torsdag 8 december 2011
E-books, Users, Reading promotion - the SPLQ chronicles
Soon these texts will also be published in their Swedish original forms in another very exciting context - something I will have reason to return to here in just a short while.
måndag 5 december 2011
Bibliometrics and the Changing Role of the University Libraries
For the first time, NDL hosts an original publication of a full scale research article, together with Lund University Publications. Enjoy.
UPDATE: As this article has been officially published by the Journal of Librarianship and Information Science, the link is now directed to the proper DOI.
How implementation of Bibliometric practice affects the Role of Academic Libraries
Dr. Fredrik Åström, Lund University, Sweden
Prof. Joacim Hansson, Linnaeus University, Sweden
Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to discuss the background and potential consequences of bibliometrics being incorporated as a part of librarianship tasks and competencies.
Approach: The discussion is based on previous literature as well as a questionnaire sent out to Swedish libraries with organized bibliometric activities.
Findings: Incorporating bibliometrics into academic librarianship is part of a redefinition and widening of the professional role. This is motivated by ambitions to provide more complete services in the scholarly communication process, as well as to increase the visibility and status of libraries, not the least in relation to central university management. Underlying reasons are professional competencies such as metadata and bibliographic database management; and bibliometrics being strong within library and information science.
Implications: Incorporating bibliometrics is a widening of the professional profile of librarianship, and may well increase the visibility of the libraries in relation to their wider academic environment, not the least in times when bibliometrics is getting increasingly important in terms of research evaluation. The new role should, however, also be considered from the viewpoint of potential changes in how libraries are perceived when incorporating a monitoring function through bibliometric analyses of research performance to the previous service oriented functions.
Originality/value of the paper: Bibliometrics as a complementary path for librarianship has been discussed previously; however, not in terms how the role may be changed and how libraries are perceived. There are limitations to be considered: the questionnaire is limited to Swedish libraries; and no efforts are made into investigating how this change is viewed upon by scholars and university management.
Keywords: Profession; Role of libraries/librarianship; Academic libraries; Bibliometrics; Research evaluation
The full paper is here
onsdag 18 maj 2011
Librarians versus (real) users - comment on a new report.
Many of the issues that so concern contemporary librarianship and LIS research are just not that important to the users. Two examples are the web presence and the idea of public libraries as “meeting places”. When it comes to web presence, it is clear that this is mainly a concern for librarians. This goes well in line with other international studies that indicate that web presence and use of social media is of marginal interest to users, but a high priority for librarians. Taking into consideration the efforts and resources put into this by libraries, this is an interesting result. There seems to be little doubt that the fixation on technology found among large groups of librarians – and indeed – LIS researchers have little bearing on the world and library activity of those actually using the library.
Another clear result of the study is the fact that most users are not particularly interested in their local library as a “meeting place”. Librarians however believe that they are. Within the LIS research community the concept of the library as a social meeting place has been in centre for several years now. It has been problematic though in that it has proven very difficult to define what this idea actually means. The library users know better – they go to the library to do their thing and really do not care much about the other users being there at the same time.
Of course the report – which is in Swedish – shows a wide range of results, and mostly users and librarians are pretty much in line with each other. The two examples I have lifted here are where they differ the most, and one may argue that this is no strange thing, but in some ways it is. Both web presence and the idea of meeting places are today so central to both practical librarianship and LIS research that we really have to ask ourselves what is wrong here. To me it seems like we in both practice and research take our point of departure in a perception of the user as we want her/him to be. Both areas are politically correct, but if the users do not respond to the efforts laid down in promoting them, then what we have is nothing but words, and that is – honestly – not much. Still, as everyone has to legitimize themselves, the discussion now might just turn to the question of the “good” user and the “bad” or “ignorant”one, or – even worse – how users could be “won over” to the side of the social and the technological. Evidently, what the citizens using libraries want is what they always have wanted; to borrow books, read magazines and newspapers – in a calm and quiet environment. The one thing they appreciate the most is a good and knowledgeable reception by the librarians. Well, some do indeed wish for a more socially stimulating and exciting environment as well – those between 74 and 85 years of age.
