Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Is Blogging Scholarly Communication?

One of the more dynamic dialogs I have had with my promotion and tenure committee has been over what constitutes scholarly communication. The purpose of the academic review process is to document a record of sustained excellence in librarianship and of quality scholarship and service that is nationally and/or internationally recognized and consistent with the mission of the libraries.

Our criteria documentation states:

Scholarship is the creation of new knowledge or organization of knowledge within a new framework or presentation. In the University Libraries, scholarship usually takes the form of a publication, but it can also be evidenced in other ways, e.g., exhibits, public performances, digital resources, papers at professional meetings, etc. Creative works not related to the candidate's responsibilities will be considered as supplemental evidence of contributions to the University and/or broader community. Scholarship should be consistent with the mission of the libraries.

Criteria for evaluation will include originality, breadth of dissemination, and impact on scholarship and/or practice in the candidate's field of research. Particularly important are works that have been reviewed by peers as worthy of merit. Generally speaking, examples of scholarship which have been reviewed by peers before publication or dissemination, have higher value as evidence of the quality of scholarship than those which have not.

In doing research on blog carnivals I came across an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Henry Farrell entitled The Blogosphere As A Carnival of Ideas. The title is what caught my attention, but the content of the article has nothing to do with the carnival concept.

What Farrell discusses is how blogs have invigorated scholarly exchange within and across many academic fields. Blogs have enabled academics to connect with a larger general readership for their insight and expertise. Blogs also allow for a more relaxed discourse. (One of the concerns that has been expressed to me by the P&T committee is my conversational writing style, which is perfect for a blog...) While there are issues relating to preserving the historical record of our profession's communication, this is a technology issue and not a part of this discussion.

Blogging does have a real intellectual value. It meets the goal of scholarship and service that leads to national and/or international recognition that at the heart of the promotion and tenure process and is consistent with the mission of most academic organizations. However, blogging is not conventional academic writing. It does not fill the requirement that a publication be reviewed by peers before publication or dissemination.

I do appreciate the intent and purpose of the blind review process. In many professions the validation of research is a life and death situation. In library science what is the purpose? Is it to simply make sure submissions are within the scope of the journal? It is purely for editorial consistency? Or is the reason we pre-review is to identify those communications which are significant contributions to the profession?

The real time nature of blogging allows me to get my ideas out faster, and receive feedback faster. I am able to clarify my ideas based on often very critical comments. A print article pre-reviewed by three people may be cited over time or a blog posting that receives a dozen immediate comments and spawns a real time critical discourse on the challenges libraries are facing today, not a year ago. Which communication method is more valuable to the advancing the library as a profession?

Additionally, some of my electronic scholarly communication is more significant than if I were to hardcode my developing ideas on paper and submit them to a journal in which a handful of people may read before it may be published. It is also not uncommon for a print journal to take over a year to publish a paper. This is way too long for anyone who writes about technology issues.E-journals have shortened that turnaround time but still do not carry the same impact factor as print.

This blog isn't a site that I'll comment about the theory I support regarding the number combination that keeps reappearing on Lost. It's an integral part of my scholarly identity. It allows me to meet the criteria of originality, breadth of dissemination, and impact on scholarship and/or practice in my field of research that are required for academic promotion.

It is a mistake for promotion and tenure committees and academics in general to dismiss blogging altogether. In fact, some part of the blog concept may very well be the future of scholarly communication. Still, any junior faculty member that wants to get tenure should be careful that blogging does not eat up time that could be devoted to working on articles or a book. Sphere: Related Content

Friday, May 26, 2006

TechConnections 7 Conference

Based on my posting relating to the Librarian's Dilemma , I have been invited to present my thoughts that the TechConnections 7 conference to be held June 12 & 13 in Dublin, OH.

Billed as "Ohio's premier technology information and training conference," based on the institutions attending it is attracting public libraries. It will be interesting to see the reaction since they should have a fairly grounded perspective compared to my theortical. Nonetheless, a good forum to get feedback.

Among the other presenters on day two will be fellow open source advocate Dan Chudnov, whom I haven't seen in person for several years now. Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Carnival is Here!

OK, I must be the last blogger on earth to know about this, but just in case I'm not...

