Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Laws, Sausages, and Statistics

I have just completed the annual task of compiling library statistics for ATS and ATLA a little later than usual, but still before the deadline. I should preface what follows by stating that I like statistics. I like being able to break complex processes down into neat rows of numbers and then lining up those rows of numbers on a spreadsheet. It gives me a secure feeling inside to see all that data marshalled into an eye-friendly format that can be surveyed historically for trends and changes. (Yes, I was one of the popular kids in high school.)

But there is that nagging feeling that an awful lot of ambiguity falls by the wayside when statistics are made. What about the book that comes with full PDF accessibility on a web site for registered purchasers? Did I purchase a book or access to a book? And if I purchased both, how much did each cost? If the publisher helpfully threw in a CD plastered inside the back cover, how do I record that much less circulate it? (Answer: Throw out the CD, and no one will ever know.) Then there are those misleadingly simple numbers about staff and staff salaries. I had one year where a part time professional librarian quit part way through the year. Do I then measure her contribution to staffing totals as 1/4 of a librarian? Or 5/12? The Devil is in the details, which means that there is something diabolical lurking in the white space around those neat rows of numbers.

What is especially troubling to my orderly soul is that we then construct empires out of aggregates of these numbers. "Peer comparison" is one of the benchmarks for how we're doing. It is always much easier to compare yourself to your peer when they are a compact, distant set of numbers, not a flesh and blood institution with crows feet and callused elbows and a host of other minor imperfections that jump out at you. I can say with great confidence that all the libraries in all the ATS schools reported total holdings of 49,280,000 volumes in the 2007-2008 ATS Factbook. (Don't believe me? You can double-check that fact -- I double-dog dare you.) The correlation between that number and the actual number of volumes in all of our libraries ... let's just say I hope that NASA doesn't depend on it to calculate the trajectory for the next Mars mission.

But, like many of my colleagues, I have turned a stony countenance toward those ambiguities, guesses, and WAGs and have now submitted my tidy spreadsheet of numbers to be laid quietly to rest in orderly rows with everyone else's numbers. In addition to being like laws and sausages, statistics are also like cemetaries. It's better not to dig up what lies beneath.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Room for Lots of Librarians in St. Louis

This is the lobby of the Millennium Hotel in St. Louis where the American Theological Library Association will hold the opening reception for their annual conference during June 17-20, 2009.

I'm in St. Louis right now meeting with the Education Committee and the Annual Conference Committee to plan what is shaping up to be an excellent conference for next summer. What follows is a brief pictorial preview of what everyone will be able to enjoy in June.

The conference will be in the Millennium Hotel:
with a great view of the Arch from the North Tower rooms:
One of the highlights of the conference will be our day on Concordia's beautiful campus when we will be able to enjoy seeing the Luther Tower with its 49-bell carillon:
Wartburg Commons:
Share in worship in the Chapel of St. Timothy and St. Titus:
And, of course, browse the books, art, and Reformation materials in the library:
A picture from inside the library:
Luther Tower reflected in the fountain outside the library:

I'm looking forward to seeing everyone in St. Louis in June.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Many Returns from Hurricane Ike

I know that most of us in the geographic region of the country known as Chicagoland have little to complain about compared to those of you in Texas and other parts of the country that bore the brunt of Hurricane Ike's fury. But I did see in a weather map on Saturday evening that Ike had pushed bands of rain across the Midwest and even as far north and east as Buffalo, NY.

When I came into the library Monday morning, I was surprised to find that four boxes of books in my office had been soaked by a leak. I can't even blame this small-scale disaster on that venerable achilles-heel of libraries: our flat roof. Instead, we evidently had a strong enough west wind to push the heavy rain in around a window with cracked glazing. (Though our flat roof and clerestory also leaked as they usually do.) On the positive side, instead of being boxes of new books to be added to our collection, these were books that had been culled from donations to go toward our book sale.

At the moment, we're still drying out in the Chicago suburbs and laying on more sandbags while waiting for some of the area rivers to crest. I pray that other libraries damaged by Ike will recover quickly.

Friday, September 5, 2008

My Thoughts On Google Chrome (FWTW)

Since I have sometimes posted on things Googlish in this blog, I thought I would mention that my first experience with the beta version of Google's Chrome browser was less than ecstatic.

Until I tried Chrome, I had no idea how prevalent Macromedia's Adobe's Shockwave Flash is. Chrome definitely has a bug when it comes to the Flash plugin. I found blog postings where other people claimed that reinstalling Flash solved the problem for them, but that certainly did not work for me. On the positive side, every time Chrome put up an error message in response to the Flash bug saying that it would have to close, it never did close, and I could continue my browsing uninterrupted. I just couldn't see all the pretty, flashing pictures. Maybe that's a good thing.

I also did not experience the blazing speeds that some bloggers were talking about, especially for library-type applications like OPAC searching or pulling up result lists in WorldCat. I did find the option for the default phishing filter and turned it off, which noticeably improved speeds, but my perception was that it was still taking longer than either IE or FireFox to display results pages.

People have already started finding security flaws, and there was the EULA flap over the early version of Google's agreement that stated in section 11.1,

"By submitting, posting or displaying the content you give Google a perpetual, irrevocable, worldwide, royalty-free, and non-exclusive license to reproduce, adapt, modify, translate, publish, publicly perform, publicly display and distribute any Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services."

The kinder, gentler version of 11.1 now simply reads, "11.1 You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services." (Remember "Don't be evil"?)

I also missed the ability to install my toolbar that lets me lookup words on easily plus a number of other standard browser amenities like decent bookmark management.

In short, I think Google Chrome has a long way to go yet, and I uninstalled it. (Kudos, Google, on the cute uninstall message--"Was it something we said?") I'm sure I'll be coming back for another look, though, once more of the rough edges have been knocked off. I wonder how long until the library vendors start listing Chrome as a supported browser?

And the Winner Is . . .

After having been gone on a lovely vacation in Colorado and after having unburied my desk at work, I am now prepared to declare the winner of the Longest Thesis Title Contest:

Congratulations to Eric Benoy from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary for submitting the winning entry, weighing in at 289 characters (including spaces and punctuation), a Ph.D. thesis title from 1993:

An investigation of the roles of the Baptist Association of Greater New Orleans, the Louisiana Baptist Convention, and the Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention in the planting of selected churches and missions in lower socioeconomic neighborhoods of New Orleans, 1950-1991

Look for this contest to reappear next summer when you, too, could have a chance to claim the coveted title, The Person Who Submitted The Longest Thesis Title On That Blog Thing.

(All contestents in this year's program have received honorable mentions and a no-expenses paid trip to Anywhere They Can Afford To Go. All decisions and awards depend on the arbitrary skills of the blogger to paste titles into Microsoft Word and hit <ALT><F> and <I> and are final. This contest is not endorsed by Microsoft® or by Bill Gates, who never wrote a thesis in the first place.)

Monday, August 4, 2008

Longest D.Min. Title Contest

It's that time of the year when we are working on processing the new D.Min. theses. A quick query of our catalog turned up one thesis title from 2001 that was 207 characters long:

Development of an educational program of Christian formation for the Baptist Church of Quintana, Hato Rey, Puerto Rico to deal with the racial and ethnic prejudice in the congregation and the local community

What's the longest thesis title in your library? To be sporting, I'll allow Ph.D. titles as well.

Best Wishes to William Patry

William Patry has announced the end of his Patry Copyright Blog.

For the past four years, William Patry has provided a well-written inside look into the messy world of copyright legislation. In an area where most of us are as much at sea as beginning Hebrew students are with BDB, Patry gave us intelligent landmarks by which to chart our course when trying to understand copyright. Anyone who has interacted with copyright law cannot help but appreciate the reasonableness of his postings even in areas where there are disagreements. His writings have given me hope that people can (and sometimes do) apply common sense to copyright laws.

