November 30, 2012

You would not say, “Astronomers: The Original Telescope”

I HATE the slogan, “Librarian: The Original Search Engine.” It is on a coffee mug that was given to me as a gift by a family member, and it seems to appear in my Facebook news feed every month or so. I find it problematic as an attempt to promote the services of librarians or the value of the library profession, and I don’t know why more people don’t see this.

To say that “librarians are the original search engine” is to concede that search engines do what librarians do, which would be another way of saying that there is no reason to talk to a reference librarian if you can just Google it. While it is true that before the internet, many people relied on reference librarians as a source of factual information that is now readily available through a search engine, it is a sad thing to see librarians tacitly accept the idea that this kind of provision of simple factual information adequately describes what it is we do by sharing this slogan.. A better slogan would be designed to get at what librarians can do that search engines don’t know how to do, and would communicate something of the way a librarian’s general knowledge and understanding of people gives her the ability to translate a user’s question into a search of resources (including Google) that will actually help. Very often, library users come to the reference desk after having hit a wall searching Google because of something specific that they do not know or do not understand about their subject of inquiry or the nature of the resources that will help them. Given that kind of knowledge gap, Google alone can only take them part of the way, and what they need is the consultation of an educated and understanding human being. Google, Microsoft, and others are investing a lot into research that will allow their search engines to take steps in the direction of interpretation and guidance, but AI researchers almost always underestimate the breadth and creativity of human intelligence as they seek to imitate it. So if we say that librarians are like search engines at all, we are misunderstanding our own skills, role, and social contribution, and in the process failing to see what we need to do to expand our expertise or train future generations for the profession. If you want a slogan for a coffee mug, I would prefer to see one with an SAT-style analogy, like, “Librarians are to search engines as astronomers are to telescopes.” People who don’t know much about astronomy can get some use from a telescope, but we understand that with an astronomer’s knowledge it can become much more powerful as a tool for discovery. We would not say, “Astronomers: The original telescope,” and we wouldn’t think for a second that that a slogan like that would be flattering to astronomers or supportive of the astronomy profession.

The other problem with the slogan is that it only has in mind the librarian at the reference desk, who is the tip of the iceberg of the library profession. Users talk directly to reference librarians, and as a former reference librarian I would never want to understate the breadth and depth of the skills involved in helping people find information in that role (retrieval and access). However, a good slogan for the library profession should also encompass the other roles that librarians play in their institutions, as selectors, organizers, and preservers of information resources who have their communities in mind, and as the creators and maintainers of the systems and intellectual infrastructures that facilitate the connections between them.

In conclusion, please don’t buy a librarian a coffee mug or other item that says, “Librarians: The Original Search Engine.” What to do if one is given to you is a more complicated question.

November 25, 2012

Upcoming Classes

Still time to enroll in December’s classes:

December 2012

Introduction to RDA
Instructor: Melissa Adler |
Credits: 1.5 CEUs |
Cost: $175

The Mechanics of Metadata
Instructor: Grace Agnew |
Credits: 1.5 CEUs |
Cost: $175

Game-Based Learning in Library Instruction
Instructor: Scott Rice |
Credits: 1.5 CEUs |
Cost: $175

Introduction to XML
Instructor: Robert Chavez |
Credits: 1.5 CEUs |
Cost $175

Embedded Librarianship
Instructor: Courtney Mlinar |
Credits: 1.5 CEUs |
Cost $175

Techniques for Creative Problem Solving in Libraries
Instructor: Annie Downey |
Credits: 0.75 CEUs |
Cost: $90

January 2013

Diversity Plans for Academic Libraries
Instructor: Julie Biando Edwards |
Credits: 1.5 CEUs |
Cost: $175

Introduction to the Semantic Web
Instructor: Robert Chavez |
Credits: 1.5 CEUs |
Cost $175

Online Instruction
Instructor: John Doherty |
Credits: 1.5 CEUs |
Cost: $175

Success in First Library Supervisor Position
Instructor: Tony Garrett |
Credits: 1.5 CEUs |
Cost: $175

The Sustainability Movement on Campus: Forming a Library
Action Plan for Engagement

Instructor: Madeleine Charney |
Credits: 0.75 CEUs |
Cost: $90

November 19, 2012

Interview with Courtney Mlinar

I recently did an interview with Courtney Mlinar, instructor for three courses with Library Juice Academy: Introduction to Health Science Librarianship, Consumer Health Information, and Embedded Librarianship, the latter of which starts on December 1st. In her interview she explains what the class is about and what experiences led her to her teaching it. The interview should give you a sense of whether this class might be beneficial to you in your work situation.

November 14, 2012

State of the Commons: Wikipedia, Flickr, and the Public Domain

An article by Josh Wallert went up on Nov. 8 at the Design Observer Group’s Places: Forum of Design for the Public Realm, titled, “State of the Commons: Wikipedia, Flickr, and the Public Domain. It’s a good, though brief, read on the state of the public commons for visual documentation. Excerpt:

For better and worse, public-making in the early 21st-century has been consigned to private actors: to activists, urban interventionists, community organizations and — here’s the really strange thing — online corporations. The body politic has retreated to nominally public spaces controlled by Google, Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr, which now constitute a vital but imperfect substitute for the town square. Jonathan Massey and Brett Snyder draw an analogy between these online spaces and the privately-owned public space of Zuccotti Park, the nerve center for Occupy Wall Street, and indeed online tools have been used effectively to support direct actions and participatory democracies around the world. Still, the closest most Americans get to the messy social activity of cooperative farm planning is the exchange of digital carrots in Farmville.

