Suggested reading and listening on leadership, power relations and more

I have long been interested in work culture, power relations, communication and leadership in libraries, and there are so many good articles, podcasts and books that needs to be read that I cannot manage even a small percentage of everything that I should like to learn more about. However, I have been coming across some very useful and thought-provoking articles, podcasts and books lately that I thought I’d share here. Some concern themselves with libraries in particular while others are more general. Some of these, I have only skimmed through, while I have read/ listened to others more fully.

I enjoy most of the episodes on the “Dare to lead” podcast. It is led by Brené Brown, a researcher who is well-known for her research on shame and vulnerability. The podcast has had episodes that, although not particularly meant for libraries, have been very relevant for us librarians. Skewed power relations and toxic work cultures, but also employee activism and creative thinking + much more. I really loved these episodes:

  • How we return and why it matters (part 1 and 2)
  • Trust: Building, maintaining and restoring it
  • The dangers of toxic positivity
  • The Power of knowing what you don’t know
  • Inclusivity at work: the heart of hard conversations

Simon Sinek is well-known for his “Start with why” model. I haven’t had time to read his books yet, but I have browsed a little in both his “Start with why” and his “Leaders eat last” books, and while I don’t agree with everything, and he certainly seems to over-simplify matters, I also find some of his ideas pretty refreshing.

The book: “Speak up: say what needs to be said and hear what needs to be heard” by Reitz and Higgins is on my reading list, but not yet read. The book addresses culture at the workplace, and how leaders are encourage to say that they want open conversations without addressing the power inequality and culture issues. I’m thinking that while these issues have always been important, it is more important than ever. During the pandemic, many express that their relation to the workplace has weakened, and the statistics show that there has been a lot higher overturn in many companies. Conversations, the real ones, can rebuild some of the relationships and connections, but only if there is culture for it.

In this line of conversations, I would like to recommend Meredith Farkas’ blogpost on “listening theater”. It was a very sad, but important and well-written, story of how leaders can use “listening theater” with their employees and the almost inevitable result that can have. Farkas’ argument was that leaders might encourage feedback and conversations, but as long as none of your ideas or any of your arguments lead somewhere, you eventually give up and just realize that nothing you say make any kind of difference. Her blog post on “Slow librarianship” is also excellent.

Kaetrena Davis Kendrick showed up in a bibliography, and I was immediately interested because of this article: “Leaving the low morale experience: a qualitative study”, published in 2021. The study explores things like the role of the workplace abuse or neglect when it comes to leaving the organization, how the frameworks behind these roles are working, decision pathways during a low-moral episode and the long term effects after the person has left the workplace. The study is very interesting and particularly due to the qualitative narrative. I really think that we need to talk more about these issues in libraries.

My last reading suggestion for this post is the article “Toxic cultures are driving the great resignation” by Sull, Sull and Zweig. The authors have done extensive research on why people leave their workplaces, and found that the top 5 predictors of job attrition were: Toxic corporate culture, job insecurity and reorganization, high levels of innovation, failure to recognize employee performance and poor response to Covid-19. What I find extra fascinating about this is that most of these things could have been avoided if attention had been paid to them.

I am well aware that there are more leadership books than anyone can ever read in their lifetime, and I never meant this to be an exhaustive list. I just felt like sharing a few things I have been reading or thinking about lately. Happy reading/ listening!

Reference list:

Brown, B. (Host).(2022) Dare to lead [Audio podcast]. Spotify. https://brenebrown.com/podcast-show/dare-to-lead/

Farkas, M. (2021, 18 October). What is slow librarianship? Information wants to be free. https://meredith.wolfwater.com/wordpress/2021/10/18/what-is-slow-librarianship/

Farkas, M. (2021, 5 December). “Listening theater” and employee voice. Information wants to be free. https://meredith.wolfwater.com/wordpress/2021/12/05/listening-theater-and-employee-voice/

Kendrick, K. D. (2021). Leaving the low morale experience: a qualitative study. Alki, 37(2), p. 9-24. https://wala.memberclicks.net/assets/Alki/Alki_July2021_FINAL.pdf

Reitz, M., & Higgins, J. (2019). Speak up: say what needs to be said and hear what needs to be heard. FT Press. 

Sinek, S. (2011). Start with why : how great leaders inspire everyone to take action. Portfolio, Penguin.

