Monday, January 23, 2012

Reorganization at the University of Chicago Libraries

Besides the Harvard Library reorganization there's another bit of shifting that's taking place at the University of Chicago. Here's the link to the story on what's happening at the U of C. This helps fill out the picture a little bit more on what's happening in research libraries today. Other stories are invited that might provide an even fuller picture. Is there a pattern emerging? The link to the organizational chart in the U of C story is illuminating and at least invites the question of balance between administrative and "front line" staff in the redeployment at Chicago.

Friday, January 20, 2012

...What it is ain't exactly clear...

“All of Harvard Library staff have just effectively been fired” — A Twitter “tweet” from Harvard library staff member Abby Thompson during a recent “town hall” meeting at Harvard.
This morning I read an email message from a colleague in our Music library that contained a number of links to reports on a meeting at Harvard that may have implications for us here in the Twin Cities as well. One of those links led me to a blog (“Feral Librarian”) by Chris Bourg, Assistant University Librarian (AUL) for Public Services for the Stanford University Libraries which does a good job of summarizing all the other reports. Chris titled her blog entry “What’s happening at Harvard." Here's a good chunk of what she wrote:

The twitterspere (at least my corner of it) was all abuzz today about the Harvard Library Town Hall meetings (hashtag #hlth). Harvard Libraries have been in a “transition” for some time now, and it appears that the meetings today were intended to provide library staff with some updated information on the transition. Judging from the tweets, it was not particularly effective — more questions than answers apparently.

I have absolutely no insider knowledge at all, but as far as I can tell from trying to keep up with the tweets all day:

• An initial tweet claiming “All of Harvard Library staff have just effectively been fired” was re-tweeted often, as was a Google+ post written by a former Harvard University Library staff member.
• Later tweets clarified that no staff were laid off … today. Layoffs are imminent, however, and more details will be available next month.
• The layoffs will be in areas that are “Shared Services” — such as technical services, preservation, and access services; not collection development, research librarians, or special collections.
• Some jobs will be eliminated, some restructured, some new jobs created.
• For restructured and new jobs, internal candidates will be solicited first.
• All library staff are being encouraged to fill out employee profiles (with skills, interests and a CV/resume), which will factor into decisions about restructuring (and presumably who stays and who goes, and where the stayers go …). It looks like the deadline for completing profiles is only 1 month away, and workshops on how to do so are already full.
• The general sentiment on twitter is that the senior administrators at Harvard Libraries handled this very poorly — that the town hall meetings produced more questions than answers. Rather than serving to keep staff informed, they served primarily to created significant anxiety.
• Plenty of folks are worried that as Harvard goes, so go other academic libraries – in other words, if massive layoffs can happen at Harvard (with its huge endowments), then no academic library is safe.
• An official Harvard Library Transition Update was posted publicly on January 17. More official Harvard Library Transition stuff on the Harvard University News site.
• Excellent first-hand accounts and analyses from @mpeachy8 and @oodja.

I find this interesting on a couple of fronts. First, as in the case of the Wikipedia blackout, I think this gives us more than an inkling of the power social media plays in immediate communication and, because it is so immediate, to perhaps distort that communication in ways that heighten an event in terms of scope or impact. (Distort is maybe not the correct word; perhaps amplify or accentuate are better words to describe the phenomenon.) Folks in the news business (and other corporate endeavors) are hired to monitor social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook, so it should come as no surprise that this story of the Harvard meetings was picked up by the Harvard Crimson, the Boston Globe, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and Library Journal. And once the news is picked up by these organizations and placed online experience shows that the story will pulse around the world, amplified along the way by other tweets, re-tweets, postings, and commentary.

