Thursday, November 5, 2015

Parsing Elsevier: Lingua and Open Access

Yet again, 
In late October, the editors and editorial board, six and thirty-one people, respectively, of the linguistics journal Lingua resigned. They did so to protest the publisher's, Elsevier, policies and pricing, having unsuccessfully asked the company to convert the journal to open access and hearing from libraries that one of linguistics premier journals was becoming too expensive. Per Inside Higher Ed:
Johan Rooryck, executive editor of the journal until his resignation takes effect at the end of the year, said in an interview that when he started his editorship in 1998, "I could have told you to the cent what the journal cost," and that it was much more affordable. Now, he said, single subscriptions are so expensive that it is "unsustainable" for many libraries to subscribe. Rooryck is professor of French linguistics at Leiden University, in the Netherlands, where academic and government leaders have been sharply critical of journal prices.
This was not the first instance of a journal editorial board quitting over Elsevier, as The Economist noted in 2012:
In 2006, for example, the entire editorial board of Topology, a mathematics journal published by Elsevier, resigned, citing similar worries about high prices choking off access. And the board of K-theory, a maths journal owned by Springer, a German publishing firm, quit in 2007.
Simmons hosts a comprehensive list of journals that have declared independence.

Tom Reller, Vice President and Head of Global Corporate Relations at Elsevier, addressed this most recent resignation in a blog post. In it, Reller makes a number of claims that should go fact-checked. I do so below.

I am not the first person to parse Elsevier's statement. Martin Eve, Senior Lecturer in Literature, Technology and Publishing at the University of London and head of the Open Library of Humanities, which will play host to the new journal to be run by the previous editors of Lingua, Glossa, does an excellent job clarifying some of what Reller wrote. Eve notes that it was not Rooryck, solo, who wanted to take ownership of the journal, as Reller asserts, but rather the editors, writ large, and counters Reller's claim that Elsevier founded the journal. More importantly, Eve takes issue with Reller's definition of "sustainable," given that Elsevier reported a 37% operating profit in 2014.

These are the 2012 numbers. Chart via Alex Holcombe at the above link.
Reller argues that lowering the article publishing charge (AAPC), a fee that authors and/or institutions pay Elsevier for publication, for Lingua from $1800 to $440 is unsustainable, yet given the publishers' profit margins this seems unlikely. Indeed, Elsevier does publish other journals with lower APCs, more in line with what Rooryck, other editors, and the board asked for. At issue here is a definition of sustainability that takes Elsevier's profits into account, but not the balance sheets of academic libraries.

To Eve, let me add:
  • In Reller's response, he notes that Elsevier is "the world’s third largest open access publisher," but this, too is misleading. His company is the largest publisher of scholarly journals, but of the 2,500 journals they publish, only 300 are fully open access. Another 1,600, including Lingua, have some hybrid form of open access. Elsevier's claim comes from its size, a function of how many journals it publishes. Elsevier is not a member of the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association, as some of its competitors are, including Springer, Wiley, Taylor and Francis, SAGE Publications, and Oxford and Cambridge University Presses, among others, which signals a lack of commitment to Open Access Gold, immediate free and open dissemination. Indeed, if one were to point to the largest strictly open access publishers, it would include the Public Library of Science and BioMed Central Ltd., owned by Springer, among others. Not Elsevier. 
  • Reller claims that "Elsevier will receive 1.2 million article submissions this year, publish 400,000 of them into a database of 12 million articles," for an acceptance rate of 33%, higher than that of the American Psychological Association, and many other publishers.* One effect of "the big deal" for libraries includes charging for lesser journals that don't get much use, similar to paying for cable television for just a few of the hundreds of available channels. 
    • To wit, the Massachusetts Institute for Technology notes that "UC economist Ted Bergstrom concludes through his calculations (including price per citation) that 59% of Elsevier titles are considered a “bad value.” In comparison, The American Physical Society has 0 titles that are “bad value” based on the same calculations." 
  • Elsevier is more than entitled to make a profit, which includes happy and productive employees that can exercise on the job, but sustainability is a two-way street. There are ways to make money in strictly open access environments that academic librarians should invite them to explore, such as "generating better metadata for... open access items; designing stronger, more relevant search functionalities; and creating attractive and user-friendly platforms." (Source
  • Per usual, when discussing issues of open access, faculty are barely present. So long as faculty cannot or do not or refuse to recognize the political economy of scholarly communication, the longer it will remain a moral hazard in which they are immune to its costs. If it is professionally and personally possible, academic librarians should initiate these conversations with faculty and academic administration. That means you, tenured librarians. To colleges and universities that employ scholarly communications librarians and help them succeed: thank you. 

