Interdisciplinarity and Academic Libraries by D.C. Mack and C. Gibson, eds. (Review)

January 9th, 2013 § Comments Off § permalink

It is not often that one encounters a collection of essays so thoroughly aligned in their approach and perspective as to merit reading the collection from cover to cover; yet such is the nature of this recently published collection in ACRL’s Publications in Librarianship series (no. 66). Edited by Daniel C. Mack, Head of the George and Sherry Middlemas Arts Humanities Library at Penn State, and Craig Gibson, Associate Director for Research and Education at the Ohio State University, this work brings together 14 authors from across the landscape of academic librarianship, including administrators, department heads, catalogers, technologists, reference and instruction librarians, subject specialists, and professors of library science…

You can read my full review in this month’s College & Research Libraries.

G. Mehaffey on the coming edupocalypse

October 16th, 2012 § 1 comment § permalink

horseman of the apocalypse

George L. Mehaffy, Vice President for Academic Leadership and Change for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, recently published an essay in Educause Review Online on future challenges for higher education. In it, he outlines six challenges for IHEs (including their structures, funding and cost models, and success rates), seven potential areas of [near future] change (including course models, learning analytics, and accreditation), and concludes with six “new” course models.* You can read the full document at Educause’s website.

While Mehaffy is certainly not the first to warn us of the coming edupocalypse, he does bring up a significant issue: the barriers to admission that currently hold back for-profits and “non-institutionalized” courses (e.g. MOOCS) from becoming hard-hitting game-changers are wearing thin. Notably: accreditation and assessment of learning outcomes. What happens to traditional IHEs when the majority of programs offered through for-profits, MOOCs, and open education systems like Khan Academy gain accreditation (I must assume that this will be on their agenda soon enough if not already)? What happens when these programs are able to show, via enhanced data and learning analytics, that their programs produce students with deeper critical thinking skills and higher levels of engagement… and all at a lower cost?

While I believe the rumors of the death of higher education are greatly exaggerated, I do think we are already beginning to see the “scrambling” effect that the disruptive factors outlined in Mehaffy’s essay promise to cause. More now than ever it is important for us as librarians to advertise our skills as assessors of student learning, as developers of instructional content, as experts in understanding information ecosystems, and as professionals who deeply understand the barriers that individuals face when attempting to retrieve, comprehend, and synthesize information sources. We must connect our collective skills and professional experiences to the great question of “what is a university?” Mehaffy concludes:

Addressing the challenges and the changes in 21st-century higher education must involve more than using new course models. Changing a few courses will not change the university. We have to ask much more fundamental questions. What is a college or university? Is it a designer of learning environments? A facilitator of learning? An aggregator of learning credits? An assessor of learning outcomes? A certifier of degree completion? When many courses are free, and when the degree is being challenged by other forms of certification, what is the role of higher education institutions? What kind of business models work?

Photo credit: h.koppdelany on Flickr. Used under CC BY-ND 2.0 license. 

*I disagree that flipped classrooms or collaborative course development are new models of instruction. While they certainly are not the norm, they have existed for some time. How many classes have you had that didn’t require at least once or twice pre-reading for a class? And any university with a writing program probably engages in collaborative course development/standardization.

Niche networks in higher ed

May 1st, 2012 § 2 comments § permalink

Tomorrow, I’ll be talking to a group of USC librarians about academic social networks and more generally about how social media has affected the scholarly communication process. It’s an informal, brief 15-20 minute talk as part of our “Brown Bag Lunch” series. The following includes my slides from the presentation, a list of websites mentioned, as well as a selected bibliography.

Social networks mentioned:


Tools mentioned:



Brown, L. Griffiths, R., & Rascoff, M. (2007). University publishing in a digital age. Accessed from

Campbell, J.D. (2006). Changing a cultural icon: The academic library as a virtual destination,” EDUCAUSE Review 41(1). Accessed from

Carpenter, M., Graybill, J., Offord, J., & Piorun, M. (2011). Envisioning the library’s role in scholarly communication in the year 2025. Portal-Libraries and the Academy, 11, 659-681.

Faculty Focus. (2010). Twitter in higher education 2010 : Usage habits and trends of today’s college faculty. Madison, WI: Magna Publications. Acessed from

Gu, F., Widén-Wulff, G. (2011). Scholarly communication and possible changes in the context of social media: A Finnish case study. The Electronic Library, 29(6), 762-776.