Sadly enough, however, he cites as one of the main reasons for discontinuing his blog that the current state of copyright law is too depressing. It is hard not to agree with him. He writes, "Copyright law has abandoned its reason for being: to encourage learning and the creation of new works. Instead, its principal functions now are to preserve existing failed business models, to suppress new business models and technologies, and to obtain, if possible, enormous windfall profits from activity that not only causes no harm, but which is beneficial to copyright owners."

Copyright law affects education and especially affects libraries as we gain access to more digital resources. We will need more voices like William Patry's if we are to ensure the availability without prohibitive cost of the resources our students need.

Friday, August 1, 2008

What's Wrong With Students Today?

Today's online Chronicle Careers is an article by Thomas H. Benton entitled "On Stupidity". In it, he briefly reviews a spate of books warning of America's burgeoning anti-intellectualism. He then lists a number of complaints that come out of his own direct observations as an educator. He sees too many students who are:
  • Primarily focused on their own emotions — on the primacy of their "feelings" — rather than on analysis supported by evidence.
  • Uncertain what constitutes reliable evidence, thus tending to use the most easily found sources uncritically.
  • Convinced that no opinion is worth more than another: All views are equal.
  • Uncertain about academic honesty and what constitutes plagiarism. (I recently had a student defend herself by claiming that her paper was more than 50 percent original, so she should receive that much credit, at least.)
  • Unable to follow or make a sustained argument.
  • Uncertain about spelling and punctuation (and skeptical that such skills matter).
  • Hostile to anything that is not directly relevant to their career goals, which are vaguely understood.
  • Increasingly interested in the social and athletic above the academic, while "needing" to receive very high grades.
  • Not really embarrassed at their lack of knowledge and skills.
  • Certain that any academic failure is the fault of the professor rather than the student.
Among other things, he proposes,

"We need to reverse the customer-service mentality that goes hand-in-hand with the transformation of most college teaching into a part-time, transient occupation and the absence of any reliable assessment of course outcomes besides student evaluations."

I was struck by his recommendations, coming as they do from an undergraduate, university perspective, as they are similar to issues that we are discussing at our seminary. I spent three profitable days last week at a Higher Learning Commission workshop on making student learning assessment a core institutional strategy. Graduate theological education faces many of the same trends and challenges that Benton notes above.

I also increasingly feel the importance of one solution that he does not mention in his article: Libraries can play a significant role in addressing student learning barriers. To the extent that higher education today is trying to make (keep?) education a marketable commodity by side-lining traditional learning environments, it often does so by also diminishing the role of the library. Libraries are significant places of learning, and librarians are well-positioned to engage student interest in learning at that most critical stage of learning: research and discovery.

To misquote Shakespeare, "Stupidity, sir, does walk about the orb like the sun, it shines everywhere." Libraries are one place, though, where stupidity's light grows dim.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

To ATLA: A Modest Proposal

I had an earlier posting proposing the creation of a digital repository for theological librarians. I have now discovered another reason why we should create such a repository: It would be a great way for ATLA to make some extra money.

According to The Chronicle, the American Psychological Association is going to start charging its members $2,500 per article to be deposited in the PubMed Central depository. "“The deposit fee of $2,500 per manuscript for 2008 will be billed to the author’s university,” the policy says."

Interestingly enough, the link to the new policy now brings up only a brief notice: "This page is currently under review." Maybe charging members exorbitant fees for sharing information isn't such a great idea after all.

Monday, July 14, 2008

OPAC Disease?

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the library: Many thanks to the students at Mary Gates Hall for demonstrating the presence of fecal coliform bacteria on the keyboards in the library and computer lab as reported in The Chronicle.

Yet another variant on The Name of the Rose -- don't lick that thumb after hitting the space bar!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

In Short, We Need More Space

One of my college professors used to use a humorous speech called "A Speech For All Occasions". It began with the phrase, "A funny thing happened to me on the way to the meeting," and built from there to make the point, "In short, we need more funding." The rest of the speech was made from clichés and stock phrases cobbled together in a way that almost made sense.

I sometimes feel like my reports on the library could make use of that speech. Instead of funding in general, though, my plea usually boils down to a specific plea for space. I do not think I am the only librarian facing this issue.

I saw in the OCLC announcements that a new OCLC staff blog has been started: Metalogue. The July 2 post is titled, "Library Preservation: Managing the Collective Collection Over Time". In it, Janifer Gatenby summarizes what many of us already know -- publication of print items continues to expand at unprecedented rates. She mentions the staggering statistic that the British Library reports a growth in shelving of 12 kilometers--pardon me, make that "kilometres"--per year. As a result, more libraries are making use of off-site storage, creating a need for better metadata to assist patrons in selecting appropriate records when they cannot examine the physical items.

To put it bluntly, there has not been a "peace dividend" yet to the digital revolution, at least not for monographs. I am aware that many of our state universities have divested themselves of back runs of periodicals that are now available on JSTOR. For a theological library, there is the option of discarding back runs of journals digitized by ATLA, though there are still niggling difficulties caused by title-specific restrictions on the use of e-journal articles found in aggregator databases. Once you abandon ownership of the physical copy, you are solely dependent on the mercies of the publishers as to how your digital content may be used. For monographs, though, there is nothing in sight yet that is going to relieve us of the obligation to own paper texts that are not in the public domain. And the number of monographs to be acquired only increases each year.

In short, we need more space.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Good Libraries & Good Students

Having just returned from the better part of a week in beautiful Ottawa, Ontario at the annual American Theological Library Association Conference, I find myself re-energized for the daily work of being a theological librarian, serving as a steward for the collected resources of the theological disciplines. I was interested, then, to see the following report in The Chronicle this morning: "More Top Students Answer the Ministry's Call.

According to The Chronicle, from 2000 - 2007, the Lilly Endowment's Programs for the Theological Exploration of Vocation gave $176.2 million to 88 church-related colleges in order "to help students explore the relationship between faith and work, to encourage talented students to consider entering Christian ministry, and to prepare the faculty and staff members to help students think about work in new ways."

While The Chronicle does not provide statistical evidence of the Program's impact, it does offer anecdotal evidence from two of the institutions who participated. Russell K. Osgood, president of Grinnell College, states, "we have seen an uplift, not a huge increase, but an uplift, both in the quality and in the quantity of students who consider ministry and do it." And Hastings College, in Nebraska reported, "In 2001, the 1,100-student college had only one undergraduate majoring in religion . . . By 2007, that number had climbed to 42. In the same time period, the college saw 12 of its students go into seminaries."

Our own seminary benefits greatly from the charitable work of The Kern Family Foundation whose Kern Scholars Initiative funds the seminary education of students 27 years of age or younger with cumulative GPAs of 3.25 or more. Initiatives like Lilly's Programs for the Theological Exploration of Vocation and the Kern Scholars Initiative are designed to attract top students to consider full time ministry as their first career choice.

Which brings me back to the role of theological libraries in stewarding the collected resources of the theological disciplines. I am not trying to say that older or second-career students are not excellent scholars or are not interested in a life of learning. But I am saying that if our seminaries want to see programs like the ones mentioned above bear fruit, they need to invest in top faculties and excellent libraries. Organizations like the Lilly Endowment and the Kern Family Foundation believe these goals are worth significant investment; I believe our institutions, which benefit from these investments, should follow suit.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Information Commons: A New Concept?

For my final roundtable of the conference, I attended the Information Commons roundtable led by members of the Information Commons staff from Asbury Theological Seminary. Last year, quite a large group attended their presentation on the Information Commons model; this was a much smaller group interested in continuing the conversation about how Asbury has made the Information Commons model work for them.