Elsewhere on this site, explore the open access tag.
A Chronicle of Higher Education article on Lingua.

* Yes, I know that this is a problematic argument for a variety of reasons and I lack access to Cabell's Directory of Publishing Opportunities at the moment, but bear with me.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Ride, Live at the 930 Club, September 17th, 2015

In 2013, My Bloody Valentine reformed, recorded a new album, and went on tour. In 2014, Slowdive did the first and third of these, prompting me to joke that in 2015 it was Ride’s turn. And here we are.
Of these three shoegaze groups, Ride were the rock traditionalists; MBV and Slowdive were forerunners of post-rock, using guitars and pedals to make sounds free of form, at times experimental, ambient, and discordant. Ride, on the other hand, rejected the shoegazer moniker, were more likely to listen to the Nuggets box set–they’ve covered The Creation’s “How Does It Feel to Feel?”–and it’s no accident that after they broke up guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter Andy Bell joined Oasis, albeit as a bassist.

And so on Thursday, September 17th, a rock show broke out at Washington, DC’s 930 Club. Ride opened with “Leave Them All Behind,” as close to a defining statement as they have. The band clearly wasn’t content to “play the hits,” as they were, busting out “Birdman,” live for the first time since 1995, as well as “Decay” and “Seagull,” both for the first time since 1991. “Twisterella” followed the first of these rarities, with Bell, doing his best guitar god impression and inexplicably clad in a Neu! trucker hat, turning the song into a southern boogie workout via his clean, single-note picking. “Black Nite Crash” and “Time of Her Time” similarly rocked, with the middle-aged crowd pogoing and bopping along. Mark Gardener, Ride’s other guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter, broke up the group when Bell brought these songs to the studio, but he was all smiles this evening, harmonizing with his co-vocalist in the style of The Byrds. Meanwhile, Laurence Colbert dished out plenty of hi-hats and cymbal crashes and bassist Steve Queralt held down the low end.

Ride may still reject the shoegaze label, but delay, reverb, and other effects pedals were employed on many songs, including an extended freakout in the middle of “Taste,” while the vocals from Gardener and Bell were appropriately buried in the mix throughout. When Bell asked the crowd if this was their, our, first Ride show, many hands stayed down, and there was plenty of singing along during the concert. “Vapor Trail” was dedicated to us first-timers, Bell’s guitar and pedals mimicking the famous cello solo. The band closed with “Seagull,” sending the audience out into the night ears ringing, and thus ends the holy trinity of shoegaze reunions.

Ride Setlist 9:30 Club, Washington, DC, USA 2015, Reunion Tour

Elsewhere on this site and beyond: 
My review of Slowdive 
My review of My Bloody Valentine
This review was originally posted at Midnight to Six

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

On Institutional Repository Success: Discovery, Search, Metadata

Over the summer I was asked to talk about institutional repositories and how to define what makes them successful as part of a job interview in an academic library. The text of what I said, along with some of the accompanying images, is below.


I've been asked to present my thoughts on what it means for a digital repository, an institutional repository, to be successful, and how to measure that success.

Very few people I know go into an institutional repository (IR) to look for something. It's not the way that search and discovery work. What I propose we do is to link the IR to our current search and discovery workflows, that is, link the IR to things that people already use.

It's not about making the repository more visible, it's about making the stuff in the repository more visible.

