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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Intellectual freedom

Intellectual freedom is the other major topic for the week. The main themes of this chapter are access to information and books, selection vs. censorship, confidentiality, and ethics. That’s a lot of ground to cover. Here’s what you should take away from the chapter. Libraries, Archives, Historical Societies, and Museums should collect a wide range of materials within their mission and collection development policies, and make those materials available to their patrons. The materials should cover the subject in a balanced manner. For example, if you acquire materials about abortion, you need to include items that support abortion and are anti-abortion. Here’s another example. There was a long and difficult debate amongst librarians about collecting “Holocaust Denial” materials. Should libraries collect materials that say the Holocaust never existed?  In the end, the decision was yes, they should have such materials balanced by all the materials about the Holocaust, otherwise, how would historians and researchers know what the deniers were publishing and arguing.[1] I’m certain you can come up with other topics where you need balanced coverage.

I don’t want my blog to turn into a written lecture, so let me reflect here a little about intellectual freedom. The topic is really about providing access to all types of information, to making certain that those who seek information can find it in the library or archives. Now we may request that individuals come to the library or into our special collections, but the information will be there to share and use. This means that you, the librarian or archivist, need to give the information to the patron. You also need to be neutral in your comments, and to provide balanced recommendations. When I was in library school the prime example was encyclopaedia recommendations. You might give a patron World Book because the articles are simple to read, there are pictures, and the information is easy to get at. On the other hand, Encyclop√¶dia Britannica provides in-depth coverage of a topic at a higher reading level. If a patron wanted to know which was ‘better’, that was the answer. No evaluation, no preference. Today, I’d say the same is true of Wikipedia, it is fast, has pictures, etc, but you need to balance that with whether the links work, go where you expect them to go, and who contributed the article. FYI, the basic info for Wikipedia was from the 1911 Encyclop√¶dia Britannica, imagine that! Can 1911 information be current?  They built up from there.

I think it’s difficult to always be neutral, but that’s what the codes of ethics teach us. We must provide access to all, and balanced information. Perhaps that’s the crux of the matter when we deal with internet access in the library. Should we filter or not? A sticky issue that hasn’t really be resolved.

In the end, we can only be fair, equitable, balanced, and as neutral as possible when providing resources to answer questions. And we need to protect the rights of our patrons who come to the library seeking information and not wishing anyone to know what they sought. Anonymity is important. That’s why circulation systems delete the information about what you borrowed when you return the items, and why librarians fight against the government when they want to know what you borrowed, or who borrowed which books. Intellectual freedom is a hot topic in libraries, especially since 9/11. Protecting the freedom to ask for information is an important component of the field.

[1] For some discussion about the topic see two sites that discuss what holocaust denial,, and one about the premier holocaust denier

Monday, January 30, 2012

Information and documentation, a most confusing topic


This week you will read about information and intellectual freedom. The two topics go together because they look at the creation or identification of data that will become information, and access to the information. Personally, I found the two articles about information difficult to understand, but then I’m not a theorist, I’m a practitioner. The way to approach the articles is to think about how YOU deal with information, how you interpret data to make it useful to yourself and your patrons.

Perhaps the best way to think about this issue is to consider the ways you use data to justify or support an argument. Do you look at each data element to see how it informs a whole? Do the data elements provide context or background? Buckland’s discussion of dead birds as documents is actually a continuation of the pamphlet by Suzanne Briet (where it talks about the antelope as text) called Qu’est que la documentation? [1] Buckland wrote another article that’s perhaps easier to understand.[2] Let me try to explain the concept using simpler terminology because the theory is difficult for me to put into practice.

