August 28, 2012

Book Reviews from SRRT – New Tumblr

A new source for book reviews: SRRT Reviews, book reviews from the Social Responsibilities Round Table Newsletter. Our titles are reviewed there periodically, along with many others. Bookmark it for collection development.

August 27, 2012

Academic book pricing – Where Library Juice Press stacks up

I recently encountered some interesting data on the academic book market, in an article in the most recent issue of the Journal of Scholarly Publishing, by Albert N. Greco, Robert, M. Wharton, and Falguni Sen, titled, “The Price of University Press Books: 2009-2011.”

According to data from YBP, in 2011, the total number of books published by university presses was 12,104, and the number published by commercial scholarly and professional publishers was 52,148. I was interested to see that commercial scholarly presses were a much bigger part of the market for scholarly books than university presses. Included in the category of commercial scholarly book publishers are big ones like Routledge and SAGE on down to small ones like Parlor Press and Litwin Books. (Since Litwin Books is on the YBP core list of publishers, we were counted in these stats.)

Also interesting to see in this data were the average prices per title charged by university presses and commercial presses. In 2011, the average price of a book from a university press was $61.04, and the average price from a commercial scholarly and professional publisher was $85.17. The authors of the article state that they assume there is no qualitative difference between titles published in the two categories.

At Litwin Books and Library Juice Press we have been pricing our books much lower, with the idea of making them affordable to individuals and not just institutions. The average price of a book from Library Juice Press is $24.80, and the average price of a Litwin Books title is $26.86. While it might seem that our prices are ridiculously cheap for the market that we are in, it has to be stated we are only publishing paperbacks thus far, and the data I saw did not separate prices for hardcover versus paperback editions. Paperback editions from other scholarly publishers, though usually higher than ours, are mostly in the same range. (It’s my personal opinion that hardcover pricing for libraries is a scam, gaming on the fact that many years ago, when library collection policies were set, paperback books were manufactured poorly and hardover books lasted much longer. With current manufacturing techniques, quality paperbacks are just as durable as hardcover books, with the exception of those with sewn bindings, which are far from the norm.)

August 22, 2012

Lifelong Learning, Even for Undergraduates

I just listened to the latest episode of Steve Thomas’s podcast, “Circulating Ideas,” with academic librarians Lauren Pressley and Lynda Kellam. Towards the end of the show, they discussed how they’re teaching their students to evaluate information but questioned how they’re doing with the “finding things” part. “Are they [the students] making the connection that they can go to their public library to do this kind of work?” asked Kellam. “How are we making that jump into – what does this mean for when you get out of here?” Kellam and Pressley pointed out that in school, the students are educated with resources that may not be available to them once they leave. How does information literacy as it’s taught in college library labs translate into living in the real world after they graduate? And, as they put it, how do you make the connection to the public library in an instructional “one-shot”?

A few months ago, I talked to a librarian at one of the City University of New York (CUNY) campuses who had also started thinking about how the concept of “lifelong learning” fits into what he does at work. I don’t know whether he’s been able to incorporate any new techniques into his instruction, but I think it’s a great thing for academic librarians to consider. After all, we spend many more years – decades – navigating life and (ideally) learning as we go along than we do figuring out how to limit proprietary periodical database results to peer-reviewed articles just because the professor told us to. More recently, a colleague and I met with a few librarians (including the marvelous Alycia Sellie) at one of the local CUNY campuses. We talked about creating handouts that would cross-reference community college and public library resources, and we brainstormed programs at the public library that could supplement academic library instruction (such as “Got a Paper?” clinics).

Because, of course, we in the public library are already seeing your students, academic librarians – at least in my system in NYC, we get lots of CUNY and other college students coming to the reference desk, usually in search of books on their various syllabi. Sometimes we have what they’re looking for, but often we have to gently explain that the public library doesn’t have any university-level economics textbooks, much less the 12th edition of the one that their professor has assigned. Many times the patrons are just accustomed to going to their neighborhood library when they need a book or articles or “information,” and I don’t think it’s in anyone’s interest to disabuse them of that notion – even though at this stage in their life they need to realize that we’re more likely than not going to refer them back to their school.

In California, LILi (Lifelong Information Literacy)  is “a group of librarians from various types of California libraries, investigating information literacy definitions, standards and instruction in California, in order to craft effective models of lifelong, sequential information literacy instruction.” Maybe one day we’ll have something similar in New York City (and in your town or city as well) that formally brings together school, public, and academic librarians. But regardless of whether it’s institutionalized – how can academic and public librarians work together now to prepare students to handle all of the information needs they’ll encounter throughout their lives?

August 18, 2012

Sloppy reporting on Saudi “City for Women”

I won’t comment much on this except to speculate that this may be an example of a state of affairs in journalism where reporters are making sloppy mistakes because the pace of the newsroom, like the pace of everything else in the internet era, is too quick for us to keep tabs on everything as we should. Numerous reputable newspapers and magazines evidently misreported a story based on a reading of the original Saudi headline, without reading the article itself. Al Jazeera English reports: “Saudi Women-Only City? Look Again.”