The IR is nothing without the things inside it; we need to have things that people want, and people need to know that they want those things, those items. Those items need to be where people can find them.

Don't have an IR just for the sake of having one. I turn here to one of my favorite library and information science theorists, Frank Zappa.

Thanks, Zappa estate.
Zappa once said that if a country wanted to be taken seriously, it needed two things: a beer and an airline. For Zappa, these are symbols of modernity. I want to make sure that an institutional repository isn't just a symbol of modernity, that we don't have one just because everyone else does, or because it's what academic libraries "should" have, but because it will be used. And for sure, having one is nice. On its own, an IR sends a positive signal concerning open access initiatives to faculty, to an academic community, and that's good, but it shouldn't be the main reason for having one.

Furthermore, we shouldn't have an IR because it's seen as a solution to non-existent or undefined problems. In organization theory, this is known as the "garbage can model" of decision making.

Not sure why PBS hosts this smushed image.
If we're going to have an IR, it should solve existing problems. It should help, not hinder, and it shouldn't exist for its own sake.

So with that in mind, we have an IR here, and an open access initiative and policy. We can improve the IR, and more importantly the stuff in it, in two ways, discovery and search.

For discovery, there are a few options. At my former place of work, we used widgets as well as a tab in our discovery search box.

Note the widgets, circled. (And yes, this is called burying the lede.) 
If possible, add a facet in the discovery layer search results. We already teach the use of these facets, may as well make the IR, and thus the stuff inside, more visible.

Note: no IR facet here. 
Results can also be expressed such that the IR is more visible. In "bento box" results, there could be an IR section of results, for example.

And of course if we don't have strong metadata for items in an IR, this won't matter. Application Platform Interfaces (APIs), Omeka has one, for example, are a good way to bring robust metadata into discovery. Digital Commons uses Open Authentication Interface, which is also workable. There's certainly room for collaboration with vendors here.

Metadata is also important in searching outside the library. Plenty of us, and faculty, use Google Scholar. With a link resolver we can bring faculty back to the library site, to the IR.

What success can look like. 
The library isn't a gateway, isn't always a starting point, so we need to bring what we have to where our users are. The library may not function as publisher, but it can certainly act as distributor.

Why is metadata so important here? Because Google Scholar works better with some schemas, some formats, than others. It doesn't play nicely with Dublin Core, for example. Without that robust metadata, we might come across our friend the paywall.

We've all seen one of these before, right? 
Ahhhh, the paywall, simultaneously too expensive, "you want how much for that paper?," and insultingly inexpensive given all that work that goes into research and publishing. Poor metadata will send people to a paywall instead of an IR for the same paper.

So discovery and search are two ways to build on IRs, to expand their capabilities. But if these methods work, how will we know? How can we track the output and measure the impact of an IR?

Traditionally, we use bibliometrics: citation tracking, pageviews, downloads, and the like. Our good friend COUNTER fits the bill. As the number of digital-only items grows, altmetrics become more important. Are articles being shared on LinkedIn or twitter? I know that one organization has tried to measure the effects of "#icanhazpdf," article sharing on social media, with mixed results. And increasingly, the line between biblio- and altmetrics are blurring.

Return on investment is also an opportunity to measure IR success, albeit crudely. Back to that paywalled article; we know that Elsevier thinks it's worth $36. Could we then write, in an annual report, that we added x-number of articles to our IR in 2015, or a fair market value of x times whatever the median article value is? That might be effective in terms of telling a story to academic administration.

Qualitative methods could also prove useful. Interview faculty, either individually or in focus groups, ask how IRs work, or don't, for them.

Speaking of faculty, this doesn't work without buy-in from them. It's why open access policies and initiatives are so important. Open access papers tend to get cited, get read, and get used more than those that are paywalled. Academic publishing looks like a moral hazard at times; faculty publish stuff and then we in the library have to buy it back from publishers.

Want one? Buy one!
We're asking a lot from faculty here, with the open access policy and the repository. We're asking them to trust us with their research, their work, and we librarians need to continually earn that trust. And that trust is part of success.