Within the past year or so in bloggerdom there has been the development of a concept called the Blog Carnival. (I have yet to undercover the origins of the concept so please comment if you know)

The blog carnival is a roving journal of sorts that showcase blog writings within a particular discipline. Think Current Cites for bloggers. The blog carnival has been adopted in certain academic circles including infosciences. It is another tool that active bloggers can use to promote and communicate their ideas.

Individual bloggers volunteer to host a carnival on their personal blog, acting as editor for that edition. Their responsibility includes collecting noteworthy items and to sorting through suggestions from the community and authors themselves.The editor is encouraged to include a short commentary to entise readers to visit the blog postings. On the appointed date (carnivals should keep to a regular schedule) the carnival is posted and shared with the community.

I have indicated to infoscience ringleader (for the lack of a better term) Greg Schwartz of Open Stacks that I will take my turn as host, which should be sometime during the summer. Sphere: Related Content

Monday, May 22, 2006

Is Change in Libraries Evolutionary or Revolutionary?

In a recent post, Michael Casey discusses Pip Coburn's book called The Change Function and supports the author's position that for change to be successful it must be continuous, regular, and almost imperceptible:

"Successful change is not the old school variety of change that comes every few years and is accompanied by massive upheavals, frightened staff, and upset customers. Successful change is constant change, and constant change cannot be discontinuous or fractured. Constant change is fluid; it’s evolutionary, not revolutionary."

However, there are those who have successfully argued that the normal pattern of successful transition from one paradigm to another in the sciences is indeed via revolution. In all fairness, I am generally in line with Michael's viewpoints. While change needs to be relatively imperceptible to the customer, the way in which the profession itself changes is another issue.

In his 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, author Thomas Kuhn discusses paradigms as they relate to scientific discovery and evolution and popularized the term paradigm shift. There are some interesting ideas that Kuhn discusses that are relevant to libraries and this discussion. While Structure has generated a good deal of controversy with many of Kuhn's ideas challenged, I feel his theories make sense relative to library science.

A paradigm is an acceptable model or pattern that gains its status because it is more successful than other concepts in solving problems. A scientific revolution occurs when an older paradigm is replaced whole or in part by an incompatible new one. When a new paradigm is revealed, the supporters of the new and old paradigms naturally argue in defense of their position. The emergence of a paradigm affects the structure of the group that practices in a given field.

This is exactly what we are are experiencing in library science. We have the emergence of a new technology driven/focused definition of what a library is and is contrasted with the existing traditionalist definition highlighted by the fact we still have reference librarians sitting at desks. The viewpoints of the two competing groups are reflected in part by the reaction to Michael Gorman's President's Message in the May 2006 issue of American Libraries.

Those practioners supporting the emerging technology driven/focused vision are creating a new community that utilizes new technologies to advance their ideas (e.g. blogging). Meanwhile, those holding onto the current paradigm fall back to traditional communication tools as evidenced in how one has to track down Mr. Gorman's piece in electronic format.

Scientific paradigms before and after a shift are so different that their theories are incomparable. The shift does not just change a single theory but changes the way that words are defined, the way that the scientists look at their subject and the questions and rules used. In essence, a new paradigm cannot build on the preceding one, it can only supplant it:

"the normal-scientific tradition that emerges from a scientific revolution is not only incompatible but actually incommensurable with that which has gone before."

Therefore it is simply not possible, according to Kuhn, to construct a language that can be used to perform a neutral comparison between conflicting paradigms, because the very terms used belong to a the paradigm and are therefore different in different paradigms. Advocates of mutually exclusive paradigms are in an impossible position:

"Though each may hope to convert the other to his way of seeing science and its problems, neither may hope to prove his case. The competition between paradigms is not the sort of battle that can be resolved by proof."

When an individual or group produces a synthesis that attracts the attention of the next generation of practioners, the older schools gradually disappear. In part, the disappearance is caused by the members conversion to the new paradigm. Those who cling onto the older viewpoint and are simply read out of the profession and must proceed in isolation or attach themselves to another group that does:

"a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it."

The next generation of library scientists graduating from library school will be hardwired to naturally accept the technology driven/focused definition of a library. As the profession's retirement bubble bursts will the next generation force the paradigm shift? Is the shift occuring now? Is this a cyclical process resulting from natural evolution or from a revolution?