August 14, 2012

Political Identities

In a Library Juice blog post some time ago, Rory Litwin recommended an essay by Karl Mannheim entitled “Conservative Thought.” In the essay, Mannheim argues that political groupings can be distinguished by specific “styles of thought” (though a style of thought will not be limited to politics). Styles of thought characterize more than just the subjective thinking of individuals. At the same time, they are not entirely objective. Individuals participate in a style of thought which will survive their coming and going, but it does not exist apart from the individuals. Mannheim goes on to illustrate this by describing the style of thought that made up the German conservatives of the 19th century. In essence, Mannheim was trying to answer the questions, “who were the German conservatives and what was it that made them a distinct and coherent political group?”

This got me thinking about what unifies political groupings today which led me to read George Lakoff’s Don’t Think of an Elephant, Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter with Kansas?, and Chinni and Gimpel’s Our Patchwork Nation. Each of these works examines political identities in recent U.S. politics more or less in the manner that Mannheim sought to make sense of the political identity of 19th century German conservatives. Lakoff examines what distinguishes conservatives from liberals. His attempt to discover a master trait that explains all or most of this political divide comes closest to Mannheim’s attempt to find a “style of thought” that governs German conservativism. In contrast to this, Frank examines the distinctions between moderate Republicans, conservative Republicans, and liberals. Here the similarity with Mannhiem is that Frank defines conservative Republicans in opposition to liberals rather as Mannhiem defines conservativism in opposition to Enlightenment rationalism. Chinni and Gimpel take a slightly different approach by positing and examining twelve different “nations” within the United States, each composed of counties having similar demographic characteristics. It is noteworthy that Lakoff contrasts two abstract ideological systems as does Mannheim, while Frank and Chinni and Gimpel approach the question more concretely by distinguishing specific policy positions and character traits that hang together sociologically.

There is much in each of the three works on the U.S. political landscape to recommend them. Chinni and Gimpel is perhaps best; however, each of them underestimates the complexity of political groupings within the U.S. If librarians are to understand better our patron populations and their relations to politics, we’ll need to see deeper into the body politic than any sociological assessment thus far has seen and we’ll need to be sympathetic to a multiplicity of political perspectives. We need not abandon our own political views, but to accurately understand the views of our patrons, we must see them as complex rational individuals and avoid the easy shorthand of political stereotypes.

Of the three works under examination here, Lakoff’s book is the most ambitious in that it purports to identify a master trait that distinguishes liberals from conservatives; however, in doing so, it becomes the most superficial. Lakoff believes that American politics are driven by two models of the family: the Strict Father Model and the Nurturing Parent Model. These models serve as frames for how conservatives and liberals respectively think, not just about family life, but also about politics and other spheres of life. Lakoff argues that conservatives implicitly have recognized that emphasizing the values inherent in the Strict Father Model reinforces voters’ tendency to employ these values when thinking about politics. After emphasizing this family model for four decades, conservatives have established in the electorate a way of thinking about politics that prevents voters from accepting (and sometimes even understanding) the policies advanced by liberals.

Lakoff’s theory is initially attractive, as one often can see ties between the family models and a number of Republican and Democratic political positions; however, as important as family dynamics are to establishing our world views, the idea that all of the variations within U.S. politics are rooted a single social-psychological character trait that admits of only two values overlooks the complexity of the political world in the interest of theoretic simplicity. I suspect that Lakoff’s dichotomy was both generated by and helped to entrench the Red-Blue vision of U.S. politics that has done so much to mask political reality. Mostly, the Red-Blue divide is an artifact of our two party system which requires people of quite diverse opinion to band together against a single political opponent. Were our two party system to be transformed into a multi-party democracy, the importance of the two family models might quickly disappear.

In contrast, Frank’s work distinguishes three political groupings: moderate Republicans, conservative Republicans, and liberals. Mostly, Frank examines the two Republican groups. Frank’s thesis is that the working class population of Kansas has become hopelessly distracted by hot button social issues and has been fooled into voting for moderate Republican politicians who are undermining their economic interests. Working class conservatives are trading away their economic future in exchange for lip service from moderate Republicans on social issues. While there is something to this argument, it fails to understand economic issues from the conservative’s perspective. Frank clearly is viewing the question from a liberal perspective, i.e., that one’s attitude toward the legal framework regulating economic activity should be based on how well-off that framework will make you. I suspect that this view may not be shared by the great majority of working class, conservative Kansans. Instead, they are – true to their words – “values voters,” but not simply in the sense of caring about abortion, “traditional” marriage, and prayer in school. They also bring their values to economic questions, particularly, the values of personal responsibility, self-sufficiency, respect for fair play, and most of all meritocracy.

Republican doctrine has long opposed taxes and regulation. They are seen as alien impositions on the main business of America which is, on this view, business. Taxes and regulations are merely ways by which the productive members of society are made to support and defend politically powerful, but unproductive, members. If one sees the main activity of life as making a living within the constraints of a fair system of rules, then such a point of view may seem not unreasonable. Surely, many if not most working class people in Kansas find making a living an all-consuming activity. This is particularly true of people who are self-employed or sell their labor job to job. For them, taxes (no matter how progressive) are an obstacle to getting ahead or even just staying afloat. Furthermore, regulations on businesses limit the kind of economic activity that they believe is necessary to remain in business or simply remain employed.