So to recap, institutional repository success is, to me, when you find the stuff, whether you notice the repository or not. When the repository is
  • Easy to use. 
  • Useful.
  • Interoperable, in that it works with what we have in terms of discovery platforms and search.  
  • Smooth and seamless, reducing friction so we don’t have to search in multiple places. That is, the IR can be unseen and still work! 
  • Branding/marketing can be useful: be consistent.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to present, and I look forward to your questions and comments. 

Take this with a grain of salt because I did not get the job.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

I Got Soul, But I'm Not a Soldier: On "a quiet culture war in libraries"

University of Utah Associate Dean for Scholarly Resources and Collections Rick Anderson has published an opinion piece in Insights, titled "A quiet culture war in research libraries – and what it means for librarians, researchers and publishers." This article is illuminating and instructive, but not, I suspect, for the reasons Anderson intended. Rather than revealing or elucidating a problem – the author offers no evidence beyond his opinions as the first comment on the article points out and cites only himself – it is a useful look into the mindset of a dean, one that I suspect is shared by others, as well as university and associate university librarians throughout North America. The article can also be read as an apologia for the current state of scholarly communication and library and information science (LIS) practitioners' roles in that.


Anderson posits a spectrum from soldier to revolutionary with regards to how academic librarians and library staff approach their jobs, and that the tension between these mindsets drive much of the labor in academic libraries. To wit:
The soldier can be thought of as generally operating under ‘marching orders’, which he takes from his institution’s mission and strategic goals, and tends to focus mainly on local needs, the impact of library services on current patrons, and the library’s alignment with its institutional mission. Those with a predominantly soldier mindset will tend to think of the library primarily as a service and support program for its host institution.
The revolutionary mindset thinks less in terms of marching orders than in terms of global vision. A librarian with a predominantly revolutionary mindset will tend to think more about the library’s effect on the global scholarly community, its potential role in solving global and systemic problems, and the long-term impact of its collections and services in that context. The revolutionary will tend to think of the library less as a service than as a leader and educator on campus.
Anderson is rightfully careful to note that soldiers and revolutionaries operate on a spectrum, but by focusing on the extremes, "two different orientations," he writes, or at least the Weberian ideal types, the article gives the appearance of binary thinking and false dichotomies. His use of "spectrum" and "continuum" as cover are not unlike a lawyer who introduces something for the jury to hear, knowing it will be stricken and thus resonate.

The multiple uses of "war" are worth examining. Soldiers protect and defend, while revolutionaries take, using tactics that are sometimes outside the norm ("Man the barricades!"). Soldiers, viewed here, are drones, executing a mission, a mischaracterization of what actual soldiers do, and the discretion they exercise. The title of the article, however, postulates a different kind of war, one that will be familiar to students of United States' politics and history, a culture war. This phrase has a particular meaning, left-right/liberal-conservative.

This is a profoundly unserious analogy and metaphor, as the culture war in the United States had, and has, very real victims: poor people, single parents, the LGBT community, women seeking abortions, and people of color who used drugs, among others. However, it is because of these victims, and the co-option of militaristic language by the right in the United States that we must take it somewhat seriously. After all, if Anderson wanted to he could have used the principal-agent problem from organization theory to make the same, still unserious, point. That he chose to use the language he did is telling.

Soldiers defend the status quo (right/conservative), while revolutionaries seek to overturn it (left/liberal). As it pertains to scholarly communication, here is what soldiers are defending:
A professor publishes something, using the labor (librarians) and capital (materials purchased and leased) of the institution. The library, as an arm of the institution, then must pay for that article (again!), often as part of a "big deal" package of databases. 
It's a heck of a system to defend, and a great many people in higher education and publishing would not agree that the current political economy of scholarly communication is worth defending. Yet Anderson seems to treat the status quo as the correct, proper, and neutral system; a defense from someone who knows firsthand how tenuous the political position of academic libraries can be on a campus. Running an academic library is a fascinating middle-management experience; perhaps many library and university administrators expect soldiers while fearing or silencing revolutionaries. Yet when administration and the library align, which can be often, it's a beautiful thing. At one former place of work, I presented to faculty on open access and open educational resources (OERs), then worked with faculty and administration on assigning OERs instead of textbooks, and helped bring about a policy change in the university regarding required texts. Soldiers and revolutionaries look less like a spectrum and more like a Venn diagram than Anderson acknowledges, though there is some overlap on one of his matrices.