Sull, D, Sull, C. & Zweig, B. (2022). Toxic culture is driving the great resignation. Retrieved 28 March, 2022 from: https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/toxic-culture-is-driving-the-great-resignation/

Stamina and resilience for teaching librarians

[Preface: I have been thinking about this subject for a while, and I really want to dive into it, but I am struggling to find the right angle. I decided to just note down some random thoughts here on my blog and see if that helps. Apologies therefore, if this seems a little unorganized at the moment. ]

I think it is safe to say that the pandemic has given much food for thought and a steep learning curve, both professionally and personally. I count my blessings every day, and I am more grateful than ever to have a lovely family, a roof over my head, a job I love (that can be done from home) and that I live in a country that, for the most part, has been relatively safe and prosperous. There have been hardships for most people the last year, including myself, but still.. I have had many privileges, and I really do acknowledge that.

I read a blog post a while back (but unfortunately, I am having trouble finding it again) about a professor at a high profile university that had flung himself off the roof after experiencing new demands and reprimands from his manager about not meeting the deadline of feedback to students. This was the second suicide due to workload at the same university. The post detailed the extreme workload they had, how many hours they worked and the totally unreasonable expectations they met from management. I have been thinking a lot about this after I read it.

While I do not think that librarians and faculty members in Norway face the amount of pressure that a lot of people in prestigious universities abroad suffer under, there is absolutely cause for concern here, too. We are seeing record high numbers of people applying for college and universities in Norway while at the same time the government are cutting budgets for the institutions. Less people to teach and support more students than ever. Of course corners will be cut. Of course we’ll see more burnout and dropouts. It is just a matter of how much and how many. Educating more people for less WILL lead to less overall satisfaction and quality, and many will be caught between a rock and a hard place. I don’t like this path.

I have been working on an online course in pedagogy for librarians this past year, and I have an amazing team of contributors with me, but it has been hard to schedule meetings and to push everyone to deliver by deadline because I know how much they have to deal with. Some of the contributors had to take over duties from one or two other staff members at their libraries while these were on sick leave or in quarantine, others have had to deal with extreme workloads and huge portfolios while developing new lesson plans, delivering lectures online and dealing with children who had to stay at home due to a runny nose etc etc. How could I “pester” these contributors to deliver content on time – when I knew the situation? The long and short of it is – I couldn’t. The course was therefore delayed 6 months (but I am working on the finishing touches these days!).

I think I may have cited this essay by Julia Glassman before, but it is truly excellent. Glassman says that the Slow Movement (Slow food, Slow Education, Slow Reading.. ) has been on the rise, and that the overall goal has been to emphasise reflection, quality and sustainability. It could easily be “translated” to a library setting.

As a teaching librarian, I have seen a lot of students over the years. They are, of course, individuals with individual needs and as diverse as the rest of the population. Catering to their needs and supporting their efforts is hard at the best of times, and during a pandemic it is close to impossible.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines stamina as “the physical and/or mental strength to do something that might be difficult and will take a long time” and resilience as “the ability to be happy, successful etc. again after something difficult or bad has happened”. I think that a lot of teaching librarians around the world has shown good stamina this past year and a willingness to make the best of things. I am, however, concerned about the long term resilience. I fear that, not just due to the pandemic, but the years of underfunding libraries and the ever increasing size of portfolios and number of students, we will not be able to just bounce back this time. I fear that, as we approach a more “normal” situation, and more students and librarians are returning to campus, we’ll simply snap under the pressure, and not be able to get back on our feet. Or will we be able, yet again, to pull ourselves back up again? I wonder..

The exhaustion of reorganisation

Illustration: colourbox.com

Some times I know I want to write about something important, but there are so many sides to the story I want to tell that I don’t know where to start and therefore I just leave it. I am still not ready to write a coherent, well-written post about this subject, but I figured I’d just have to dive into it anyway. Apologies therefore if this seems a little chaotic.

I have worked at my current library for almost 16 years now. It is a little unreal to think about it. I never thought I’d stay in any one library for that amount of time. There are days of frustration and irritation in any job, but most days I love it here. I love teaching, I love writing, I love doing research (even the days when I think “Why do I put myself through this? What’s wrong with me?!”), and I am very lucky to be working with incredible people who impress me with their skills, their knowledge and their work ethic every day. I can’t wait to hang out with them more on an everyday basis, not just seeing them on my screen for an hour a day.

The topic for this post is not about my nearest colleagues. It is about how we organise ourselves. The university library consist of 15 different campus libraries, and when the university merged with three university colleges (the one I belonged to was one of these three) five years ago, the leadership agreed that the university library would leave their reorganisation until a later stage. There were plenty of other issues to deal with first. Now that the faculties and departments have figured out most of their reorganisation issues, it is our turn apparently.

Before I move on I have to say that, this being my personal blog, of course all of these views are my own and it does in no way represent a wider view or express attitudes of any other member of the university library. There – that’s the disclaimer done..

