Archive for July, 2011

The Library As A Publisher

One of the aspects of librarianship that I have spent some time thinking about is the growing tendency for libraries to act as publishers. No longer are libraries storehouses for knowledge, where the librarians act as curators and guides. Instead they have started to move in content creation.

It may seem that this is only happening in larger academic libraries, but smaller public libraries are also becoming publishers. Many now are publishing content in the form of social media platforms.  But even more importantly small public libraries, especially in New Zealand, are at the fore of enabling communities to publish their stories. Kete Horowhenua being the most high profile example of such digital publishing leadership.

 In my role at Victoria my brief is primarily around publishing. Whether it is digitising our content to upload onto one of our various platforms, or talking to other areas of the University about how to get their content up and out there. We are now looking at installing the Open Journal Systems software on our infrastructure to allow faculty to publish their journals in a open digital manner.

This has made me aware that in some ways I am becoming more of a publisher than a librarian. I might have to look into the publishing societies and their professional organisations.


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I’m attending the SLANZA conference today, and multitasking my way through it, mainly to disprove something I’ve heard from too many women colleagues to name.

During the first keynote, Judy O’Connell introduced her concept of a “digital toolkit”, and suggested in a years time if we didn’t have at least five digital tools we could call on unconsciously we wouldn’t be able to do our jobs.

In the following break, a colleague reported speaking to some others who were deeply concerned by this statement. Her impression was that they were overwhelmed by the challenge of digital, and that they weren’t “given access” in the first place.

The truth is, being digital isn’t a challenge. Sure, some systems are enormously complex to fully understand, but getting started is in this day and age literally a barrier a child can overcome.

One of the roles I seem to have fallen into over my career is the speaking to the nondigital people with the message, “it’s ok”. I understand the wish to alarm people into embracing this fantastic new world that is evolving around us, but fear is only useful in convincing farmyard animals that the sky is falling.

I was recently in a meeting talking one of the groups of AnyQuestions operators working in Auckland Cities. One of the group – a competent operator, and a very able Children’s Librarian – said that she felt like a “possum in the headlights” when online.

My response? That she wasn’t a possum, and that was just a feeling.

The session I’m now in, I’m hearing school librarians talk about being in a situation truly worthy of fear – the earthquakes. The group reported needing rescue remedy to deliver the talk, but each describes themselves as “one of the lucky ones.”

And that’s what I think about the digital age. Yes, there are some drastic changes underway. All the same, we’re lucky to be living now.

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Google has launched it’s latest bid to take on the behemoth that is Facebook. The new offering is called Google+ and has some interesting features. Not that I have explored it in great detail, having only taken the tour. I haven’t logged in because I will need to create a new Google account, and I really don’t want another email/account to monitor (Currently I use Google to run my domain email account, and for some reason that has Google Profiles, which are necessary for Google+, switched off, and I haven’t figured out how to turn that feature back on).

Maybe if Google+ takes off, or I find a way to switch on Google Profiles, will I take a more in-depth explore. It’s a bit of a shame really, as I liked how they had organised it into circles so that you could maintain your online contacts but be able to keep different groups separate on the same platform.

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Some readers will have noted, if they follow my personal blog, a recent post where I discussed, in fairly unambiguous terms, the fact that I manage a mental illness. I don’t place this into a separate category to “work/life balance” – if such a thing is possible, except in terms of shifting tensions for us all. I know nothing makes me grumpier than a holiday or social occasion that has passed its prime!

Outside of my “just getting things off my chest” space, I think there is a particular set of self-management issues that are invited, created and addressed by our profession. Libraries are like the spice of Dune to those of us with unusual brains. Which of these describe a strong aspect of your personality:

  • Putting things in order! Whee!
  • Once upon a time there was a little pandy-wandy named Gerald, and he lived in a little (etc.)
  • These are the rules. These are the principles. These are the outcomes.
  • I feel good from helping people.
No, they don’t mean you have a mental illness; for a start, the DSM-IV “diagnosis by tick box” is a blunt tool. The best analyst in the long run is the self (although outside support sure helps), and I’ve only presented four ‘boxes’ to tick that I hope suggest continua of behaviours. In the first example, some are routinely tidy; some are obsessively tidy; some people are helplessly untidy. They also tick four broad categories of library activity – which I’ll define here as operational, creative and strategic and service. Those terms aren’t actively considered, but I think they’re of value.*


So if we have a tendency to a particular personality type, and if that tendency can at times dominate other needs to the point that wellbeing can become affected arguably that is when we become “mentally ill”. I’m projecting four of my personal areas of “work for extra credit” into the ones I’ve pulled out of a hat – I’ll let you project you own. We are therefore, I suggest, drawn to our profession because of the opportunities to exercise sometimes distressing aspects of our selves in safe contexts. Sometimes it works out in a wonderfully healing way, and sometimes not.