If there is any value in rescuing Anderson's soldier-revolutionary continuum, it is that they are not mindsets, but rather a series of practices that are contingent on a host of factors, both local and global, that would be difficult to pseudo-scientifically chart, plot, or graph. Library and university administrators can foster such practices or suppress them; some tech companies tout an 80/20 or 90/10 work schedule that gives room for practices Anderson deems revolutionary.

Stuck between university administration and the revolutionaries he sees online, Anderson may have internalized the mindset of the former. This is the writing of a person who views himself as under attack, both professionally and personally, in libraries, politics, and society. To the extent that others in positions of power in libraries share this mindset, this evidence-free article made it through the peer review process, after all, it is worth exploring.


Anderson's scholarship is a self-referential meta-communication, more #critlib than #critlib. Time and time again Anderson has attempted to police the bounds of discourse he deems acceptable in the LIS community, particularly as it pertains to open access and scholarly communication. For someone who seems closed to the works of Michel Foucault, it is an interesting turn. Anderson continually attempts to create "truth," what is or should be accepted as reality, in his writings on Scholarly Kitchen, and this article can be read as an extension of that.

No doubt Anderson has observed the revolutionary mindset on twitter, and I suspect he has built this mindset inductively from his time on that site, a Burkean watching the new media revolution. Yet Anderson does not like to interact on twitter, finding the 140 character restriction to be limiting, lending itself to attacks rather than debate, which gives no credit to interactions like #libchat, #snaprt, and #critlib. He is happy to mine twitter for content, and to stereotype, but not to participate in community-building and learning networks.

Anderson positions himself as someone with answers, someone who sees the big picture and lays it out, never mind that the current model is increasingly unsustainable, which people realize, which is why we are seeing more big deal cancellations and open access mandates. Helpfully, however, Anderson has published this opinion in a web-based, open access journal, itself a revolutionary practice that is becoming more normal. This, too, is telling. After all, if scholars want to reach the most people, open access publications are the best scholarly medium for doing so.


Anderson writes, "We are now working in an information environment that makes it possible for each library to exert a global influence in unprecedented ways. The desire to do so is both praiseworthy and solidly in keeping with many of what most of us would consider core values of librarianship." And yet so much of this article is not about those values, but how those values pertain to monetary value. Return on investment, time is money,... the monetization of all aspects of librarianship, the tension between these mindsets, is what this article is about, not our values. Anderson asks that we consider the trade-offs, the consequences, of his mindsets, but it certainly seems like economic scare tactics to this reader: that one should be more a soldier than a revolutionary.

In the end, it is not the soldier and revolutionary mindsets, nor the spectrum of the two, that matter here, but Anderson's. To the extent that other library and university administrators share his, this article is a valuable look inside, behind the curtain. It is worth reading to understand certain strains of thought in higher education and academic libraries, not for the arguments or opinions themselves. Anderson sees himself, his position in libraries and society, and those like him, as under attack. The same is true for the political economy of scholarly communication. He simultaneously shortchanges and overstates the power of LIS professionals (we cannot cajole or coerce faculty into OA mandates without their buy-in, for example), on social media and in their workplaces. There is danger therein, as is often the case with those who feel threatened. This application of organic statism to academic libraries concerns me, and I wonder what kind of candidates the University of Utah will get for open positions if Anderson's opinion is widely read. Be that as it may, I commend Anderson for showing us his thought processes in an easily accessible journal, and I wish other deans, university librarians, and administrators would do the same.