There is plenty of literature available on reorganisation. I think almost everything I have read on the subject points to the downsides of these actions, such as employee involvement (or most commonly, lack thereof), communication mishaps, frustration, exhaustion and an ever deepening trust chasm between employees and leadership. The feeling of being completely run over or ignored is, I believe, the most common event in any reorganisation, and I would think that it is even harder to do this in an academic environment, where employees are usually highly autonomous and not as used to being ignored. No one can expect to have everything they want and to always have their opinions considered, and I do believe that the leadership is trying to do their best for the staff and organisation as a whole. It cannot be an easy job, and I appreciate the hard work they put in.

Reorganising a university library with 130 employees at 15 different libraries is no easy feat. There are different views on what the library’s role should be, what services we should offer, what kind of skillset and knowledge we should focus on, what role the library should have within the organisation (though everyone of course agrees that it should be a greater role than we currently have) or how we should spend our time. There have been two separate committees working on this before, and they have submitted their views on how the library should be organised. There have been consultative rounds and discussions for years. What I would find funny if it wasn’t so sad is that even though the committee reports have been moderate (I would even say low in some cases) in setting the bar for the future role of the library, one of the feedback on one consultative round was that the committee had over-reached in the role of the library, and being “too ambitious” [my translation]. When I read that I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time. Do we really want these people to decide our fate?

I have a lot of questions about this process: Who do we think we are? (in the real sense of the question, not the snide comment) What roles should the library have? What should we be focussing on? Do we want to remain in a “delivery on demand” kind of library or do we accept and embrace a role expansion? What can we say no to? How can we help the university deliver quality education and research? I just think that before we have answers to at least some of these questions, it is impossible to reorganise well. We have to know who we are and what we want before we can set an organisation that will also work to some extent in the nearest future. And yet, these discussions are not addressed in any joint sessions or seminars. There is talk now on what the role of the subject specialists should be, and how these roles relate to the library services. This is an important discussion, but how can we have that discussion while we have not talked about the big picture? What happens to the subject specialists and the librarians in the reorganisation? Shouldn’t we have that discussion on the roles before we reorganise?

I think my real problem is that I don’t know why the reorganisation has to happen. The number of staff in the library is reclining. The reforms by the current, neoliberalist government, have left us with less money to spend on resources, both people and access, and when librarians retire or leave for new jobs now, there is no longer a guarantee that they will be replaced. All of this is happening while more people than ever before has applied to higher education. During my soon to be 16 year at my library, the number of students have risen from 1600 to over 4000 at my campus. We have gotten one new position at the library during that time. We are six people, over 4000 students and 400 staff members, and we offer way more support and services now than we did when I started. The virtual library, courses every week, a lot more teaching and research support, library events and we are more involved in writing ourselves than we used to be. How long can we sustain this speed? How long before the chord snaps? How do we manage our physical and mental health at this pace? I fear that the reorganisation’s real purpose is to downsize library staff, and I am already exhausted just thinking about it. I love my job, I really do. I only hope that I’ll be able to keep doing it for a long time – in an environment that supports quality, knowledge, skill, empathy, competence and humanity, not just speed and efficiency.

My wish is that the library’s new organisation will be simpler than it is today. One director, the director’s staff, a coordinator for projects, and just sections based on geography. I want more autonomous groups and less bureaucracy, more grass root organisation in communities of practice (Wenger, 1998) and authenticity in collaborations – even if that means that the central leadership has less overview of the whole library organisation.

I highly recommend reading something about this subject, and especially Julia Glassman (2017) and Karen Nicholson (2019).

References:

Glassman, J. (2017) The innovation fetish and slow librarianship: What librarians can learn from the Juicero, the Library with the Lead Pipe.

Nicholson, K.P. (2019). “Being in Time”: New Public Management, Academic Librarians, and the Temporal Labor of Pink-Collar Public Service Work. Library Trends 68(2), 130-152. doi:10.1353/lib.2019.0034.

Wenger, E. (1998) Communities of practice : learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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.
Illustration: colourbox.com

Trusting sources

I have been reading quite a lot of academic texts lately, and I have been thinking and writing about what I have read. For me, writing is a way to think more carefully about what I have read and I guess it also leads to deeper learning. Some of the texts I have been reading needs more time to sink in, others have given me ideas that are more ready to implement.

One of the texts I read last week was Olof Sundin’s “Den pedagogiske bibliotekarien: Från källkritik till källtillit” [The pedagogic librarian: from criticism to trust of sources – not the best translation, it is much more catching in Swedish…]. This is a chapter in the book “Bibliotekarier i teori og praktik” [Librarians in theory and practice]. Olof Sundin is a well-known, highly cited author and professor at Lund University in Sweden. I first discovered his research when I did my Master’s many moons ago.

