Transition, Transformation, Tradition

This is my last post to Beyond the Bookshelves as Director of the Library and Media Center at SMCM.  At the end of the month I begin a journey north to New Hampshire where I will start work as Dean of Mason Library at Keene State College.  After 22 years here in Maryland I have been asked many times why I am making the change.

This morning my view of the St. Mary’s River is obscured by the lush green of the trees outside my window.  I won’t be here in the fall when the leaves fall and the vista changes.  Or to see the next step in slowly reducing our shelving so we can create more flexible spaces for our students.  Or to look up from my desk to see a student coming through to ask for help with a project, to ask if we can let her display artwork, or want to know why it’s so cold/hot/noisy in the library.

So I am packing up, doing my own version of deaccessioning, and feeling the same mixture of excitement and terror as the other graduates of the class of 2014.  Why move to a new position now at this stage in my career with retirement still double digits away, but within sight?  Why leave an amazing library, even more amazing colleagues, and this beautiful place?

Well, I’ll admit that there are some parts of my job I wouldn’t mind doing a bit less of.  I still have a heavy teaching load and don’t think I am devoting enough time to being a really good teacher.  I don’t want to give it up altogether, but doing less might help me teach better and give me time for other things like that research project which I have been trying to work on for the last couple of years.  And I’ll admit I am a bit relieved that I won’t have to upgrade all of my LibGuides to the new version.

New leadership in the St. Mary’s Library will build on the strong foundation we have, on the traditions and culture of the campus and the library.  And a new leader will participate in advocating for the continued transformation of the library.  And I am guessing that she/he will help move the library forward in ways that I might not even think of.

I will have the opportunity to learn the traditions of a new library and campus, and to participate in building on them and envisioning transformation for the future.  New challenges will push me to change, to think in new ways about what we do and why it is so important.

Even as I write this and look around at the boxes in my office I realize how much I will miss this place where I really became a librarian.  I hope I will make the SMCM library faculty and staff proud.  I will be watching to see what happens next.  I’ll be reading the blog.  And I will be getting to know and love a new place which will help me become an even better librarian.



Open Assess (?), Excess(?), ACCESS (!!!)

Earlier this semester, the SMCM Ethics Bowl team traveled to Florida to compete in the national finals.  Over thirty teams qualified and we had some very formidable opponents.  This is the second year in a row that a question about libraries has been among the cases that each team has to prepare.  This year the case was titled “Open Exce$$,” and it was all about the Open Access movement. 

The two team members tasked with preparing the case arranged to meet with me.  “So,” I asked, “do you know what open access is?
“Sure – all those articles we can access online.”  Not exactly, I explained. “Open access is the free, immediate, online availability of research articles coupled with the rights to use these articles fully in the digital environment.”  Open access textbooks are also included.

Open Access is the free, immediate, online availability of research articles, coupled with the rights to use these articles fully in the digital environment. – See more at:
Open Access is the free, immediate, online availability of research articles, coupled with the rights to use these articles fully in the digital environment. – See more at:
Open Access is the free, immediate, online availability of research articles, coupled with the rights to use these articles fully in the digital environment. – See more at:

That was followed by several conversations about academic journals, publishers, prices, and access.  I reminded the students that their access to pretty much all of the licensed content we provide will go away after they graduate.  We talked about limits to access at colleges with even fewer resources than we have, and in places around the world where students and libraries cannot afford subscription and license costs.  And we talked about how costs shift. The case study the students worked on focused some attention on the author fees that many open access publishers require.  Let’s face it, publishing anything requires resources (human and financial).  The Ethics Bowl case highlighted the problem of “predatory publishers.”  In order to help them learn more about how complex this all is, I encouraged them make good use of what is one of the most important sources of information about Open Access, a web site created by Peter Suber

It occurred to me early in our conversations that students, especially undergraduates, might not really feel as if all this matters much to them. After all, those JSTOR articles pop up using JSTOR, our discovery tool, and Google Scholar.  It’s convenient, at least for now.  It can be a challenge talking with faculty to talk with faculty about open access.  Librarians are expanding the dialog to include focus on the role of smaller colleges (the Lever Initiative) and on why these issues are important to all students.  The Right to Research Coalition has great information about why open access is important and how students can be active in advocating for it.

Should research be a commodity?  Should knowledge and creativity be for sale?  Should authors, artists, and composers continue to give up their rights to control how their materials are used in exchange for publication in a journal which libraries pay for?