There’s a notion that images are also texts. I have encountered this notion in art history and photography. When we look at an image, we learn a lot about a society or the individuals within the image. We see clothing, modes of transportation, goods, buildings, expressions and more. Using the image we can begin to understand the event it depicts, the people it portrays, and that time and place. Think about photographs of the Civil War, or your wedding, or the birth of a child. All tell us about the event and the participants. What I’ve done is applied the theory of documentation or information to the real world. I’ve shown how it can be used. Now, let’s back up to the photograph and consider the data. There are people in the photo, who are they? What are their names? What was the event? What are they wearing? Those are some of the data elements. When you catalog the photograph, you might include some of that data, especially if you are cataloging the data into a database where researchers are looking for people or clothing of a particular era, or they want images of particular types of buildings or cars. The data elements can be combined to provide background or context for the researcher. If I understand the theory correctly, that makes the data into information that can then be used by the researcher to become knowledge. See if you can apply the theory about image as document or text to this photograph of workers in a cigar factory. By looking at the images we learn how cigars were made, the types of equipment used, the working conditions, and more. The images document the factory and the processes of making cigars. All the photos can be considered data, or information, depending upon your perspective. I hope this example helps make more sense of the articles. Let me know.

[1] Reviewed by Jonathan Furner, “What is Documentation? English Translation of the Classic French Text” (review) Libraries & the Cultural Record, Volume 43, issue 1 (January 31, 2007), p. 107-109 [available through Kentlink].

Friday, January 27, 2012

Type of Libraries - a wrap up


As a wrap up for the week, we read and heard lots about Librarians and our roles within libraries and other cultural institutions, particularly how librarians deal with technology.

I thought you might enjoy watching these four short YouTube videos about librarians and IT professionals. You can watch the first three in any order. Save the fourth for last.


Personally, I use technology as a tool for my writing, my teaching, and more. I don’t really see myself as a techie, yet I have decades of experience. Where I see technology fitting into librarianship is my ability to use technology to find answers. By that I mean, I use databases and catalogues to find the information I seek. I am less interested in designing the databases and catalogues, their structure and how they work. But give me a database and I’ll figure out its method of madness, its order, arrangement, and access points. That’s the skill I’ve cultivated for print and digital reference tools. What about you?

And now for some comic relief: A cute video about books at play

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Independent Librarians

Someone asked me to expand upon what it means to be an independent librarian.  In my case, I take on private contracts to perform research for companies and individuals. Most of my research is done in cultural institutions and courthouses around the state.  I use the internet to confirm that resources are in particular locations, and then travel to the site to use and consult the primary sources. In some cases, I use digital collections, but for the most part, my clients want me to consult the actual items.  Some independent or free-lance librarians / researchers search for information about companies and products. That type of research is usually called "corporate intelligence". I don't know how many of this variety of researcher is still out there. They were pretty rare in the early 1990s when I started my research business.

Where do I get clients? Well, I do some subtle advertising and then I have my website. Most of my clients come from referrals from other clients and librarians. I've been doing this a long time, so I have lots of happy clients. It's a fascinating way to use my degree and keeps me fresh.  What I love most about being "independent" is that I get to use libraries and archives. I have a really good idea of what researchers need, which institutions have the best materials, and how to ask questions. I can interact with all types of librarians and archivists and learn more than I ever imagined. 

Here's where I put theory into practice. I use research materials. I think about how they work and are arranged. Then I teach about the tools to my students. In the meantime, I'm probably reading about the tools and the documents so I understand how the agencies and organizations collected the information, why they wanted it, and what they did with it. Then I can apply that historical context to the documents and think about how I can use them or teach them to my students.

I apply my library research skills to my work every day. There's never a dull moment.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Reactions to Reflective Journals

It's late and I've just finished reading all the journals.  I continue to be overwhelmed by your comments and ruminations. I've had requests for some idea of what you are all writing about.  Most of you commented on the Library of Alexandria and what a loss the fire was. I'll agree. It would have been wonderful to have all that literature and knowledge. Fortunately, we have hints in other writings of what was in the library and can reconstruct, or have reconstructed some of those writings. Others are lost forever.  Whenever I think of the Library of Alexandria and it's loss, I wonder about whether all our digital materials might be lost if there's some massive war, or power surge, or something to that effect. Maybe I've read too much science fiction over the years. A Canticle for Leibowitz always comes to mind when I think loss of collections, so does Fahrenheit 451. If you haven't read these books, you might have read others like Dies the Fire by SM Sterling or The Giver  by Lois Lowry. What would happen if the knowledge of the world was lost.  Too depressing a thought for this late at night.