Sundin started by saying that false news have become a democratic problem, and that this gives information literacy a new start or maybe rather a new drive. The libraries are often assigned the role to develop their patrons’ media and information literacy. This is done in public libraries as well as in academic libraries. Still, academic librarians teach more than public librarians, and we are in a position to reach patrons.

Sundin continues by saying that there is a false distinction between theory and practice. In reality they are intertwined and co-dependent of each other. Of course. But librarians have to speak the same language as their partners for collaboration, i.e. the teachers – and this means that librarians need more pedagogic insight.

Sundin explains the basis for constructivism, and how the constructivist theories led to more problem-based learning and project work. Carol Kuhlthau contributed with important insights when she published her Information Search Process (ISP) where she included thoughts and feelings students may have when searching. Kuhlthau’s work is clearly inspired by the constructivist approach.

Socio-cultural theory promoted situated learning, and claimed that learning is not a neutral process. Meaning that if we want to teach students how to find information, they need to learn that in a situation that is relevant and meaningful to the students.

So far in Sundin’s text, I don’t think I came across anything new to me, but then he started to write about socio-material theory. I had never heard of that. Socio-material theory (sociomateriality) is not a learning theory, Sundin explained, but it is an idea on how the social aspects and the material aspects influence each other. This is of interest to librarians because we deal with the intersection of technology and people. You can’t separate information skills from the society, from technology or the material, Sundin claims. It is all connected. Sundin also writes that Kuhlthau ignores these links, and downplays the material side of the matter (e.g. knowledge on the resources as such).

Talking about resources, Sundin explains that the digital sphere changes some things. When everything is searched for and read on the same platform, it is easy to forget the importance of information infrastructure. Many of the digital resources that we use are becoming easier to use, and therefore the infrastructure becomes invisible to us. The more intuitive and seemingly easier to use an information system is, the less control we have. We now less and less about why we find what we find. The algorithms decide for us. One of the library’s tasks is to expose the all the more hidden information structures, Sundin continues.

A common advice concerning source assessment and evaluation is to compare the findings with that you can find in other sources, a kind of horizontal evaluation. But due to the algorithms, we are already in an “echo-chamber” that gives us what it thinks we want. We cannot evaluate one source at a time, as a single unit, but comparing horizontally with other sources is not enough either. We need to also include a wider context and the information infrastructure that have influenced us.

Sundin writes about how we can lose faith in established knowledge. It is possible to find single studies that supports any kind of world view. Established knowledge supported by thousands of studies, like on the effect of vaccines or climate change, can diminish in importance with people. The library can have a role here, because our collections are not algorithm-based, Sundin says. We can become stabilisers in an unstable society. “Source trust” is explained as trusting established methods in knowledge production in society and the sources of information that springs from these methods. This can be a frame of reference, Sundin said.

Well – I think it is interesting about horizontal source evaluation and that the echo-chambers influence this. I hadn’t really thought about that. I am not sure we can really help keeping or re-establishing people’s faith in sources based on our collections, but maybe I am being too pessimistic here. I sure hope Sundin is right.

IMG_2057

VIRAK 2017: Day 1 – panel debate and keynote

virak logo

VIRAK-logo: virak-konferansen.no

[I must apologize for bad spelling etc. in this blogpost. I wrote my notes in Norwegian, and I have just translated and added some thoughts along the way. I`ll proof later.]

The panel:

After being welcomed by a couple of drummers and Eystein Gullbekk from the committee, the first order of business was a panel on the academic library`s place and role in higher education. The panel consisted of the rectors/presidents of the University of Oslo (UIO), Oslo and Akershus University College (HIOA)(?) and BI Norwegian Business School (BI). The debate was led by the library director of HIOA, Lars Egeland.

The panelists held some similar views on the importance of libraries (anything else would have been a little weird considering the audience), but they differed on many of the other «essentials». A point that was made was that libraries have to keep up, but they have to do more than that. They have to understand their students – their habits, pursuits, ambitions etc. But to do that, they have to be given that opportunity, too. This came from Ottersen at UIO.

Libraries have to be a part of the overall strategy and to be included in the leadership of the school. The library should be a seamless part and so well integrated in the rest of the academic communities at each institution, that nobody should perceive it as a separate body, said Henjesand from BI. He continued that the library should be a part of the academic fold and as such in the same body as the deans (YAY!). When you place the library with the rest of the academics/ faculties, you move the discussion from the administrative questions of economic efficiency toward questions of academic development, he continued (Hey – I`m a fan of this guy already).