Asbury established their Information Commons in 2003, but, due to faculty demand, they added a Faculty Information Commons (FIC) in 2004. The FIC is staffed with four people drawn from other parts of the library and information technology areas: one librarian, one person from I.T., one person from media services, and one person from ExL, the extended learning program using Moodle for online courses. The FIC supports around 50 full time faculty members plus many additional adjuncts, assisting them with online course development, providing media services, and training them in the use of software and media devices. The result has not only been greater collaboration with the faculty in teaching and learning, but a greater horizontal collaboration across library and information technology staff as well.

Jared Porter and Paul Tippey also shared a number of observations based on Transforming Library Service Through Information Commons, by D. Russell Bailey and Barbara Gunther Tierney. According to Bailey and Tierney, institutions that move from the traditional separation between Information Technology departments and the library to a shared Information Commons model go through four stages:

I. Adjustment level -- there may be a computer lab in the library, but its functions are separate or it is run by library staff.

II. Isolated change -- library computers include more productivity software, and there is some integration of staff functions across departments.

III. Far-Leading change -- the library and I.T. share in collaboration with faculty, and the boundaries of the library become functional rather than physical.

IV. Transformational change -- there is full integration of library and I.T. functions, and the resulting Information Commons is an active participant in the educational mission of the institution.

As institutions move through these four stages, the tendency is for service models to become less data-centric or collection-centric and to become more user-centric in both their accommodation for user needs and their presentation of I.C. services.

I have not read Bailey and Tierney's book, and listening to the Asbury staff, it is clear that the Asbury I.C. is a vital part of Asbury's educational program that is successfully meeting the needs of both faculty and students for both library and I.T. services. I do not, however, understand the assumptions behind Bailey and Tierney's four stages. It sounds to me like a false dichotomy between a poorly managed library and a well-managed one. Even before the advent of the Internet and I.T. departments, a library's mission was never defined by the walls of the library building. Librarians have an excellent track record of serving both local and distant information needs through interlibrary loan, consortial arrangements, and document delivery services. As is abundantly clear in the ATS standards, the library is and has been a vital part of the educational mission of the institution. Close collaboration between library staff and faculty in teaching and learning is the assumed norm, not something new that dropped down from heaven with the advent of the podcast.

To the extent that the I.C. model eliminates information silos and departmental turf battles, I think it is a wonderful model. One reason the Asbury I.C. model is as successful as it is is because they have also ensured the continued delivery of traditional library services. In addition to their cross-trained I.C. staff, they also have full time librarians who are available for reference and research assistance not provided by the front-lines workers. I hope someday to be able to visit the Asbury I.C. as it looks to me like it has been carefully thought out and creatively designed. I am reassured to hear that in the midst of their many technological and departmental transformations, they have also continued to offer the educational services that librarians have always offered even without the I.C. model.

People of the Book

The most thought-provoking seminar that I attended during the conference just happened to also take place on the last day of the conference. I am grateful to Anthony Elia from the JKM Library for his presentation, "Beyond Barthes and Chartier: The Theology of Books in the Digital Age". By interviewing seminary faculty members and researchers, Anthony uncovered some of the emotions and somatic connections (my phrase, not his) that people who do research in theology and the humanities have for that amalgam of cloth, glue, pressboard, paper, and ink called the book.

I cannot do full justice to everything Anthony had to say in a blog posting--you will have to wait for the annual Proceedings to come out in order to read his paper in full. I will summarize, though, the seven qualities that the responders to Anthony's questions value in books:

Tactility--the physical interaction between skin and book.

Proximity/Spatiality/Kinesthetics--you have to be present to appreciate a book; using a book grounds you physically.

Duration--maybe you could call this "boundedness". Books are linear (even if you cheat and read the last page first) with clearly marked beginnings and endings.

Sensorial aesthetics & sacral nature--the responders were impassioned on this point, even claiming that there was a sacred experience in imbibing a book equal to or transcending what they experienced in church.

Semiotics--the mere presence of books can communicate symbolically; academics tend to define themselves by their books.

Society; anthropology and sociology of books--books are objects that have literally formed our culture.

Identity/Extension/Embodiment--the anthropomorphism of books. As Anthony pointed out, most people do not feel distress when confronted with a broken computer, but a torn, damaged, or desecrated book can evoke strong emotions.

One response to all this is to conclude that if you ask a lot of loopy theology profs these kinds of questions, you get a lot of loopy answers. It would be interesting to know how faculty in science or medicine might answer these same questions. Or how I.T. professionals would answer these same questions. There is a great picture of someone hosing the mud out of servers after the 2004 flood at the University of Hawaii. I remember wincing when I first saw that picture.

Being a loopy theology person myself, though, I resonate with many of these attributes that other scholars appreciate in books. Particularly as a theological librarian, I am immersed in the printed word in a way that I am not immersed in anything else, especially since I have no television in my home. I do believe that human civilization predated books, and I believe that human civilization might outlast books, but I cannot escape a gut feeling that it will be a different kind of civilization should books go away. If there is something out there that is better than a book, I am all for it. But if it is a choice between a book-based culture or one that is solely formed by the evanescent images of mass media, I would echo the words of John Wesley, "O give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God!"

Some More On Libraries & Facebook

This morning's roundtable was about Facebook. Roger Loyd, Michelle Spomer, and Emily Knox each shared some of their experiments with Facebook and with creating Facebook Pages for their libraries. Michelle noted that Facebook has recently surpassed MySpace in terms of the total number of users, with Facebook having over 124 million users compared to over 115 million users on MySpace. MySpace, though, has the largest number of users within the United States--70 million compared to 35 million U.S. users on Facebook, which means that Facebook has a much wider global membership. Users 25-years and older are the fastest growing segment of Facebook users.

In the past year, Facebook has made it much more clear that organizations are intended to create Pages rather than Groups for their members who then become "fans" of the organization when they choose to join the Page. It is still not immediately clear, however, how to create a Page for your library--you have to click on the "Advertising" link at the very bottom of the screen and then click on the "Create Facebook Page" button on the right half of the screen. Note that you do not have to use your main or personal profile when creating a Page. Many people who create Pages for their organizations do so with a minimal or professional profile that they maintain separately from their personal profile.

Several applications were recommended for Facebook Pages:Many of us were also impressed with Emily's demonstration of to aggregate all her email, Facebook, and chat messages in one easy-to-manage application.

If you are a theological librarian interested in Facebook, please join the Theological Librarians Facebook group for ongoing updates and links to new resources.

Friday, June 27, 2008

ATLA in DSpace: A Digital Repository Proposal

I am grateful to Tracy Powell from the Pitts Theology Library at Emory University for initiating a roundtable discussion on establishing a digital repository for theological librarians. Her presentation took us through the basics of what a digital respository is and some of the advantages of DSpace as an open source program for establishing a digital respository. We then had a good discussion of whether there is a need for a digital repository for theological librarians.

One question that was raised was whether a wiki would be a better solution for our needs than a digital repository. It depends, of course, on what kinds of materials theological librarians would like to collect. Something like ALA's Professional Tips Wiki provides a fund of common wisdom on library issues. A wiki, though, is meant to be an evolving document reflecting the contributions of a community; a digital repository is meant to be both an archive and an access point for resources created by individuals and distributed to a community. In my opinion, we need more than just a wiki.

Another question that was raised was whether we could piggy-back on an existing repository. E-LIS (E-prints in Library and Information Science) and dLIST (Digital Library of Information Science and Technology) are two existing repositories dedicated to the needs of the library community. Again, speaking strictly for myself, I think the needs of theological librarians are distinct enough that we would be better served by our own repository.

