The editor of the Journal of Academic Librarianship says “we can’t do research”

In a confusing turn of events, there’s an editorial scheduled for the next issue (pre-print is available now) of a well-known library journal, the Journal of Academic Librarianship, about why practicing librarians can’t do research. It’s confusing because it leads off an issue that’s full of research articles written by practicing librarians. It’s also confusing because the piece is written by the editor herself, Elizabeth Blakesley.

When I saw the piece pop up in my RSS reader I read it right away. It is titled, “The Constraints of Practice, or We Work in Libraries, That’s Why We Can’t Do Research.” As the co-director of the Institute for Research Design in Librarianship (IRDL) I am familiar with the barriers that librarians may face when conducting research and was prepared to nod my head in affirmation at the perceived challenges this editor must have observed in her practice. Instead I was left shaking my head in disbelief that somebody in a position as editor and senior library administrator would publish such a thing.

To get a copy of the one-page editorial it will cost you $45 if you’re not a subscriber, so I won’t link to it here. I’ll highlight some of the things that stood out to me as I read through it. The editorial is six paragraphs long.

1. In the first of six paragraphs Ms. Blakesley nods to Wayne Wiegand’s 2016 Inside Higher Ed piece about how the “issues of reading and library as place have been just as important as others, but that none of the professional library education programs cover it.”

2. In the second paragraph Ms. Blakesley laments about the LIS research community, “I’m afraid that we don’t really exist.” She notes that “librarians are by and large practitioners.” In her opinion, choosing to pursue a PhD in LIS is not an advantage because “Jobs teaching in I-Schools were never all that plentiful, considering how few there were, and programs have shrunk over the years, as adjunct faculty have been increasingly hired to handle teaching LS courses, more LS curriculum is taught online, and programs have outright closed.”

3. In the third paragraph Ms. Blakesley writes that those with master’s degrees in library science who have positions in academic libraries have “wacky job titles like ‘Professor of Library Science’ because someone is trying to make us look equivalent to those professors of sociology, chemistry or English.” She notes that we write articles in order to get tenure and keep our jobs but that our training was about “rules and processes and sources.”

4. In the fourth paragraph Ms. Blakesley comments that as an administrator she feels that she often does not have complete enough information to know her library patrons (“throwing darts at a board”), but those libraries that do have that information have achieved it by obtaining budgets to hire anthropologists.

5. In the fifth paragraph Ms. Blakesley notes that “one of the most frustrating things is usage data.”

6. In the closing paragraph Ms. Blakesley comments that “it breaks my heart to see us make the same blunders again and again, just with new technologies wearing the dunce cap. As a library administrator, it breaks my heart that we still don’t have the tools we need to fully equip our services, assess ourselves and succeed completely.”

We know that academic and research librarians and their institutions derive well-established benefits from librarians conducting research: progress toward gaining promotion, tenure, and higher salaries; advancement in the profession and recognition; receptivity to change; increased skill in managing complex library operations through systematic study; and better service to and empathy with faculty researchers (Black & Leysen, 1994; Montanelli & Stenstrom, 1986). We also know that practicing librarians are conducting research, despite barriers (see http://irdlonline.org/project-info/irdl-scholar-works-completed/ for some great examples of recent work by IRDL Scholars). It seems, therefore, an affront to all we know about how practicing librarians are actually improving the profession to have a significant journal in our field led by someone with this defeatist attitude.

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An answer to the question, “How many databases?”

I’ve joked in the past about how to answer the question, “How many databases does your library have?” (comic at http://orgmonkey.net/?p=1325) It turns out it is quite difficult to define what a database is, depending on who is asking and what the purpose of the question is. We asked people around the library to define the term and they came up with some really good thoughts about what it means for a database to be marked as a database, for statistical purposes. For us it is an important distinction to make because we are annually requested to report numbers of databases, e-books, e-journals, and other e-formats as part of a collection of national library statistics. We want to get it right, and we want to be consistent from year to year.

Until now we had been making the determination annually. We would pull from our ILS a list of all of our e-resource records and decide which were databases and which were not. You can imagine that from year to year our decision would vary, depending on which version of the definition of database we were using at the moment. This process was time consuming, in addition to being inconsistent. The problem was perfect for a system-based solution, and here’s what we’ve come up with.

In our ILS, on the record for each of our e-resources, we have created a fixed field (re-purposed from an unused field we never activated when we implemented our e-resource management system six years ago) called Resource Count. When we create a new record we will give it one of the following codes (which relates to the meaning and definition):

Code Meaning Definition
– (a dash) Not yet evaluated No decision has been made about how to count this resource.
a Not counted We don’t want to include this resource in any of our counts of databases, e-journal collections, or e-book collections.
g Other We don’t want to count this particular resource because it is included in another count.
d Database Content is disaggregated; presented primarily at the article, chapter, page, or section level.
b E-book collection Monographic content is presented at the book (whole product) level.
j E-journal collection Journal content is presented at the issue or volume (whole product) level.
c Database AND E-journal collection Journal content is presented at both the article level as well as at the issue/volume level.
e Database AND E-book collection Monographic content isĀ  presented at both the chapter/section level as well as the whole product level.
f Database AND E-journal AND E-book collection Journal and monographic content is presented at the small component level as well as the whole product level.

We’ve gone through all of our e-resource records and coded them, so when we are next prompted to report, for example, how many databases we have we can query the system to return a number that includes d, c, e, and f. Nice.

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Hello, office.

Marie's officeHello, office. The world has gone crazy out there, let’s see if we can make something make sense in here.

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“even a monkey can handle it”

I’m going to forgive that comment from the article cited below because a monkey controlling a robotic wheelchair with his mind is a pretty incredible thing.

via http://mentalfloss.com/article/76629/watch-monkey-control-wheelchair-its-mind

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Year of the Monkey

Yay, it’s the year of the fire monkey. Rock on! year-monkey

In this year, according to http://www.chinahighlights.com/travelguide/chinese-zodiac/monkey.htm, “Great unexpected fortune will find its way to Monkeys in 2016, so they will not have to worry about food and clothes.” That’s nice.

Also, “People born in a year of the Monkey often spend more time at work.” Yeah, we know: guilty. “Therefore Monkeys need to remember to take breaks to save their energy during their busy schedules.” Okay, we can do that.

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THANKS for all the book reviews

Cheryl and I have recently signed on to write a second edition of Marketing Your Library’s Electronic Resources. Hurrah, I know! We are excited to update components throughout the book and add new marketing plans. Before starting to do any actual re-writing I thought I’d take a look at all the book reviews that have been written since the publication of the work in 2013. Wow, what a gold mine your reviews have turned out to be. I’m poring through what you’ve written to see what you suggest being moved to different sections, things you’d like to see added, making notes of what NOT to change with the second edition.

If you have reviewed our book, THANK YOU. Your words inspired librarians across the world to purchase the book for their collections and hopefully have nudged a few to begin creating marketing plans for e-resources at their libraries. Now your words are helping to shape the second iteration of the work. We wouldn’t want to do this without you!

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