This is a good and interesting report. Hopefully it will trigger discussions and self scrutiny both among librarians and LIS researchers because we all know, in the end, the users are always right. Aren’t they?
Olika syn på saken: Folkbiblioteket bland användare, icke-användare och personal (2011). Stockholm, Svensk biblioteksförening.
onsdag 30 mars 2011
"Back in the USSR" - classification and cataloguing in Soviet libraries
onsdag 9 mars 2011
On the complex issue of e-books in libraries
There is no doubt that the forms of selling and distributing e-books today is not compatible with traditional library standards. This is hardly surprising, and should not be seen as a sign of slowness in the library sector, more of the aggressiveness and speed in the publishing/entertainment industry today – not only in the US. Most e-books that are sold today are versions of already existing printed books – as is the case of the bestselling Millennium trilogy by Swedish author Stieg Larsson, that according to the latest figures today sell more as e-books than as prints. Here e-versions come as “extra”, as any new version of the printed original. As long as this is the situation, librarianship will have no bigger problems in handling the e-books (except for issues like economy and copyright...). They will be in the margin of their ordinary lending activity. For a long time still, we will also have a relatively limited access to electric reading devices, and for a very long time to come these devices will be distributed among economically strong groups of society and large groups will simply fall outside of the market strata.
The really new situation will emerge (soon enough probably) when publishers find it worth while to no longer issue printed editions, or when the printed editions will be seen as second rate versions of the electronic versions of a text. In scholarly publishing this is more or less the case already today, but that is, whichever way we look at it, quite a different story. The true challenge for librarianship will be when this happens to novels, fiction, poetry, children’s literature and other forms of literature identified with the book as artefact.
There are several factors influencing the situation that lies ahead of us:
- Emotional: the term “book” will be reduced to a metaphor. What is left in an e-book is a text. This might very well turn out to be a real problem for libraries, as we know that most library users do what they always have done in libraries; borrow books – not in a metaphorical sense, but in a real sense. We must be very careful to start describing this as a problem. Here we may otherwise soon face a situation where librarians’ expectations of user behaviour is more coloured by producers of electronic reading devices and publishers than of the users themselves – a situation similar to that of the libraries’ felt need to use “social media”, which we see today.
- Technological: no library will be able to provide electric reading devices in any significant numbers to users that do not have access to them. They are (for long) too expensive and too sensitive. This will probably be less of a challenge and more of an obstacle in the developing of e-book services. A large number of library users will not be able to read these texts due to lack of technology, which brings us to a third, and more serious, problem:
- Social: libraries have for years now been increasingly important in providing access to electronic documents and information through their publically available computers. This is tremendously important to those large groups in society that still cannot afford, or for some other reason don’t have, computers and Internet access in their homes. The present instrumental collaborations between producers of reading devices and the publishing/entertainment industry make no such considerations, of course. Here libraries will face their perhaps biggest challenge for the future. Who to serve – the people who need them the most, or the commercial actors in the publishing/entertainment industry? It is a matter of interest which is indeed very real.
Why does this become a potential problem? Well, simply because there is a huge difference between selling text to read in specially suited reading devices and promoting (good) reading and literacy. Not ever have the commercial interests of the publishing/entertainment industry and the democratic mission of – primarily, of course, public – libraries been more in conflict than when it is within this development. The problems are easily foreseeable, but the solutions are complicated. Especially alarming is the thought of children’s literature in this development. Libraries have a responsibility to guarantee access to a broad variety of children’s literature for reasons both obvious and well known. The development of e-books threatens – in the long run – the libraries’ independence in relation to an industry which is getting bigger and more cynical by the hour.