My second interest in the story relates to how it may play out here within our university library system. The colleague who sent me the original email ended his note by saying “A cautionary tale to keep in mind as we embark on our own reorg.” Yes, we are in the midst of our own reorganization. To quote from our staff web site: “In August 2011, the Libraries launched an Organization Review process to assess the optimal organizational structure to support strategic directions and goals.... This process comes in the context of a period of reduced resources and critical position vacancies resulting from a University Retirement Incentive Option program.” The initial word is that our unit, Archives and Special Collections, will not be impacted much (if at all) by the redeployment. But other units will. The principles that will guide our organizational design work are these (again from the staff web site):

Efforts to define the Libraries’ organization should aspire to:
1. Support the development of robust services and operations outlined in the Libraries’ Strategic Plan. This will be accomplished in large measure through the coalescing of expertise, resources, and leadership in areas of future focus.

2. Sustain foundational operations of enduring value, preserving and extending gains of efficiency and effectiveness achieved in current processes.

3. Balance capacity demands in supporting foundational and strategic functions through prioritization based on:
a. Alignment with the University’s priorities -- are we providing the services that strongly support the institution’s mission and directions?;
b. Value to Libraries’ user populations -- a relative measure of impact+benefit/cost;
c. Trends -- where is the value proposition going moving forward; and
d. Opportunity potential -- ventures that hold promise for gaining institutional competitive advantage, achieving excellence, expanding access, and controlling or reducing costs.

4. Invest in staff training and development, providing ample opportunities for professional growth into functional areas of new or expanded interest.

5. Prepare for strengthened commitments to collaborative models, where there is clear opportunity to achieve levels of integration, scale, and economy not otherwise possible.

If you can make your way through the “administrative speak” the plan takes its cue from the libraries’ strategic directions and goals statement, with emphasis on such actions as “coalescing expertise;” maintaining (and perhaps) growing efficient and effective operations; cost/benefit analysis relative to priorities, trends, and potential; developing staff; and collaborating wherever and whenever possible.

So, I’m drawn again to Bob Dylan’s lyrics, this time from the last stanza of “The Times They Are A-Changin'”

The line it is drawn | The curse it is cast | The slow one now | Will later be fast | As the present now | Will later be past | The order is | Rapidly fadin' | And the first one now | Will later be last | For the times they are a-changin'.

Where is the line? And what is the curse? Who are the slow and the fast, the first and the last? Is the line a “lean and mean” staff, “just in time” delivery of service, or “doing more with less?” Is the curse financial pressure, a changing technological landscape, or an invasion into library-land of MBA bred financial types and for-profit vendors? Are the slow the labor unions (e.g. look what happened with Wisconsin and collective bargaining) and the fast capitalist entrepreneurs or bleeding edge library administrators? Like the Harvard meetings, maybe my post is more questions than answers. I find all of this maybe a bit more than unsettling, even though I sit in the relative security of a continuous appointment and endowed curatorship in special collections. Or maybe I'm just echoing another lyric:

Paranoia strikes deep | Into your life it will creep | It starts when you're always afraid | You step out of line, the man come and take you away

We better stop, hey, what's that sound | Everybody look what's going down

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Something's Happening Here...

A bit longer post than usual on some things rumbling through my mind.

“Do you still think you are about collecting books and journals? If so, you are so toast.” — Roy Tennant, Senior Program Officer, OCLC Research

Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of comments like this. Roy is a respected voice in the library profession; the quote comes from a longer posting in his blog, Digital Libraries, and points to a number of changes currently rumbling their way through the library and information professional terrain. The landscape is shifting, somewhere on the order of an upper level Richter scale disturbance. It is an interesting, and for some, frightening time to be a librarian. According to Roy we are in a time of “the long night for libraries…beset from all sides, both programmatically and financially” trying to get into the requirements of a “new program” that puts content our users want “when and where and how they want it” and in “a place they want to be.” And all of this is happening in an environment of staff change, retirements, and retooling, “to inculcate in them [library staff] the motivation they require, the perspective they need, and the skills they should have."