Regardless, librarianship has all the characteristics of and is ripe for a paradigm shift. Sphere: Related Content

Monday, May 15, 2006

WPopac: A WordPress OPAC?

I am little late on uncovering this one. I thought I would post it anyway since it fits in with my recent library innovation theme...

At ALA Midwinter in January, Casey Bisson presented Designing an OPAC for Web 2.0 which describes building an OPAC using the WordPress blogging software. This work was the result of a very simple blog post where he wondered aloud why library catalogs should be like WordPress .

Casey's question was how to design an information service in a world rich with information services and filled with users who make information seeking — though not necessarily at libraries — part of their everyday lives. His vision was that every catalog record should support comments, trackbacks, and pingbacks. Every record should have a permalink and content should be tag-able. The look should be easily customizable with themes. Content should be available via RSS or Atom and should be extendable with a rich plugin API.

Well, he did just take in creating WPopac (WordPress OPAC) for the Lamson Library at the Plymouth State University. He explains a bit in how it all works in a self interview.

Let's set aside for the moment the OPAC functions of circulation and acquisitions and the whole issue of record migration and look at what he has done.

I have been a supporter of open source systems for libraries for some time. I feel libraries can and should find ways to leverage open software whenever possible instead of relying upon commercial vendors that essentially lock libraries into using their sustaining technologies. No matter how special we feel we are the software needs and technology solutions of libraries are really not that special.

Commercial software developers rarely develop new products until they find a critical mass of users since they need to recoup development costs and make a profit at the same time in order to survive. The relatively limited size of the library system market makes it a difficult one for new vendors to enter. This means libraries have few choices when choosing software solutions.

The affect this environment has on libraries is that many may delay innovative services waiting for commercial vendors develop and market software solutions. The reality is some solutions are never developed. In the changing world of the Internet, libraries looking to develop cutting edge services can no longer wait for commercial solutions.

The reliance on commercially supplied systems often means libraries purchase systems that meet their budget, not necessarily ones that meet their needs. Libraries often make budgetary sacrifices in order to obtain and support a system that does meet their needs. Such decisions can have a significant impact on a library's budget, staffing, and patron services. Few libraries will switch once a significant investment in licensing, maintaining, and training support for their information systems has been made.

Software vendors have created an effective paradigm that many libraries cannot afford to break away from. Library administrators need to begin viewing open products as alternatives to commercial products and as a means to break away from, if even partially, the paradigm’s grip.

Software vendors do not actually sell software; they sell licenses for users to use their software products "as is". The vendor retains ownership and all rights to the original source code that makes the program run. The vendor, and not the library, often controls functionality and user interface since software licensees often do not include the rights to make any modifications.

Library systems vendors will often customize systems at a library's request, but usually for additional fees. New features are often years in the making and are often added only after a significant number of libraries request a specific change, or have paid for the modification. Any customizations or features add to the overall cost of a library system.

Getting back to Casey.... when one looks at the number of individuals using and developing WordPress plugins and extensions and compare it to the total number of commerical library software developers, well, the numbers favor WordPress. Since most of these plugins are open for others to repurpose, the modification and addition of new functionality is a fairly quick task. Since most of these plugins are freely available the library does not have to pay for the modification, or more importantly wait for a vendor to include it in an update.

Casey's approach is important because it helps his library to break his library away from the library systems paradigm. It allows for the development and deployment of a library system that can evolve quickly and adapt to the changing needs of the library community without mortgaging it's future.

The bottom line is that libraries that wish to innovate and keep up with information technology can no longer afford to rely upon commercial vendors. As Nicole C. Engard puts it, "Where does III fit? I’d say it’s a like the crazy cousin you have to deal with because he’s family!" That's no way to plan for the future. Sphere: Related Content

Using Technology To Extend Sustaining Services

In several of my recent posts I have been discussing library innovation. One of my concerns is that libraries may be using technology to simply sustain
existing and traditional services rather than using it to innovate and create new services.

This morning I came across this photo on the Engadget site. I feel this picture may symbolize the approach many libraries take towards innovation. Here we have this great new technology that has a potential to change the way we access content, yet one must use a sustaining technology to interface with it.

