Open Access & increasing the size of your readership

In March 2012 a work colleague and I travelled to Hangzhou, South East China to spend a month at Hangzhou Municipal Library. This was done as part of an exchange with our home library of University College Cork. We learned and experienced much there and when we came home we wrote an article about our time in Hangzhou Library. The article, to quote the abstract, considers an on-going exchange programme between the Boole Library, University College Cork (UCC) and Hangzhou Municipal Library, South East China. The authors describe the exchange and their impressions of working in a different library setting.
The article Cultural Revolution: Reflections on an Exchange was published in An Leabharlann October 2013 https://libraryassociation.ie/publications/leabharlann

An Leabharlann is a subscription magazine and access is included with your membership of the Library Association of Ireland. But the editors kindly allow authors of articles published in it to place a copy of their piece, the actual finished piece from An Leabharlann, into a repository. For us, this meant we could place a copy into CORA [Cork Open Research Archive] http://cora.ucc.ie/ This we did and the article can now be found by those interested at http://cora.ucc.ie/handle/10468/1260

It is the impact of placing the article into CORA that I now wish to talk about for the remainder of this post.
The article was placed on CORA at the beginning of November 2013. Since then it has been viewed over 300 times. This is 300 more views than it would have gotten had it been only visible to those people with a subscription to An Leabharlann or a library that subscribes to it. And there are some interesting – to me at least – other facts to look at. As well as being viewed in Ireland and China – which you would expect due to the content of the paper – it has been viewed 114 times in the USA, 6 times in the Netherlands, 4 times in France and 3 times in Austria. This makes me think: I wonder who those 114 people in the USA are. And what they think when they read it? What would they think of this exchange? Would they have heard of Hanghzhou before reading this paper? Would they have heard of University College Cork or Cork before reading this paper? Why is somebody from the US reading an article on an exchange between an Irish and a Chinese library? But isn’t it great that somebody at the other side of the world can actually do this – without having to pay for the privilege of doing so. And all thanks to the beauty of Open Access.

Further it made me think will this paper have any impact those reading it? Probably not, it is after all a specific piece describing a specific experience. But it does make me wonder why more people don’t see the true value of placing their research output in repositories or other OA areas? Why do so many persist in publishing in journals with paywalls and publishers who place restrictions on, what is after all, their work – the work that they will have spent hard months toiling over. Do they not want their work to be seen as many people as possible. I know I do and I’m not a serious researcher. I want anything I write to be read by as many people as possible. And surely an academics raison d’etre is to publish and be read and have their work disseminated. OA is a key way to do this. And it is free. What is not to like?

And if one needs any further convincing of the role and importance that OA can play in dissemination of material heed this: I did a Google search of our paper and the first three results on the results page were all for CORA. An Leabharlann, unfortunately for the great people that edit and compile it is nowhere to be seen in the results. Google sees the value of OA. And I wonder if an algorithm can see the worth of OA why can’t more academics?

When is a library not a library? When it’s a…

… a Kitchen Library.
Am I the only librarian who experienced a strong reaction upon seeing the website for The Kitchen Library?
http://thekitchenlibrary.ca/

My immediate librarians reaction was a strong “NO that is not a library”. That was my knee jerk as I looked through my Twitter feed and saw a number of Tweets about this ‘kitchen library’. And my reaction gradually grew stronger as I clicked through and read article after article about this lovely little ‘library’. I said to myself, tweeted even, “technically, this is not a library”. It is a premises lending out kitchen utensils. It’s a cute idea. But it is not a library. Lending does not make a library! To be a lender does not a library make.

And then I began thinking – why is this not a library? And then I did as I often do with concepts I want to understand better – I looked at the etymology of the word on a few Etymology Dictionaries.

I see that it is a “place for books, late 14c., from Anglo-French librarie, Old French librairie “collection of books” (14c.), noun use of adj. librarius “concerning books,” from Latin librarium “chest for books,” from liber (genitive libri) “book, paper, parchment,” originally “the inner bark of trees,” probably a derivative of PIE root *leub(h)- “to strip, to peel” (see leaf). The equivalent word in most Romance languages now means “bookseller’s shop.” Old English had bochord, literally “book hord.

Just as I thought – books are an essential part of it. Of course working in a twenty first Century library I have to take some liberties with the etymology and move beyond this. It is not the book per se but the information contained within the book that is important. The book is but a portal. It is the information that we access through this portal which is important – it is the information which is important. This of course, coincidentally and conveniently allows me to include all manner of information – music, data, software, film etc etc. All information portals – all material that information can be gleaned from to improve and increase the knowledge of the person accessing it.