At the same time, January 18th, Wikipedia went dark. If you ventured to the English version of the Wikipedia site on that day you were greeted by a stylistically blacked out page with the message “Imagine a World Without Free Knowledge. For over a decade, we have spent millions of hours building the largest encyclopedia in human history. Right now, the U.S. Congress is considering legislation that could fatally damage the free and open Internet. For 24 hours, to raise awareness, we are blacking out Wikipedia. Learn more.” Clicking on the “Learn more” link led one to a page that advocated Wikipedia’s positions on the two bills currently in the United States Congress, the “Stop Online Piracy Act” (SOPA) in the House of Representatives and the “Protect Intellectual Property Act” (PIPA) in the Senate. The action of a blackout is itself interesting to contemplate given that Wikipedia is a communal activity, created by “tens of thousands of volunteers from all over the world.” According to one of the pages still accessible on the site
Over the course of the past 72 hours, over 1800 Wikipedians have joined together to discuss proposed actions that the community might wish to take against SOPA and PIPA. This is by far the largest level of participation in a community discussion ever seen on Wikipedia, which illustrates the level of concern that Wikipedians feel about this proposed legislation. The overwhelming majority of participants support community action to encourage greater public action in response to these two bills. Of the proposals considered by Wikipedians, those that would result in a "blackout" of the English Wikipedia, in concert with similar blackouts on other websites opposed to SOPA and PIPA, received the strongest support.
And so, with the blessing of the Wikipedia Foundation, the blackout took effect at 11pm Central Time on January 17th. At this point I find myself humming the words of a Buffalo Springfield tune: “There's something happening here / What it is ain't exactly clear…”

In another article entitled “The Troubled Future of the 19th-Century Book” from The Chronicle of Higher Education Andrew M. Stauffer, an associate professor of English and director of the Networked Infrastructure for Nineteenth-Century Electronic Scholarship at the University of Virginia, writes
In most cases, pre-1800 books have been moved to special collections, and, under the 1998 copyright law, post-1923 materials remain in copyright and thus on the shelves for circulation. But academic libraries are now increasingly reconfiguring access to public-domain texts via online repositories such as Google Books and the HathiTrust Digital Library. As a result, library policy makers are anticipating the withdrawal of less-used print collections of books that are not rare in favor of digital surrogates. Large portions of 19th-century print materials will fall into that category….

Of course librarians have always "weeded" the stacks; it's part of the process of maintaining a healthy library system. But we are now facing a much larger and more sudden transformation. The movement of circulating collections to off-site storage has become standard practice at many academic research libraries. One gets the impression that librarians are deliberately encouraging trends already in place, getting users accustomed to digital formats, and effectively ensuring the reduced call for and access to the physical objects they hold.
In other words, the books are going to disappear from the regular library shelves and end up either in special collections or an off-site storage site. The first signs of such a move are already here. We’ve moved much of our own materials, mostly uncataloged but with some level of intellectual control or inventory, to off-site storage. Big Ten library directors are discussing and acting on other strategies such as a central repository for single copies of long periodical runs and other materials. In a recent newsletter for the Big Ten (otherwise known as the CIC—Committee on Institutional Cooperation—because it includes the Big Ten schools plus the University of Chicago) I read
Launched in July of 2011 with ten participating CIC libraries, the CIC Shared Print Storage initiative is progressing on schedule. The program’s first host site, Indiana University, has already secured over 70,000 journal volumes published by Elsevier, Wiley and Springer, and is testing a call and response process with a few CIC schools to fill in missing volumes and add titles to which IU does not subscribe. It is expected that the shared collection at IU will exceed 100,000 volumes by the end of 2012, and 250,000 by July of 2016.
Given such numbers I have to make an educated guess that a quarter million volumes representing duplicates of those titles held at Indiana will disappear from the other Big Ten library collections. If you’re here in Minneapolis and you want to see a volume represented in this collection a “call and response” will get it to you in the not too distant future (we hope).

I post all of the above here because these rumblings are causing me to ask, like the Buffalo Springfield song, “what’s going on here?” I’m happy to get a lot of our material online, available to researchers who will never have the chance to travel to Minneapolis and see the real McCoy. The difference, at least for the material under my care, is that we’re not going to get rid of the originals. They’ll stay here, safe and sound, in case someone wants to inspect them in person. We’re about the business of access and preservation.