More at The Design Observer Group

November 13, 2012

Interview with Robert Chavez

I have just done an interview with Robert Chavez, instructor for two courses with Library Juice Academy: Introduction to XML and Introduction to the Semantic Web. Robert talks about the content of these two courses, how he sees them being used by librarians, what is on the horizon for the profession from his perspective and a bit about his background.

November 12, 2012

Interview with Grace Agnew

I have just done an interview with Grace Agnew, who will be teaching a class for Library Juice Academy in December called, “The Mechanics of Metadata.” It’s a technical skills class that I think would be good for a lot of academic librarians who want to learn the nuts and bolts of cataloging in digital libraries. Grace talks a bit about her background as well as describing the class in detail.

November 10, 2012

Interview with Annie Downey

I have just done an interview with Annie Downey for the Library Juice Academy news blog. Annie is teaching a class next month called, “Techniques for Creative Problem-Solving in Libraries.” This was an interesting interview and should be an interesting two-week class. Productive techniques that in my opinion make work more fun, too.

November 8, 2012

Academic Libraries, Information Literacy, and the Value of Our Values

ACRL has embarked on the important, even urgent, initiative to support academic libraries in articulating and demonstrating their value to their institutions at a time in which higher education in general finds itself constantly defending its value. Accountability at numerous levels, from our federal government to our university boards of trustees, is the clarion call of the day. Assessment, accountability, and value have been inexorably linked over the past several decades. Assessing the impact of [information literacy instruction, freshman seminars, general education, fill in the blank] on student learning and achievement is both a means of being accountable to our stakeholders (parents, policy makers, tax payers, etc.) but also demonstrating our value (Why should we continue to exist?). For many academic librarians, specifically those invested in information literacy (IL) instruction programs; the assessment movement has been beneficial insofar as it has meant that IL has become central to many college and university assessment efforts. It has been very satisfying to have our work validated as core to the undergraduate curriculum. However, like many aspects of the curriculum, the value of IL instruction programs is in question, as are the many other services, contents, and processes of the academic library. Assessing the value (financial, impact, or otherwise) of these services, use of contents, and efficiency of processes becomes our means of proving (being accountable) our relevancy in higher education. For instruction librarians this has meant a move from simply recording how many students we’ve reached (whether through classroom instruction, online tutorials, research appointments) to developing IL learning outcomes that are assessed at the course level as well as the institutional level. While we appreciate the growing adoption of IL learning outcomes in core curricula, it is worrisome that it may be simply to satisfy external pressure (i.e. accrediting agencies). Because ultimately the pressure from both external and internal stakeholders is framed in economic terms—return on investment. As educators, the value of assessment should be because it informs our practice (and praxis).

Published in 2010 the Value of Academic Libraries: A Comprehensive Research Review and Report prepared by Megan Oakleaf claims that academic library stakeholders “tend to focus on two” particular ways of defining value: financial and impact value (p. 22). The report takes as a given that academic librarians will need to prove that we manage our financial resources well and somehow bring money into our institutions (p. 22). However the report also recognizes that the more meaningful piece for librarians may be in demonstrating “impact value:” “This position posits that academic library value is not primarily a financial concept; rather the value of information is its contribution to making improvements in users (Wilson, Stenson and Oppenheim 2000, 3-4)” (p. 24). Nonetheless impact value as described in the report still pivots on a conception of value as an economic construct of sorts, a return on investment embodied by an improvement in the user. The term “improvement” suggests that information has increased the value of the individual. Information, as object and commodity, and teaching and learning may indeed increase the market value of the individual, but for many information literacy instruction librarians the value of teaching is not measureable in economic terms but is instead that which “transforms”. In other words the transformative value is that which develops critical consciousness, a broadening of one’s worldview in order to appreciate the multiplicity of perspectives and the complexity of any given issue or situation. Transformation may alter but not necessarily improve or increase impact value (i.e. retention, graduation rates, career success, GPA, etc.).

A recent follow-up to the 2010 report, Connect, Collaborate, and Communicate: A Report from the Value of Academic Libraries Summit (Association of College and Research Libraries, 2012) does attend to some transformative values, for example “academic intimacy” (p. 12), yet seems to ignore these in their “Actions for the profession” items. In the spirit of action item 3.3, “to “Build a community of practice to engage and sustain professional dialogue about library value,” we’d like to consider the integration of our understanding of library value with our professional values.

Some of the foundational Core Values of librarianship (American Library Association, 2004) include free access to information, democracy as it hinges on an informed citizenry and the First Amendment’s mandate to free expression, the public good, and social responsibility. Is the concept of value as articulated in the ACRL value reports antithetical to these core values expressed by ALA?