One reason we would be better served by our own repository is the question of copyright. Institutional repositories are positioned to force an eventual change in publisher attitudes toward the ownership of copyright. Experiments like Harvard's open-access requirement for its faculty have the potential to return copyright ownership, if not to authors, at least to their academic institutions. By establishing our own digital repository for theological librarians, we would have control over how copyright is managed and what items are made publicly available and what items are located in a dark archive with restricted access. We would want to encourage contribution to the repository as widely as possible across our profession. Should a copyright conflict arise, say, due to the eventual publication of material that had previously been in pre-publication form in the repository, we would want the flexibility to honor member copyright obligations by controlling how that material is stored and accessed. We need our own digital repository if we are to have that level of flexibility.

Finally, we already have a number of collections that could provide a solid core on which to build a theological librarianship repository. The Cooperative Digital Resources Initiative, the annual Summary of Proceedings, Theology Cataloging Bulletin, and resources collected by Interest Groups like the Technical Services Interest Group could all be collocated and simultaneously searched in a repository. I do not know how our Publications Committee is going to provide access to the new Theological Librarianship journal, but a digital repository would also be an ideal way to preserve and provide access to this publication.

It remains for us to find an avenue to raise awareness about the benefits of a digital repository and construct a proposal that would be attractive to ATLA or to some other institution that would be interested in hosting this kind of a resource. I look forward to further communication from Tracy to all of us who attended the roundtable discussion, and I invite your responses to this posting if you are interested in seeing this project move forward.

News Flash 2: EBSCO/ATLA Digital Archives

It was announced at this morning's Town Meeting that EBSCO is partnering with ATLA to provide a digital archives collection. This announcement has also been released through various online forums. From the June 27 Religion News Service release:

"EBSCO has partnered with American Theological Library Association (ATLA) to provide new collections of historical monographs and serials in digital format. ATLA Historical Monographs Collection: 19th Century, ATLA Historical Monographs Collection: Early 20th Century and ATLA Historical Serials Collection will consist of digital versions of rare and historical primary sources.

The monograph collections will contain more than 29,000 monographs covering religion and theology. The majority of the monographs date from 1850 through 1923 with the earliest monograph from 1322. The monograph collections are estimated to include 7.5 million pages of content. The historical serials collection will contain more than 1,200 serials from the early 19th Century to the early 20th Century and are estimated to include 5.4 million pages of content."

Details of pricing still have to be finalized. In audience responses to this announcement, it was requested that EBSCO take into consideration that many libraries have already purchased this entire collection in microform. These libraries should receive a price reduction if they purchase it again in digital format. To quote Tommy Lee Jones from Men In Black, "So now I gotta buy the White Album again?" EBSCO hopes that the first parts of the new digital collection will become available early in 2009.

News Flash 1: ATLA Involvement in ATS Revisions

Dennis Norlin reported this morning that ATS announced at its recent biennial meeting that it is beginning a 4-year review process to revise the accreditation standards. ATS reported several trends that are reshaping theological education:
  • 2007 saw a decrease in the total number of M.Div. degrees awarded across the country.

  • The megachurch phenomenon is increasingly changing the path through which many people enter full time church ministry. Internal promotion of volunteer staff within megachurches is replacing traditional avenues of pursuing theological education before pursuing full time ministry.

  • Seminaries are evolving new models of organization and educational delivery that overturn traditional categories. Dennis cited the example of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary which offers simultaneous video streaming of courses to two other campuses while a class is being taught in a third location. Under current standards, only courses at the location with the professor present qualify to meet residency requirements.
To address these kinds of changes, ATS has formed a commission to review and revise the accreditation standards. It is good news for theological libraries that two of ATLA's members will be involved in different aspects of the review. Melody Mazuk from Palmer Theological Seminary and Pat Graham from the Pitts Theology Library at Emory University will represent the concerns of librarians and keep ATLA abreast of the revision process.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Teaching, Learning, & Faculty Collaboration

Most of my time during the first day of the conference was focused on issues surrounding library involvement in teaching and learning. (Though there was the ever highly stimulating ATLA business meeting led with decorum and aplomb by Martha Lund Smalley and distinguished members of the ATLA staff.)

Paul Myhre from the Wabash Center conducted a juiced-up roundtable on teaching and learning that took us through about two days' worth of Wabash seminar-style discussion in just one hour. (And we even got chocolates for attending!) Paul began by shamelessly flattering us, telling us all the wonderful things about theological librarians that we have so much difficulty communicating to our administrators. Then he split us into groups and took us through a series of reflective questions on teaching and learning that forced us to critically examine our assumptions about our roles as librarians. Some tidbits of collective wisdom that floated to the surface of our frenetic thinking:
  • Librarians should sit in on classes to observe teaching
  • Even when rebuffed, we should patiently persist in seeking opportunities to collaborate in teaching and learning
  • Even when it is out of character for us, we should cultivate our inner extroverts
  • Make opportunities to discuss course content and syllabi with faculty
  • Invest the time necessary to build a relationship of trust with faculty
  • Provide faculty with free beer/coffee/chocolates
  • Actively volunteer to teach in the classroom; begin with the assumption that faculty welcome our involvement
Two more books that I want to track down and add to our collection:

Assessment & Learning: The ICE Approach by Young & Wilson

Library Assessment in Higher Education by Joseph Matthews

Then, in the afternoon, I took part in the first-ever meeting of the newly formed Teaching and Learning Interest Group (TALIG). There was discussion of how to pronounce the acronym -- with a short "a" or a long "a"? (Kudos to Paul Myhre for suggesting the Brit-sounding pronunciation, "talley-gee".) The by-laws were approved, and the steering committee was elected. We then spent the rest of the meeting brain-storming ways that TALIG can encourage librarian involvement in teaching and learning. We left the steering committee with quite a list. It will be interesting to see what they choose to tackle first.

Consortial Leverage, Canadian-Style

The ATLA conference's opening plenary session was a fascinating inside look at the consortial purchasing power of the Canadian Research Knowledge Network. The presentor was Leslie Weir, University Librarian at the University of Ottawa, president of the Canadian Association of Research Libraries, and chair of the Scholars Portal Operations and Development Committee (among many other accolades and accomplishments).

CRKN began in 2002 as the Canadian National Site License Project that brought together the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, ten Provinces, and 64 universities to invest $50 million in negotiating national site licenses for electronic resources. They also started the Ontario Infrastructure Initiative committed to extending the national research network backbone from the Montreal, Toronto, and Ottawa metropolitan areas to the rest of Canada as well.

In 2004, these initiatives became CRKN which encompassed 72 universities and worked to invest $100 million first in medical and science resources, and--just finalized in June 2008--14 collections in the social sciences and humanities.

Some of CRKN's goals are to:
  • Secure the archiving of e-resources--they want a purchase model, not a lease model
  • Provide reliable and rapid access to e-resources
  • Lead innovation in information delivery, including the promotion of libraries as key partners through prominent branding
  • Integrate with courseware
  • Link resources that are difficult to collocate
  • Avoid duplication of effort in the management of e-resources--they do not want to have everyone separately checking in the same e-journals
I was particularly impressed that CRKN purchases not only the resources themselves, but the necessary licenses to the vendor platforms to permit the downloading of many of the collections onto a single site customized for uniform storage and retrieval of items. This allows for much easier browsing across collections, encouraging serendipity which is still a significant factor in e-resource discovery. CRKN has enhanced the usability of e-resources by providing customizations like a tabbed display for easy linking to tables and figures from articles and a time-line display that provides an overview of when keyword terms came into use in the literature.