And though I allow myself to take some liberties with the etymology of the word I really cannot allow myself to extend it, or bend it, as far as a kitchen utensil. I cannot convince myself that kitchen utensils can form a library. Books about Kitchen Utensils yes, but kitchen utensils themselves, no!

Or maybe I’m just overreacting…

Further thoughts on Internships, MLIS grads, library jobs…

In my previous post I looked at the issue of Internships in the Irish Library and Information Science world and posted some questions their use raises. I finished by saying I would attempt to offer some replies to the questions I raised in the post.

But first, before that, I would just like to mention the positive feedback I received on the post. Particularly the comments posted on the blog by some people who have been directly effected by the JobBridge programme initiative. I would recommend reading these comments as they showed me some of the very real life problems and issues caused by the current use of the JobBridge program by the library profession in Ireland. How this relates across other sectors I have no idea but I would hazard that it might be pretty similar. I would also like to thank those over active Twitter users who commented on, and subsequently retweeted the post and friends who happily talked to me about their thoughts on the post.

Finally, before I proceed to answer the questions I just have to put a very big IMHO proviso before the answers – all of these answers are very much my own opinion and whilst I value my opinion quite highly I’m alas aware that not every body else might value it quite as highly.

1 – The first question I asked was should recent MLIS grads take a Library Internship position if the opportunity arises?

I answer this as if I was in the unenviable position of having to make that decision - I would say yes, a very big YES - take the position, even if it is an 18 month internship. Reasoning? Taking one is the only way, realistically, that you are going to gain any real library experience in the library climate of today. And without this real practical experience the chances of actually getting a ‘real job’ are going to be terribly slim. The situation now is that Ireland is producing more MLIS graduates than it ever has – at a time when there is an utter dearth of positions available to meet the employments needs and wishes of those graduates. It’s basic economics – your supply is far outstripping their demand. With this imbalance those who therefore are lucky enough to get those limited ‘real jobs’ are, I would think and hope, going to be qualified and have practical experience. The relatively recent days of obtaining an entry level library assistant job with no experience and just a Leaving Certificate are long gone. Entry level posts now will, because there are so many graduates, require a primary degree, a post graduate degree and some level of practical experience. Internships realistically are the only practical experience provider in the library game at the moment in Ireland.

2 – If there are no library jobs out there, and seemingly not much prospect in the near future, is it worth somebody’s while undertaking library school and getting a library qualification?

I would answer this by saying if you really want to work in the Library / Information field then yes it is most definitely worth doing a course. In the coming years, good luck to anyone without a MLIS qualification trying to get an information science related post. I would also say if you are hoping to get real work any time soon on the back of it look at being pragmatic and maybe do a course that will prepare you for the only sectors that seem to be hiring – Archives and Repositories and in the small number of private libraries, such as legal libraries, out there.

3 – If there are no jobs is it ‘moral’ for university departments to keep taking in graduates and taking their money when there doesn’t seem to be any realistic chance of a job afterwards?

I will nail my dark colours to the mast here - I personally feel it is not moral for a University to offer fee based courses when they are aware there are no jobs in that field. But equally I can not condemn any institution for doing so. I live in the real world – we live in a capitalist society – the market decides. People are part of the market. As long as we are willing to pay for a service, businesses and institutions, also part of the market, will offer these services. This is bright as day common sense and makes the world as we know it turn.

4 – Should libraries be hiring interns for nine months (or soon to be 18 months)?

I can see why libraries are hiring interns – in the public sector there is more or less a freeze on hiring and an increasing number of retirements are leading to big gaps in services. There is a belief that these gaps have to be plugged and, unfairly for the MLIS graduates, the JobBridge programme is an easy way for libraries to find and hire cheap and qualified labour. So from the perspective of the library and library managers, yes they should be hiring MLIS interns. But it would also be nice to think that the contract was two way and the Intern would get something tangible from the experience. It would be nice to think that the hiring library was also looking out for the best interest of the Intern – not just using them to plug up a gap for the duration and cast them aside when it finishes. Interns can be good for libraries – they bring in fresh blood, new ways of looking at old things, they still seem to be passionate about the profession , they have the enthusiasm of youth, they believe in libraries. They are as many now jaded librarians once were. But libraries need to be good for interns – they need to involve them in projects, make them a part of a team, teach them everyday, train them, mentor them – make them better prepared for that next post that comes up. They need to make them competition for people already working in the field for the limited positions that come available in the future.

5 – If interns keep plugging the gaps in the libraries will ‘real’ sustainable jobs ever be offered again?