In a recent post from In the Library With a Lead Pipe, Emily Ford asks us to consider the “why” of what we do as an intervention in what she sees as failed attempts to demonstrate our value. Ford recommends that the library community develop a philosophy of librarianship. She suggests that engaging with philosophy will enable the library community to move from practice to praxis—professional practice informed by theory, or a philosophical framework. Perhaps we need only look to our Core Values to articulate a philosophy of librarianship.

Barbara Fister emphasizes the importance of Ford’s recommendations (Fister, 2012, August 28) and also shares thoughts on value and values in a recent post (2012, September 19), stating that:

“We librarians seem anxious to prove our value these days, but what we really should articulate more clearly and loudly is our values. When we focus on defending our existence to our administrators, we end up…with a focus far too narrow, too parochial, too myopic to ensure that our values inform what libraries should be.”

We’d like to see this conversation grow on the apparent disconnect between articulating our value with our values, especially in relation to information literacy instruction. We have submitted for consideration a proposal for an ACRL Instruction Section Current Issue Discussion Group at ALA Annual with the hope that other instruction librarians are also concerned about the apparent disconnect between our value and our values. However, it is likely that the proposal is too philosophical to be accepted, so we’d love to get your feedback here, at the Library Juice Blog, or via personal email.

Can we articulate our Core Values while also demonstrating our value in economic terms? Do we risk losing our value as defenders/providers of equity of access, free speech, intellectual freedom, and the public good if we concede to the narrative of crisis fueling the value initiative? How do we fit our Core Values into our information literacy learning outcomes? Is it possible to re-orient the conversation in order to re-value conceptions of value?

Lua Gregory & Shana Higgins


American Library Association. (2004). Core values of librarianship. Retrieved from

Association of College and Research Libraries. (2012). Connect, collaborate, and communicate: A report from the value of academic libraries summits. Prepared by Karen Brown and Kara J. Malenfant. Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries.

Fister, B. (2012, August 28). The self-centered library: A paradox. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from

Fister, B. (2012, September 19). What libraries should be: A values proposition. Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved from

Ford, E. (2012, August 8). What we do and why we do it? In the Library With a Lead Pipe. Retrieved from

Oakleaf, M. (2010). The value of academic libraries: A comprehensive research review and report. Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries.

Wilson, R. M. S., Stenson, J., & Oppenheim, C. (2000). Valuation of information assets. Loughborough: Loughborough University.

November 7, 2012

Critical Librarianship Symposium on the Activist Potential of Librarians

If you can make it to the Boston area on Saturday, November 17, head to the Women’s Studies Research Center at Brandeis University. The wonderful Boston collective of Radical Reference is putting on a symposium called “Practical Choices for Powerful Impacts: Realizing the Activist Potential of Librarians.” It features a panel of “librarians who use their skills to undertake consciousness-raising in libraries and within the LIS profession; actively participate in anti-oppression and empowerment work; and develop programming that supports the library as space and library as a means of liberation,” followed by group discussions. And it’s free!

November 6, 2012

On the Romney Campaign’s Disdain for Facts

Kevin M. Kruse has an Op-Ed in today’s New York Times: The Real Loser: Truth. It is about how American politics may have turned a new corner thanks to the Romney Campaign’s gamble that politicians can lie with impunity and come out ahead.

Kruse says what a lot of people are thinking, but omits an important part of the discussion. Where are the journalists, and why are they allowing lies to pass for truth in the public mind? What are the responsibilities of journalists and the press in this context? What is the problem, and how do we solve it?

November 5, 2012

Libraries and Hurricane Sandy

George Eberhart of American Libraries magazine has written an article about the role of libraries during Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath: “Libraries Weather the Superstorm.” He summarizes the damage done to libraries by the storm (to the extent that we know about it at this point), describes some budding efforts to repair damage and rebuild collections, and talks about how libraries served as important resources and gathering places for some of the communities affected by the storm.

November 1, 2012

Late Night Library One for the Books Campaign

Late Night Library One for the Books Campaign



PORTLAND, OR, October 22, 2012—Responding to the US Department of Justice vs. Apple case set to go to trial in June of 2013, Late Night Library has announced the One for the Books! campaign in support of independent booksellers and independent publishers.

One for the Books! is a pledge drive not requiring a monetary pledge. It offers four levels of participation:

Late Night Reader: Anyone who pledges to purchase books from independent booksellers and independent publishers.

Late Night Author: Published authors of any genre who on their website includes links to independent retailers or IndieBound rather than retailers engaged in predatory pricing.

Late Night Publisher: Independent publishers who do not feature links to corporate retailers who predatory price on their official websites.

Late Night Brick & Mortar: Independently-owned physical bookstores supporting independent publishers by offering multiple independent titles on their bookshelves and providing a pick-up or delivery service for community-based readers.

To participate in One for the Books! is simple. E-mail and Late Night Library will add your name or business to the appropriate pledge level. We will publish the results on our website in April.

LATE NIGHT LIBRARY is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting talented writers early in their careers. To make a donation to Late Night Library, please visit and click Give. All donations will be applied directly to program services.