What else did you focus on for week 2. The convergence of libraries, archives and museums played havoc with most of you.  Consider "Special Collections" within libraries and that might help with the idea of collections with many types of materials.  I don't think the three types of cultural institutions should merge, but there are such animals out there.

Many of you voiced concerns about the profession and respect by others for librarianship as profession. It's an age old problem of image. You'll see lots of discussion in the literature which includes salary, inequality of the sexes, appearance, and reputation. Maybe you are the generation which will fix this problem.

I want to reiterate that there's no right or wrong with the reflective journals. They are for you to ruminate. I"m just reading and commenting.  Do think of substantive issues to write about. Problems that concern you. I'll do my best to respond and comment. 

Now, on to my next posting.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A variety of libraries

If you found Dr. Byerly’s description of the Library of Congress intriguing, you can read more about the amazing institution in a new book out about the Library of Congress which is a compilation of articles. Mary Niles Maack, editor, The Library of Congress and the Center for the Book: Historical Essays in Honor of John Y. Cole (Washington, D.C. and Austin: Library of Congress and University of Texas Press, 2011). The articles were originally published in a special issue of Libraries & Culture 45 no. 1 (Spring 2010) and are well worth the time to explore.  Or you can read Jefferson’s Legacy: A Brief History of the Library of Congress If you want more suggestions about books about libraries, you can explore my website on the history of libraries

I think the history of libraries and the development of the many types of libraries is fascinating. Underneath all the differences, the similarities stand out. Libraries serve their publics and patrons, they provide access to information in all its various forms and attributes, and they help disseminate that information to any one who asks. Individuals who seek knowledge and information can not only find it at the library, but also educate themselves. It is up to the user to take advantage of what’s inside the library and what can be accessed through the library. As the 21st century progresses, we’ll see many more changes in terms of how information is accessed and assessable.

When I was in my public library just this morning, I decided to explore the various types of reference materials on the shelves. There were so many sets of reference volumes, I was overwhelmed.  What impressed me the most was the scope of subjects; from Concordances to Encyclopaedia of Art, from Literary Criticism to bibliographies of authors, and from books about animals to biographical sketches of athletes. It is my hope that the library will continue to collect such wonderful reference resources in print as well as online. Of course, my favorite section is library science, just kidding. I actually made a bee-line for the fiction today and am going to indulge my interest in books about librarians and researchers. There are many such mysteries. Let me know if you want to try some.

Yesterday, I was exploring the State Library of Ohio and all it’s wonderful resources. They serve the employees and residents of Ohio, collecting many diverse subjects. Just a few years ago, they offered 40,000 genealogy books and resources to the public library saying that the State Library wasn’t in the genealogy business. Now few come in person to the library although many call for their specialized resources.  What does the State Library hold? Well, they are the full depository for Federal government documents and state documents. They have almost everything that was printed and distributed through the Federal Library Depository Program (FDLP). Government documents contain the written and now digital accounts of the workings of our government (Congress, President, Supreme Court, Cabinet, Federal Agencies, and more). Government documents libraries and divisions play an important role, keeping the citizens of the United States informed as to the workings of government as stated in the Constitution. If you want to explore what Congress did today, check out . When I started out as a librarian, I was fascinated by government documents. I continue to teach about them and the rich resources hidden within. Government documents librarians are a fascinating subset of the profession. If the field interests you, seek out a practicum in one of the ‘special’ collections in university libraries.

Monday, January 23, 2012

A diversity of library types

Week 3 – The PPT podcasts – seem to cover the topic thoroughly. That said, I don’t feel that there’s a real reason for me to review these programs.  What I’d like to address is how the different libraries differ in terms of Mission Statements and Collection Development Policies. These comments are generic. Before I begin this, let me define Mission Statements and Collection Development Policies, the two key documents for any library and every library collection. Any decision you make should be supported by these two policies.