Stauffer ends his article in The Chronicle (in another happy and ironic twist, available to me online) with these words:
The books on the shelves carry plenty of information lost in the process of digitization, no matter how lovingly a particular copy is rendered for the screen. There are vitally significant variations in the stacks: editions, printings, issues, bindings, illustrations, paper type, size, marginalia, advertisements, and other customizations in apparently identical copies. Such evidence is necessary for us to understand what books were, how they functioned, how they were produced and consumed across time, and what they meant to past cultures and other readers.

Moreover, in the case of Google Books and HathiTrust, the emphasis has been on quantity over quality. If our academic research libraries replace large swaths of 19th-century artifacts with hastily executed scans, they will be trading away irreplaceable legacies and gutting disciplines that rely on the evidence of the past, especially history, bibliography, textual criticism, and the history of the book. They will also be putting the real world of the historical book ever farther out of reach of students, even as they are ostensibly providing access to it via surrogates. In such a future, 19th-century books as things of paper and ink will be truly forgotten.

Humanities scholars have a vested interest in lobbying for the retention of the printed record in the general collections of academic research libraries. Such collections are places for discovery and the foundation of entire disciplines. This archive of the history of the making and consumption of books cannot be replaced by single-copy scans; and new scholars of the historical record cannot be trained on simulations.

Such projected deaccessioning raises larger definitional questions that should engage us all: What are academic research libraries for? To what extent is the university invested with the stewardship of the past? How will the humanities change in a digital age? What was a book?
Such, then, are my ponderings, prodded on by the writings and musings of others in the profession. “What was a book?” Will it come to that in the not so distant future? And am I really toast, as Roy Tennant suggests, because it is my job as a special collections and rare books curator to think about collecting books and periodicals? I don’t think so. I think I’m here to stay (albeit in a slightly modified form). And, besides, I like toast!

Yet, to quote a few stanzas from a Bob Dylan tune, “the times, they are a changin.”

Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'….

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don't stand in the doorway
Don't block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There's a battle outside
And it is ragin'
It'll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin'.

Where, in the end, does all this (and more) lead me? I need to retool. I need to stay fresh. I need to be active and informed. But I cannot forget the past, nor leave it to the digital dustbin of easy access devoid of historical context. There has to be some middle way between the extremes of a wholesale destruction of important (if sometimes irrelevant—for the present) texts and an ethereal information cloud beyond our care, control, and institutional boundaries. “Libraries,” Tennant writes, “are a societal good, even in these days of what seems like ubiquitous access to digital information. Access to information is not ubiquitous, nor equal, nor (still) as easy as it can or should be.”

Libraries are a societal good. The question, perhaps, is how good? And it seems, in part, that we’ve ventured over this ground before; it has a familiar ring to it. Anyone conversant with Nicholson Baker’s argument in his book Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper recognizes the seismic fault lines: libraries, enamored by the new technology (as it was back in the day) of microfilming, used this tool to manage collections, discarding original materials once they were filmed. This, along with other library programs, resulted in the loss of a part of our cultural heritage. Librarians and professional organizations responded to Baker’s arguments with some of their own, framed in terms of preservation and access strategies. (See here for a sample of reviews and responses.) Digital tools have supplanted microfilm in our professional (and cultural) practices (and arguments) over preservation, access, and intellectual property.

Something’s happening here....

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Eugene J. McCarthy on UMedia Archive

We've been busy over the last months adding more material to the UMedia Archive, the University of Minnesota Libraries system for the delivery and management of digital objects and rich media. The collection we've probably worked on the most is the Eugene J. McCarthy Collection which includes audio and image files related to Senator McCarthy's campaigns for President of the United States in 1968, 1972, and 1976 along with other personal appearances and speaking engagements. Thanks to the great work of our intern (and later, volunteer) Anjanette Schussler we now have over 1,000 items posted in this collection. Much of this material relates to McCarthy's 1968 campaign but other items from his Senate career have surfaced as well including photographs with Presidents Kennedy and Johnson and legislative colleague Hubert Humphrey. We hope you'll enjoy this rich vein of images.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Hide and Seek - Portlandia on IFC

One of my sons sent this along to me from YouTube featuring the city of Portland, Oregon and the "Sherlock Homies." Enjoy!

