Outreach, Marketing, Engagement– The new side of library services?

This week I was forced to reflect on what I’m doing professionally. I had to write my self-evaluation for my promotion dossier, the first time I’ve been up for promotion… ever. (Why does the word promotion make me think of relegation? I’ve been brainwashed.) It’s been an interesting exercise to step back and see what I’ve done with my career and reflect on what type of librarian I am. Make no mistake about it, I am a librarian and very proud of the title, but I also realized I do a lot of stuff that isn’t normally considered library services. Why not? I don’t know. They should be.

This picture was taken last week at the Region X reception at the TRB Annual Meeting. I really enjoyed it because it was a great evening talking to various transportation people and hear what they’re up to and thinking about. It really helps me have a much broader perspective of transportation research and the information needs of researchers, than I would have otherwise.

That’s what I struggled with most with my self-evaluation. How do I articulate my overall involvement in my field as it relates to library services? Often we just market a service or product, or conduct outreach to a community to highlight a very traditional band of services. Is it our job to engage users, but it often seems to be in relation to providing a service or assistance. What about taking it further? I’m talking about total engagement.

Now, this is sort of similar to embedded librarianship, but I see it more of a partnership and changing the overall relationship between libraries and the user community. I spend way too many hours on conference calls with different groups outside of my library, but I can see the value of doing so. I know I’m communicating the value of libraries and information for transportation research, so that our interests are also represented. I also am learning a lot about what’s going on in the big picture, so that I can adjust our services to meet those needs, and anticipate ways we might have to change. It’s a pro-active approach.

Eventually, I want to turn this total engagement into better integration of the researchers, their products, and the libraries, but I recognize that’s a long way off. Until then, I will spend a lot of time being involved with the alphabet soup of groups that set the transportation research agenda, filter it back to my users, and push for closer partnerships. That’s my service.

Long live indexing! You still need to to find stuff.



Music music, originally uploaded by angela marlaud.

This is a picture of the library at KALX. It’s my work away from work. Seriously. See that collection? It’s all alphabetized, and that’s it. Finding stuff is easy if you know we have it and what it’s called, thanks to an army of volunteers who spend hours every month shelf-reading. (Seriously, thank you!) The problem is discovery… we’re really bad on that, but alas… we have other things to worry about now… like running out of space. Don’t worry, we’re on it.

But think about what if my real work organized its collection like this… that would be horrible. How would anybody find anything? Luck? Memorization? Google? This is sort of how sometimes I think Google Scholar or article databases might work. It’s all just a big drive of loosely organized stuff waiting for you to ask for it specifically or to be stumbled upon. There’s a lot of “luck” and you might stub your toe.

For a while it seems libraries have been kicking around the idea that indexing is dying. The future will be the semantic web and indexers will be out of a job. Artificial intelligence will handle that or you won’t need it because you can search the full text. The future is going to be rad! (For more about the future of libraries, read Rochelle Mazar’s awesome post about it.) As an indexer and searcher, it makes me worried. Is indexing pointless? Well… bad indexing is, but that’s another story. (Some of the worst indexing I’ve seen has to come from machines, if it’s from people… yikes!)

Well, I had a moment a few weeks back that restored my faith in indexing. A student came in with a fairly straight forward question. They needed an engineering equation to analyze. No specific equation, just an equation from an engineering analysis that they could then discuss one of the variables. How do you find that? Scour engineering analyses? No need. We have mathematical models. That one term saved the day for all of the students working on this project, and it’s not really something I think our current or proposed methods for automatic indexing could easily pick up. Score one for the carbon filter. Keep on indexing.

Open Access Week isn’t the worldwide party… yet…



OA cake 3, originally uploaded by Paul Stainthorp.

Last week LibPunk Radio discussed Open Access Week as only two people tangentially involved with it all can. I’m sort of ambivalent about the whole thing, but it’s mostly because right now I don’t think libraries are in a position to do much other than talk about OA and why it’s good.

As I said on LibPunk Radio, libraries are in the middle of it all. We don’t create and we aren’t really in the publishing business, nor are we really the consumers though we’re expected to pay for the content. We see the real costs of scholarly publishing and know how much the established publishers are jacking up their prices. We also deal directly with the people frustrated that they can’t track down articles or papers they are interested because of opaque licensing and not always logical restrictions. I guess that’s our job, insulating them from the pain. (People need to thank libraries for this more.)