People who have mental illnesses have passion. Boy, do we. All those pent up feelings? There’s your real distillations. There’s your drive to produce realworld changes to the benefit of a community. When we allow ourselves to be well enough to manage them, and ourselves well.

I’ve been adjusting my routines over the last few months. All part of transitioning to this wonderful job I have. It’s been a very good journey , while not always comfortable.

Previously similar amounts of external, uncontrollable change (whatever the source, however functionally difficult it is for me to acknowledge the concept “uncontrollable”) have risked what one of us geeks might term a “catastrophic failure”; that is to say, my approach to resource management has been to throw things (projects, relationships) out and build up from as close to zero as has been necessary to “start over”.

Here’s why this is a good move: There are times on the learning journey when the amount of resources available demand that for survival to occur. In those situations, to do so quickly and cleanly allows the process of rebuilding to happen more rapidly and efficiently.

Here’s why this is a bad move: Grieving adds to the pain of change. I don’t know about you, but I grieve everything.

I do advocate clear signals between yourself and those who hold the responsibility for extracting the good oil out of you as the best path, but to reach for a longer goal I believe motivation for the professional has to come from within.

At this point I’m willing to suggest the tentative conclusion that I’ve crashed as much as I’ve going to crash, I’ve changed some things but I don’t feel I have had to throw anything out.

What’s been different this time? Sure, a few things around proactiveness in the workplace; being upfront about certain discussions; but I’ve been working within full disclosure for some time now. Learning to understand personal communication styles in key working relationships is not a paradigm shift for me, as important as it is in any context.

Given mine’s a communicating role, the decision to openly communicate about my condition as one strategy for decreasing my day-to-day anxiety has been  remarkably effective. Nothing is more relaxing than one’s “worst secret” being found out and this, along with modifications to diet and exercise, has delivered progress in my ability to sleep reliably I haven’t had since first being diagnosed a decade ago.

The solution I’m secretly most pleased by was my attention to my creative side. Children’s librarianship was a hugely satisfying context to explore my inner Walter Mitty and be legitimately paid for it, and I learnt a few other useful things about “the real world” during that time. When I recognised the transition to come would result in losing that creative outlet, I started looking for other creative projects.

Auckland Libraries‘ music librarian, Marilyn recommended I look  a project she felt would be ideal for my interests, tying together as it does my solid grounding in classical music theory and practice and love of electronic instruments. My two hour-a-week storytelling commitment thus turned seamlessly into a two-hour-a-week practice commitment, and while I miss some of the magical friendships with children and families I’ve had, I’m glad to have the opportunity to further explore creativity and performance art in other contexts.

There has been another benefit to all this, beyond having the opportunity to maybe, just maybe, do some interesting things with a great job. This morning, Sally noted that my stomach had flattened as a result of the aformentioned stress, diet and exercise. I picked up her current reading, which had a besixpacked warrior, rogue, rake or somesuch on the front. Apparently I don’t quite measure up to the ideal just yet. Bring on the stress and watch out cheesy book covers!**

*For a start, I think there’s a huge amount of ground to explore in the gaps that can arise between “activities and structures intended to create service outcomes” (eg strategies and policies) and “service as it occurs”

**Oh, lord no.

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A couple of weeks ago I went to the American Embassy to attend a session on “Libraries, social media and disaster management” presented by Michael Huff, Regional Librarian, U.S. Department of State. He is based in Tokyo and was there during the major earthquake and tsunami in March.

He began by stressing that his presentation was based on the American Embassy and Library experience during the Tokyo earthquake and therefore it was a limited case study. As he went through his presentation it became clear that he had researched other situations and that the information he was sharing was widely applicable in any emergency situation.

He started by describing how the Embassy used Twitter. It tweets using the persona of Ambassador Roos, the current U.S. Ambassador to Japan. The Ambassador’s office had control of the tweets. Using a persona allowed the tweets to be more personal. The goals were to highlight key initiatives that the ambassador is driving, and to highlight the positive relationship between US and Japan. Another guideline was to avoid controversial topics.  Tweets were in English and Japanese. (A side note here: kanji allows much more information to be shared in 140 characters.)

