main task is to teach, I have maybe not been as involved as I should have been on thinking about changing our services, but I have thought a lot this spring and summer about changing the way that I teach. Every now and then I get stuck in a pattern, and I stay that way until I am aware that I am stuck and then have mustered up enough strength to get out of it. I am a little ashamed to say that this time, I have been stuck (unaware of the fact) for a while, but I am determined to freshen up a little this semester. I have read more about critical pedagogy, and I was inspired by the people I met at LOEX this spring, and I will try some of the principles for students in the nursing department soon. More active learning, less lecturing – those will be some of my guiding principles this year. Fingers crossed!

Service provider or academic partner: Where to draw the line?

jente sandstrand

Drawing a line?

I have long wanted to write something about the contributions from academic librarians in research projects. First, I wanted to wait until the term was over because I wanted time to think about this, and then I waited because I wanted to find the right words. I wanted to get this right, because this is important to me. Today, I am writing this even though I could have thought some more or found better words.

I have worked in academic libraries for 15 years. During that time, I have changed and the libraries I have worked in has changed along with the institutions they have served. Perhaps even more interesting is that the role of the librarians have changed, too. A few lines of explanation is perhaps needed. (I`ll get to the point, I promise..) I said that I have changed. Yes, I have changed in many ways, but professionally the most significant change has been that I have changed my focus. When I started 15 years ago, my focus was always “Whats in it for my library”. I was very library centric. I wanted a good budget for the library because I wanted freedom to build a good collection, nice furniture etc. (I was a school librarian back then, btw.) After working in a school library, in a ministry library and in a university library, my focus has shifted. I still want the library to have a good budget, but not for the librarys sake – for the patrons. I want a good budget so that we can provide services and academic support to enhance learning and research. I think I have also learned the value of evidence-based practice in libraries. It is important that we have solid research as well as user experience and our own experience and bring this together to build good library practice. It may not seem as a very significant change on paper (or blog), but for me it has changed the way I work. The libraries have changed, too. From being mainly a document provider and a more distant partner (delivery-on-demand) for students, the digitalisation and research support needs have made it possible and necessary to provide new services and to see our roles in a new light.

There are plenty of articles, book chapters etc. that discuss the roles of academic librarians. I am not going to list everything that I have, but see my article on library-faculty collaboration to get an idea (Øvern, 2014). The main point I want to make here and now, though, is that library-faculty collaboration is often problematic because of the skewed power relation between the parties. The librarians know that the route to the students goes via their teachers, and we are desperate to find a way in to the classrooms. Therefore, we usually not only obey our masters` first whistle, but even assume almost doglike admiration for the teachers that see our contributions as something worth “sacrificing valuable class time” (yes, that is a direct quote, but I`ll not give the source) for. (OK. Maybe I exaggerated a little, but then again, maybe I didn`t.) It doesn`t help that we are so trained as service providers, that we find it extremely hard to just say no to people. This way, I think we also often are stuck in unproductive “collaborations”, because we are afraid that if we protest or suggest very different models for teaching, the teachers will stop asking us to contribute all together. But if we never suggest what to us may seem as better ideas, then they will never see our potential as real academic partners either. Librarians generally know more about the faculty than vice versa, an assymetry that both groups are aware of, but only the librarians find problematic (Christiansen, Strombler & Thaxton, 2004, p.117). And as Ekstrand and Seebass (2009) found: librarians are regarded as excellent (service) parners, but that is not the same as seeing them as valuable academic parners (p. 84). Librarians are not integrated in study programmes and often forgotten in planning sessions.

These power relations become even more problematic when it comes to research support. I have several times been asked to help with literature searching etc. in research projects. Once or twice only, have I been told that I will get co-authorship for my efforts. Once or twice. Of course, I wouldn`t dream of demanding co-authorship if my only contribution to the project would be something like suggesting appropriate databases or handing over some search terms that could useful or something like that. But where do I draw the line? When does it become acceptable for me to say, I can do that, but only if I am listed as a co-author?