I try to explain the value of OA to students and faculty, and I think some get it but most just tune it out. They don’t care yet, they just want that paper somebody told them they needed to read.

So given my ambivalence, it was nice to see somebody shared my feelings. Check out Steven Bell’s blog post on ACRLog yesterday.

So excuse me if I’m not in the mood to celebrate. I’m feeling frustrated. What else can you feel when the system is broken, you know that system must change, but there is little incentive for those perpetuating the system to change it for the better.

This hits really close to home. I’ve spoken with the faculty I work with about the benefits of OA journals and making their work more available. One was refreshingly (though also depressingly) candid about the whole thing. They only publish in the handful of refereed journals published by the likes of Elsevier and Springer because that’s where everybody else reputable in the field publishes, and that’s what they trust. They said TRB publications were acceptable, but not in the same regard, and that in-house publications weren’t really worth the time. This is the sort of person we need to get to appreciate the value of OA in a practical sense, but we’ve got a long ways to go.

This need for better outreach to faculty is the critical next step for OA. This recent Book of Trogool post really does a nice job of explaining why faculty involvement is critical. Right now I’m at the casual conversation stage. When I get to the more serious, “Let’s have an actual discussion” phase with my faculty, then I will really get active. I wish it would happen sooner, and I wish I had more time and energy to push for OA within my group, but I also recognize I already have too many things going on and transportation is a pretty conservative field.

But just as Steven Bell did in his post, I end with hope. Maybe next year I’ll have more of a reason to care here at MPOW?

Transportation Knowledge Network? What’s that?


Last week was National Library Week. I didn’t really celebrate. (Oddly enough, I’ve never really ever noticed anything like that on campus in my decade here. Dang… I sound old.)

Andrew Krzmarzick, the Director of Community Engagement at GovLoop, started a discussion about National Transportation Knowledge Networks. It almost made me weep with joy for a variety of reasons, mainly – I was chuffed to see somebody out of the usual suspects talking about it.

Some background:
The concept of knowledge networks is relatively new, but basically it is about the community working together, sharing resources and ideas, to foster innovation and communication. Libraries very much have a role in this model, and in transportation kicked the whole thing off. It started with the Midwest Transportation Knowledge Network (MTKN), which was a pilot for the TKN concept. Now we also have ETKN and WTKN. (I’m currently chair of WTKN.) As soon as the new transportation authorization comes through congress, hopefully they will fund the National Transportation Knowledge Network, which is sort of happening at TransportationResearch.gov, but of course it’s hard to do much with almost no resources.

The reason the GovLoop post almost made me weep is that I get excited and happy anytime non-librarians talk about the TKN idea. TKNs may have started with libraries because librarians are exceptionally good at networking and resource sharing, but I firmly believe it’s time for us to get other people to join the network. It’s a narrow definition of knowledge to say that it has to be stuff that could pass through the libraries’ domain. What about gray literature? The transportation community should not necessarily wait for ideas and work to be published or somehow officially deigned useful to share. Constant collaboration will not only improve research but also practices in the field.

I really see libraries acting as a hub to facilitate this communication and knowledge sharing, but it’s hard to get that message across. Many of the people I’ve talked to about it immediately jump to what I call the “reports conclusion.” That is to say, they assume “knowledge” comes in the form of a final report or something at the completion of a project. Knowledge doesn’t only manifest itself when a project manager or editor deems it though, it’s a continual spectrum. This is a great opportunity for libraries to get involved with the process and not wait for the end product and is not just limited to transportation. Of course then we enter into the resource problem. We’re all being asked to do more with less. How are transportation libraries supposed to help with the growth of TKNs if we can’t even perform our own basic functions? It’s hard and takes some sacrifice, but hopefully it will one day pay off. I’m actually optimistic.

Tales of Extreme Outreach Pt. 2


In my first installment of Tales of Extreme Outreach I discussed my joining my department’s intramural soccer team. Our record has been spotty, but I’ve really enjoyed playing with the grad students and I think we’ve all had fun. Last night I split my head open a little playing a game against the Killer Wombats. You can read all about it . You can see it’s just bareley noticeable now, and there were no stitches. Yes, I did go to the emergency room in the name of “outreach”. Dedication or stupidity?

See you all at Internet Librarian!