Open access is a question for ethicists, economists, and everyone who produces and consumes information.  If you are reading this post that includes you. 




Money, Money, Money

photo by Jean O'Connor

photo by Jean O’Connor

This week the library hosts Trevor Dawes, the current president of the Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL).  Trevor  has been a strong and vocal advocate for financial literacy and the role librarians can play in helping students become more knowledgeable and more active in controlling their own financial futures.  Trevor has partnered with the iOme Challenge initiative to help librarians learn more about how we can support this effort.

I am convinced that library financial literacy is becoming as important for people who use libraries as it is for the librarians and staff who have to spend and manage money. We are using funds supplied by our institutions (and at least partly by tuition dollars) to purchase the materials that we think best support the curricula of the college and also provide outlets for reading, viewing, and listening (and sometimes gaming) that balance all that intense academic work.

Students and faculty are still often surprised to hear that the electronic version of a journal will probably cost us about as much as the print version.  And inflation affects everything.  Most people don’t think about what it costs to keep a physical book on a shelf once we buy it.  If you are a librarian, ask a class (or a group of faculty) what they estimate we spend per year on our online resources.  The responses may surprise you.  If we purchase an e-book and are unable to make it accessible to more than one user at a time, or through Interlibrary Loan, is it a better “deal” than a physical book which has some, but not all, of the same limitations?  Our economic decisions are based on more than just dollars and cents.

pennyLike all departments on campus, the library buys equipment and supplies, pays for equipment leases (yes – the Xerox machine), pays people who work here, and supports the professional development of our staff.  And like lots of places these days we do it with less money than we used to.  This means making strategic decisions, but also keeping people in mind.  It might mean buying a DVD for $14.99 which we know will make people feel good, and spending a much larger amount on a resource that is critical for the success of faculty and students.

The economic landscape is shifting.  Colleges and universities are experiencing challenges with enrollment, changes in curriculum, and increases in costs.  The more we know about how funds are spent the smarter we will be about the decisions we are faced with. Financial literacy is the key to all of our financial futures.



The Convenience Conundrum

It’s a new semester!  It’s REALLY cold!  The Library is warm and we’re glad everyone is back.  Over the break I read an article that has been distracting me.  “If It’s Too Inconvenient I’m Not Going After It” is a fascinating research article about the role of time, gratification theory, and rational choice theory in the research habits of university faculty and students. The researchers looked at how information seeking habits like using databases and at choices for getting help.

Spoiler Alert!!  The researchers found that ” . . . on some situations information seekers will readily sacrifice content for convenience.” (p.27).  Now I know that this does not describe any student or faculty member here at St. Mary’s.  Convenience was defined as choice (print or online), satisfaction with the source, and time needed to access and use.  For me, this is one of those “doh” moments. We all behave this way at some point or another.

The researchers conclude that we should purchase services and resources that “replicate” the Web and which are perceived as “convenient and easy to use.”  The “library experience” should be more like Google, Amazon, or iTunes.

Over the same break I also read a blog post from Barbara Fister which reminds us that “The order libraries create must invite disorder. This is something that is particularly important when it comes to helping students learn how to use libraries. Our systems, which were made that way, are broken by definition.  . . . If we truly thought knowledge could be nailed down in a system, there would be little use for libraries.”

So which is it?  Convenience or disorder?  Perhaps it’s both.  Over this past weekend I spent about an hour and a lot of email trying to untangle a problem a student was having accessing the full-text of an article and she was on campus while I was at home.  I finally got her the link, but discovered another glitch in the process.  The ability of our systems to talk to one another has improved but not enough.  The convenience researchers are right.  Our systems need work together better so that we don’t spend so much time trying to get “stuff” and not enough on whether it’s the right stuff.

How will that happen?  Slowly.  But what [should] happen BEFORE and AFTER we go information seeking is the same slow, intense, thought process it has always been.  Is it fun?  It can be (OK – that might just be the librarian nerd in me).  Is it challenging, sometimes frustrating, energizing? It can be.  And the information seeking itself is sometimes messy.

So I’m all for convenience as long as we don’t confuse our desire for  efficient and effective tools with an intellectual and creative journey that should always leave room for uncertainty, some messiness, and the possibility of discovery,

You Paid #(!*% For That?!?