Mission Statements describe the overarching reason the library exists and the audience it serves. This policy is usually very broad and often ideal.
Collection Development Policies define the types of materials collected to serve a variety of users. The institution many have many collection development policies; one for each department or division.

Academic Institutions support the research needs of graduate students, faculty, undergraduates and administrators/ staff and support the curriculum. They collect to support the various departments and programs, and the research needs of their students, faculty, and staff. The collections are broad and deep.

Public libraries serve the community. They acquire materials to support ERI (which we’ve discussed already) to their community. We should not forget that public libraries also support school curricula in the area. They purchase materials to entertain, educate, and inform in a wide variety of formats. They provide training and educate patrons as needed. The collections are usually broad and not deep, unless they are also a research library.

School libraries serve their teachers and students.  They collect materials to support the curriculum, the needs of teachers in the classroom and background materials for teachers. They also collect materials for students, both educational and recreational.

Special libraries (corporate & organizational) serve their organization and their members. They acquire materials about their field. The collections are very narrow and usually very deep. They serve their employees and members.

Special Collections, Archives, Museums, and Historical Societies all have their own missions and collection development policies. They usually collect more narrowly and deeply than academic libraries.

What do I think? There are many types of libraries. They have different flavors and serve diverse user groups. I think they are all exciting places to work in. Some are busy, some slower. The busier libraries are exciting because there is never a dull moment. The slower libraries provide opportunities to get to know your patrons and their individual needs.

 Having worked in all types of libraries as a librarian and as a researcher, they are all interesting and different. I loved working in the public library because it was always busy, always a challenge. At New York Public Library, I was always on the reference desk and always answering questions.  It was quite a challenge. After I worked in a public library, I went to an academic library at the University of South Dakota. Wow, was that a different experience. The reference desk was slower, except at night and before final papers were due. I spent less time on the reference desk but worked closely with faculty. I went into the classroom and taught about our subject specific resources. I had to know about the specialized resources in all the disciplines. It was the first time I worked in an LC library. Before that all libraries I used were Dewey Libraries, except for the research libraries of New York Public Library. At the University of South Dakota, I taught faculty and graduate students about online searching, and ran all their searches myself. Those were the days when librarians and highly trained specialists searched very expensive databases. Eventually, I brought CD-ROM databases to the library to replace microfilm loops. (Ask me sometime and I’ll explain what that resource was). From there, I worked in a special library, at the State Library of Ohio. There I provided very specialized reference as a consultant, serving librarians throughout the state.

In each position, I needed to use my knowledge to help patrons find what they needed.  Listening was so important. If I didn’t listen carefully, I couldn’t determine which resources would help the patron answer their question. I had to know the types of resources in each library, and the types of questions they might ask, or the types of questions the resources could answer. In each case, I had to educate myself and learn all about their reference tools.

When I work as an independent librarian, that is as an researcher for others, I have to know what types of resources in each library or archive so my time is used effectively. It’s always fun to discover a new resource or figure out how a set of records works.

There’s always something to challenge the mind when working in different types of libraries and with different collections. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to libraries and their collections. They change and they evolve, and sometimes there are ‘hidden’ collections, forgotten collections, and highly specialized materials. Outstanding librarians know their collections and their users.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Writing to Learn - Reflective Journals

I want you to think about the journals as an opportunity to learn while you write. What do I mean? Well, if you want to hone your ideas, you need to express the ideas. In the world of librarianship and academia, that means writing about a subject. I use my journals and my blogs as an opportunity to ruminate about a subject and then analyze the subject, and finally to come to some conclusion about the topic that I want to share or explore. That’s what your journals can be for you.

William Zinsser has a great book Writing to Learn which talks about using the writing process to formulate theories and then hone them into usable ideas and debates. Ultimately you will learn “how to write – and think – clearly about any subject at all.”[1] Check out his book and see if the process works for you.  If you want something more fun to follow, Spilling Ink helps you start writing one word at a time.[2] That’s all it takes. The basic idea is that in order to write a polished paper or memo, you have to start with a rough draft. How do you get there? You start with words and ideas, shape them, revise, think, write, repeat. Your journals are an opportunity to do just that; think, write, revise, think, redraft, repeat.