As always it will be those with already the least resources that will be “losers” in this development. Once again: libraries have a choice here. To develop their mission to the benefit of those who need them the most – or to those who see them only as yet another channel of distribution of.…texts.
torsdag 3 februari 2011
Condorcet and the origins of faceted classification
In Library and Information Science it is common to see S.R. Ranganathan as the founding father of faceted classification. As a construct, faceted classification is superior to enumerative, strictly hierarchical, classification in its simplicity and flexibility. Defining who is first with what is however a difficult matter, as is disclosing genealogies of thought. It is of course reasonable to assume that Ranganathan didn’t get his idea of facetted classification out of thin air and one possible source of inspiration is to be found in late 18th century France. Mentioned only in a footnote in E.I. Samurin’s monumental Geschichte der bibliothekarisch-bibliografische Klassifikation, and just briefly discussed by a few other LIS scholars, Jean Antoine Nicolas de Caritat, Marquies de Condorcet (1743-1794) now and then emerges from the obscure corners of classification history. One reason why it is quite possible that Ranganathan knew of Condorcet’s work was that they shared the same academic “home” – they where both mathematicians. As such, Condorcet was prominent, by many regarded as the “father” of social mathematics, and erudite member of several learned societies around Europe (among them the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences). His interest also turned into philosophy and he counts as a major persona in the creation of the philosophy of the enlightenment, something which is manifested by his involvement in the creation of D’Alembert’s Encyclopédie. The work which concerns us the most here, however, is his Esquisse d’un Tableau Historique des Progrès de L’Esprit Humain, published in 1794. In this he combines mathematics and his passionate engagement in revolutionary social progress. He was active in the French revolution, and a vivid advocate of the democratic development in the then new USA. His classification is basically an attempt to make possible to test any hypothesis, and discover the general relationships between any given facts from every possible point of view. It is a classification of “everything”.
The system Condorcet constructed has on a few occasions been compared to the one hundred years younger system of Melvil Dewey in that it is based on what seems to be a decimal division. However, the differences between the two systems are so profound that I believe such a comparison to be misplaced. Instead of the strict decimal hierarchies of Dewey, Condorcet created a system of categories in “layers” that in fact defies some of the fundamentals of later classification theory, such as exhaustivity and mutual exclusivity between classes.
The system itself consists of five major categories (facets) divided into ten “terms” each:
I – Objects: (0) Man as animal, (1) Man as a thinking being, (2) Society, (3) “Quantity, size, position”, (4) “Properties common to bodies and general phenomena”, (5) System of the world and knowledge of the earth, (6) Animals, (7) Vegetables, (8) Minerals, (9) Physical technologies and their products.
II – Divisions concerning methods: (0) Philosophy, (1) Mathematics, (2) Physics, (3) Analysis of the elements, (4) Observations of permanent facts, (5) Observation of non-permanent facts, (6) Experience, (7) Instruments, (8) Analysis of methods and means employed, (9) Experience of methods and means.
III – Points of view from which objects may be studied: (0) Knowledge of their nature and quality, (1) …of their relations and affinities, (2) Anomalies, exceptions and local variations, (3) Measurement and evaluation, (4) History, (5) things considered as causes, means and principles, (6) …as effects, products and applications, (7) General laws, calculated or exact, (8) General laws, neither calculated nor exact, (9) Hypotheses and opinions.
IV – Uses and utility of knowledge (0) Progress of human knowledge, (1) Progress of education, (2) Social and political utility, (3) Use of knowledge for the preservation of man, (4) Use of…for the physical improvement of man, (5) Use of…for the moral improvement of man, (6) Use of… for his needs, (7) Use of...for his wealth, (8) Use of…for his physical enjoyment, (9) Use of… for his intellectual and moral enjoyment.
V – Ways in which knowledge may be acquired. (0) Knowledge that may be acquired by oneself or “meditation”, (1)…by observation and experience, (2) …by travelling, (3) ….from books, (4) …from manuscripts, (5) …from lessons by a teacher, (6) …by correspondence, (7) …in conversation, (8) …from conversation while travelling, (9) …by ideas received entirely from someone else.
In terms of content, the system can today only be regarded as a charming absurdity. The point of the system – and its contribution to classification history – is, however, in its method. It is not a hierarchical system. The construction of classes is made by constructing a sequence of digits representing a term in one of each category (facet) in the order I-V. If necessary, each category can be expanded with two-digit terms, thus making the decimal construction arbitrary. This method is similar to later versions of facetted classification systems, such as Ranganathan’s Colon Classification. Whether Condorcet was known to, or indeed used by, Ranganathan is – to my knowledge – not established. If this would show to be the case, it would further our understanding of Ranganathan in that it would put his method of classification in a very different context than that which is mostly referred to today. It would in fact contribute to our understanding of the very philosophy of classification that Ranganathan outlined, a philosophy which in both thought and rhetoric is so much like the thinkers of early European enlightenment, but – seemingly – from a completely different point of departure.