This morning on the radio I heard a report about the impact of the next round of automatic sequester budget cuts.  Once you eliminate all of those programs that are “untouchable” there isn’t much left.  Everyone is for budget cuts until those cuts come too close to home, which for our elected legislators means impacting seniors, jobs in their districts, etc.  So who gets affected?  Sometimes it’s groups without much political clout.  Or people with jobs in public service (which can spill-over to people with jobs in the private sector).

Who decides where the money comes from?  If you had to cut 10% from your monthly spending today what would you choose?  Your cell phone service?  Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Instant Video?  Coffee and lunch out? Your electric bill?  You would have your own list of “untouchables.”  You know what you spend so you can decide what is most important and how to prioritize your budget reductions.

Budget reduction is happening on many college and university campuses.  Costs rise every year and budgets don’t always grow at the same rate (sometimes they don’t grow at all).  The only way to pay our bills is to find more money (the dreaded “generate revenue) or to cut costs.  So, like the federal government, or you, we have to prioritize, to decided what is untouchable.

But wait!  You are running the library.  Isn’t most of what you provide free??  It’s on the Internet, isn’t it?!  OK – maybe that was a bit of hyperbole.  But I bet that many students and faculty on my campus (and others) don’t really know how much we spend on the resources you need/want to help you succeed.  There are a few reasons for that:

  • Many information vendors (the companies that license our electronic resources) have a confidentiality clause in their license contracts.  That clause prevents us from discussion cost publicly.  This is a way for vendors to negotiate different prices without being transparent about the criteria used to determine the price.  Many librarians now refuse to sign licenses with this clause.
  • Librarians have been reluctant to talk about cost with our students and faculty.  Our job has always been to provide access to information, to help our community members find and use information, and to be a welcoming and engaging place.  We don’t want to sully that with conversations about money.

But it’s time for some straight talk about money.  There has been a lot of conversation among librarians lately about what we pay for our resources, especially our online resources.  You know, the ones with the 24/7 access to full-text that you love.  Librarians are asking our publishers and vendors questions about why we have to purchase big bundles of journals (more is better, right?) instead of selecting only the journals we want (can you say cable company?).

Did you know that the average book price in 2012 (according to our book vendor, Yankee Book Peddler) was $82.09 for a print book which is up 4.9% from last year, and $112.42 for an ebook.   Did you know that prices for books in social sciences rose about 7%, about 5% for the sciences, and 1% for the humanities?

Did you know that we spent about $273,000 just on electronic resources last year (not including some of our individual ejournal titles)?  Is that a lot or a little?  What are we getting for our $273k?  We get access to the full-text of about 20,000 journals (do we need that many?).  We get access to images and data from reference books online.  We have access to art images, primary source materials, and books.  Does it really cost that much?  It’s hard to know.  Even though we have the ability to negotiate for our costs, licensing an online resource is still a lot like buying a car.  Once we’re done we still don’t really know if we got a good deal or not.



So when it’s budget cutting time we look at how much online and print resources are being used and who needs them.  We consider the impact of stopping access but being able to add it again when/if economic conditions improve.  We propose buying articles on demand rather than paying for subscriptions.  We have options.

I think it is important for our students and faculty to know how we make decisions about spending our resources and why it may be important to “just say no”.  Sometimes we might cancel or decline to add a resource in order to reduce our spending, and sometimes we might say no because it’s the right thing to do.  The publishers and vendors won’t change their sales strategies without pressure from customers (that means you).  Knowledge is power.  To learn more read the blog posts linked above, or email me (  Let’s have coffee and talk.

Need career skills? Make friends with a librarian.

Lately a lot has been written about the demise of the liberal arts degree.  Many parents, students, state legislators, and others are questioning the value of a degree that aims to provide students with four years to ground themselves in a core of understanding about the world and to study one area of knowledge in depth in community with other learners.  Skeptics and critics wonder if that Bachelor’s degree is really “worth” anything, whether students graduate ready to move into jobs or on to graduate school.

When the new Core Curriculum at St. Mary’s was implemented in 2008 one of the components that the librarians were most excited about was the identification of the fundamental liberal arts skills.  We had submitted a proposal for including information literacy in the new curriculum.  In the end the fours skills were grouped together and a new mantra was born.  “All four skills, all four years.”  I resisted the urge to buy t-shirts.