The major earthquake happened on 11 March, 2011. It was followed by a tsunami which devastated coastal regions.  The immediate concern was to check loved ones were okay, then to cope with destruction.  Phone systems shut down to keep the lines for emergency services only. 3G and smart phone internet connectivity was still available.

The goals for the twitter account changed to – health and safety of US citizens, and information about relief efforts. Tweets were tagged #amcitjp – American citizens in Japan. This time information was only tweeted in both languages if it didn’t contradict official information from the Japanese government. (Both governments had expert advisors and experts don’t always agree.)  Crisis management meant a change of structure in how the account was managed. Behind the scenes were many people (paid and unpaid) watching the media, tracking down the origin of stories, and translating information.

Follower numbers increased. Many messages were retweeted. (They knew that the account was being watched after the first weekend – @AmbassadorRoos didn’t tweet during that time and received ‘r u ok?’ tweets from followers.)  Although they hadn’t planned for the situation, four things allowed the embassy to respond -1. Twitter account already set up.2. Clear idea as to their purpose. 3. Connectivity was good.4. Good team of people willing to help out.

Huff’s number one message was to “Be Prepared” for the unthinkable.

Helpfully he gave us a checklist. (Good for general situations as well!)

  • Establish social media sites – what’s useful to you and your users? What’s being invented that might be useful to you and your users? (The embassy used Twitter to connect with American citizens in Japan and Facebook for family and friends in USA.)
  • Optimise online presence – link on websites and printed material; optimise your findability.
  • Plan for increased workload in a crisis situation – make connections around the country (or the world). Are there people who can come in to spell the people who are on the ground.
  • Define communication channels – what is the publication process? Who checks? Who approves? Who publishes? Is it different for different channels? Who is your media spokesperson?
  • Develop staff and volunteer resources now – People will want to help – what is the training process? Who will do it? What may need to be done? How can you use your staff?
  • Understand information needs – what do people want? What does this mean for you?
  • Understand information delivery – how do you share information?
  • Know authoritative sources – where do you go to get information that’s accurate? If you need to check a story, how do you do that?

It was a superb session which got me thinking about my own and my organisation’s emergency response. I have water and food at home and at work. I’ve now followed Wellington City Council, NZ Red Cross, NZ Civil Defence, Wellington police, and Geonet. I know that I follow people in Auckland who were tweeting useful information during #eqnz aftermath so I’m fairly sure that if something happens here I’ll still be able to get information. In my building there are several emergency supplies bins in different places. We’ve been encouraged to take personal responsibility re food, water and clothing. My organisation is in the midst of finalising plans for an emergency situation. Most of it is focused on keeping the organisation going (as it should be). I’ve joined the team and will be thinking about things from a communication point of view.

Do you feel prepared?

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The other day we were talking amongst ourselves about the future of the reference collection.

I’ve noticed over the period of my working life that my use of reference books has diminished.  I mean this in response to queries from our clients.  (For myself, I can happily browse through an atlas or Flora with no problem).

In our discussion we identified the reference books we used the most:

  • Encyclopedia
  • Dictionaries (including language dictionaries)
  • Yearbooks
  • APA Publication Manual & associated publications

The rest we hardly ever consulted in response to a client query.

In a time when we are pressed for space it seems like a good idea to down size the physical reference collection and either interfile them in the main collection or make it a lending item.

What about you?  Have you eliminated, exterminated, eradicated your reference collection?

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There is an elephant in the room and his name is Ian Wishart.

I have watched the furore over Ian Wishart’s latest book Breaking Silence with a small amount of trepidation. I don’t think it is the death of free speech, seeing as no one is actually banning Wishart from publishing the book. As a free speech advocate I support his right to write the book (even though I have no desire to read it, and find the whole concept distasteful). I also support the right of  those against it to advocate boycotting the work.  I also support the bookstores in their decision to not stock the work. And yet I still have a sense of unease. I think Craig Ranapia’s post over at Public Address on this sums up some of what I think, if in language I couldn’t bring myself to use.

What I dread is the potential outcry when the book hits the library shelves. I am of course assuming that libraries will buy it, seeing as with all of Wishart’s books there is likely to be a demand. There is the other fear though, that libraries won’t stock it using the justification of collection development policies.   For a while now I have held the view that despite many librarians justified promotion of the free speech/anti-censorship causes, we practice a form of censorship. We just call it Collection Development. This could be the lightening rod that exposes that.

Those are the elephants stomping around in my library, which keeps knocking over shelves. I hope I am wrong on both counts, but could too easily be right.

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