[1] William Zinsser, Writing to Learn (New York: Harper & Row, 1988).
[2] Anne Mazer and Ellen Potter, Spilling Ink (New York: Roaring Brook Press, 2010).

Technology - new & old

In your reflective journal postings, many of you asked me to talk about my own experiences and provide more personal reactions. You also asked that I talk a little about the themes I saw in those journals.

Remember that I’m working a week ahead of you to prepare my lectures, aka video podcasts, then I’m posting my blog in “real” time. So the previous posts are mostly about week 1.

In week one you were all getting used to the technology, BB LEARN has its own quirks and disadvantages which you are slowly mastering. For many of you, this is your first time in an online class so the technology adds to the learning curve.  So far, so good.

As librarians, we need to be able to work with new and old technology. I treat technology as a tool, which it is. It’s just like learning how a reference tool works. I have to know how to open it, save my place, save information or take notes, and what all the buttons do. For books, it’s what the parts contain and how to access them. Embrace the technology, explore different reference books, read different genre of fiction. To me, it’s all the same.  I read almost every genre, I love to listen to books, e-books are tough because my eyes get tired, but not my ears! If you treat software programs and technological devices just like new reference tools, you’ll find your own comfort levels.  The great thing about technology is that there’s always someone else who knows more than you do.  Oh wait, there’s always a librarian or researcher who knows more also.

Librarianship and Information Science is all about finding information through a variety of access points. Computer programs and computer devices are just access tools to information and entertainment. Try them, experiment with them, and develop a comfort level. Consider the time an opportunity to learn.  Consider it a teaching moment for yourself.

Would you be surprised to find that I don't have many of the electronic / technological devices you have?  Part of me wants to be disconnected from the constant barrage of information. Yet, I seek knowledge all the time.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

This is an impromptu blog post. I just finished reading all your reflective journals and I'm overwhelmed. Not only with reading them all (I'm exhausted), but with your ideas. You all have great ideas, great questions, and insight. I cannot wait to see what you think of this week's readings.

Keep using the reflective journal as a sounding board, a place to talk about what you are thinking. Remember you don't have to discuss all the readings. Use the journal as a place to think about the issues that arise and bother you or spur you on to a new way of envisioning librarianship.

I'll post something more coherent tomorrow that responds to your posts and your ideas.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Libraries - where do they fit?

This week focuses on the history of libraries from the ancient Near East to the present, from archives and records centers to today’s amazing libraries, archives, museums, and historical societies. The textbook takes us on a whirlwind tour of the very first libraries and archives to those in the medieval and renaissance periods. It then jumps to the United States and focuses on the mission of libraries. I’m not certain that the two halves of the chapter go together. They do provide an sense of the evolution of libraries and the materials that are housed within.  Since I teach entire courses on the history of the book and on the history of libraries, it’s not fair for me to emphasize one aspect of the chapter over another.

My overall reaction to the readings is that libraries and archives haven’t changed all that much over the millennia. They still collection the knowledge of the world and make it available to those who come looking. Whether we call the institution library, archive, record center, or museum, it’s all about making the information and the resources available to everyone. In the same manner, you as a librarian and information professional should seek knowledge where you can find it, learn a little about everything. The MLIS is just the start of a life of learning, of seeking, and of sharing information and knowledge wherever you can find it. I’ve said before that librarians should know a little about everything. I think this series of readings about the history and overall mission of libraries reflects that drive, to know or collect a little about everything. As we read on semester, we’ll see that different libraries collect at different depths and breadths, but that’s for next week. As a mantra, let your curiosity rule, learn, explore, read, surf, talk, discuss, and share, most of all think and reflect on what you’ve learned and apply it to the next bit of knowledge.

