This isn’t what I thought it was

In a previous post, I mentioned that I am a member of the Discovery Task Force. How our committee got that unfortunate name is a mystery. I like to imagine that the former writers of The X-Files had a hand in it; they probably need the work. The Discovery Task Force is comprised of academic and state librarians, working together toward the possible implementation of a shared web-scale discovery tool, to benefit all members of the newly minted Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system (ConnScu). We’re currently in an information-gathering stage.

As part of this process, a colleague and I recently facilitated a web discovery brainstorming session at a statewide meeting of academic librarians. My colleague and I reluctantly led the session, which was scheduled at 2:20pm on Friday afternoon, following a full day of presentations and lunch. Furthermore, neither of us fully believe in the miracles promised by a conversion to web-scale discovery. We haven’t drunk the Kool-Aid. When I look at a web discovery tool, I do see user-friendly features, I do see Google, but I also see what amounts to another empty box. I was not eager to brainstorm ways to use and improve upon box searching.

Is box searching the research equivalent of a box store? Do we care?

Taking inspiration from Brian Matthews’ recent white paper on the future of libraries in higher ed, my colleague and I decided to develop a session that would “get beyond what’s familiar,” in order to solve research problems in the way a startup might. We chose not to discuss web discovery tools, even though the session was billed as such and included registered attendees. Instead, we began the session by dividing attendees into groups of three, distributing big sheets of paper, and, without introduction, asking each group to respond to the following:

You’ve just discovered that there is a need for scholarly information. What if you were responsible for creating a research environment from scratch, under new and uncertain conditions? What would it look like? Act like? Be like? What problems would it solve? What would it accomplish? How would it be evaluated? What impact would it have?

There were no rules, no parameters, and no details.

Needless to say, attendees got mad. One participant lamented, “This isn’t what I thought it was.” Another wondered aloud, “Am I in the right room?” Participants were uncomfortable. They wanted to hear things, not create them, which is totally understandable. Begrudgingly they began to work. After ten minutes, my colleague and I began to feel relief.

30 minutes passed. The attendees were fired-up, each group recreating the entire library experience based on needs and obstacles that they’ve observed during their careers. Librarians smiled, laughed, and ultimately generated good ideas. Here’s a sample:

  • Group 1 designed a information environment with artificial intelligence as its core. AI would assist users with their word choices; help them to interpret results and sources; format correct citation in multiple languages; and would help librarians to conduct learning assessments. AI would also help students write their term papers instantly (good for students, not for faculty).
  • Group 2 envisioned a highly interactive physical/digital environment, comparable to the science museum experience, where users make choices in an adaptive space. Touch screens act as the first point of access to information, and quickly lead users to discipline-based collections of information. No keywords. Apps included.

My colleague and I took notes on all ideas, big and small, with the intention of bringing them to the attention of the Discovery Task Force, a group that can influence the way that vendors design search tools. And, I know that we’re not the only librarians making big ticket purchases. When vendors knock on our doors to sell products, why shouldn’t we share our vision of the future? There’s only one excuse that I can think of: We don’t have one.


Curiouser and Curiouser: What caught our eyes online this week

“Curiouser and Curiouser!” cried Alice…
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Welcome to Chasing Reference’s weekly roundup of the curious articles and links that have caught our eye this week!

  • “I feel so bad for not knowing who dick clark is :T” tweets Justinnnnn_<3. And that’s okay. Read about how “the web is changing not just how we think about knowledge, but how we think about its absence” in this month’s issue of The Atlantic.
  • Stanford’s former president, Gerhard Casper, told The New Yorker that the fundamental purpose of higher education is “the disinterested pursuit of truth” and that students should “search to know.” His comments are situated inside of an important conversation about the changing values of higher education. Read more in the article, Get Rich U.
  • Aside from awesomely referring to the ALA as a “secret sect of warrior-librarians,” and thus earning our love, this article is also a nice summary of ALA’s continued advocacy of First Amendment and civil liberties.

What We Believe is the Truth: Retraction and Reference

this american life logoby Sarah Elichko

Have you heard the “Retraction” episode of This American Life?  Last month, the show formally retracted an episode on working conditions in the Foxconn electronics factory in Shenzhen, China.  Ira Glass’ discussion of truthful reporting made me think about retractions in scientific publishing.  As a medical librarian, I frequently send published research articles to my patrons.  Sometimes I wonder, will these findings ever be replicated?  Will they be retracted?  Will I even notice?  Will my users?

In many cases, published retractions are noted in the databases that scientists and science librarians use every day.   Yet just as many people skim past the advanced options in a search engine, it’s easy to miss the small print “Erratum” beneath the article title.  So what role can librarians play in following-up on published research?  I’m not sure I have a definite answer, but I have identified some useful resources to help librarians keep tabs on what happens after studies have been published. Continue reading

Public Library: A Day in the Life

Hello, I’m a librarian for a large, suburban Chicago library. Primarily, I’m a children’s librarian, but I am also one the library’s webmasters. Welcome to my day!