January 6

A New Year's resolution: time to get back into the blog game. So here's something I wrote for another audience yesterday to kick off the new year.
“Holmes was certainly not a difficult man to live with. He was quiet in his ways, and his habits were regular. It was rare for him to be up after ten at night, and he had invariably breakfasted and gone out before I rose in the morning. Sometimes he spent his day at the chemical laboratory, sometimes in the dissecting-rooms, and occasionally in long walks, which appeared to take him into the lowest portions of the City.” — Arthur Conan Doyle, A Study in Scarlet

Today marks the traditional date that most (but not all) folks of a Sherlockian bent celebrate as the birthday of the world’s greatest consulting detective, Mr. Sherlock Holmes. The rationale, or deduction of this date as that of Holmes birth comes from a close reading of the adventures in which Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night is the most quoted by Holmes (and thus January 6, Epiphany, as the date). This argument was made by the late William S. Baring-Gould, who also posited that Holmes acted professionally as a youth and toured with a repertory company that specialized in Shakespeare’s work. If the name Baring-Gould sounds familiar it is because William was the grandson of the Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould, writer of the hymns “Onward, Christian Soldiers” and “Now the Day is Over.” However, the younger Baring-Gould’s arguments on Twelfth Night and that it was Holmes’ favorite have been challenged by later Sherlockians, notably Marvin Kaye who stated that Holmes quoted from Henry IV or Henry V at least twice, and possibly three times. “There is also a case for Hamlet,” Kaye continues, “which may have been alluded to three times as well.” Sherlockians love a good argument and so another source for the January 6th date comes into view with the late Christopher Morley, editor for The Saturday Review of Literature and founder of the literary society devoted to Holmes, the Baker Street Irregulars. Students of the stories point to sources found in notes for an article in the Baker Street Miscellanea implicating Morley in which he “was quoted as having chosen the January 6 date, variously, because an astrological reading had indicated it as Holmes birthday; because it coincided with the publishing date of the first issue of The Saturday Review for 1934, for which he was writing a column; and because it was the birthday of one of Mr. Morley’s brothers.” So, however the date came to be fixed, we have a general agreement by most people that Holmes was born on this date.

The year of Holmes birth is another matter and opens up another field for debate. I’ll let Wikipedia summarize the issue:
An estimate of Holmes's age in the story "His Last Bow" places his birth in 1854; the story is set in August 1914 and he is described as being 60 years of age….However, an argument for a later birth date is posited by author Laurie R. King, based on two of Conan Doyle's stories: A Study in Scarlet and "The Gloria Scott" Adventure. Certain details in "The Gloria Scott" Adventure indicate Holmes finished his second and final year at university in either 1880 or 1885. Watson's own account of his wounding in the Second Afghan War and subsequent return to England in A Study in Scarlet place his moving in with Holmes in either early 1881 or 1882. Together, these suggest Holmes left university in 1880; if he began university at the age of 17, his birth year would likely be 1861.
Isn’t this fun? Add to this another fiction that fans of the detective engage in, namely that Holmes (and Watson) were real people and that Holmes is still alive, retired to the Sussex Downs and keeping bees (they don’t say anything about Watson). This would make Holmes either 151 or 158 years of age. Their arguments for such a state of being are two: that an obituary has never been published in the newspaper of record (The Times) and that an earlier edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica (I think it was the 14th edition) lists Holmes in the index as a real person. What better authorities than The Times or Britannica? Quite remarkable!

With Morley’s founding of the Baker Street Irregulars in 1934 Holmes birthday became the focus for an annual gathering in New York. These early gatherings of the Irregulars took place at a hotel in midtown Manhattan or at a speakeasy known to Morley and his cronies. The evening was full of eating and drinking, the presentation of a paper or two on some aspect of the tales, and perhaps some musical numbers. These dinners started small, about thirty or forty gathering for the evening, and have now expanded to a couple hundred souls. Next week the Irregulars will once again gather in New York. I am not an Irregular, but have been invited to many of their dinners as a guest. This year I’m taking a pass on the festivities but hope to rejoin them in a year or two.

Happy Birthday Mr. Holmes!