Ottersen said that the university have three main priorities: 1. to create a great study environment for students, 2. to make information freely available to students and staff as well as the rest of the world and 3. to help create a “common reality”, and the library has to be a strong partner in this. We should to be thinking: What is important for the university, not what is important for the library. (I wholeheartedly agree.)

Ottersen strongly emphasised the need for physical space for the libraries. He said that people often need to come together to learn. We think better together. And events like «Skrivenatt» (where students can sit in the library at night and receive help from tutors and librarians) is just one example that shows how students come together and learn in the library. Henjesand agreed – when asked: «Do we need physical libraries?» his answer was: “The short answer is YES”. Curt Rice from HIOA seemed less certain that libraries need a physical space when so much has become digital. He said that HIOA has a decentralized library structure, and that he has not heard any persuasive arguments to bring these together in one great building. (I thought that I had missed something more here, but when I looked at the recording, there wasn`t anything more said here, so I didn`t get whether he just felt that libraries are not going to need physical space at all, if he felt that it was more important to have small units in a decentralised way, or if he just didn`t like the idea of using a lot of space for a centralised library. I don`t know..)

The discussion moved on to Open Access, and Curt Rice was more active in this discussion. He strongly advocated the need for publishing open access and self-archiving. While I think all three panelists agreed that open access is a good idea (indeed, who could not?), they disagreed on who should take the responsibility for driving the development, and they disagreed on the means that should be taken. Academic freedom is the most important principle we have, so we cannot push our researchers to publish in certain journals or «bully» them into self-archiving. Should we make national guidelines? Involve the politicians? Push for international rules/ laws? Work on the publishers? Negotiate national licences? Many difficult questions here. We cannot underestimate the power that these publishers have, said Rice, and even being leaned on by the EU and North America has not decreased the profit margins of the publishers.

The library has a responsibility to help the students develop their critical thinking skills so that they are able to fight fake news and myths, said Ottersen. Henjesand strongly supported this. Ottersen mentioned Hans Rosling who was a major player in fighting myths, and Ottersen said that libraries are crucial in this work. He mentioned specifically Realfagsbiblioteket (The Science Library at the University of Oslo) and its podcasts. Critical thinking should be a separate, mandatory course or a part of a modern version of ex.phil. [mandatory philosophy course in most universities today], said Rice and Henjesand.

Henjesand said that libraries will play an important role in organizing and keeping track of the learning objects now that there are so many «new» (ok, seriously.. we have to stop calling blended learning and flipped classroom new. They`re not.) teaching methods. Curt Rice said that the library students at HIOA are being trained to handle digital materials, and that they are more than able to take on new roles as they emerge. Well, there I have to disagree somewhat with him. They do not have the necessary skills and competencies to do this without further education and experience. Most of them need mentoring when they get a job.

It was an exiting panel to watch – for a change. There was real debate on issues, and they dared to disagree with each other. Quite fresh, really. I must say though, that I was a little surprised. I think Curt Rice, whom I normally think well prepared, able to see nuance, and quite forward thinking, was rather «weak» in this panel, on other issues than Open Access. His arguments lacked his usual edge, he seemed tired and uninterested most of the time, and worst of all – he seemed to hold old-fashioned and limiting views of the library`s role. (I will give him a notice of having written this, btw.) Maybe he had a bad day? I was so surprised, because, as I said, I have always thought he had very interesting ideas on this field before. (Sorry that I am being so hard on you, Mr. Rice, but I don`t think that many people ever read this blog anyway..). Henjesand and Ottersen impressed me in different ways. Ottersen seemed perhaps to lean towards idealistic views of the library while Henjesand had more pragmatic views, but they both impressed me by being well prepared, and willing to share their opinions. Ottersen had written a blog post, too. Read it:)

The keynote:

Arnoud De Meyer: An evolving role for libraries in 21st century university

After the very interesting panel debate, the keynote was a little less interesting, to be honest. I almost never have high expectations to keynotes (excepting Tara Brabazon`s – she is such a rockstar that it`s impossible not to be impressed – more on that to come). The reason is that keynotes rarely hit the mark, and it`s a difficult job to do. It`s difficult to find something so general that it will give something to everyone, and still something as recognizable and important that everyone will find it interesting, and something so practical that there is something to take away from it.

While this keynote speaker was charming, and obviously well-read, and well prepared, I never got that «wow»- feeling of hearing an entirely new thought or getting a great idea myself. The keynote was.. well.. safe (lacking a better expression). There was nothing new there. Arnold De Meyer talked about the changes that higher education, as well as the rest of the world, has been through. The digital transformation, the geographical transformation, the changing role of technology and he asked the question «Do millennial behave differently?».