While CRKN also provides the RACER document delivery system to enhance the sharing of materials between subscribing schools, the overall goal has been to reduce interlibrary loan by providing direct access to e-resources. This is accomplished through the Scholars Portal which provides a federated search across 130 databases.

Many of the CRKN institutions also take advantage of a consortial RefWorks subscription that allows members free access to RefWorks's bibliographic management software. Students and faculty who move between subscribing institutions are able to retain their personal databases of research citations as long as they remain within the network.

CRKN also has two new initiatives: ODESI (Ontario Data Documentation, Extraction Service and Infrastructure Initiative), which provides access to national statistical data, and a $750,000 investment in e-books from many different vendors that are all downloaded onto an ebrary platform (along with many open access titles) to provide a uniform delivery system for all ebooks.

OCUL, the Ontario Council of University Libraries, plans to follow up this extensive investment in e-resources with a usability study as well as increased investment in multimedia materials and the development of a discovery layer that will integrate university OPACs with Scholars Portal data.

Leslie emphasized at the beginning of her presentation that most Canadian universities are public rather than private institutions, which has made cooperation on this scale possible. In the United States, we have many excellent state-wide consortia, but it is difficult to imagine our eclectic and competetive higher education institutions achieving this level of cooperation at the national level. Until U.S. institutions can achieve even greater cooperation than we already have, access to scholarly e-resources will continue to be extremely uneven across the spectrum of American colleges and universities.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

2 Receptions

There was a full house for the new member's reception this evening:

I was able to spend part of the evening with a new member from the South Asia Institute of Advanced Christian Studies from Bangalore, India. I hope that ATLA's International Collaboration Committee will be able to establish more ties in the future with the Indian Theological Library Association.

Then the weather was beautiful for the opening reception held on the Terrace of the Ottawa Congress Center:

Re-Writing & Grant Writing

I spent most of my time today attending two pre-conference workshops: One on doing scholarly writing for the soon-to-be-unveiled new journal, Theological Librarianship, and one on ways to become more active in raising funds for the library.

The workshop on writing for Theological Librarianship was a good follow-up to a continuing education course on scholarly writing that I took earlier in the year. The course was an 8-week, online course sponsored by the ATLA Professional Development Committee and the Publications Committee, offered through UIUC's LEEP program. In this morning's pre-conference workshop, we took a look at general principles for good scholarly writing and then attended break-out sessions for a closer examination of writing either articles or book reviews or bibliographic essays. Beth Bidlack's presentation inspired me to track down three books after the conference to add them to our collection:

The Craft of Research (3rd ed.) by Booth, Colomb, and Williams;

How to Write a BA Thesis by Charles Lipson;

The Craft of Revision (5th ed.) by Donald Murray

A theme common to both the continuing education course that I took and the workshop is that writing is really re-writing: "Revision is not the end of the writing process but the beginning." (A quote from Murray.) Theological Librarianship has an excellent editorial team eager to encourage everyone to dive into the re-writing process and submit something for publication. (We're all anxiously awaiting the launch of Theological Librarianship on Saturday.)

The afternoon workshop on library fund raising was very informative and introduced me to many new resources on grant writing. Sara Myers from Columbia Theological Seminary walked us through the process of developing a contextual analysis--what I think of as a qualitative, narrative analysis--of our library's needs. Barbara Kemmis from ATLA shared her grant-researching expertise from working with the Donors Forum in Chicago. And Lorraine Olley from University of St. Mary of the Lake explained how she prepares case statements for library projects in partnership with her development office. While I knew that databases like the Foundation Center's online Foundation Directory existed, I did not realize that anyone can access them for free via their nearest cooperating collection. There is also a wealth of free tools and resources on the Foundation Center's web site. Here's a thought: What if ATLA could compile and post a list of grants received by theological libraries to assist our institutions in identifying foundations and agencies with a history of funding theological scholarship?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Technical Services Anonymous

"Hi, my name is Blake and I am a recovering Technical Services Librarian."

I introduced myself this way at the Technical Services Interest Group meeting tonight just to be funny. (That's me, the frustrated class ham.) But there is something therapeutic about all sitting in a circle and talking about Technical Services stuff for two hours with other like-minded librarians.

Since I am on the Education Committee, several people have asked me why there is a separate Technical Services Interest Group meeting on Tuesday evenings during the pre-pre-conference wind-up. To quote Tevye, "I don't know. But it's a tradition." Maybe someone out there who has been part of ATLA conferences longer than I have (you know, someone who's getting a little, um, old) can shed some light on how the pre-pre-conference Technical Services Interest Group meeting got started.

Even though I am not a Technical Services librarian ever since being sucked over to the dark side of library administration, I still enjoy the Tuesday night TSIG meetings. One reason is because I have been going to the meetings long enough now that it is a chance to reconnect with friends even before the conference gets started. Another reason is because I am a library geek, and the technical aspects of Technical Services strongly appeal to me. Another reason is because I continue to strongly believe that the encoding of data is vital to the retrieval of data, and everything we do as librarians is touched by Technical Services issues.

I heard several common themes tonight. Change, of course, was one of the issues discussed. The constant battle of trying to provide ever more service with ever fewer resources was another issue. We kicked around the pros and cons of no longer pretending that the Library of Congress is a national library; does that hurt us, or does that help us take more initiative to address the issues most important to us? And we spent some of the time focusing on things that encourage and rejuvinate us in our jobs, comparing notes on ways in which our personal passions can overlap with our work as theological librarians.

I was personally challenged by two items tonight: The suggestion that journaling about one's professional life can be just as significant as journaling about one's spiritual or emotional life. I have never been much of a journaler, but it was a new concept for me to think about how a tool like journaling can provide some much-needed reflection in what can otherwise be a harried, task-oriented profession. I was also challenged by Chris Schwartz's comments about blogging being a bit like journaling. (Except everyone gets to read it!) I had not discovered her excellent blog until now -- Cataloging Futures, and I have now added it to both my (pitifully short) blog roll and my RSS feeds.

I may only be a recovering Technical Services librarian, but tonight's TSIG meeting was two hours well spent.

ATLA Pre-pre-conference

Beautiful OttawaWhile many of the ATLA staff have been in Ottawa since Sunday working to get everything ready for the conference, I just arrived in Ottawa today. After so many days of horrible travelling weather this spring, I was grateful to have a clear, beautiful day for flying. As a member of the Education Committee, I already had a chance to visit Ottawa last October and practice the elaborate rituals of clearing customs. Everything went smoothly, and I am now ensconced in the Ottawa Westin for the next five nights to enjoy the annual ATLA conference.

Many people have already registered.

This year's conference bag is courtesy of our local host, Université Saint-Paul.

Here is a day-time view of the site of tomorrow's opening reception: the Terrace of the Ottawa Congress Center.

While I will be hard-pressed to give her any substantive competition, I will continue to add my pictures to those taken by ATLA's photographer-extraordinaire, Sara Corkery.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Library 2.0, or, How Not to Waste Time

I stumbled on a transcript from a Web 2.0 conference the other day, and I think it makes a good read. The talk was presented by Clay Shirky and is titled "Gin, Television, and Social Surplus". In it, Shirky argues that in the early upheavals of the industrial revolution, British society numbed their discomfort with gin, and in the early stages of the communications revolution, society in general numbed their discomfort with sitcoms. Just as Londoners eventually rose from their stupor and produced such valuable societal structures as public libraries, museums, and public education, so, too, the dawn of the 21st century is seeing the rise of Web 2.0 from out of the haze of Gilligan's Island reruns.