This picture is actually backwards if one wants to accurately depict the approach many libraries are taking towards innovation. There should be an old Bell dial phone with an Ipod click wheel interface. Then the user would be using a new technology to access a sustaining service. Sphere: Related Content

Friday, May 12, 2006

Are Libraries Placing Value on Technology Innovation?

One could simply look at their library organization's resource allocation to determine what is valued by leadership. One can also look at their organization's processes and priorities and how they are designed to support those values.

Anyone working in an academic health sciences setting knows that a high value is placed on journals. As a result, a significant portion of health sciences library budgets are allocated to their purchase, access and management. We place this high value on journals because we are good librarians that listen to our customer's needs (ah, the Librarian's Dilemma again).

In an effort to uncover what academic libraries in general value one could look over various library statistical reports, like ARL Statistics. I decided to save time and looked over a ARL Library Trends summary report. The only part of the report that addressed innovation was:

"The Web has revolutionized the way libraries are delivering services, enabling them to offer more value ranging from remote access to online catalogs, indexing and abstracting tools, and full-text resources delivered at the user's desktop. The delivery of new and innovative services through digitization projects and distance learning technologies is transforming the brick-and-mortar library model to a virtual model. We are still in the early stages of a long transition period where a hybrid model will reign.

"These trends are largely due to the ready adoption of technological innovation and the gradual reduction of barriers to access. It is very likely that as the access model continues to offer more information at lesser cost to an increasing number of people, the ownership model may be reserved for the high-cost, low-usage information resources that are of value to smaller groups of people. Where would libraries fit into this environment? The only answer to this question can be at best speculative and at worst dead wrong."

Since these statistics do not provide a clear picture regarding innovation (I need to look at the statistics picture some more since I know that IT expenditures have been increasing) I decided to look at human resources. I looked at the ACRL Career Opportunities list from January 30 - May 8, 2006.

The assumption I am making is that libraries are recruiting librarians to support highly valued services. There are some obvious problems with this approach. For example, libraries may not recruit for such positions at the ACRL site. There could also be low turnover in these positions and they simply are not being recruited. Some of the IT positions may include dual roles not detailed in the job descriptions.

The following are the categories I came up with and their percentage of total postings:

Administrative 17%
Reference/Information Services/Outreach 16%
Acquisitions/Collections/Technical Services 15%
Subject Librarian /Bibliographer 10%
Archive/Special Collections 10%
Instruction/Literacy 10%
Cataloging/Metadata 8%
Circulation/Access Services 5%
IT/Systems 4%
Digital Library/Media 3%
Web Services/System Design 2%

Job postings alone are not evidence that libraries are not placing a high enough value on innovation. If position recruitment can be an indicator of the the value libraries are placing on services, it appears we are continuing to grow our sustaining services (ah, the Librarian's Dilemma yet again) such as reference, technical services, and instruction. The administrative percentage may indicate the retirement bubble.

In the end, library organizations that do not place a value on disruptive technologies, and do not allocate resources and processes to deal with them, may find themselves faced with serious challenges in the coming years. Sphere: Related Content

Monday, May 08, 2006

Why the Name Change?

When I first started this blog I was more focused on content than a catchy name. Since it was approaching the one year mark I felt it was finally time to revisit the name.

In his 1964 book Understanding Media, Marshall McLuhan wrote:

"the personal and socal consequences of any medium - that is, of any extension of ourselves - result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new is the medium that shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action. The content or uses of such media are as diverse as they are ineffectual in shaping the form of human association. Indeed, it is only too typical that the content of any media binds us to the character of the medium.

"The electric light is pure information. It is a medium without a message, as it were, unless it is used to spell out some verbal ad or name. This fact, characteristic of all media, means that the "content" of any medium is always another medium. The content of writing is speech, just as the written word is the content of print, and print is the content of the telegraph.

... the medium is the message because it is the medium that shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action. "

Not only does the Internet as a medium fit snuggly into McLuhan's concept, blogging is that natural human extension he refers. Blogging did not introduce the concept of personal journaling but it has accelerated and enlarged the scale, pace, and pattern in which the content is introduced into our lives. Sphere: Related Content