Professor De Meyer talked about how «reskilling” people is a big issue now. People change careers several times in their life now, and they have to come back to university. This is one of the things that points towards the need for a new university system, he said.

It`s all about how we can enhance learning, and not talk about teaching as much, De Meyer said. In earlier times, the students could  go to a lecture and then either sleep or pay attention, and then when the bell rang, they left the teacher behind. Presently, there are lots of diversions for the students, so it`s harder to keep their attention, but the teacher can now follow the students. It`s not over with the lecture, because the teacher is on the LMS, and s/he chases the students around these plattforms.

De Meyer talked about the library at his university, Singapore Management University. The library is extremely well visited by students. They have almost only electronic collections, and the library is considered a social space and a learning space.

So – I may have missed some things, but I just didn`t get that much new from this keynote. I would like to hear professor De Meyer talk about his own subjects areas, though. He was an experienced lecturer and engaging, despite the format.

This must be one of the longest blog posts I have ever written. Sorry about that! I just wanted to cram both the panel debate and the keynote in here, and there was so much to process from the panel debate. Blogging is, at least for me, mostly about my own learning, so I had to spend some space here while I wrote up my notes.

Next blog post from Virak will be up soon.

Sales techniques in libraries

sales-expert-skiltMy boss drew my attention to this articles in “In the library with a led pipe”(1) today: Liaisons as sales force: using sales techniques to engage academic library users.

The article is about how liaison librarians can use sales techniques to promote library services. The term “sales” often brings forward negative associations about pushy, aggressive people who just try to get you to spend money on things you don`t need. Still, if you try to rid yourself of these negative images, you can see that “selling is about helping people find solutions to their problems and challenges” (under heading “But liaisons don`t learn sales skills”).

The article lists four major elements of selling that can be used for liaison librarians:

  1. Selling is a positive and necessary part of a liaison librarian`s job: Meaning that we cannot just sit in our offices and think that the users will come to us. We need to promote our services to help our patrons. To sell something is to find out what they need and try to fill that need.
  2. Effective selling requires goal-focused interactions. This means that we have to have a goal for the conversation. Not something highly idealistic or “big”, but something pragmatic and simple, like “I want this patron to know we have access to a reference manager”.
  3. Enthusiasm for the library`s resources and services. I think this should probably have been number one on this list. We have to believe (!) in our services and their usefulness to our patrons. If you want a faculty member to book an information skills session, you have to believe that it will be useful to the students. I think this point cannot be emphasised enough.
  4. Ability to investigate the needs of the customer: meaning, we have to figure out what they really need. I think we could all probably be better at this. It`s not about what we think they should know, but what they themselves think they need.

The authors examine how to use a specific sales method, called SPIN Selling®, to promote library services. Well worth a read, too.

I`ll end here with a quote from the conclusion:

“By approaching every interaction with the mindset that it is a potential “selling” opportunity and dedicating time for effective preparation, liaison librarians can develop a skill-set that adds significant value to their user community by matching existing services, spaces, and collections with users in ways that enhance their success.” (Under heading “conclusions”)

Reference:

Solis, J. and King, N. (2017). Liaisons as sales force: using sales techniques to engage academic library users” [online] URL: http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2017/liaisons/ (18.01.17)

(1) Note: “In the library with a led pipe” is a blog that I used to follow, but stopped because I was frustrated by all the great content there that I never had time to read:) Now, this peer-reviewed blog has become an open access, open peer-reviewed journal. I highly recommend having a look at it.

Internet Librarian International 2012 – day 2

The second day of ILI2012 started with a keynote given by the new CEO of British Library, Roly Keating. Keating started his keynote by talking about his CV and work at the BBC (mostly). He went on talking about how a collaboration between the BBC and the British Library is valuable, and how researchers and the general audience can benefit from the collaboration with the digitalisation of old BBC material, made public via BL.

Keating was also talking about new forms of collaboration, mentioning crowd-sourced geo-referencing of maps as an example. There are new types of collections, said Keating, like personal digital archives (eg. an actor`s personal e-mail archives). How do we curate these for the future?

.. and that was all I was able to get from this keynote. I hope that I am not too mean if I say that this keynote held nothing new for me. It was not even inspirational. I felt that Keating said nothing that I could not have found by searching the British Library`s website. I am sorry to say it, but there it is. I expect more from a keynote at ILI.

 

C201

My first session of the day was C201: New roles. Ulla de Stricker asked the question “What will LIS students be doing in 25 years?”. “What about our future?”, de Stricker asked and continued “It all depends on how we are perceived by the society”. What does society think of us? A doctor never has to explain to people what it is that s/he does. Why doesn`t people know what librarians do?