While I think it may be a bit premature to announce that we are done wasting our time watching television, Shirky has a point. Many people are finding their diversion these days on the Internet, and increasingly, Internet-based diversions involve activities that are interactive and constructive. When you step back and try to size up the behemoth that is Wikipedia, it is not unlike stepping back and sizing up the pyramids or medieval cathedrals. One wonders, "Where did people find the time to make this?" Shirky's response is that there has been a social surplus of time plowed into the wasteland of television that is now being invested in the more fruitful fields of the Internet producing wikis, blogs, DIY articles, and stop-action Legos videos on YouTube.

This social surplus of time has become an area of focused interest for libraries. I attended an Illinois OCLC Users Group conference last month on Web 2.0 technologies and libraries. It included an overview of changing views toward sharing, privacy and trust on the Internet (gleaned from OCLC's study by that title) and a fascinating presentation from Aaron Schmidt, director of the North Plains Public Library in Oregon and author of the blog, walking paper. Schmidt encouraged us to make our libraries more user-centric, and he argued that Web 2.0 technologies are great ways to do that. Thus the title of the lead article in the Illinois Library Association Reporter that just came across my desk: "Heresy and Misconduct: Evolution in Library Automation". The article's title comes from the George Bernard Shaw quote, "All evolution in thought and conduct must at first appear as heresy and misconduct." Allow patrons to help us catalog our books? Heaven forbid!

On Shirky's home page, he writes,

If I had to describe what I write about, it would be “Systems where vested interests lose out to innovation.”

Or maybe “Systems where having good participants produces better results than having good planners.”

As I see it, librarians are now standing at that juncture where all the careful planning of our catalogs is going to be opened up to participation on the part of our users. I do not want us to discard all that careful planning, but I am looking forward to the benefits of a greater participation in our efforts at organizing knowledge. It seems to me that would be a much better use of peoples' time than elaborate experiments with Diet Coke and Mentos.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Bye-Bye Microsoft Book Search

The Chronicle recently posted an online article announcing the end of Microsoft's Live Book Search project.

Initial evidence indicates that Microsoft could not keep up with Google Book Search. I reported that Google had already topped the 2 million title mark in their book scanning project back in October; Microsoft is ending its project at 750,000 titles (plus 80 million journal articles). Given Google's commanding lead in the numbers race, it is difficult to imagine anyone else rivalling the Google Books collection for sheer quantity. The Open Content Alliance and others, though, may still be able to trump Google in terms of quality.

Thursday, May 15, 2008


The most recent In Trust online newsletter includes a One-Minute Commentary on local church ambivalence towards seminary learning. The One-Minute Commentary is responding to a May 6, 2008 Christian Century article by Stephanie Paulsell from Harvard Divinity School who notes that, in America, ecclesial suspicion of seminaries dates back to the very beginnings when Increase Mather questioned the value of a Harvard education in 1723. Either seminaries are suspected of impracticality -- Paulsell evokes the image "of a bearded Victorian poring over his books while the needs of the world collect unmet outside his closed door" -- or they are suspected of subverting right doctrine with cleverly devised tales.

All of which can leave a theological librarian wondering what to do. Our stacks are full (if not overfull) of that dangerous fruit of theological learning apt to be so unsettling to the casual reader. Indeed, I'm unsettled by some of it myself. Quite apart from all the human ignorance that is distilled in a library, there are also resources that teach that humility is the end-product of true learning, that self-control is essential to service, that God's glory inhabits my neighbor whether I recognize it or not. Who in their right mind would want to read some of this stuff?

Part of my conviction as a theological librarian is that I am not in my right mind, and that great cloud of witnesses that has gone before me and that exists around the world in very different places from me has something to say about that. So I do what I can to preserve their witness and make it accessible, especially for those who are in training to be church leaders.

Our recent accreditation review involved much discussion of the mission of the seminary and how to assess our success in carrying out that mission. It would be interesting to track library usage with future success in ministry. (For the sake of argument, let's define success as not quitting in five years.) Maybe the bookish student haunting the lower level study carrels is a poor fit for the daily realities of pastoral life. Or maybe such a student is beginning to learn how much there is to learn, something that I consider to also be part of spiritual formation.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. After that, I would argue that theological education is a good next step. Exposure to a theological library is a significant part of that next step.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

There's a brief but interesting interview in The Chronicle's May 6 "The Wired Campus". The interview is with Kelly Sutton, the co-founder of a student technology blog called Hack College. I thought the following was particularly interesting:

Q. What is the most important way technology has changed student life in recent years?

A. It’s no longer weird to spend a lot of time on the Internet. Students will jokingly admit to spending hours on Facebook. The habits that they’re forming right now will eventually lead to different collaborations that weren’t possible in the past.

Q. What’s the biggest downside of all this student technology?

A. It’s adding a lot of overhead to a student’s life — the time it takes to check all the social networks and online platforms.

I thought this was a pretty good parallel to the changes that we have all been muddling through in librarianship. It's no longer weird to spend a lot of time on the Internet. We're forming habits that are leading to different collaborations that were not possible in the past. It is adding a lot of overhead to keeping up with the rest of our responsibilities in the analog world. (Or is even the digital world an analog experience? Hmm.)

Friday, May 2, 2008

Facebook & Facebook Applications

The following chart comes from FlowingData, run by Nathan Yau at the University of California at Los Angeles:

FlowingData Chart of the DayAs one of the commenters on the FlowingData posting points out, many Facebook applications are labeled "Just for Fun" for lack of a better category available in Facebook. Still, when 9,609 applications are labeled "Just for Fun" out of a total of 23,160, you get a pretty good indication of what Facebook is for.

For my own experiments in Facebook, I do find it encouraging that "Education" still ranks above "Dating" on the chart. Maybe there really are more library applications out there in Facebook. Maybe people have instinctively labeled them "Just for Fun" because that is what they think of when they think of libraries? Or not.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Jesus Makes the Top 100

I am pleased to announce that Jesus Christ is featured prominently in the top 100 WorldCat identities. Though Marx's heading is almost as prominent as Mary's, and Faulkner is pretty big, too. (Faulkner? Really?)

If you have not investigated WorldCat's beta Identities site before, point your browser to If nothing else, this can become a new vanity search for faculty members who want to find out how widely their publications are held.

Digital Technology In Churches

My thanks to John Jaeger from Dallas Baptist University whose frequent news postings on ATLANTIS brought this item from the Barna Group to my attention:

New Research Describes Use of Technology in Churches

According to the Barna Group, the pace of adoption of technology in Protestant churches has been slowing over the past two years. The Barna Group attributes this to churches having to pause for breath while they figure out how to configure the software they already have, while other churches "attempt to get by" before bringing digital technology into traditional church ministry.

George Barna has been researching the incorporation of digital technology by churches for a decade now. He comments:

"The fact that market penetration of digital technologies seems to top out around two-thirds of the market could easily change if the digital-resistant churches conceived ways of facilitating their vision through the deployment of such tools. That is what made these tools so appealing to larger churches: being able to apply the tools to furthering their ministry goals."

From my vantage point working in a seminary, though, I am wondering if some churches are starting to have a moment of reflection about whether their ministry goals are compatible with digital technology. Technology can be a tool that allows one to do what one has always done in a better or more efficient way, but technology can also be transformational. It can change what one does in ways that are difficult to predict.

Do the ministers that we are training need new ways to network and reach out to people in cyberspace, or do they need ways to bring the Facebook-frenzied away from their blinking screens into a community of believers? Do they need the capability to do both?

