Friday, January 28, 2011

the library literature landscape

I've got a book chapter assignment with a March deadline looming. The topic: digital initiatives and interdisciplinarity in academic libraries. I'm doing a literature review to get my head around the state-of-the-art thinking in the area. The process is awkward and cumbersome.

There is the library literature, which I often access through Library and Information Science index to which we subscribe. I also search Google Scholar.

When I find something, I often need to ILL it. The article usually arrives in a day or two in a more or less readable form generally scanned from the print. From the perspective of communication between scholars, this seems backward on so many levels. The whole ILL model of redigitizing content that is already digital but behind a paywall is a bizarre one, though I must admit it works on a pragmatic level.

I'm not a utopian who thinks that every journal even in our sector needs to be free to access. Just give me the ability to subscribe in one package for a reasonable price to all the important literature in the field.

Another category of literature is the report published by a nonprofit organization: CLIR, ITHAKA, OCLC, ACLS, etc. These are often data rich and useful.

And then there's the blogosphere, which come to think of it, I haven't tapped much. I'm off to Google Blog Search...

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

digital initiating

Jeff Leonard is Lewis & Clark's sole instructor in Electronic Music. Last week, Watzek Digital Services Coordinator Jeremy McWilliams and I met him in his studio, a tiny dark triangular room with three iMacs in it that is often packed with students because of the popularity of his courses. Jeff told us about his student projects and his ambitions to archive the best of them and we bounced around some ideas for creating a site that would do that.

He observed that students in the last few years are much more aware of copyright law and the whole concept of appropriating content. They know about creative commons licensing and some even know who Lawrence Lessig is. He showed us this student project, which is somewhat emblematic of that trend.

Yesterday Jeremy and Visual Resources Coordinator Stephanie Beene and I had lunch with Garrick Imatani, our Foundations professor in the Art department. Garrick's ideas for digital projects include a site that would support digital means of delivering art work, kind of like this one; pairing up a group of students with a parallel group in another part of the world to do an art project using a division of labor that would mirror and perhaps invert the one we see in current global trade; and building a website that would act as an exchange, archive, and curriculum generator for the emerging genre of Social Practice art.

These are just a few of the ideas that have been bubbling up following our digital scholarship workshop. Indeed, the most rewarding part of doing library digital initiatives is the opportunity to tap into the creative intellectual energy that abounds within a campus environment. We look forward to some of these initial meetings leading to future collaborative digital projects with the library.

10 years on

As I mentioned in a previous post, this retrospective piece I put together on Watzek Library afforded the opportunity to present some developments in the library over the last ten years. Some of the trends probably mirror those in other academic libraries:

The number of journals to which we have access expanded due to online aggregations of journals, while the cost of individual journal subscriptions rose substantially. Between books, periodicals, and online services (that is aggregated online resources like JSTOR or Lexis Nexis) online services grew the most as an expense category. If we see this shift continue, it could have big implications for our operations as the time it takes to manage big aggregations of electronic resources is much less than managing individual physical or electronic items. The general trend of aggregating supply of information resources could shake our foundations.

Visitors to the library were down by about 20% since 2001. Given the increase in online resources for research both library provided and on the open web, one could read this as a sign that our library building is still a vibrant place for study, events, gatherings, etc. It still certainly feels that way. So I'm looking at it as 80% full rather than 20% empty, but it does raise the question: are we getting the most we can of the space if its utilization is dropping somewhat?

Reference questions are down over the decade by over 50%. My interpretation here is that the mechanics of doing basic research have gotten simpler. Students can find a few articles on a topic without the kind of complexities that were required in the past thanks to full text, link resolvers, etc. At the same time, our one-on-one research consultation service is more popular as is library instruction sessions. Perhaps this reflects a more complex research environment or more ambitious student projects.

One interesting figure is our book checkouts. Despite the shift to electronic information in so many arenas, they have remained steady at about 90K per year over the decade. Activity on our Summit borrowing service, which gives us access to all major Northwest academic library book collections, increased by about 20% over the decade as that service expanded to include a much wider universe of materials. I think this reflects the continued primacy of the monograph in humanities research even at the undergraduate level. As we delve into e books more, we could see a shift, but we haven't yet.

Major growth areas for the library included Special Collections, digital initiatives and visual resources. These are just a few of the highlights from the report, which I won't post publicly since its a sort of internal working document.

Friday, January 21, 2011

what winter break?

As interim director, I was particularly relishing the prospect of winter break: a week and a half uninterrupted by any workplace distractions. My family took a vacation in Bend to get off the wet streets of Portland and into some real winter. Skiing, sledding, brewpubs and a hot tub all was part of the package. It was a great getaway, though I must say that introducing a 2 1/2 year old to winter sports with all the requisite gear is quite a handful. He liked the hot tub though. On my last day there, there was just enough time before check out for me and our dog Charlie to drive up to Wanoga Snopark and skate ski a couple laps with a breathtaking sunrise out over eastern Oregon as a backdrop. Since then, it's been back to reality.

That reality has involved two sizable projects both of which were due on January 13th. The first one was to come up with a report that identifies strengths, challenges, and potential future directions for our beloved Watzek for our faculty library/educational technology committee. This report was intended to inform our faculty and administration of possibilities for the library in light of the interim director situation in which we find ourselves in. Looking back over ten years was an interesting exercise and I hope to share more of it.

The second project was a digital scholarship workshop for faculty at Lewis & Clark. The library has been building a portfolio of digital projects, many faculty driven. I blogged about this phenomenon last spring. Our sponsored research officer and I put together this two hour session to bring new faculty into the fold and gauge interest in a bigger campus initiative around digital scholarship as we have seen at places like Hamilton and Occidental. We held the workshop on January 13th with something like 20 faculty (representing at least 12 academic disciplines in humanities and social sciences) and 9 academic staff on hand. Not bad for our little college.

There are other things on my mind as well, but these two initiatives have jump started my year.
Happy 2011.