Want to read more about the library at Alexandria and other libraries in the ancient world? There’s a new book about these ancient and medieval collections. Try Stephen Greenblatt The Swerve. The first three or four chapters talk about a library at Herculaneum and also the Alexandrian Library.  There are other, more scholarly books such as Lionel Casson’s Ancient Libraries. Michael Harris wrote a textbook on the history of libraries from which Dr. Rubin cites many examples. These books and many others discuss not only the libraries but how we know about them.

Now I want to take issue with one of the readings, the one by Melvil Dewey.  The citation at the top of the page says the article is from 1989, but it was written in 1876 in the inaugural issue of Library Journal. You should know that Melvil Dewey died in 1931.  He founded the American Library Association in 1876 and “changed librarianship from a vocation to a modern profession.”[1] There’s a nice biographical sketch of him on OCLC’s website . What I think is most interesting about his speech is that it rings true today as it did in 1876. Libraries and museums have similar overall missions.

Merging or converging libraries, archives, and museums. They can connect art, records, and text. A prime example is the website at the University of Pittsburgh Special Collections where they have linked the Audubon Bird plates with the accompanying text “Ornithological Biography” (See the link on the right side of the page)  . For the first time, this library connected the images with the extensive text, all in a digital environment. Scientists, biologists, historians, environmentalist, and other researchers can study the two texts together. They were published separately due to British copyright and deposit laws of the early 1800s; a story for another day perhaps.  

This interconnectedness is a perfect example of what the web can do for scholars. It brings disjunct and discrete collections together into one virtual place for study. Just like this class, we are all separated by distance and yet, together in the virtual ‘classroom’.

It is important to consider the evolving nature of libraries, archives, and museums, and historical societies for that matter. Where do they all fit within the world of cultural institutions? How will librarians and information scientists work within these institutions? Most importantly, what future can we create that keeps us relevant for our patrons? I don’t have the answers to these weighty questions. I’m not the person who will change the world of cultural institutions. I’m a person who navigates the sea of information and makes sense of it. That’s my role as a librarian and educator.  What do you see as your role?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Making Time

I promised myself that the blog would be reactions to the readings and assignments, but I need to talk about time management first. 

There’s a certain convenience to taking a class online. You can do the work at your own pace each week and learn in your own style, sort of.  But taking an online class requires discipline. You must discipline yourself to do the readings, to log in every day and look at discussion posts, and respond to your fellow classmates. Set up a schedule each week and stick to it.  One day to read the materials, one day to post (by Wednesday), one day to respond (by Sunday), time to do the assignments. One assignment requires you to go somewhere and observe, one to talk to a professional, one to read serious, scholarly journal articles, one to look at a website and evaluate it.  All that takes time.  It’s different than going to class, discussing the materials with the professor during the lecture / class period. You have to make the time each week.  If you are taking several online classes, then you really need to schedule them. 


How much time should you be spending on the course? The rule of thumb is 3 hours for every credit hour. That means spending 9 hours a week minimum on the course. If you aren’t spending at least 6 hours a week, then you aren’t working at the class.  Going to school is a job. Your job. And it’s your job to focus on the work at hand, the assignments, and interacting with your fellow students. You should work on the class when you are fresh, not at 3am, not at midnight.

Yes, I have to spend more time than that each week on this course. It’s a new one for me, so I have to do all the readings, think about your assignments and what I want to see out of them, read all your postings and then post grades. I have to create a video podcast and talk to you. And I’m blogging. That’s lots of work.  At least 10-15 hours per week.
Believe it or not, I’m teaching three courses this semester, one online, one in person, and one point to point. That’s lots of work, lots of teaching, and lots of time. Put a life and a commute on top of that, and I’m working hard.

Okay, that’s enough about time management.
One more thing. I have office hours. Come see me, or chat with me. Send me e-mail. If you want to meet at a time other than Tuesday 11a-1pm; 4:30-6pm. Let me know. I am around.  I’ll also have office hours in Columbus 4-5 on Wednesday afternoons starting Feb 8. You can see me there.

We are all going to have a great time this semester learning from one another about libraries and information centers.
Now I’m going to take some time to think about my next blog on the history and mission of libraries.