Condorcet’s classification scheme is presented and discussed in detail in these two publications:
Baker, K.M. (1962) “An unpublished essay of Condorcet on technical methods of classification”. Annals of Science, Vol. 18, pp. 99-123.
Withrow, M. (1983) “Historical studies in Documentation: an eighteenth-century facetted classification system”. Journal of Documentation, Vol. 39(2), pp.88-94.
Withrow’s text has been used as reference in getting the English terminology in the classification scheme correct.
tisdag 25 januari 2011
Nervous change or strong stability - what do research legitimize in public libraries?
Yesterday I sneaked in at the end of a lecture held by my colleague and friend from the Royal School of Library and Information Science in Copenhagen, Dr. Jack Andersen. He was invited to my department to speak to our students about theory and theory building in library research. Just as he reached the conclusion he pointed out a few disturbing things that are important to notice in contemporary library research. I was glad to hear it, as I have noticed them before, and I will here expand a little on them here:
There is no doubt that library research is problematic, as there is no doubt that (public) librarianship is. The fact that the two are constantly legitimizing each other with the help of abstract democratic arguments and a strive to find ways to construct new user needs (as is the fact with the use of social media I libraries) that can be “met” or analyzed. Public libraries’ manic urge to be innovative is met by a legitimacy of library research painting a picture of a society changing in a way that need to take libraries in new directions. Back-scratching is intense.
What is extremely rare in library discussions and, indeed, in library research is the analysis of the fact that public libraries are extremely stable organizations. This stability shines through wherever we look – not least in user behavior. There are no signs that the fundamental behavior or needs of public library users have changed in any major way during the last fifty years or so. People go to libraries to do what they always have done, and from the user point of view we see no signs that this is regarded as any form of “crisis behavior” or whatever. Stability is what gives libraries their authority. Stability is what makes people come. Stability in library organizations and user relations is n-o-t a problem. Nervous change is.
I have been touching upon these issues on several occasions earlier, both when I have been out and about speaking to librarians all over Sweden, and in my various writings. Dr Andersen mentioned it briefly in his lecture, but it reminded me of the most pressing problem of perhaps all in contemporary librarianship - the lack of argument for the frantic changes pushed through both in terms of organizational thinking (often with help of trivial management models), and in user relations (making up new "needs").
Public libraries do not need to reach everyone in society, but should be open to all, and well aware about which groups in society are so under-privileged or dysfunctional in relation to the mainstream norm, that they need to be subjected well developed (and financed) out-reach activities.
We know what people do when they go to libraries. Basically they do what they always have done - that is a good thing. By developing a library research that do not buy the nervous rhetoric of libraries and just legitimize it, but instead critically examine it by looking at what is actually happening and what libraries really represent, there may still be hope for development of future libraries – a sound development based on stability and self-confidence.
Thanks for the inspiration, Jack.
onsdag 5 januari 2011
Public libraries and social exclusion - needs for a new kind of research
This does of course not mean that all library research is “bad” research. On the contrary; during the last decade several projects and research programmes have been successfully completed displaying not only interesting results but good and creative research designs as well. As tend to be the case in most library and information science research, however, questions are dealt with one at the time. In Scandinavian public library research, as indeed in the libraries themselves, the issue of the library as a “meeting place” has been in focus now for quite a number of years. Much fine research has been done, most prominently perhaps by the Norwegian PLACE project, but many questions are still unanswered. The very concept of “meeting place” is still vague, at least if we get outside the strictly academic discussions, and it has triggered discussions about the concept blurring both the core values of, and the meaning of specific activities in, libraries.