How do critical thinking, written expression, oral expression, and information literacy fit together?  And why is it important to see this set of fundamental skills developed throughout all four years of a college education (in the Core and in the disciplines)?  Well, the answer to that might actually also explain why a liberal arts education in any discipline is the ideal preparation for work and career.  A number of recent surveys asked employers what skills they consider most important for success, or which they thought college’s should focus on more.  The answers might surprise you, but most librarians I know (this one included) were not surprised.

A study of employers and recent graduates from Project Information Literacy shows that employers were looking for a range of research and information use skills that includes everything from picking up the phone to collaborating with colleagues.

And check out these recent surveys.  Forbes Magazine asked employers what 10 skills they want in 20-something employees.  They said:

  1. Ability to work in a team
  2. Ability to make decisions and solve problems
  3. Ability to plan, organize and prioritize work
  4. Ability to communicate verbally with people inside and outside an organization
  5. Ability to obtain and process information
  6. Ability to analyze quantitative data
  7. Technical knowledge related to the job
  8. Proficiency with computer software programs
  9. Ability to create and/or edit written reports
  10. Ability to sell and influence others

When asked what they wish colleges would focus on most, another group of employers said it isn’t what students learned in their majors.  It is:

  • Critical thinking and analytical reasoning skills
  • The ability to analyze and solve complex problems
  • The ability to effectively communicate orally
  • The ability to effectively communicate in writing
  • The ability to apply knowledge and skills to real-world settings
  • The ability to locate, organize, and evaluate information from multiple sources
  • The ability to innovate and be creative
  • Teamwork skills and the ability to collaborate with others in diverse group settings

Hmmm  – – maybe we will start wearing those t-shirts.

What Makes a Librarian a Librarian?

If you are in the library and you have a question you can ask a librarian!  And anyone you see working behind a counter or desk in a LIBRARY must be a LIBRARIAN, right?  Not so fast.


There are all kinds of people working in libraries.  Librarians, archivists, digital media specialists, paraprofessionals, volunteers, and even
. .  . wait for it . . . students.  Can anyone be a librarian?  We librarians are pretty proud to be to members of a club which isn’t all that exclusive but which does require credentials.

All librarians have a master’s degree.  Here at St. Mary’s the librarians have degrees from different library schools (yes – we still call some of them library schools, although some have changed their names to schools of information).  We have been to U. of Texas at Austin, U. of Pittsburgh, University of Michigan, Rutgers, U. of South Florida, U. of South Carolina, and U. of North Texas.  AND – our degrees have different names including MS, MLIS (Master of Library & Information Science), MIS, MSI, MSIS, and MLS.

I have an MLS from Rutgers University.  Most of the time MLS means Master of Library Science.  But my diploma says “Master of Library Service.”  Come on up to my office if you want to see it. Rutgers doesn’t give diplomas with that name anymore so pretty soon I’ll have a genuine relic.

So how does a person learn to be a librarian?  Do we learn the Library of Congress classification system?  Practice speaking in a whisper?  Memorize the almanac?  Actually it depends.  Some library school students study how to catalog materials (organize and classify them so you can find them).  Some take classes to learn to become good researchers and to help other do research.  Some learn how to preserve materials or archive them.  These days many library school students also learn to create digital learning materials, to use social media, to blog, and to develop tools for finding information.  Some library school students write a masters’ thesis and some don’t.  Most do an internship.  Most of us take statistics and research methods.

Who wants to be a librarian?  Almost anyone!  Lots of SMCM alums have become librarians and archivists.  Did you know that the head archivist at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Museum and Archives is a SMCM alum (and she’ll be on campus later this semester).  A totally cool young adult librarian in a northern Virginia public library is an alum.  And did you know that the associate director of the SMCM Library is a SMCM alum???  Go find Kat Ryner (LI 225) and ask her about becoming a librarian.

We are always in the process of becoming librarians.  We learn lots of basics in library school and the real education starts once we get out and working.  Those graduate school courses give us a really solid foundation, get us started thinking about all kinds of issues that librarians care about (fair use of materials, copyright, open access, the digital divide).  We learn to do research and about important library journals (librarians research, write, and publish just like other faculty).

So now you know what makes a librarian.  If you want to know more, ask a librarian to lunch, or coffee. Another thing you should know is that librarians LOVE to talk about why we love being librarians.  We might make you want to be one, too.

tattooed librarian