This is a very real worry. If libraries and library managers can plug the gaps on the cheap it makes sense to do so – there is little money to go round and anyway that can save money, without reducing or undermining the service, needs to be looked at. If the interns are being hired to supplement the existing staff then the current existing gaps will be plugged and services will continue to be offered – to the end user it will be business as usual which is good news for library managers and those who fund them. But in the long term is this sustainable? I don’t really think it is. How long and how far can this actually go? A point will surely come when morale amongst this transient, for that is what they will be, population of MLIS grads will reduce – there needs to be the ultimate hope of a sustainable library / information science profession to keep people in the profession.

6 – Are there enough unemployed MLIS graduates looking for employment to enable gap plugging for many years?

Probably! Yes even!

7 – Do the people doing the hiring believe that libraries can be staffed solely with interns as some job bridge adverts are advertising?

What can I say? I would certainly hope not! I would hope that the people doing the hiring are more than mere bean counters. I like to think they look beyond the bottom cent. I would hope they have an idea of what is involved in the day to day running of a library. I would hope they can move from the strategic sphere into the operational sphere and see what is required for the day to day running and operation of a library. Much of what we do on a day to day basis needs practical experience, which is not taught, in library school. It’s all very well having the theory but it needs to be backed up with something substantive.

8 – Can a para or non professional qualified person run a library service to the same standard as a qualified experienced professional librarian?

Of course they can. But if you are library manager doing the hiring you would have to be lucky, very lucky, to get the sort of person who can come into a library with no experience and actually start to run it to any sort of decent standard from day one. Experience does count. How much experience obviously will depend on the position but I personally, if I were in the enviable position of hiring staff, would not hire a candidate who does not have experience.

8 – If non qualified staff can run libraries then why bother getting a qualification at all? Why waste your money or time getting the qualification when it is not needed?

If it is the case that in the future libraries are going to be run by non academically qualified staff then obviously there would be no need to get such a qualification. But I think with the amount of graduates being churned out finding a person with an LIS qualification is not going to be the problem. With the current downturn in library positions it will be finding a person with experience.

9 – What do all these questions say about where we, as a profession are, in 2013? And where do we go?

I would think we are in a particularly scary place. With no jobs being created, at least in the public sector where most Irish library and information science related staff work, it creates uncertainty for those qualifying and who have recently qualified. If there are no positions now what happens in ten, fifteen, twenty years when people who would have been gaining experience at the lower ranks have not gained experience and the only positions becoming available are higher rank positions… I shudder to think. MLIS graduates need to be gaining lower tier experience now to ready them for the higher tier positions in the future. As things stand now this is not happening.

And where do we go? Unfortunately, in Ireland, for new LIS professionals, I think the only way is the Interns / JobBridge route. This is the only experience to be gained. But this creates problems as set out in points five and six. The other alternative is cutting off the nose to spite the face – for people not to take internship positions but this, I feel, will not benefit people who are really seeking LIS work. It’s a case of taking the medicine for the duration, getting better [at your job] and hopefully getting your reward, a real job, somewhere down the, hopefully not too long, road. Because, to be honest, if you can get that full time position, there is no more rewarding enjoyable fulfilling job out there. IMHO.

MLIS Graduates, jobs, internships and the future of the profession

A number of years back I attended a one day Library Association of Ireland Seminar. It was during our good days, the Celtic Tiger years, and we still believed we were well off and the country still had money. Our libraries were still, relatively, well funded. New librarians were still being hired and working librarians were still being promoted.

I was especially looking forward to hearing one of the Seminar speakers. She was brought over from one of the big UK Library Schools. She talked in passionate depth about the Library courses her college ran. It was all excellent inspirational punched hands in the air stuff. Would almost have encouraged one to go back to school to get another LIS qualification. But it is her answer to one of the audience questions post talk that I still think of. She was asked would there be enough librarian positions to go round for all the LIS graduates that Library schools were and are exponentially producing. Her brutally honest answer? It was not their concern – she argued library schools role is solely to craft educated, qualified, high functioning graduates capable of successfully working in the current and future Library and Information Science field. She stated it isn’t the Departments job to find or create employment for them. Which to be fair, seems to be role of universities today – create strong graduates and send them out into the world to find their own way.

