Thursday, September 10, 2009

Why Isn't There Just One Citation Style?

Okay, so that's a rhetorical question. Here's the rhetorical answer, or at least one based on a rhetorical look at citation practice in different disciplines. By the way, the short answer is because there is not just one discipline.

I started my graduate school career in English, using endnotes in the MLA style complete with a handful of Latin abbreviations. Then I worked in Mass Communications using parenthetical references in the APA style. When I finally landed in Library Science and started to try to track down sources from incorrect or partial citations I learned to appreciate redundancy, reversing everything I had learned about good writing.

And then I found myself back in the English Comp. classroom and tried to deconstruct for myself what the meaning and use of a citation style might be.

First, any citation style is a heavily coded system for communicating the most important information about a source in the least amount of space. The order of elements and the punctuation are a code that removes the need for labels for author, title, date et cetera (I remember my Latin). This level of coding is amenable to standardization and that is why we almost always see a colon before page numbers or parentheses around a date.

Two notable differences between MLA and APA include the content of the parenthetical references and the placement of publication dates in the "Works Cited" or "References" lists. These differences are impossible to standardize because they are rooted in the rhetorical needs of humanities scholars on the one hand, and social sciences researchers on the other.

Humanities research revolves around presenting a close reading of a specific text. Dates are important reference points for context and establishing the primacy of a specific version of a text, but in the midst of reading and interpretation the words on the page, the specific page, are the center of attention.

Social scientists center on the gathering and analysis of data and the building of theory rooted in data. The words on a specific page of a published article are not nearly as important as the report of results and conclusions represented by the whole of the article. So specific page numbers are only incidental. The year of publication, though, becomes important because it places the one report into the context of all the reports in the particular line of research.

So we will always see page numbers in MLA and years in APA, and that is the way it should be. And students should have to learn the style for the discipline they are working in, so they can better learn how to work, that is use books and other sources, in that discipline.

Friday, July 17, 2009

What SUNY Needs to Know About OhioLINK

I left Ohio libraries in 1991, just as OhioLINK was getting off the ground, but was privy to the earliest steps to developing Ohio's powerhouse of library services. Among New Yorkers, I have found it difficult at times to explain what a great value OhioLINK has turned out to be. At a time when the SUNY Chancellor comes to us with fresh and positive impressions of her experiences with OhioLINK, it has become urgent for us to understand the full range of what OhioLINK does, the value it provides to the public and private colleges and universities in Ohio, and how we can make something like it happen in New York.

The thumbnail sketch of the value of OhioLINK is available from their 2008 Annual Report:

While many academic libraries have struggled to keep up with the rapidly increasing cost and volume of information, OhioLINK has:

More than quadrupled Ohio higher education’s journal buying power. The $26.7 million invested in OhioLINK Electronic Journal Center statewide licenses for scholarly research articles would cost at least $120 million if purchased individually just by our universities and a much larger amount if applied across all smaller colleges.

Delivered an average of $3 worth of information for every $1 spent on research databases. Purchasing information centrally, for statewide use, continues to be the most cost-effective means of providing expanded access to scholarly information.

Greatly increased access to scientific research on Ohio’s campuses. Students and faculty at OhioLINK universities now use more than three times more journals than were originally available in print on their campuses, while patrons of private colleges use five times more and community college patrons use more than 20 times the amount of journals that were traditionally available.

Greatly reduced the rate of increases in information costs to three percent or less, on average, compared to the inflation rate of eight percent for a typical academic research library.

Reduced the average rate of information cost increases to be in line with average library budget increases.
So how did they do it, and what can we learn from them? The key principles of their vision are stated in the report that spawned the project, "Academic Libraries in Ohio. Progress through Collaboration, Storage, and Technology. Report of the Library Study Committee." ED305079.
Although dated (1987 was so last century) it laid the groundwork for institutional cooperation. What impressed me most at the time, and still holds:
  • Put materials where they will be used and store the materials that have to be kept. Little used materials can be de-duplicated and stored in centralized repositories, but heavily used materials must be held in duplicate and in easy reach of students.
  • Leverage with technology to deliver materials and services. The first steps were to create a statewide PAC, retroconvert records, and maintain comprehensive item records. It was pointless to move something to remote storage if nobody would know it was there. With the PAC, everybody could see where everything was, and then request it or retrieve it.
  • Cooperate actively across boundaries. Maybe sharing is easier in the home state of OCLC, but SUNY/OCLC, now Nylink, was one of the first OCLC ventures outside of Ohio. Anyway, cooperation in Ohio meant giving up local fiefdoms, reaching across sectors, and placing the library user as the most important player. Although 1987 was pre-WWW, it was a natural course of development to provide statewide subscriptions to databases by the early '90s. Incorporating private as well as public colleges was also done early and expanded as soon as payment schemes could be instituted.
For further resources see OhioLINK and the Value of Cooperation.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Signs for the Use of Books