Elsewhere on this site concerning this author:
A Rant on Vendor-Librarian Relations
Your Special Collections Won't Save You

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Reconceptualizing "Fit": Theory, Practice, Praxis

As presently constructed, the practice of hiring based on "fit" is problematic. Fit too often means "people like me" to hiring managers, which perpetuates a vicious cycle of homogeneity.

In librarianship, that homogeneity is reflected in the demographics of our profession: white, cisgendered, middle-class, and predominantly female, with men both historically and presently overrepresented in positions of leadership (I am a data point here) and those pertaining to library technology.
Evidence shows the number of women in senior leadership roles has increased over the years. From the 1930s to the 1950s it was the natural order for men to be heads of academic libraries, particularly major research libraries. Research studies of the decades from the 1960s to the 1980s provide evidence of a shift from the assumption that various personal and professional characteristics could be identified to account for differences in the number of men and of women recruited into senior positions in academic libraries. Despite this, women remained vastly under-represented in director positions in academic libraries (Delong, 2013).  
This over-representation continued into the 1990s, and persists today.

Fit is an excuse for unconscious bias, as well as an excuse for the conscious kind. Norms of what a librarian "should look like" in terms of race, class, and gender identity, among other factors, are all enforced via fit. The homogeneity of librarianship is overdetermined, but I suspect that fit plays a role in why it looks nothing like the United States population. Librarianship is not even remotely representative.

It gets more depressing: American Library Association membership is getting less diverse in terms of race, and according to data (pdf) from American Community Survey Estimates Applied to Institute for Museum and Library Services and National Center for Education Statistics in 2009, there were over 118,000 librarians in the United States. Under 600 of them were black men.

This sameness has deleterious effects. It leads to groupthink, to monoculture. More diverse groups get better results in terms of:
  • creativity and innovation
  • decision-making
  • problem-solving
  • scientific research
In part, this is because social diversity is a form of informational diversity.
Simply interacting with individuals who are different forces group members to prepare better, to anticipate alternative viewpoints and to expect that reaching consensus will take effort. (Source is the above link.)
In the language of the market, diversity improves your bottom line.

And yet, I hire on fit. That's come at no small cost. I know I've been unable to hire people I think would make great librarians because of fit.
Applicant 1, you are brilliant. You will be an amazing librarian, probably a better one than any of the other applicants I've seen in this round of interviews. You understand our mission and you're already committed to it. You've lived it. You code switched three times in the interview in ways that felt organic and natural, not forced. But you won't become a great librarian here, and I'm disappointed in myself for writing that. I realize that oftentimes a discussion of "fit" is an excuse for all sorts of biases in hiring, especially in academia. However, fit applies here. As a manager, I have no idea, none, how I would harness the frenzied energy and passion you would bring to this job. I get the sense that you would kill for librarianship. These two things, the energy level and enthusiasm, terrify me. Our styles do not mesh. There is a mentor out there more suited to your needs. You'll find that person. But not here.
I work at a library with a staff of nine; we need to get along. There's an awful lot of cross-training that goes on, six of us can copy-catalog and four are interlibrary loan wizards, for example. Fit matters. And if we are to avoid the silos within libraries I've seen elsewhere, it matters even more.

What I want to do is to rescue fit, to reclaim it, because the fit described at the top of this post should not be the fit we think of. That fit leads to the decline of organizations. That fit, looking at the demographics of librarianship, above, perpetuates white supremacy.

If hiring based on fit is like a puzzle, then the homogeneous practice of fit is like choosing the same piece, over and over again.

The theory of fit, however, is different. Hire people that complement each other, that minimize each other's blind spots, and that come together to form a complete organization. That should be fit.

Do you have skills other people don't, do you think in ways that other people don't, do you have life experiences that other people don't? If so, then you fit, because those are plusses, and we'll try to get at that in the hiring process. Then we'll try to get at it in our workflows, creating safe spaces for voicing dissent and fostering experimentation.

The more organizations that do this, the more hiring managers and human resource departments that do this, the closer we'll come to having a praxis of fit instead of what we have now.