This is an example (not from reality, but quite close):
Two faculty members, one of whom were also connected to another university, asked me if I could provide support for them for a systematic review. When I asked what kind of support they were looking for it was clear that it is more than just suggesting search strings and doing a few introductory searches in some databases. It was much more than that. Basically, they wanted me to set up tables, do the searches and use a flow chart. In a systematic review, the design of searches, and getting it right in all the databases as well as putting it into tables and flowcharts represents a lot of work. It would be like building the foundation of a house. Yet, I was not offered co-authorship. I asked them a few more questions on their deadlines etc., but before I had received answers and decided to muster up the strength to ask for co-authorship, they informed me that they had found another librarian (from the other university) to do the job.

It seems there is always somebody who is ready to answer when they hear the whistle. Why it was so important for me to get co-authorship? The contribution would have been the same whether my name was on it or not. Yes, but if I could have had my name on it, then I could have sacrificed the very little R&D time I have to my disposal without having to postpone my qualifications programme. If I am to succeed with this, then the little time I have to produce some new knowledge will have to be put to good use. Egotistic? Sure. But for the faculty involved it wouldn`t have mattered as much to share that research point (Norwegian measurement system), but for me it was important. Again – the power relations are not balanced.

So – what should I do? What should WE as a profession do? Is it ok that faculty get a “yes” from somebody else if they get a “no” from me? When should I say no? When should I demand co-authorship? Why is there no guideline for these partnerships?

Where do I draw the line? (Seriously, I`m asking.)

NOTE: This blog entry was not written to, in any way, suggest that faculty is in the habit of exploiting librarians or are trying to belittle me or my contribution. This is not my experience. I have many working collaborations with excellent faculty members that are productive, constructive and interesting. Even in the example I mentioned above, I don`t think that this was done by malice or as an attempt to put me in my place, but rather as a pragmatic way to get the help they wanted as quickly and efficiently as possible. This blog entry was written to emphasise the sometimes problematic situations that arises from the skewed power relations between faculty and librarians, and I have no other agenda than to share my experience with this, and to hope for better guidelines. It is not my intention to offend either faculty or librarians, and I hope therefore that any lack of clarity of thought or words will be forgiven.


Christiansen, L., Stombler, M., & Thaxton, L. (2004). A Report on Librarian-Faculty Relations from a Sociological Perspective. The journal of academic librarianship, 30(2), 116-121. doi:DOI: 10.1016/j.acalib.2004.01.003

Ekstrand, B., Seebass, G. (2009). Integrativ informationskompetens: Diskursöverbryggande samarbete mellan akademi och bibliotek. In B. Hansson, A. Lyngfeldt (Ed.), Pedagogiskt arbete i teori och praktik (pp. 83-101). Lund: BTJ Förlag.

Øvern, K. M. (2014). Faculty-library collaboration: two pedagogical approaches. Journal of Information Literacy, 8(2), 36-55. doi:http://dx.doi.org

I`m still here… sort of..

IMG_5113_2It`s been nearly a year since I posted. I was away a lot from work last year (from June), and I am now on maternity leave until September, so.. I am still here, but I haven`t posted anything lately. I have been a little better at keeping my other library blog up to date, and I hope that I`ll be back (hello, Arnold) here soon.

There has been some significant changes while I was (partly) on sick leave and now on maternity leave. We got a new library system in November. It was a huge deal – moving from the command-based Bibsys of the last 30 years or so to the web-based Alma. I participated in the online training, but then it halted while I was away, and I will need to do the whole training all over again when I get back.

The other change was the merger that happened in January. The university colleges in Trondheim, Ålesund and Gjøvik merged with the university in Trondheim, and we are now all NTNU. The coming faculty structure is currently being set and there are many discussions going on about the role of the administration, faculty staff`s rights etc. The merger is already done, but the work will continue for years, I think. It will be exciting to see if I can get some new collaborations going.

I haven`t been able to keep up with the library field lately, but I try to visit Twitter once a day to get a little inspiration. I really missed being at LILAC this year, but seeing as they like to put the conference to the Easter week, it is unlikely that I`ll be going next year either. Too bad. It is my favorite conference. But.. maybe I`ll get to go to ECIL some time..? I hope so. Well, I have a couple of ideas that I long to test, so I hope I`ll get to try them out come September.