I continue to think of a theological library as a place that serves both purposes. We are making good use of the best technologies to improve access to the wealth of the writings of the Church, but we are also providing physical places where scholars can interact with each other and with books in a way that cannot be done online. I hope our churches will be able to do the same.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Your Library On Steroids

This web site has been out there for awhile, but I thought it was good enough to pass on:

"Steroid" Scandal Rocks Major League Libraries

And a serious opinion offered to reward your efforts in checking out my blog posting:

Enhanced cataloging is not "enhanced" at all, but is merely doing what cataloging has always been meant to do: Provide the researcher with enough information to decide whether or not to pursue a work. Behind all the flashing ads for Web 2.0, libraries are still about the business of matching researchers with resources. (Alright, so that opinion exposes my academic library bias.)

Every book its reader. -- Ranganathan

Friday, April 18, 2008

Food in the Seminary Library

A beautiful Friday in Chicagoland with warm breezes and vigilant geese staking out their patch of library turf seems like a good day to blog about one of the lighter aspects of library life: food in the library.

The Chronicle has posted an article about the more relaxed attitude toward food that typifies the hip, turn-of-the-century academic library. "[Morningside] College has joined those that are casting aside their libraries' stuffy images by allowing students and faculty members to chow down — the "no food allowed" signs and wagging fingers are gone — amid the books and computers."

We have done the same at our library. Two years ago, We replaced our "No Food Or Drink Allowed" signs with signs that say "Please Keep Drinks In Covered Containers". We included helpful images of travel mugs lest students become confused and decide that a keg is also a covered container. (Those zany German Baptists!) Our food policy is basically a "don't ask, don't tell" policy--the sign only says to keep your drink in a covered container. A sandwich, a candy bar, a McBag supper are not uncommon sights now in a student study carrel. An entire pizza is possible, though apt to draw freeloaders. We did have a study room completely redecorated once for--I am not making this up--a marriage proposal that I believe also included celebratory snacks. (And this was before the kinder, gentler food policy.)

Students do appreciate the new policy. Previously, some students would stand out in the hallway to scarf their food before entering the library (a good sign of a future associate or executive pastor); others would stop at the desk and ask if we minded if they brought a bag of M&Ms into the library (the future senior pastors); others would just camouflage their latté and bagel underneath a folded jacket and head straight for the study carrels in the lower level (future youth pastors). Now everything is above-board, no slinking required. (Though the current issue of YouthWorker is still apt to turn up missing.)

There really hasn't been a down-side to the change in policy. Our cleaning crew sometimes has a few extra wrappers to pick up. One of our ponderous reading tables has been graced with a ghostly coffee mug ring caused evidently not by liquid but by heat. (Shroud of Turin scholars are welcome to stop by to see if they can duplicate the process.) The occasional coffee or cola splort on the carpet doesn't happen any more often now than it used to before we instituted the new policy. I haven't worried about the exposure of books to food, as that is what happens anyway when the books are checked out, though common courtesy should keep one from turning the pages with the same fingers that have been holding the Cheeto. (Sort of a Name-of-the-Rose effect in reverse.)

We have even gone so far as to offer food as a way to lure students into the library. We do not have the space or finances to set up a library café, but we do provide beverages and study snacks every quarter the week before finals. I used to have to cover over the "No Food Allowed" signs during our study break weeks, but now we can serve food out in the open without creating confusion over the library policy. Provided we don't include a keg.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Section 108 Study Group Report

I am spending a fair amount of my time these days immersed in copyright issues. While that statement is probably true for librarians in general, I have found myself particularly engaged with copyright as our seminary has begun teaching its first distance courses and, several years after initial experiments, has started offering online courses again. My primary interest is how this affects course reserves, an issue that many larger institutions have already resolved via course packs and CCC licenses. There are many other issues relevant to campus copyright policy, not the least of which are faculty rights to online course content, but coming up with a standardized, hopefully not too time-consuming, and preferably not too expensive way of managing e-reserves is my focus at present.

Thus I was disappointed to see that the 3-years-in-the-making Section 108 Study Group Report has little to say about e-reserves. From the Executive Summary:

"The Study Group discussed whether to recommend any changes to the copyright law specifically to address e-reserves and determined not to recommend any changes at the present time."

For all of its 212 pages, the Section 108 Study Group Report is disappointing in its other recommendations as well. Most of the recommendations have at least as much ambiguity as Section 108. (For some reason, this feels a lot like dealing with biblical commentary. The actual text of Section 108 is a little over 1400 words long -- around three pages. Yet the amount of falderol and legal discourse on Section 108 are seemingly endless.) I agree with Library Journal's 4/1/08 Academic Newswire, "Overall, the report reflects significant work and discussion on a range of issues relating to libraries and copyright -- but also deep, ongoing tension between publishers and libraries in the digital age."

Note that the Academic Newswire article also provides a link to the AAP's written comments on the Section 108 Study Group's report. Of making many books there is no end, nor of disputing the copyrighting thereof.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Have You Googled Your School Lately?

There is a March 24 New York Times article about Google's new "Search-within-Search" feature. (Thanks to Impact Lab for alerting me to the article and providing the moniker "Search-within-Search".) Both NYT and Impact Lab note why this is a dubious feature for retailers.

It got me wondering, though, whether this feature also applies to libraries. It does not appear to yet, but it looks like it does apply to educational institutions, at least if you have "university" in your name. Google any university, and there is the new Search-within-Search feature allowing Googlers to search your university web site without ever setting mouse within the site itself.

Librarians sometimes feel a bit Google-shy these days given our patrons' preferences for Google over our own databases and online catalogs. Our own online catalog vendor, Ex Libris, has recently announced that they will be building Google's Book Search API into their products. How long before no one ever needs to set mouse within our sites, too?

What I Have Learned About Facebook

Now that I have experimented with a library group page on Facebook, I have reached several conclusions:

1) For an organization like a library, Facebook intends for you to create a page rather than a group. Many thanks to Michelle Spomer from Azusa Pacific University for her advice on this subject. (Michelle is also responsible for organizing the Facebook group for Theological Librarians.) Groups are very closely tied to your personal account and activities; pages, which seem to have originally been designed to promote musicians, allow for a more "professional" presentation of your organization that is linked to a very limited personal profile that can for the most part be kept private.

2) There is real, live tech support available if you have the patience to work your way through to a link where you can send Facebook a request for support. Kieran from User Operations at Facebook emailed me the following: "These Pages are distinct presences, separate from user profiles, and optimized for an organization's needs to communicate, distribute information/content, engage their fans, and capture new audiences virally through their fans' recommendations to their friends. Facebook Pages are designed to be a media rich, valuable presence for any artist, business, or brand."

3) Unless you have programming skills and a server to support your programs, there is not a whole lot that you can do with your library page . . . yet. There are a number of libraries that have created search widgets for Facebook to allow direct querying of their online catalogs, but they also have access to servers on which to load and run those widgets. WorldCat has created an application to allow searching of from Facebook; there are a number of Meebo apps for enabling a chat window -- here's a link to one.

4) Searching in Facebook for applications to add to your page is a cumbersome process at best. You are better off if you can find direct links to applications that others recommend (like the links in item 3 above). The Library 2.0 Interest Group and FacebookAppsForLibraries are two groups where you can find links to some creative and interesting applications. Though both of these groups are so large with so many hundreds of postings and discussion topics that sifting through them to find good links is still a time-consuming process.

5) Facebook itself is still very much a work in progress. I have experienced everything from intermittent browser crashes in both IE and FireFox, to updates that do not appear for half an hour, to search results that disappear and reappear as you repeat searches. And there are many n00bs like myself cluttering up the landscape with tentative and irregular offerings. In short, you need a lot of time to search, sift, and experiment.