We have a problem because we go in the “nice to have” and not in the “must have” category.

There is a mismatch between the LIS education and the reality that most students meet when they land a job in the “real world”, said de Stricker. This must be rectified.

There is no lack of professional engagement and dedication, but we have had an “inward” focus, said de Stricker. We have not been good enough at building intra-professional relationships and networks. We must be better at setting the agenda, concluded de Stricker.

I found myself nodding in agreement with de Stricker here. The problem though, is that we don`t know HOW to do this. I missed some good practice advice and some good examples here.

The next speaker in this session was Jeanine Decker from the Airport library at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. She was talking about making the library available for a larger audiece. The library started having a library service at the beach and later on they started the Airport library at Schiphol. The Airport library had 300 000 visitors last year. People can come and read, and the library lends out iPads with movies on them, newspapers etc. People are very happy with it. Watch this video about the library. Looks cool! I want one in Oslo, too!

C202

My next session was C202: new skills, new learning. Ann Östman and Hanna Kranz from Gävleborg County library was taking about their DigiLab project (see their slides). Librarians need better technical skills, and they need hands-on training in new technology, how to follow trends and social media. That was the reason why these librarians wanted to start a lab for technical support.

50 percent of Swedish 3 yr olds are online every day. When they grow up they need guides that can help them with evaluating sources etc. We need to focus on our roles as educators here.

Östman and Kranz also talked about collaborations with the local cinema. Sweden is focussing on digitalisation of cinemas and librarians are working with them to gain competence on image usage etc. Interesting!

Alison McNab continued with her talk on informal learning (always a pleasure to listen to McNab!). She was asking “How do we deal with informal learning?” Many institutions can now only afford to send one delegate to a conference. How do we teach our collegues what we have learned on conferences? How do we make the most of what we have learned?

McNab talked about Unconferences and how many have started using these methods now, like Teachmeets. The staff members are given five minutes to share ideas on good practice. In-conferences (where we use our own competence) are also more common now.

McNab also mentioned “Analog Twitter” where you can give out strips of paper that people can write on, and they can fasten it to a timeline and digitalize the timeline later. It`s fun and you get people who do not normally use Twitter to participate.

Holly Hibner`s title was “Thingamabobs and doodads”. She was talking about how librarians are technology users, and can often use it well, but that we are not computer engineers. Sometimes it is hard to see the difference between a reference question and a tech support question, said Hibner, but tech support questions are also reference questions and they should be treated thus.

Many librarians use the excuse that they do not have the time to learn something new (tech), but there are plenty of ways to pick up new things; webinars, online self-pace cources etc. It is a question of prioritising, too, and we need to invest time in learning.

There is a big difference between giving our users enough information to make an informed choice and to give them advise, said Hibner. We do not give people advice about turning off their firewall or diagnose their illnesses.

The IT department (and others) do not know what our users ask us. They should spend a day at our reference desk to form a better understanding of what we do/ can do.

 

C203

This session`s title was: C203: Everyone is learning. I`m sorry that I didn`t take better notes during the first speakers (I was a little preoccupied on preparing my own talk..), but Anthea Sutton and Anna Jane Cantrell from University of Sheffield was talking about using blogs, twitter and wikis to deliver e-learning. I`ll have a further look at their slides later (when I find them..).

Rochelle Mazar`s title was “How we stopped giving instructors what we know they need and how that changed everything” (=interesting!) She said that they had stopped giving traditional lectures. They invested in a room with movable furniture (I got a flashback to a talk I listened to in LILAC this spring. This is in now, I guess..). The librarians hand out a “survival guide” and let people get started right away. The librarians walk around as guides.

Mazar also gave us a tip. She said that while she didn`t particularly like something as low-tech as e-mail as a marketing tool, it works with staff members! The library sends out short e-mails with one tip every time (usually there is a link to a website in the e-mail) at certain times of the year (when the librarians know there will be lots of questions about the particular subject). They have never been accused of spamming, said Mazar, and staff members seem to like getting them.

 

C204

This session was called C204: Backchanneling (I never understood the title, but..), and I was giving my talk on “Using Google Forms to engage your students in the lecture“. I spoke about using Google forms as an audience-response system, and I gave the delegates the chance to participate in a live test. They were given a form with a few questions and asked to answer them, and the rest of us watched as the results came in. I also talked about using web-based polling as opposed to clickers, how audience response systems can help you keep the students` attention, and how you can store and use your data later. I didn`t have time to start recording, so I have no audio/video file to post here unfortunately.

After me, Kay Grieves and Michelle Halpin from the University of Sunderland talked about nurturing conversations between users and librarians using conversational tools (social media).

