Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Send Button & Online Preaching

Knopf has published a new book on email and email etiquette entitled Send: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home. You may enjoy the review of this book on According to the review, "'Send' may be the most dangerous four-letter word of the 21st century."

This got me to thinking about online education, something that we're exploring in earnest here at Northern Seminary. In a recent faculty discussion, it was noted that homiletics is an example of a topic that may not translate well to an online format. Googling "online preaching course", however, turns up classes at Canyon College, The Anointed Preaching course at Christian Leadership University, and some interesting experiments by our Hare Krishna friends in Skypecast Preaching, among many others. One begins to wonder about the possibility for text-messaged sermons, sermon blogs, or pastoral twittering. Could "send" also become a four-letter word, not only in theological education, but in the e-delivery of God's word?

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Of Leaks & Library Architecture

A wise man I know once said that there are three things that one should never have in a library: a skylight, a flat roof, and a spiral staircase. We have two of the three items -- a skylight and a flat roof -- and as a result, we do get leaks in our library:

Fortunately, this latest leak is one that our maintenance crews can patch for us. Until they have a chance to work on it and then test the roof to see if it is watertight again, we are moving all of our current periodicals out of harm's way:

And that, of course, is the problem with flat roofs, especially ones with skylights in them -- no matter how well-constructed they are, water will eventually work its way under a seam or along a drainage pipe and into your building. Buckets are often a librarian's best friend. Blessed is the library whose roof is pitched: The rains come down, the streams rise, and the winds blow and beat against that library; yet it does not leak.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Women in Theological Librarianship

An article in the online edition of The Chronicle tells more of the unhappy story of Sheri Klouda, the faculty member fired from the School of Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary because she is a woman. Her story is not unique in the history of theological education, and it got me to wondering about the status of women involved in theological librarianship. Even in theologically conservative institutions, the library is often viewed as a "safe place" for a woman faculty member because the librarian often has a different status from "regular" teaching faculty. (Faculty status is a different, old thorn in theological librarianship -- take a deep breath and keep reading.)

So, as a profession, how are we doing when it comes to women serving as directors and faculty members in theological libraries? How do we compare to national statistics for librarians in general, or teaching faculty in theological institutions? The Devil is in the details, or, as Mark Twain said, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics." Coming up with statistics to compare proved to be more difficult than I anticipated.

My guess is that the American Theological Library Association has demographic information about its members, but I am not aware of anywhere where that information is published. Necessity being the mother of Invention (and Forebearance being the neighbor of Necessity who closes her window whenever Invention starts crying at night), I took a look through the 2006 ATLA Proceedings where, in the back, one can find an institutional member list that also identifies the CBO (Chief Bibliographic Officer) for each member library. While this is not the most scientific method for determining the sex of all you theological library directors out there, it was fairly simple and did not require any attending physicians. Here's what I found:

   ATLA institutional members = 259
   Male CBOs = 155 (60%)
   Female CBOs = 104 (40%)

By this point, Invention had finally quit crying and fallen asleep, so I gave up trying to find numbers for all theological librarians or theological librarians with faculty status -- if you know where to find those numbers, let me know.

The next hurdle was counting the number of male and female directors in the American Library Association, and I could not readily find that number either. ALA's 2006 Diversity Study gave me counts for all librarians:

   Credentialed librarians in 2000 = 109,958
   Male librarians = 19,463 (18%)
   Female librarians = 90,495 (82%)

The same diversity study also provides numbers just for the credentialed librarians involved in higher education:

   Higher education librarians in 2000 = 25,152
   Male librarians = 7,578 (30%)
   Female librarians = 17,574 (70%)

But nothing in the report provided numbers for just the directors of the libraries. There is, however, an article in v.11 of Library Administration and Management (1997) by William Fisher entitled "The Question of Gender in Library Management". He provides demographics for directors of both public and academic libraries:

   Total number of library directors = 17,954
   Male directors = 4,196 (23%)
   Female directors = 13,758 (77%)

To this horde of statistics, I can add two more sets of numbers: From the American Research Libraries' 2005-2006 Annual Salary Survey I found:

   Directors responding to the survey = 112
   Male directors = 49 (43%)
   Female directors = 63 (57%)

(Are some of you not filling out your surveys?) And from the Association of Theological School's 2006 Fact Book (Table 3.1):

   All ATS faculty = 3,696
   Male faculty = 2,862 (77%)
   Female faculty = 834 (23%)