I have not published my library page yet; that is another advantage of pages vs. groups -- you can build your page over time and wait until you are ready to make it public. When I do publish it, I'll let you know.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Institutional Repositories & the U of Iowa

The Chronicle has an article on student protests over the University of Iowa's policy that makes all student theses part of a freely available institutional repository. Of particular concern are "theses" created by graduates from the University of Iowa's Master of Fine Arts program. As noted by C. Max Magee on, "In so many words, their [the graduates'] fiction, poetry, and non-fiction will be given away for free before they have the chance to get it published, thus wrecking opportunities for remuneration and resume-building." Magee goes on to ponder whether the University of Iowa's MFA program suffers from "an inferiority complex" and is overcompensating by calling fine arts projects "theses" when they should really be identified as something else.

To my mind, this is an interesting parallel to Harvard's decision to encourage faculty to only sign publishing contracts that give Harvard the right to post a copy in their institutional repository.

Both schools are making an effort to increase open access to scholarly information as well as to maintain some institutional branding of the academic work that flows out of their ivory towers. Harvard's faculty, however, can receive exemptions from the Dean if a publisher will not agree to Harvard's terms. University of Iowa students can at best get a two year embargo that delays the release of their work for up to two years.

Institutional repositories are a significant feature of the open access movement and can do much to unfetter scholarly information from the control of commercial copyright. There still are many unresolved issues, however, not the least of which is individual freedom to opt out of participation in an institutional respository.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

I'm On Facebook . . . So Now What?

I've jumped into Web 2.0 with one toe. (It hurts when you land like that!) I have created a Facebook page for our library, but now I'm wondering what to do with it.

For starters, I have discovered that one can create either a group page, which people can then join, or one can create a business page, and people can become "fans" of your library via the business page. Those of you that are experimenting with Facebook, which kind of page are you using? It seems to me like the group page provides more avenues for interaction.

Secondly, according to some of our communications people, most of our Anglo students have Facebook accounts while most of our African American students have MySpace accounts. Are others noticing this kind of racial divide? Does one have to maintain a presence in both MySpace _and_ Facebook in order to build/serve an online community?

(Thanks to Matt Ostercamp from Information and the Future for pointing me to a very helpful essay by Danah Boyd examining the socio-economic divisions between MySpace and Facebook.)

And what do people do with their library Facebook pages? My view is that the library page will eventually be part of an overall campus presence on Facebook, so it may only serve a limited purpose in terms of our online campus community. But if any of you have creative suggestions for things to do with a Facebook or MySpace page that your patrons have appreciated, I would love to hear about it.

1900 Years of Paper & Counting

Wired's Science blog has an interesting posting on the history of the introduction of paper into Chinese society. While the invention of paper officially dates back to 105 A.D., archaeological evidence is supporting the idea that paper making was already practiced in areas of China for one or two hundred years prior to Cai Lun introducing it in court.

One wonders what cyber-archaeologists a millennium or two from now will say about the first ebooks. Will they only credit a future Chinese inventor of 2105 with the first universally-adopted ebook plaque, or will they recognize the abortive and less-than successful attempts of the late 20th century?

Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Ongoing eBook Morass

My thanks to for a posting that got me thinking this morning about the morass that is the state of ebooks in libraries.

I have been having an email exchange with InterVarsity Press trying to obtain permission to provide online access to articles from their New Testament dictionary series for course reserves. It turns out that IVP has already licensed their material via Logos's Essential IVP Reference Collection which is strictly CD-based, and thus they cannot provide permission for online use of their materials in another format. As I grumbled to IVP, CD-based materials are untenable for us to support distance and online education -- we need access to web-based materials for our students.

The sad reality is that the ebook is still a great concept in search of the right technology. There is a great paper by Linda Wilkins and Paula Swatman from the 19th Bled eConference in June, 2006 entitled E-Book Technology in Libraries: An Overview. A quote from the end of their paper:

"Despite attempts by the Open E-book Forum (now The International Digital Publishing Forum) to provide general access to electronic content, a wide variety of proprietary standards still exist rendering most e-books compatible only with certain devices. The lack of an agreed standard implies that an ‘agreeable machine’ to deliver books to a mass audience has not yet arrived on the scene (Turney 2005)."

And the scenery has not changed in the past two years. As the Library Journal reported last month, an experiment by the Sparta Public Library in New Jersey in loaning out's Kindle not only runs afoul of's license, it represents quite a financial risk in terms of the cost of the equipment and content that one is allowing to walk out the door. Perhaps a more hopeful model of the use of ebooks in a library setting is the North Suburban Digital Consortium right here in the Chicago area.

Which brings me back to the posting at pointing out the absurdities of trying to make ebooks available via interlibrary loan (if the license even allows one to do so). What at first blush should be a technology that increases the availability of a resource by making it easily transmittable, in reality is a technology that only serves to trap that resource in a complicated web of copyright restrictions. Librarians have already been dealing with the complexities of ejournal licensing which can sometimes be different title-by-title within packages provided by the same vendor. As the ebook grows in popularity and available formats, we will likely find ourselves equally perplexed with sorting through the conflicting restrictions of ebook licenses.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Turabian Deposit

Remember -- you read about it first here:

I was at a Doctoral Committee meeting this afternoon where we indulged in another round of therapeutic commiseration about the difficulties of proofreading doctoral theses for correct Turabian format. Not only is it a time-consuming process, but there is also the question of who is responsible to do it. It is not unheard of for the duties normally belonging to a document fellow to be lodged somewhere in the library where the librarian must become the angel with the flaming pen to guard the gates of decent punctuation.

Today, though, I was struck with an inspiration: Charge all hopeful doctoral candidates a Turabian Deposit equal to $2 per page of their submitted dissertation. For every page with a formatting error, the dissertation reader gets to keep the $2; for every page without a formatting error, the $2 gets returned to the student. This would serve three purposes:
  • It would incite students to exert real effort at proofreading.
  • It would help keep dissertations down to a manageable length.
  • It would provide some remuneration for what is usually an underpaid privilege.
"But," you say, "what about the dissertations without any formatting errors? Who would pay the reader then?" Somehow, I do not think that will be a serious problem.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Gale Virtual Reference Library

I have been pleased to add the Gale Virtual Reference Library to our online offerings. As our seminary begins to offer distance education and online courses, I have been looking for ways to increase our online holdings. And, yes, one does hold VRL titles; Gale provides free archival CDs with PDF copies of your titles. Gale's VRL includes a number of significant theological reference resources and makes them available in a user-friendly format. My only complaint about the VRL is that I find the response time to be slow.

I have been particularly interested in Gale's offering of third-party resources. Where I originally thought the VRL to be a platform for marketing Gale/Thompson publications, I have found it to include an expanding number of titles from other publishers. The VRL now includes what I consider to be e-books in addition to online editions of traditional reference works like dictionaries and encyclopedias. While the VRL interface is clearly not designed to be an e-book reader, one can with a fair amount of persistance and clicking eventually reach and page through the text of a work. Its primary value, though, remains as a search interface that uncovers texts that might otherwise remain undiscovered.

Along with the rest of the wired world, I'm still waiting for someone to invent an e-book reader that is better than a book. No -- while I think it is a significant, good effort, I do not think that Amazon's Kindle is the answer for reasons that have been noted elsewhere. In the mean time, I am pleased to find any available online offerings in religion and theology, and I continue to hope that major theological publishers will see the light and begin offering their works in electronic format.

The two e-books that I have added to our VRL collection as test cases are Baptists in America, by Bill Leonard (Columbia UP, 2005) and Protestantism in America, by Randall Balmer and Lauren Winner (Columbia UP, 2002). I am not expecting our students to necessarily read these books online, but I am hoping that having an electronic copy available will assist with finding appropriate content in these works and retrieving citations for use in papers. Did I mention that the VRL also provides usage reports via email? As I continue to monitor usage patterns, and as Gale continues to add significant titles in the area of religion and theology, I am hoping that the VRL can serve as a good, full-text reference resource for our students.