Saturday, November 12, 2011

Academic Library Symposium: Bridging the Gaps

I attended the LJ/Temple Academic Library Symposium in Philadelphia. The theme was "Bridging the Gaps". The keynote and panels for the day were great opportunities to identify, acknowledge, and begin exploring ways to close those gaps. Several attendees tweeted from the event using the hashtag #futurelib11.

The morning started with a keynote by Kristin Antelman from North Carolina State University. She talked about some of the cultural gaps in academic libraries. One of th gaps is everybody vs IT. Angelman argued communication style and differences in decision making are major components of this gap. She also mentioned everybody vs administration is another gap, "citing some of the controversy over the Taiga forum statements as an example of library culture clashes" (tweeted by @hadro). Antelman noted the commonalities of these gaps are the preconceptions, and when she added trust as a major contributor it strengthened that concept for me.

Cultural web slide

Antelman spent a good amount of time on the Competing Values Framework and how it can aid in revealing gaps with an eye towards bridging them. One of my favorite quotes was "Organizational culture should never be viewed as static." I think that this is often a contributing factor to culture gaps in academic libraries. Strategies for bridging these gaps include assessing them as an organization and setting goals around actionable specifics. Antelman asked "Can there be a shared vision if there isn't a shared understanding of the culture?" I don't think I was the only person in the room who had an "a-ha" moment when she asked that question. She closed the keynote by showing the video "What are our future library leaders thinking?"

Immediately following her keynote, Antelman facilitated the first panel of the day "Innovation: Freedom vs Control". Laurie Allen (Haverford College), Damon Jaggars (Columbia University), Bill Mayer (American University), and Jessica Rossi (Community College of Philadelphia) introduced themselves and told us why they were invited to be part of this panel. The majority of the time was spent answering questions from the audience. Those questions included:
  • How do we keep communication flowing in both directions despite the organizational layers?
  • How do you leverage individual effort and excellence for institutional benefit?
  • What do we do about the idea that libraries are just books? Is it the administration's job to correct this misconception?

Antelman facilitating Q&A for Innovation: Freedom vs Control
Kristin Antelman facilitating the first panel.

I facilitated the second panel "People: Strengthening the Culture". I gave a very brief introduction:

This segment is a conversation focused on the people in and related to academic libraries. My colleagues who make up today's panel each bring a difference voice to our discussion. They will speak frankly about this pivotal gap in our culture.
Valeda Dent, Erin Dorney, Andy Burkhart, and Diane Skorina responded to the questions I wrote to frame the discussion.

  1. What are the major misunderstandings in academic libraries? How do those misunderstandings manifest?
  2. We've cited a number of "diversities of workforce" (generational, experience, students, status, user needs, etc.) and their associated misunderstandings that make academic libraries look very different, particularly moving forward.

    • How do we deal with resistance to current and future changes?

    • How does that resistance impact our library missions? College/university missions?

    • What effect does all this have on our ability to both recruit and retain the very best?

  3. In 30 seconds or less what is the most important gap to bridge and why?
I left time for questions from the audience. The questions and comments were very good and helped to expand the conversation. An audience member noted that in many academic libraries a large percentage (65% was cited for the speaker's library) of employees are support staff, but most of the responses were focused on librarians. One audience member noted that a gap related to ethnic and racial diversity of academic librarians was something the panel did not directly address. Challenges related to mentoring, retention, and having more frank and direct conversations about this topic were also identified.

Jody Condit-Fagan and Beth Bernhardt highlighted their experiences with the "Discovery Services Ignite Staff Collaboration and Empower End Users" session.

Discovery Services panel
Beth and Jody answer questions.

After lunch, Aaron Schmidt and Amanda Etches-Johnson, principals at Influx Library User Experience Consulting, introduced the afternoon session on the User Experience. It was noted to close the user gap, need to know what to change and have the ability to change it. To know more about people, we need to study them. Focus groups and surveys are better for learning people's opinions. Contextual inquiry as a great way to see how people are using the library. Schmidt ended with the useful reminder that "user research is cyclical."

Do you know?

Schmidt and Etches-Johnson asked a group of Temple students (three undergraduates, one graduate) a series of questions about their experiences using the campus library as well as electronic resources. The process was then repeated with four faculty (three from Temple, one from Drexel). Here are my observations based on my session tweets.


  • students use the library to check out books, especially textbooks that are "overpriced", to do high volume printing, and find a quiet space to study away from their apartments. It is also a place to get help, Internet access, synergy of research process tools.I found it particularly interesting that quiet space was cited as a motivator to use the library.
  •  One student wished the library were prettier and there were more libraries on campus so she could "library hop" to get a change of scenery. 
  • Students wished there were more outlets, better seating arrangements and seating options, better lighting in the library. 
  • Students did not use library when they were hungry or when they wanted to socialize and work. Certain coursework was cited as being okay to complete when hanging out with friends.
  • 1 out of 4 students had a digital textbook required for class. Two of the three indicated they preferred print textbooks.
  • An undergrad just said he "doesn't really know what the qualifications to be a librarian are."
  • Despite not really using the library or librarians, student felt it would be a negative to the campus if the library closed.
  • Undergrad indicates there could be a circulation based determination (no circ for 2yrs) for converting a book to e-copy.
  • Most panelists using library in role of teacher as opposed to for their own scholarship.
  • Faculty want students to use the print, browse shelves. 
  • Panelists use their librarian for course related instruction. One faculty member said "Using experts is part of research process."
  • One faculty member allows multimedia assignments, but most students choose to write a paper. 
  • One faculty member noted "digital literacy is a limited literacy".
  • Students need to experience primary source research in archives.  
  • Faculty asked how they think undergrads can evaluate sources. One faculty member cites inability of students to have the skills to begin to evaluate resources. Hard for undergrads to recognize scholarly literature as a conversation. Source evaluation skills lacking for print probably also laking for electronic.
  • Faculty using research guides for their discipline as a starting point for student research.
  • Future library would be a collaborative physical space for interdisciplinary scholarly interaction. Future library could be semi-intimate space: comfy chair, cup of coffee, book. 
  • As a student said earlier, one faculty member feels the library is real heart of university, necessary on campus.
  • Curricular initiatives on campus need to be integrated with the library, such as internationalizing online teaching.
Steven Bell said a few closing remarks. I particularly liked when he said "We really need each other if we're going to do great things." He thanked everyone for attending and participating in the symposium. There was a lovely reception after the event.

Steven Bell

I had an opportunity to eat the most delicious hand drawn noodles with Josh Hadro, Aaron Schmidt, and Lindsay Sarin before driving back to Pittsburgh.

Noodles with ox tail