Howard, J. (2012, February 28). Tracking scholarly influence beyond the impact factor. Chronicle of Higher Education. Accessed from

Howard, J. (2012, January 29). Scholars seek better ways to track impact online. Chronicle of Higher Education. Accessed from

Howard, J. (2010). The MLA convention meets twitter: Twitter moves scholarly communication beyond annual meetings sessions and papers. Chronicle of Higher Education. Accessed from

Macilwain, C. (2011). Facebook of science seeks to reshape peer review. Chronicle of Higher Education. Accessed from

Maron, N.L. & Smith, K.K. (2008). Current Mmdels of digital scholarly communication. Washington, DC : Association of Research Libraries. Accessed from

Nicholas, D., Watkinson, A. Rowlands, I., & Jubb, M. (2011). Social media, academic research and the role of university libraries. Journal of Academic Librarianship, 37(5), 373-375.

Ponte, D. & Simon, J. (2011). Scholarly communication 2.0: Exploring researchers’ opinions on Web 2.0 for scientific knowledge creation, evaluation and dissemination. Serials Review, 37(3), 149-156.

Research Information Network. (2007). Research and the scholarly communications orocess: Towards strategic goals for public policy. London: RIN. Accessed from

Roman, D. (2011). Scholarly publishing model needs an update. Communications of the ACM, 54(1), 16, 96.

Voss, A., & Procter, R. (2009). Virtual research environments in scholarly work and communications. Library Hi Tech, 27(2), 174-190.

Wand, X., Jiang, T., $ Ma, F. (2010). Blog-supported scientific communication: An exploratory analysis based on social hyperlinks in a Chinese blog community. Journal of Information Science, 36, 690-704.

What the Harvard letter to the faculty missed

April 24th, 2012 § Comments Off § permalink

The Faculty Advisory Council for the Libraries at Harvard recently sent out the following call to arms:

To: Faculty Members in all Schools, Faculties, and Units

RE: Periodical Subscriptions

We write to communicate an untenable situation facing the Harvard Library. Many large journal publishers have made the scholarly communication environment fiscally unsustainable and academically restrictive. This situation is exacerbated by efforts of certain publishers (called “providers”) to acquire, bundle, and increase the pricing on journals…

You can read the rest of the letter here, which concludes with nine propositions that the FAC asks faculty and librarians to “please consider,” including publishing in open-access journals, working with editorial boards, and making contract terms public. The FAC’s effort to inspire change is admirable and welcomed (albeit vaguely worded) but it fails to address two important players in the scholarly communication process: the role of tenure and the university administration.

To the latter, libraries and faculty need to urge university deans, presidents, and provosts to lead their institutions toward innovative and accessible models of scholarship that utilize the speed and efficiency of new technologies. To those leaders I say, “You have the opportunity and the leverage to change the status quo. Rise above the rest and make your institution a beacon of the future!” Don’t just encourage new models and expectations of scholarly communication: insist on them. Tie them into tenure process, if necessary, but then…

To the former, we must stop thinking of scholarship in terms of how it affects tenure. Specifically, as long as publishing in a high impact journal is still considered a “better” option than publishing research in an institutional repository, open-access journal, or a personal website, then journal publishers will always have the upper hand. After all, the ultimate aim of scholarship is to advance knowledge, not to publish it (which is only the means to an end) and as at least one recent study shows (Chen, C. et al., 2009), publishing on the open web increases the chances that a work will be cited. Moreover, faculty are freely giving away their time and attention to serve as peer-reviewers, writers, and editors for journals that turn around to charge unwarranted prices for access. To those faculty I say, “Why not freely give your time and attention to publishing platforms that, in the least, make your work accessible to the widest audience possible?”

The more I think about tenure, the scholarly publishing arena, and higher education in general, the more I come to believe that we are a bloated institution. The rising cost of tuition, the exorbitant amount of spending on new facilities and star faculty, combined with the lack of public trust and disillusionment with the efficacy of “going to college” to me all point to bubble about to burst. And burst hard.


Chen, C. et al (2009). The impact of internet resources on scholarly communication: A citation analysis. Scientometrics, 81(2), 459-474.

The faculty/staff divide: help or hindrance?

April 18th, 2012 § 1 comment § permalink

Many academic libraries in the United States have two groups of employees: faculty and staff. The dynamics of their relationship may vary from one institution to the next, depending on factors such as: (1) whether faculty have the option of tenure; (2) the disparity of wages; (3) whether faculty can become staff or vice versa if their position changes; (4) whether either group is unionized; and (5) what portion of each group is in management positions.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about the dynamics between these two groups (Full disclosure: I am staff.). There are certainly administrative reasons* for dividing library employees into faculty and staff, but is there justification to divide them functionally? That is, is it beneficial for the organization to say “the faculty are expected to perform all the functions listed in Group A and the staff, all the functions in Group B.”