Well, what a mess of numbers, and no neat way to correlate them all. I did find it interesting that my unscientific count of ATLA CBOs was the only category of librarians where males outnumbered females. Compared to ALA's 2000 numbers for all librarians, this looks suspect; compared to ATS's numbers for theological faculty, this might be seen as encouraging. I do think this is an area where, as a subcategory of the library profession, we would do well to provide ourselves with more available demographics. As much as I love my profession, I have to admit that Sheri Klouda probably would not be happier if she was a librarian, but she probably would not have been fired, either.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The FAIR USE Act -- More On the Copyright Wars

The Freedom and Innovation Revitalizing U.S. Entrepreneurship Act of 2007, H.R. 1201, is being sponsored by Congressman Rick Boucher (D-VA), Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), and Congressman John Doolittle (R-CA). The Bill states that it is being proposed "to amend title 17, United States Code, to promote innovation, to encourage the introduction of new technology, to enhance library preservation efforts, and to protect the fair use rights of consumers, and for other purposes." The Bill seeks to do this by making permanent six exemptions to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that would otherwise expire and have to be re-approved every three years.

The six exemptions allow a person to circumvent technological protections on digital media works for the purpose of:
  • Compiling digital media works for educational use;
  • Editing out commercial or objectionable material in a digital media work;
  • Transmitting a work over a home or personal network (but one still can't upload it to the Internet or redistribute it);
  • Accessing a portion of a work that is in the public domain from a compilation that is primarily of works in the public domain;
  • Accessing a portion of a work for the purpose of criticism, comment, news reporting, scholarship, or research;
  • Allowing a library or archive to accesses a work to preserve it or replace a damaged, deteriorating, lost, or stolen copy.
You can read the full text of the FAIR USE Act here.

If you would like to petition a Member of Congress to support this Act, visit ALA's Legislative Action Center.

Monday, April 9, 2007

To Fine Or Not To Fine

Overdue fines are the Scarlet Letter of librarianship. To my mind, billing patrons for the late return of materials has at least a tinge of public shame to it. The patron has been Bad, therefore he or she needs to be Punished. (Note that I am here only discussing overdue fines for late items, not a bill for the replacement cost of unreturned items -- a different matter altogether.) I know there is a lot more to library fines than just punishment. Two of the valid arguments that I have heard for library fines are that they ensure the equitable sharing of library items (no one person can hang on to them forever), and the fine revenue itself often can fund small improvements to the library that benefit everybody in the long run. (Here are two questions for you: Does your library get to keep the fine money, or does it go into an institutional coffer? If you have to bill a student through their student account, does the money make its way back to the library once collected?)

Every public library that I have ever been in has charged overdue fines; academic libraries seem to be increasingly ambivalent in their attitudes towards fines. The overhead of collecting and receipting (and arguing about) fines often is not justified by the amount collected. Many academic libraries seem to feel that it is less bother to simply withhold transcripts and diplomas until all items are returned and not sweat the day-to-day overdue items.

The whole fine process does highlight how patrons generally sort out into organized and disorganized (alternatively organized?) categories. A goodly number of the organized sort never even incur fines because their materials are always returned or renewed in time. When they do (gasp) incur a fine, they come to the library immediately to pay their $0.40. Those who are alternatively organized regularly incur fines, often in staggering amounts that would show up as visible pie wedges in their Quicken charts if they were ever to make use of a product like Quicken. Please note that this is not an indictment of the alternatively organized -- I have met enough of them to recognize that something like a library fine is just not a Big Hairy Problem to them, and they return their items when they are ready and then pay any fines owed.

There is, though, a subcategory of library patrons who resent being punished for late materials and who work very hard to get any and all fines excused or reduced. These patrons can be in either the organized or alternatively organized category -- I have heard long and complicated explanations of why someone should not be charged $0.20. When this combative personality type overlaps the alternatively organized category, though, librarians encounter some of their thorniest patron problems. Especially if the person in question is a faculty member. The legacy of unreturned items, multiple billing notices, and account blocks is further demonstration of the 80/20 rule -- 20% of your patrons will cause 80% of your billing problems.

In a theological library, I have often felt that there is also a pastoral function to charging overdue fines. It is one way to identify the combative personality type where what is at the heart of the matter is not a question of who returned what when but a question of whether someone is willing to submit to another authority, even as puny an authority as the seminary librarian. When faced with the seminary student who rails against a fine, my response is often to overlook the fine while asking the patron to reflect more closely on his or her calling. That may or may not be a good enough reason to continue the practice of charging overdue fines, but it remains a fairly effective litmus test.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Attack Geese

I confess that there is not anything theological about this post. It can be filed under the general heading of "Stuff That Happens In Libraries". Or, in this case, around many buildings in the midwest. I'm not sure what the origins of corporate ponds are, but by constructing so many of them, we have created a marvelous artificial environment for Branta canadensis, the Canadian goose:

Because of our temperate climate in the midwest and disruptions in their migratory routes due to vehicular and air traffic, these geese have become non-migratory, or, as they are often called in the environmental literature, "resident". (Can "entitlement" be far behind? Beware of activist geese forming voting blocks in your area.)