DeLong, Kathleen. “Career Advancement and Writing About Women Librarians: A Literature Review.” Evidence Based Library and Information Practice 8, no. 1 (2013): 59–75.

Friday, April 24, 2015

The BeerBrarian's Guide to Computers in Libraries 2015

Since I live in DC, I thought an insider's perspective might be useful for the upcoming Computers in Libraries 2015 conference, which meets at the Hilton just north of Dupont Circle from Monday, April 27th, to Wednesday, April 29th.

I won't be presenting this year, but I'll probably be around the expo hall, doing the lobbycon and firecon thing Monday and/or Tuesday. Come say hi.

A brief word about the guide:
With a few exceptions, anything posted below have been vetted by me. These are places I frequent, or at least have been in. Not mentioned is that west of the conference there are many embassies, which would be a nice walk during breaks, or after the sessions have ended for the day.

The Washington Post's Going Out Guide is a bit unwieldy and probably needs to be updated or taken offline, but remains useful.

I write for on the side. Here's their guide to beer in the area, which also needs some updates.

Though it's a bit of a hike for lunch, 14th St NW has blown up in terms of dining and bars; there's something for everyone at multiple price points that would be worth the walk for dinner.

If you're familiar with Dupont Circle and think I missed anything, please let me know.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Faculty Perceptions of a Library: Paneling for Assessment

I presented "Faculty Perceptions of a Library: Paneling for Assessment" at the Association for College and Research Libraries 2015 conference in Portland, Oregon on Friday. What follows is my presentation of that paper. Should you like to read the real thing, it's available here, and feedback is most welcome.
Abstract: This paper introduces librarians and library staff to “paneling,” a technique employed here to analyze the discourse around and within how faculty perceive an academic library at a small university. The concept of panels comes to librarianship from anthropology, and shows great promise as not only an assessment tool, but also one that informs library practices and behaviors. 
How the assessment sausage gets made. 
In both the paper and presentation I discuss the who, what, how, and why of panels. Paneling is a methodological tool, and when assessing one should use multiple tools. 

This was for one person who I knew would attend. They know who they are. 
Panels are interpretive. What I mean by this is that we, as people, create meaning when we observe, participate, and interact with each other. Panels are explicitly subjective; that is, my interpretation and understanding may differ from another person's. 

Paneling involves editing and coding the testimony of what anthropologists call informants into narratives, which gives a great deal of power, of editorial discretion, to a researcher. 

What I was looking for here are faculty narratives about the library. How do they perceive it, understand it, and tell each other stories about it. So in the spring of 2014, the then Associate Provost and now Provost and I convened a series of faculty focus groups to assess and understand how they view the library. With a major accreditation regime acting as a proverbial sword of Damocles, or a "buy-in," if you prefer, we were able to interview all of our seventy-plus full time faculty in seven semi-structured focus groups. We organized these groups by major, program, and school wherever possible, asking faculty what they thought of library services, collections, staff, website, and more. 

There were challenges to working with faculty in what are often their "natural" groups. Focus groups comprised of colleagues, some junior, some senior, are subject to the same kind of group dynamics that may occur in faculty offices, lounges, and hallways. It's a weakness of panels, one that I was very aware of. Some faculty may have felt silenced, for example, and while editing and coding faculty responses, dissent isn't included if it doesn't fit into dominant narratives. 

Nonetheless, there were very clear faculty narratives present, across majors, programs, and schools. I hand-edited and -coded these, which were then reviewed by the Provost for some measure of interoperator reliability. We were able to organize these narratives into five panels, stories about the library.
  1. Physical library space
  2. Library website
  3. Library instruction
  4. Print and online collections
  5. Customer Service
Note that it is impossible to get a clean separation with regards to these panels. It is difficult, if not impossible, for example, to talk about online collections without talking about the library website. 

With regards to the library's physical space, the dominant narrative among faculty, across majors, programs, and schools, was that the library have more flexible learning spaces. We've been able to carve out some spaces for mixed use, but they also come with mixed results. For example, multiple faculty referred to one of the library's newer mixed-uses spaces as "scary." 