Unfortunately, we had too little time to get any real questions at the end, which was a shame because that was really interesting last year.

And that was it for this years ILI..

General notes:

I learned a few things and spoke to a lot of interesting people, so I had a good conference experience, but I think this was my last ILI. There are just too many other conferences to go to. What I missed the most this year was a more practical approach to problems. We all agree (most of us, anyway) that there are challenges ahead, and most of us even agree on what these challenges are, but there are few answers to any of the problems. I missed the “freshness” of the LILAC conference I attended this spring. Then again, maybe it`s just that it was my fifth ILI.. I don`t know.

Liked:

  • Great people with lots of different skills
  • Good wifi (thank you Kensington Olympia!)
  • Good keynote by David Lankes
  • Phil`s latest discoveries (and several other sessions, too)

Missed:

  • More “hands-on” tips and good practice stories (practical approaches are always appealing)
  • Sitting down for lunch (trying to balance your plate, glass while eating and talking= not easy)
  • Better food:)

The libraries are not in crisis

I attended the annual Norwegian library convention last week. Every other year the BIBSYS consortium and the Norwegian Library Association co-host the event, and consequently librarians from school-, public-, and academic libraries meet.

There is a general idea in libraries these days that there is a crisis going on. Many have spoken about e-books replacing the need for physical libraries and how the e-books will be the end of the library profession. As a consequence, a general pessimism and fear of the future has spread through our profession.

I therefore felt rather uplifted when Aslak Sira Myhre, former politician and leader of “Foreningen Les!” (an association to promote reading for children and youths), now leader of “Litteraturhuset” (“The house of Literature” as they call themselves..), held the keynote at the convention. I have had the pleasure of listening to him before and was looking forward to the keynote. He did not disappoint!

Some of the key issues he raised:

  • It`s silly to talk about how to get from “the Oil Economy” to “the Knowledge Economy” – because “the Oil Economy” would never have exsisted without knowledge. We cannot compete with countries in South East Asia on cost, so we must compete with knowledge; knowledge on how to use our natural resources. There, we are the experts!
  • The library works. Our patrons (Sira Myhre thinks its a stupid name, btw. We should refer to them as “the people”) are happier with the library than almost everything else where they live. The reason why it worked, Sira Myhre said, is that the libraries are placed where people live (sentralization will not work with libraries) and that they are free. But that`s not all: they are also filled with knowledge and competence – that`s a recipe to success.
  • In the 20th century, the library was all about giving access to information to farmers, women, workers etc. These days, the information flow has become a problem, and the need for librarians have not decreased.
  • Norway has been an egalitarian society, but we are on the verge of becoming a class society where the rich become “über wealthy” and the immigrants are forming a new underclass/ low working class. The library is a place where this new underclass can have access to knowledge free of charge.

That said, Sira Myhre said, even though there is no need for a library revolution, there is a need for some reformation. Libraries must work on several things, but these three are important:

  • Premises: The library must create spaces for more than book collections. The library must serve as much more these days and the library space/room must be tailored to its functions.
  • Staff: if the library will serve as a literature house/venue, the library must hire dedicated staff to organize the events. This is not something that librarians are trained to do, and it takes resources and experience to get it done.
  • Resources: Organizing good events, like debates, costs money. Politicians and other leaders must be pushed to see this. The events must be organized without influence – the politicians must not interfere with contents, even when it is controversial.
  • The librarians must leave their comfort zone and enter the turfs of their patrons; the shopping malls, the motor clubs etc. The librarians must be where the people are!

I heard one librarian I know exclaim afterwords: Now, WHY isn`t that man a librarian?!

Well.. we could certainly use someone like him in our profession..

Busy, busy..

My to do list The autumn semester is busy every year, but this year it really is crazy busy. I can count on one hand the number of days I have had without meetings, lectures etc. Don`t get me wrong, I love the pace and the steady stream of emails, phone calls and students waiting in line outside my office, I really do, but the problem is that I never have time to read up, get back to people and I feel like I am behind on all my projects.

I realise that there will always be some stressful semesters, but I am wondering: am I working slower or is the workload increasing by the hour? Judging by my “to do” list (see picture:-) it is the latter. I now have to keep that list with me at all times to make sure that it gets done. I seem to spend more and more time adding printers, fixing paper jams, setting up proxy, formatting Word documents and so on – in addition to the usual: how do I find..? How do I do..? questions related to searching and citing and writing.

I am just wondering – what can I do to make my work hours more efficient? Make more tutorials and put them up on YouTube? Make every student with a IT related question visit the IT department? Saying no to projects? (Stop blogging, you say? .. OK:)