Spring is the time when a young goose's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love, so midwesterners everywhere must put up with naked geese cohabiting in their front yards. Or by their front doors, which often happens at our library. Being naturally territorial and stoked on female goose pheremones, the males become quite aggressive this time of year. It is not uncommon for patrons leaving our library to have to suddenly backpedal back inside the library or make a quick dash down the hill toward the parking lot with a goose in hot pursuit. Students attempting to take a shortcut across the quad are often re-routed by the charge of the goose brigade as papa goose comes hurrying out from behind the hedge, hissing and snapping. Goose poop removal is practically a full time occupation for our maintenance crews. We have tried various goose abatement programs from destroying eggs to jumping up and down and yelling to small dogs, but so far, the geese have maintained the upper webbed foot. The best we can do is aim for a policy of segregation, making sure that everybody knows their place:

Thursday, April 5, 2007

A New Tool In the Copyright Wars

I was pleased to see in the Chronicle's Academe Today an article about a new Copyright Renewal Database at Stanford University. It appears that this database could be an invaluable tool for tracking down the copyright status of books published in the "gray years" from 1923-1963.

In spite of the much publicized efforts of Google Book Search and Microsoft Live Book Search, we are still a long ways away from having everything online. In the humanities in general and in religion and theology in particular we will still be dependent on a vast historical corpus for a long time to come. And judging by the kinds of publishing data to be found in places like YBP's annual book price update report, we are still building the modern corpus at record rates. It could be 120 years or longer before we will have online access to these materials. Stanford's Copyright Renewal Database is a laudable effort, but there are still many battles to be fought in the copyright wars.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

LCSH Incarnate

I have been enjoying the active discussions on the recently formed Future of Subject Headings list run by the American Library Association. The Library of Congress has already abandoned keeping track of series headings; now we are nervous that subject headings may be the next thing to go.

Of course, librarians by constitution tend to be a bit nervous. We enjoy predicting our own doom, and have been doing so regularly for quite some time now. Whether it was Melvil Dewey attempting to standardize library practices, the advent of the card catalog, the end of the Mansell project (somebody did finish it, right?), ordering catalog cards from OCLC instead of Library of Congress, the end of Prism, keyword searching, or predictions of a post-literate society, we have been sure that the Next Big Thing will spell the end of professional librarianship as we know it. (Click here for a delightful article about touring the Vatican library, including reminiscences about the Vatican's first card catalog.) Add to that budget cuts, spiraling serial prices, and animated librarians, and it's no wonder that some of us aren't sleeping so well these days.

Thus the discussion of subject headings on the Future of Subject Headings listserv. If most students use keyword searches to find their materials, why do we need subject headings in the first place? Subject headings may make librarians happy, but what do they do for the average library patron? The Future of Subject Headings list has already generated an impressive analysis of what is both good and bad about subject headings. Like most good/bad lists, the things that are good or bad about subject headings are heavily dependent on context. The Google-ing down of search strategies is going to force us to change--again--the way we teach students to search for resources; the role that subject headings will play in the future will to some extent depend on how well we can adapt the controlled vocabularies of LCSH to a keyword-based environment.

Which brings me back to the threatened demise of librarians. One of the luxuries of being a theological librarian, particularly in a seminary context, is that you get immersed in religion and theology in a way that makes it easier to navigate theological resources by feel. It's a deep subject, and we Protestants have done our best to make sure that areas like ecclesiology are as complicated as possible. (Have you ever imagined a world where you would only need the term "Church" and everyone would know what you were talking about?) But it is a manageable subject, and with time, there is a growing familiarity and capability with the terms and history of theology.

So, too, with any discipline that any librarian loves and spends time with over the years. Because we are librarians, we may never gain the subject expertise of a practitioner in our field, but because we are librarians, we do gain a facility with navigation--with association--that allows us to organize and locate good resources. We are LCSH incarnate. No one of us holds the entirety of the Big Red Books in his or her head, but we know our own areas, and we are very good at collaborating. We may not control the budgets and the programming that will determine whether LCSH survives another generation, but people who want to find resources in a sea of information will still be glad to have us around.