We are just completing an inventory of the signs in our building with an eye to improving customer service. In our discussions I came up with a short list of rules or guidelines that I think help make the connection between our signage and our posture toward our users. And presumably save the time of the reader.
  • Signs should be designed to help our patrons, not to attempt to do our work for us. A sign marking the location of the reference desk, for instance, is a help to those looking for reference assistance. A sign directing patrons to place used materials on a book cart, rather than on a table, is intended to do our work for us.
  • It follows that most signs should do no more than mark locations or give directions to locations in the building.
  • We should also remember that all the physical design elements should work to invite if not to inspire reflection, engagement and learning. The overall impression might be one of serenity and harmony, but with some elements of stimulation where it matters. Random clutter should be avoided. Overall attractiveness must be maintained.
  • Need and effectiveness should always be in the picture. Most signs just don't work. Many others outlive their usefulness. We found several dozen "No Smoking" signs in the building. None of us could remember ever seeing anyone smoke in the building. This appearance of effectiveness is actually the outcome of the no-indoor-smoking culture on campus. The signs have no use anymore.
  • Eliminate negativity. Nothing says "you're not really welcome here" like multiple signs beginning with the word "No". We have decided to replace "No Smoking", "No Cellphone use", and "No Groups" on our door to the main stacks area with "Welcome to the Quiet Study Area. Please respect others."

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Library Cuts Back to Save Oswego


Be advised that this is part of an Alternate Reality Game developed as a class project.


This project is not officially affiliated with any SUNY organization, and the content does not reflect the views or opinions of anyone other than the respective authors. For more information, see the About this ARG page.

Penfield Library at SUNY Oswego will make draconian budget cuts in an attempt to save Oswego from closing.

Books will no longer circulate and will no longer be reshelved by staff. This eliminates all student worker positions and reduces support staff to a skeleton crew for security at the exit to ensure that books stay in the building.

No more books will be purchased and cataloged. Gifts of books will be accepted, but will not be cataloged and shelved. Donations may be left in the lobby where the computers will be removed.

Computers for student use will be reduced to six. The decommissioned equipment will be sold.

Online databases will be cancelled, except for those provided to all SUNY libraries by the State Library and by SUNYConnect. The library website will be reduced to links to the library catalog and to the access pages of the State Library and SUNYConnect.

The lights will be dimmed by half, air-conditioning will be left off, and heat will be set to 50 degrees.

Ask A Librarian and library instruction services will be stopped, allowing a substantial reduction in force from 15 faculty to 3.

Student response to these announcements ranged from indifference to outrage.

"I never used the library anyway."

"I'm out of here, I sure wouldn't stick around for this kind of service."

"This one really hurts. The library was a great place to work. I could feel safe and comfortable and connect with my friends and with all the materials I needed for my courses. Now the library will be dark and dangerous."

"Chaotic stacks of books are going to be less than useless. How would I find a book to check out? Oh yeah, I can't do that either."

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Civic Engagement and Libraries

Number 5 of the ACRL Standards for Information Literacy is given short shrift by librarians other than in the areas of copyright and plagiarism.
The information literate student understands many of the economic, legal, and social issues surrounding the use of information and accesses and uses information ethically and legally.
One learning outcome we have tried to use here at SUNY Oswego is:
Students at the Intermediate (Sophmore/Junior) level will be able to: Appreciate the contributions of shared library resources and of librarians’ expertise to the benefit of communities and organizations
Also here at Oswego, we have made a commitment to "civic engagement", described here in our Civic Engagement Coalition's mission statement:

The mission of the Civic Engagement Coalition at SUNY Oswego is to promote democratic practice and values among students, faculty, and staff to create and coordinate purposeful experiences within and beyond the classroom and to develop knowledge, skills, motivation, and practice necessary for becoming responsible, engaged citizens in a pluralistic, democratic society.
So what can we do with this? First we need to recognize the three ways that community libraries intersect with civic engagement.

First, virtually all public libraries and many academic and school libraries are created through civic engagement. In most cases, one or more community members founded the library in order to benefit that same community.

Secondly, community libraries promote education and literacy and provide a continuing stream of information. As a result, libraries contribute to debates and discourses on public policy and strengthen the practice of democracy. Librarians also defend important human rights and democratic values, such as freedom of speech and equal treatment of all citizens.

Finally, libraries and librarians continue to work and to grow because of the support of their communities and governments. Libraries are in fact the prototype for a particular kind of cooperative civic economics, sometimes called the "commons". Patrons pay their taxes and tuition as their share of support for the library, and do so without a defined expectation of benefit. In most cases, the benefit is limited only by the individuals capacity to read and use the resources of the library.

So libraries serve as a crucible for civic engagement. And this springs not only from the library as "a growing organism," but also from the imperative, "Every reader his or her book," and its corollary, "Books for all."