Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Oh to be the library's Alvin Toffler!

What is the future of library reference services? 

On March 5, 2015 I had the privilege to speak on that topic with the students of the Nova Scotia Community College Library Technician program.  I've taught students in the Master of Library and Information Science program, but this is the first time speaking with this group.  They are a wonderful group of students, and they are keen to understand where their profession is heading.  The invitation came as a response to my request on the APLA listserv for innovative research support service examples.  I was curious what cool things were going on and so were these students.

It was surprised by how few innovations were forthcoming.  If libraries are transforming themselves why are the changes so modest and...well frankly uninspiring?

I shared three examples of significant innovations that got my attention, both high and low tech:

1. University of Melbourne Law Research Service and Legal Academic Skills Center.
The first service provides dedicated research staff to support faculty research.  The second is a confluence of services designed to build student research skills including classes, workshops, and student wellness programs.  (Yes, we do most of these things already but what we don't do is integrate them with dedicated staff at this level of commitment.)

2. Simon Fraser University, Research Commons.  Going the next step, SFU has used the idea of the research lifecycle to guide their integration of services to students and faculty.  From creating the spaces and opportunities for idea creation, fostering collaborative partnerships, developing proposals and grants, facilitating research (traditional library stuff), to the publishing role (an emerging library role.)  One place to support the whole research endeavour.

3. Hold onto your seats: The Hunt Library, University of North Carolina.  This is a showcase of technological and social experimentation for libraries.  With immersive labs, and new private, semi-private, and collaborative work spaces, this library is breathing new life into the library as third space. (Watch the video.)

Three different focuses, three innovative visions of the role of the library as the locus of research.  The students and I discussed the implications of implementing these ideas, and the small steps we had taken to implement pieces into our own practice.  In the face of gloomy prophecies of the death of libraries, there are rays of hope for the next generation of information workers.

I wish I could see into the future.  A lot of the speculative fiction out there doesn't paint a very encouraging image of the future reference librarian.  I think of the holographic librarian interface from the 2002 remake of the Time Machine.  Reference is reduced to merely an interactive AI interface to the database of knowledge.  I think there are possibilities out there for really interesting services that are more than a better digital interface.  To borrow a quote from the futurist Alvin Toffler, "Society needs all kinds of skills that are not just cognitive; they’re emotional, they’re affectional. You can’t run the society on data and computers alone." 

Thanks for the invitation, NSCC! I hope you enjoyed our time as much as I did.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Why don't you read my research?


Why don't you read my research?  My blog tagline is "Informing faith so faith can inform life."  I,like most researchers, hope that my research has an impact: it informs, illuminates, and changes my communities in a positive way.  I want my research to help churches and not-for-profits impact their own communities.  Universities and governments are also interested in researchers' impact.  Institutional reputation, grant funding, and knowledge mobilization are on their minds. 

There is a lot more research out there.  Maybe too much.  There are more PhDs.  The pressure to publish, and publish is more highly ranked journals, is increasing.  There are more journals in traditional and new online formats.  How can I get my research to stand out?
I have reflected on this as an information scientist.  We know how people seek information so why can't we reverse engineer how to make it more "findable" (is that a word?)  Librarians have largely limited their new role to collecting and preserving research through digital repositories.  Although important, this is in many respects still old school collecting.  We have traded brick boxes for digital boxes.  A more exciting role is the championing of Open Access publishing.  This year we will convert our second Law school journal to an online open format.  Where else can we contribute?  As universities focus more on measuring research impact, I am reminded that information scientists like bibliometrician Blaise Cronin have been studying how research was accessed and cited for decades.  This should be familiar territory for us.  I think we need more Blaise Cronins. I think I'll give him a call. :-)

Serving on my faculty's Research Committee has impressed upon me how the question of research dissemination weighs on many minds.  What new skills do researchers have to learn?  What skills might librarians contribute?  This is worth exploring together.  In the meantime with support of my faculty colleagues I have developed a tool to support research dissemination.  What do you think? Are we on the right track?

http://dal.ca.libguides.com/research


Image Credit: Creative Commons License - "impact / impakt / n." by Nick Southall, June 28, 2011, on Flickr .

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Netflix Phenomenon Goes to Church

This past summer we finally cut the cable.  With AppleTV and subscriptions to iTunes and Netflix we rarely miss those 150 channels of "Friends" reruns.  Of course the limitation with any streaming service is that someone else sets the menu.  It is a wide menu so there is always something to watch. But where is Babylon 5?  And when do we get the next season of Murdoch Mysteries?