In addition to this, the ideology of individualism, personal responsibility, and fair play can seem to trump government assistance for the disadvantaged. Material well-being may certainly be an important value for the conservative working class, but if earning what you acquire is a greater value, then taxation, regulation, and social programs can be seen as undermining this more important meritocratic value. Living in a meritocracy might mean that one is not made as well-off as one might otherwise be, but getting what you deserve and only what you deserve seems to be important to the ideology of the working class conservative.

Of course, what liberals will find missing in this analysis is the importance of equal opportunity. A libertarian economic order provides only the legal pretense of an equal starting point for economic success. It does not recognize the unequalizing effects of such things as sex, gender, and racial prejudices, and especially class privileges; but in the case of the Kansas working class, the degree of inequality of opportunity may not seem so great as to justify liberal programs like affirmative action, housing assistance, publically financed health insurance, and food stamps. They may find their own situation is too close to the beneficiaries of public assistance to be sympathetic to transferring any of their wealth or opportunity to the least well-off. To speak productively with the working class conservatives, one might do well to speak in meritocratic terms, but to emphasize how the accidents of birth undermine meritocratic values. The liberal needs to make clear and convincing that what is preventing the working class from realizing the deserved benefits of their own efforts is not transfers of wealth to the least-well off, but systemic advantages accruing to the richest of the rich in our society. The liberal must make the case that these advantages distort meritocracy much more than social programs for the least well-off and that social programs are a way to rectify distortion of a meritocracy.

Chinni and Gimpel’s Our Patchwork Nation is motivated by the desire to avoid the Red-Blue dichotomy that Lakoff examines. Instead, Chinni and Gimpel divide the electorate into twelve distinct communities, and maps them onto the nation county by county. Hence, one county may be part of “Tractor Country” while the neighboring county is part of “Immigration Nation.” Very much is gained by this nuanced analysis, but even here, there is a tendency to disregard minority populations within counties or even majority populations. For example, “Immigration Nation” is composed of counties that have a large Hispanic population: on average, 44% of the people who live there are from Spanish-speaking backgrounds. This, of course, is enough to make these counties significantly different from others that do not have such a high percent of Hispanics, but labeling the county part of “Immigration Nation” masks the other 56%. Counties in “Evangelical Epicenter” are composed significantly of white fundamentalist Christians, but they sometimes contain a significant number of African-Americans who are the essential (though seldom the majority) element of “Minority Central” counties. All of this is simply to say that the demographic constitution of Chinni and Gimpel’s twelve communities are more complex than their labels can allow and that much more must be considered to understand adequately the electorate. In all fairness, though, a single work can only do so much. Theory can never completely describe reality, but theorize we must.

After reading Lakoff, Frank, and Chinni and Gimpel, I am led to think that Mannheim’s investigation into “styles of thought” and other sociological studies of its kind must be handled with care. The best of them might reveal some subset of features of an electorate, but they are more likely to lead one into the trap of thinking that one’s theory about political ideologies is more accurate and stable than it is. Political groupings in the U.S. may have much less to do with a shared political ideology or “styles of thought” and much more to do with a two party system that requires uneasy alliances. Applying these insights to our patron populations can help keep us from falling into the trap of serving a cardboard cutout of a patron. Instead, it may remind us to serve the patron who actually stands before us.

August 13, 2012

Mystery of the Email J Finally Solved

Have you ever noticed that some people close their email messages with a mysterious capital J? It is not a secret code. Chris Jean has this most welcome explanation.

August 10, 2012

The Secret Life of Retracted Articles

Phil Davis writes in The Scholarly Kitchen about “The Secret Life of Retracted Articles.” Scientific papers are frequently retracted, officially, by the journal’s publishers and editors if it is found that data was faked or for other reasons that invalidate the article’s conclusions. The problem is that the articles stay around, in libraries, on websites, and in other places, with no indication that they have been retracted.

August 8, 2012

Emily Ford on Library Philosophy

Emily Ford does a great job with this overview of library philosophy in In the Library With a Lead Pipe: What We Do and Why We Do It, published this morning. Much of it is a review of the literature in this important thread of LIS scholarship, covering a span that runs from 1934 up to some very recent work. Full disclosure: she includes a Library Juice Press publication in her discussion.

August 5, 2012

Book Banning in Missouri

Journalism students at the University of Missouri have published a very important report on book censorship in Missouri. It makes for chilling, but necessary reading. Take a look here.

August 4, 2012

Barbara Fister on the “End of the Twilight of Doom”

Barbara Fister expresses a welcome dissenting view regarding the death of libraries and reading in the current Inside Higher Ed: “The End of the Twilight of Doom.” I agree with what she says, especially regarding the problem of high level administrators believing the hype about the death of reading, and the danger that it poses to library budgets.