For example, Group A might include (1) information science research; (2) department liaison work; (3) subject-based collection development or reference; (4) director-level responsibilities; (5) assessment. Group B might include (1) managing daily operations of staff and facilities; (2) student supervising; (3) paraprofessional work; (4) systems work; (5) communications and/or marketing.

I can understand that dividing faculty/staff along functional lines is beneficial to the individual: e.g. faculty can focus on areas of responsibility that help in gaining tenure; staff can focus on areas of responsibility that do not have that added pressure. But is it beneficial to the organization? Does it help us to be nimble? To be innovative? Does it help us get things done?

One might argue that we divide faculty and staff because their education and experience  tends to be significantly different. Most faculty jobs require an MLIS and some experience working within a subject field. But as the management qualities, technological skills, and outreach/programming needs of library organizations become  increasingly more complex, as it becomes easier for full-time employees to pursue an MLIS, and as the landscape of higher education changes each day (especially with regard to digital technologies), how can we expect that the needs and expectations of our organization will line up with skills of our employees as defined by the faculty/staff divide?

Thus, my proposition to you:

If the academic library continues to work within this construct, one that divides staff and faculty not only administratively but also conceptually, it will be unable to adapt, unable to move quickly in response to the needs of its students and faculty. Moreover, it will be unable to get ahead of the game and become a strategic leader on campus.


photo credit: from Rya Pie on flickr (used under Creative Commons BY-ND 2.0)


*”Faculty” often means the option of tenure. I am not arguing for or against tenure here. For a more complete discussion of tenure in academic libraries, I recommend John Budd’s The Changing Academic Library (Chicago: ACRL, 2005), especially p. 265-270.

Academic news roundup: assessment, active learning, and online ed

April 16th, 2012 § Comments Off § permalink

Derek Rodriguez, writing for In the Library with the Lead Pipe, reported on a 2011 study that utilized the Understanding Library Impacts (ULI) protocol, a method of studying and reporting the library’s impact on student learning.

Libraries need efficient methods for connecting student use of the library with the learning outcomes that matter most to faculty and stakeholders. Failure to do so leaves libraries out of important campus conversations about student learning. The ULI protocol is designed to meet this challenge.

Meredith Farkas, writing for American Library, talked about incorporating active learning into online instruction:

It’s one thing to tell someone how to do something, but to have them actually do it themselves, with expert guidance, makes it much more likely that they’ll be able to do it later on their own.

The New York Times reported on new initiatives to measure student learning:

The concern is less about measuring knowledge of chemistry or literature than about harder to define skills like critical thinking and problem-solving.

Special Note: Arum & Roksa’s Academically Adrift is mentioned. Everybody drink!

Finally, The Chronicle and Inside Higher Ed gave us inside information on two online learning platforms: 2tor and Udacity. 2tor is a platform used by Georgetown University, UNC Chapel Hill, and my place of work, the University of Southern California, to provide online instruction for graduate programs. On the flip side, Udacity is a platform for offering free college-level courses in computer science. Enjoy!

Academic news roundup: the divided academy, getting in, and checking out

April 2nd, 2012 § Comments Off § permalink

Last week brought us a number of deep reads. Stephanie Hedge, a PhD candidate at Ball State University, offers a list of things she wished she knew about recruiting research participants.

Wayne Bivens-Tatum, writing for LJ’s Peer-to-Peer Review, discusses what he calls the “two cultures” of the academy. Pull quote:

The two cultures—the gift culture of academics and the commercial culture of much scientific publishing—are obviously incompatible in intent and results. Proponents of the gift culture believe that knowledge should be widely disseminated and that public education is beneficial for society. Proponents of the commercial culture, especially the commercial culture at the expense of everything else, believe that as much profit as possible should be made out of the control and enclosure of knowledge, even if that knowledge is publicly funded and freely provided.

Melonie Fullick, writing for University Affairs’s Speculative Diction column, lauds the use of social media in academia, especially for its ability to lower barriers to access and raise one’s social capital. Pull quote:

On Twitter [networking] becomes even more interesting, because you can end up communicating with people to whom you never would have had “access” otherwise — faculty at other universities and in other disciplines; grad students all over the world; members of government and non-governmental agencies and organizations; politicians; teachers; journalists; and all others who happen to be circling around the same issues of concern. I’ve seen definite “networks” emerging through interactions with all these people (with some fantastic unplanned results).

Alexandra M. Lord, creator of Beyond Academe, writes about searching for careers outside of academia and the importance of realizing that the life of the mind can be lived beyond the walls of the ivory tower. (Something I’ve been giving some thought to of late.)