It is, however, useless and uninteresting to ignore problems. Public library research needs not only to be cautious in empirical studies, but is often coloured by an almost romantic point of departure. Public libraries are talked about in arcaic terms, and the meaning of research is seen as helping libraries to maintain an identity which is hard to obtain in times of political ignorance. Political ignorance? Yes, I choose to use this hard term for the situation in Sweden and Europe today. Insecurity has now for long been a constant in Swedish public libraries and it basically stems from an anachronistic view of what public libraries can, might, and must achieve in society. The present government in Sweden is deliberately turning society back into a full fledged class society, enthusiastically supported by the ruling mechanisms of the European Union. It is very clear that an enlightened, strong population is not prioritized – the systematic deterioration of the school system is an example of this. It is also something which leaves public libraries in a political vacuum – the political prerequisites for its traditional mission is no longer there in the way they used to be. On the other hand, it is a situation which should (in the best of worlds) trigger the will to political activism and independence among librarians. Unfortunately this does not seem to be the case, as it is always more comfortable to keep quiet.
This situation is unique in Sweden. For the first time in a century, public libraries are not seen as means to increase the well being of citizens and the kind of individually based Bildung ideal that libraries have represented during the 20th century is not there any more. Still public libraries prefer to see themselves in the light of the 1970’s – a time which today seem more distant than ever. Of course, most librarians or library representatives would never admit this as they plunge themselves into new technologies and social media as an entertainment-stained substitute for the constructive combination of lust and seriousness that libraries used to represent. But it is a thin disguise. Most of it is basically nonsense to please political power, both locally and nationally – all dressed up as “user needs”.
What should the role of research be in this development? Well, most importantly, it is necessary to see that the knowledge interests of the library sector and the library research are not the same. Libraries need knowledge to develop new ways of working to secure the love of politicians (and users). The interest of research is analytical and critical, with the potential to expose the mechanisms of change in the relation between libraries and their societies. These two do sometimes collide.
It has been said many times that the social conditions of Sweden is so special that they can’t really compare to those of other countries with well developed library sectors, such as the UK. This is no longer true (if it ever was). With a political system effectively deconstructing the welfare state model built during the twentieth century, we should start looking more to the west than at ourselves to find inspiration for new research.
British library research has for a long time had a tradition of critically studying the library sector of the country, and its relation to both political power and local society. The results are sometimes both hard and invigorating. The perhaps most famous example of this is the Open to all? project carried out by Dave Muddiman and colleagues in the late 1990’s - final reports were published in 2000. The results of the studies in this project raise a fundamental, but quite annoying, question: do public libraries work against social exclusion, or do they indeed pander it? It is shown that librarians tend to focus on the wealthy middle class users that so much look and behave like themselves – even though the purpose of so many activities is the opposite. Now, to simplify the results from this large study in this manner is of course on the brink of the criminal, but still it is something that goes through it all in one way or another.
Recently a book on the issue of social exclusion came out in the UK: Public libraries and Social Justice, by John Pateman and John Vincent. It takes its departure in the Open to all? studies, and revisits the issue of whether libraries do actually work to meet those who most of all need the library. Once again, the result is that there is a will to do so, but librarians only rarely go there themselves. Conclusions are pervasive. The well educated middle class comes to libraries. We do not have to worry about them. It is the others; those who do not come, or dare to come, that should be in focus of the libraries’ interest – no matter the will of ignorant politicians. Still, the needs of the former are met and those of the latter are not. The book is a good example of when researchers see a different version of the truth than librarians. There is no reason to believe that Swedish, or Scandinavian, librarians behave differently. With few exceptions we can assume that the more “librarian-like” a user is the better service he or she gets – but we do not know, because no one has dared to ask.
We need research like this in Sweden, and in the other Nordic countries. We need to thoroughly question the “happy” national library statistics, we need to put a critical eye to the self proclaimed successes of the increasing numbers of integration projects in the library sector, and we need to make a deep investigation into the attitudes and prejudices of the librarians themselves. Not until this is done can we create a basis for understanding the complex relation between public libraries and the political mechanisms that drive them in one direction or another. Not until then can libraries be seen as they really are in contemporary society - political weathervanes or independent institutions that put the good of citizens first.
The results of the Open to all? project has been summarized in the following article:
Muddiman et al. (2001) "Open to all? The public library and social exclusion: executive summary". New Library World, Vol. 102(1163/1164), pp. 154-157.
Pateman & Vincent's book is the following:
Pateman, J. & Vincent, J. (2010) Public libraries and social justice. Farnham: Ashgate.