This answer stuck with me. Long after all the other talks, talkers and ideas from that day have faded from my mind, long after the easy money and the plethora of library job advertisements have disappeared it is her answer I remember. I bring this up now because of a recent discussion on Twitter with working librarians and current and recently graduated MLIS students. The discussion has to do with the number of library job-bridge schemes being advertised, as opposed to actual paid library employment. Nine month Internships as opposed to Real jobs if you wish – and if recent news reports are to be believed – soon to be 18 month internships. Recently there was a spate of job bridge adverts for work in the library field. A quick look on Twitter through #jobbridge or #jobfairy or on Libraryjobs.ie will show the number of library ‘jobs’ being advertised.

And this for me leads to a number of questions:

It creates a dilemma for recent graduates. Do they apply for one of these programmes, get much needed experience and knowledge in the field, build networks and perhaps, ideally they hope, turn the internship into a real job. Or do they wait and see if any ‘real’ jobs appear? Do they allow their skills and learning to be used as cheap labour or do they hold back and perhaps never get the experience required to get a real secure job. Do they not do the internship, not build experience, not create networks and make contacts? And when a job does come up will their peer who took the internship get the job because they have the experience etc.

This is just one question raised by the use of interns in the library profession.

Should there be a profession wide discussion on the use of interns in libraries? Because there doesn’t seem to be any discussion at present. Except amongst a few over active Twitter users. It is not a black and white issue – many angles need to be looked at and many voices heard. We need to look at dwindling library budgets, the public sector embargo on hiring, current library staff, soon to be retiring library staff, unions, current unemployed graduates, future graduates, the ethos and philosophy of the profession, the role of the professional bodies, library schools. All these, and others and surely other aspects, need to be included in any nuanced discussion of the issue.

And to finish this post I will ask a few questions:

1 – if there are no library jobs out there, and seemingly not much prospect in the near future, is it worth somebody’s while undertaking library school and getting a library qualification?

2 – if there are no jobs is it ‘moral’ for university departments to keep taking in graduates and taking their money when there doesn’t seem to be any realistic chance of a job afterwards?

3 – should libraries be hiring interns for nine months (or soon to be 18 months)?

4 – If interns keep plugging the gaps in the libraries will ‘real’ sustainable jobs ever be offered again?

5 – Are there enough unemployed MLIS graduates looking for employment to enable gap plugging for many years?

6 – Do the people doing the hiring believe that libraries can be staffed solely with interns as some job bridge adverts are advertising? Can a para or non professional qualified person run a library service to the same standard as a qualified experienced professional librarian?

7 – If non qualified staff can run libraries then why bother getting a qualification at all? Why waste your money or time getting the qualification when it is not needed?

8 – what do all these questions say about where we, as a profession are, in 2013? and where do we go?

As to answers? I do some have ideas and thoughts on these questions – but I will hold them off till another post. Don’t want to outstay my welcome. In the meantime I would love to hear what other working librarians, recently qualified Grads – employed, unemployed, Interns – library managers have to say on, or think about, this issue.

Yetanotherlibrarianblog – a beginning

Yet another librarians blog? Aren’t there enough already? One could surely think that when they cruise the world of library blogs and contend with the sheer volume out there on the Web. It sure does seem us librarians like blogs. We like to create them, we like to read them. We like talking about them. We like sharing them. And we might like to ask is there room, need or call for yet another librarians blog? But I just say, it’s just one more. Sure, what’s the harm…

Hence, my own little corner of the web has been claimed where I can throw my own voice into the mix. But first, a little bit of background for those of us who like that sort of thing - and to provide context for the hoped for future reading of any posts.

I have been working in an academic library for 12 years now. I still love the profession and the work as much as the first day I first started in our Medical Branch  library. I have, since then, worked in all divisions, if not all sections, of our library so have, I feel, a pretty rounded idea of what it means to be an Academic Librarian. During my first few years working as a librarian I obtained my library qualification via distance learning with the University of Wales Aberystwyth. So that there is the professional and experiential background.

I currently work in the Business & Social Sciences Reference Section and have done so for the last four years. This for me is perfect – my academic training is in Sociology – and that is the educational background. For me personally, the Reference Desk  is where it is at. That for me is  librarianship. For me working in a library is all about the user and the quest to connect them with the vast information sources that we hold.  Having worked different divisions I know we all play our part but I prefer the cut and thrust of front of house where the user is King/Queen.

This blog, I hope, will not focus on just any one  aspect of librarianship. Something catches my eye or brain and I will be able to craft a post.  My goal is to be as  the magpie – talking about whatever takes my fancy at any particular time. Some posts will be light throwaway pieces that might earn a nod of recognition and a smile from the reader and be forgotten. Others I hope will engage the reader and cause them to muse on the particular topic. And perhaps to engage in a dialogue with me and hopefully others. And if I am talking to an empty room – sure, what’s the harm…