Creating these kinds of spaces can be difficult, and will involve weeding, deaccession of older materials, and stack shifting. When I mentioned this to faculty, the response was positive; being in focus groups, having a conversation with them, allowed me to make that process more transparent, which will hopefully minimize problems down the road. 

At the time of the focus groups, we were transitioning to a new library website build around a discovery service, details here, and those faculty more familiar with the changes liked it. But other faculty members were frustrated with the site, and mentioned going to other institutions' websites to conduct research, or even calling for research on social media, such as "icanhazpdf."

The overwhelming narrative regarding library instruction was "more." More one-shots; more for-credit courses, as one of our schools has; and more learning objects both on the library website and on our learning management system. 

Two narratives emerged from the Print and online collections panel. First, that our collections are out of date. Second, that the policies and procedures by which we develop and grow collections are unclear. Here, as in other panels, faculty are giving us clear feedback. If we act on it, and we are, we as library staff will be better able to earn their trust. 

With regards to customer service, one faculty member referred to our reference librarian, at the reference desk, as "the nice lady at the reception desk." Overall, faculty asked for more events at the library, and some even volunteered their services, talking about their research, or current events, which I take as a sign that faculty are reaching out to the library staff, interested in partnering with us. 

What we as library staff want to do is to act on these faculty narratives, approach them from multiple angles. Faculty are telling stories about the library, narratives. As library staff, we don't have to be passive here. By listening to faculty and acting on their perceptions, we can participate in those narratives and reshape them. 

There are, of course, alternatives to panels. We could have used surveys, as many librarians are wont to do. However, surveys never would have told us about how scary one of our rooms is, for example, and with these focus groups we were able to have all full-time faculty participate. Surveys have more of an issue with representation, because not everyone, or even most faculty, would fill them out, and the questions one asks in a survey often affect the outcome, how people answer. 

On the other hand, individual interviews would be too time-consuming, as would be the case with an ethnographic study of how faculty use the library. 

Again, we were able to leverage accreditation to get full faculty participation in focus groups, but it's just one piece of the puzzle, because yes, you should use these other methods as well. Lots of kinds of meat go into a hot dog, and assessment should be multi-method as well. 

In addition, in a time when higher education seems obsessed with numbers, with statistical data, we shouldn't lose sight of other methods, there's more out there, and if we ignore it, we ignore both interesting and useful questions and answers.
Higher education is quantitative in part because of a policy orientation where evaluation is seen as equivalent to counting and measuring. - Donna Lanclos
Panels helped us uncover stories about the library, and stories have power. We're able to act on those stories, those narratives, and that too is power. And that's why I used panels here.

We might use them again, for adjunct faculty, for university staff who don't use the library for whatever reason or reasons, and maybe for students as well. They're a tool in a toolkit for assessment, and as you can tell, I think this method is more organic, and useful, than most.

I'd like to find out more about what many different groups think of our library, and I think that interpretive methods have a role in getting us there. Thank you.

I had about 13 minutes to discuss what turned out to be more of a 15-minute presentation, so I had to gloss over issues of epistemology in discussing interpretivism, and some of the nuts and bolts of editing and coding faculty testimony, but again, the paper goes into these in a bit more depth, and I welcome your thoughts, comments, and questions.

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Presentation image credits:
Hot dog Venn diagram via Woot Shirt, 3/19/15,
Dancing squirrel via Imgur, 3/19/15,
Snow, “Informer,” via EastWest Records, 1993, 3/19/15, giffed by Back2th90s,
Prime Directive slide from @anthrotweets
Sword, maybe of Damocles, via MS Clip Art
Frye Meme, Futurama, Fox Network, 1999, 3/19/15,
Parker Posey, “Party Girl,” via Sony Pictures 1995, giffed by cryinanddrivin
Loading Page gif via
Puppy! via Imgur,
Counting money, via Yahoo! Money, 3/19/15,