Finally, two recent surveys indicate that “college and university chief academic officers/provosts and presidents alike consider library technology to be their most effective technological investment.” A satisfaction rate of 58.8% is nothing to be ashamed of, but I think we can do better people!

Honorable mention: Profhacker wants to know how you quantify your academic life.

Academic news roundup: post-campus, reflective, and meme-generated

March 27th, 2012 § Comments Off § permalink

Start your week with future thinking. The Atlantic has an article that ponders an academia where distance learning is the norm. Propositions include:

    • Education will end up being dominated by a few huge incumbents
    • 95% of tenure-track professors will lose their jobs
    • The young will have a much lower financial burden in their 20s, and
    • the end of universities as research centers

Char Booth, who is still getting a lot of buzz around both the water cooler and the nets for her latest publication, Reflective Teaching Effective Learning (ALA Editions, 2011), offers her personal advice for improving one’s ability to teach.

The financial situation in higher education dominated the headlines yet again last week. Scott Jaschik reported on a new international study of faculty pay (tl;dr: go to Canada, young padawan). Inside Higher Ed also shed light on a study that showed about 40 percent of academics at Russian universities pay to have their research published.

In technology news, Steve Kolowich reports that Lasell College wants every faculty member to be using its LMS by the end of this year.

Honorable mention: Libraries use memes. Knowing is half the battle, dear reader; so don’t skip out on this read, lest you be considered a n00b.

Academic news roundup: tuition, big data, and the first year writing course

March 19th, 2012 § 2 comments § permalink

The academic world was abuzz last week with tuition news. Santa Monica College, in order to combat rising debt, will begin charging a premium for in-demand classes once the regular sessions are fully enrolled. On the flip side, Kettering University will offer a fixed-tuition guarantee beginning next year that, in addition to staying constant for 10 academic terms, eliminates the separation of “tuition” and “fees.”

Big data is all the rave  at SXSW in Austin this year, according to the Chronicle. You’ve heard about retail companies using buyer data and spending habits to target products to consumers: why shouldn’t the education industry get in on that, too? Listen to Rey Junco, professor of Academic Development and Counseling at Lock Haven U. discuss how social media can be used to reduce drop-out rates (tl;dr: More twitter = more and better engagement).

John Duffy has an article on the importance of the first-year writing course:

To some, this may seem counterintuitive. First-year composition — also called academic writing, writing and rhetoric, college composition and other names — is not typically associated with improving public discourse, much less considered a “movement.” [...] Yet the first-year writing course represents one of the few places in the academic curriculum, in some institutions the only place, where students learn the basics of argument, or how to make a claim, provide evidence, and consider alternative points of view.

Finally, you may not have noticed, but college spring break was tamer this year, according to bartenders (and they should know!), due to the ubiquity of video- and camera-enabled devices. Sure, checking your Facebook updates at the dinner table may still be considered rude, but at least you’re keeping your shirt on. =)

Honorable Mention: At some universities, 1 in 3 professors are 60 or older [paid content]. Just FYI.

Gathering input: more details on the Harvard re-org

February 14th, 2012 § 3 comments § permalink

More information is beginning to trickle out of Harvard. Today’s Library Journal (h/t M.V.) reports that 275 voluntary buyouts have been offered to library staff. Additionally, an overview of the reorganization [pdf] was released last week. Andromeda Yelton wrote an insightful comment to yesterday’s post and I wanted to give it more attention. As both she and the LJ article point out, the lack of inclusiveness and transparency are major concerns in this controversy.

According to a 2009 report, a Harvard Libraries task force (of 29 members) held two open forums, multiple focus groups with students and faculty, and sent three campus-wide emails requesting input on the library system. Based on feedback from these solicitations and library data, the task force created a set of recommendations for the administration who then set about to plan the logistics of the reorg. In the spirit of inclusiveness: Was this enough?

I will admit that I’m not entirely settled in my opinion of the matter, though generally I feel that Harvard Libraries is doing the best it can considering the size and scope of the institution. It does, however, raise the question: What does it mean for an institution to be “inclusive” in its decision-making processes? Also, given Harvard’s size, are there limitations to how inclusive an organization can be?

We give a lot of lip service to transparency and the ability of technology to break down traditional organization barriers, but if this new era of flattened org structures and increased collaboration has taught us anything it is that we are far more varied in our opinions, skills, ethics, and practices than we ever thought before. Given this complexity, perhaps “the executive decision,” as a [traditional] tool of moving an organization forward and instigating change is even more necessary than before.

But then, maybe no one has tried hard enough to make these new communication structures work. Given its resources, Harvard is the one institution that could have made it happen. Anyone else want to give it a go?