My church recently signed up for a Netflix-like  subscription streaming video service: RightNow Media.  This service offers libraries of video Bible studies, leadership training materials, and christian conference presentations.  There are hundreds of video studies for adults on Bible, Marriage, Parenting, Finances, Evangelism, etc.  There are stories for children from series such as Veggie Tales (now coincidentally produced by Netflix). 


Evangelical teachers like Francis Chan, Bill Hybels, or Andy Stanley can join your Sunday school class or home group meeting for a low monthly fee.  All members are provided individual passwords to log into the website and app.  The church has the ability to create packages of teaching materials or publish a church favourites list.  The small group I attend is using Francis Chan's study Crazy Love.  We watch the video lesson and then discuss the questions from the accompanying study guide.  It challenges the unexamined faith. (You can watch Chapter 1: "Stop Praying" below.)

Previously Sunday school teachers and study leaders would trundle down to the local Christian bookstore to purchase appropriate materials.  When studies on video tape became available they were expensive and churches would buy one VHS or DVD set that might circulate among groups.  This model brings educational and inspirational materials to the living rooms and mobile devices of individual members.  For church leaders it offers exciting possibilities.

It does raise for me other considerations about the Theology of Information Seeking.  RightNow Media is a not-for-profit ministry based in the U.S.  There stated mission is "to help people trade in the pursuit of the American Dream for a world that desperately needs Christ."  Their goal is "to encourage millions of Christians to be on mission wherever God has them ... to be TRADERS... people who intentionally put “others before self, and Christ above all.”  Theologically the ministry's doctrinal statement is conservative, evangelical, and premillenial.  The videos they include however represent a wider cross-section of the evangelical spectrum and many would be of interest outside the evangelical fold.  For instance it was a Catholic Seminarian who first introduced me to Chan's Crazy Love.  This kind of church sanctioned service however does shift the locus of teaching doctrine from the local church pastor to an external source.  Are we prepared to outsource this responsibility?  It merits thought; the New Testament standard for religious educators is very high.  Personally I think the potential for a resource like this outweighs the potential problems.  Nonetheless, this changes things and warrants further consideration.  I think this is my next research project.

Enjoy Francis Chan's Crazy Love, 2nd ed. (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2013), Chapter 1: "Stop Praying"



Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Grand Vision: The Halifax Central Library

Today I visited the new Halifax Central Library.  Wow.  I only had a few minutes before my bus to rush in to look around.  I am impressed.
It is a grand building undoubtedly, and beautiful.  What also struck me was that it is a people place.  People reading, chatting, studying, meeting, and, like me, gawking.  I remember some years ago attending a conference session of community spaces.  A European graduate student described her puzzlement when she first arrived in Halifax.  She wanted to find the 'piazza', the city plaza common in many European cities.  "Where do people meet here?" It was an interesting question. "At the mall maybe. or a local bar" we offered.  Once upon a time the community church was the meeting place in North American communities but regrettably few still play that role.  After all these years I think I have an answer to her question. For at least the folks on the peninsula the Halifax Central Library has the potential to be our piazza. 

I was struck with the many kinds of spaces in the library.  The Halifax Living Room of the top floor offered a spectacular view of the city but was also a quiet reading spaces.  A couple chatted on one sofa while another person curled up in a chair with a book.  It did have a living room feel.  Students clustered in alcoves and lone researchers worked away on laptops in semiprivate alcoves.  The coffee shops were alive with conversation.  And people checked out books; lots of them.  That is note worthy in such a high tech facility.

Some people will disagree with the design and style of the building.  Others might chaff at the cost of such a space.  I can see those concerns.  I'm not usually a fan of monumental construction myself.  I usually find an atrium a colossal waste of space (and I really hate skywalks).  The openness of this space however adds to its appeal as a community place.  I also admire the grandeur of the vision, something that Nova Scotia needs more of.  It is more than the architectural feat.  It is community building.  It is something as a city we can be proud of.  It is creating buzz. In a dying province we need that kind of thinking.

As I left the stood out front of the library waiting for my bus I came to a realization.  I am tired of little visions.  I want more grand visions; not just the same old tired ideas writ bigger.  I want to be part of transforming visions.  It needn't be buildings, but it needs to be outlandish.  Thanks Judith Hare and your team for being doggedly persistent.


Enjoy the brief tour from CBC. But trust me, you'll want to check it out yourself.

"Halifax Central Library", http://www.halifaxcentrallibrary.ca/
"Piazza Navona", Giorgos, May 7, 2007, Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/vintzileos/

 
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