Today is a double desk shift day. Our library schedules the reference desk in four hour shifts, and today I have two shifts back-to-back, but at different locations, which makes for a very lively day. With that, here we go:

1pm-4:45pm, Location #1

– My shift starts with the traditional Changing of the Guards- chatting with the librarians I was replacing, finding out what had happened during the morning shift.

– Email! 96 unread emails are waiting for me to answer.

– 3rd email reveals that there are several glitches on our newly upgraded website that need fixing. I start investigating what needs to be done, find a solution, and email the website team my findings.

– Finished reading email. In the process, I added two new meetings, plus a possible third, to my schedule, in addition to one new tween program. I forwarded an interesting program idea to our Children’s Program Coordinator, and was amazed at the awesome graphics our designer created for some upcoming events.

– More trouble with website glitches- this time I need to contact our computer support time. I spend an agonizing 15 minutes trying to explain to our computer support company just what is going on. In the midst of that, a repair person for our color printer arrives and I try not to get the two issue mixed up!

– During a quiet period, I helped a co-worker set up a Facebook Ad for the library. While doing that, we did some reference for ourselves to find out what an “Auto Intender” is. The answer? Someone who intends to buy an automobile within the next 6 months.

– Back to the website glitches! Had a brief, on the spot conference with a fellow webteam member where we filled each other in on various issues and what needed to be done.

– Perpetuating the myth that a librarian can actually read on the job, I had my personal copy of The Hunger Games with me on desk. I’m trying to re-read it before the movie comes out. It’s a great conversation starter, and I have several patrons and co-workers stop and talk with me about the book and upcoming movie. By the end of my shift, my personal copy has a hold on it for a fellow staff member since all 30 copies in the library are checked out with over 100 people on the waiting list.

– Throughout the four hour shift, helped multiple patrons find books: humor books, adventure books, picture books, realistic fiction, and reluctant readers. All left with armfuls of books. Hopefully, they find a few new favorites in their stacks!

– Congratulated three different children on getting their first library card!

– Did some computer troubleshooting for patrons. Computer troubleshooting always means that I have to crawl around on the floor, checking cable connections.

– After leaving the desk, on my way to my second shift, stopped to talk to a co-worker and had a quick 5 minute brainstorming session on future programs for teens. The Hunger Games featured prominently in our planning ideas.

4:45pm- 5:05pm, Driving in My Car

– Drove to the second location. Due to rain, the traffic was slow. Due to the double shift, I ate dinner in the car.


– Take two for the Changing of the Guards! The afternoon was busy at the second location, so there was lots to share and know for the evening shift.

– Changing of the Guards turned into a discussion about an upcoming tween program (Duct Tape Crafts!) and the logistics of it. That, in turn, evolved into a discussion of summer program for tweens. It’s just around the corner, even though its only March!

– The desk is hopping! The library is a popular place tonight, and I spend the evening answering questions about Pokemon, Native Americans, the Louisiana Purchase, the Dave Matthew Band, and more.

– Took a moment to check my email and discovered a department scheduling crisis. Sent off emails to resolve the problem and managed to fill the gap.

– Went back to the web glitches and began to re-code some of the more troublesome areas.
– Problems abound with the public computers, printer and copier! I fixed paper jams, solved browser errors, refilled paper, and then some.

– Registered a person to vote.

– Took a breath, and realized it was near quitting time. Began closing procedures: cleaning up abandoned books, shutting of computers.

– With everything all cleaned up and ready for the morning, headed out the door, done for the day, and ready to start all over again tomorrow!

Curiouser and Curiouser: What caught our eyes online this week

“Curiouser and Curiouser!” cried Alice…
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Welcome to Chasing Reference’s weekly roundup of the curious articles and links that have caught our eye this week!

  • What will the future of the Federal Depository Library Program look like? The team at Free Government Information weighs in on the controversial Congressional Research Service report.
  • In 1813, Jane Austen wrote: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” How would this sentence look today? Read about it on DRAFT, a New York Times Opinionator series on punctuation, grammar, and the art of writing.
  • Here’s a fascinating look at how undergraduate students grappled with an assignment to find information that’s not online, and then digitize it. Key quote from a student: “This process made me feel like I was a cave man. I’m not sure if it was the requirement to use slightly older technology, such as a scanner, or books, for that matter, but I found this process much more difficult than I find most online or digital assignments.”

Undergraduate Library: A Day in the Life

I’m Emily Hamstra, Learning Librarian at the University of Michigan’s Shapiro Undergraduate Library. I support student learning and engagement through developing meaningful instruction sessions and collections. No day at the library is ever the same for me, so here is a snapshot of one day at the Undergraduate Library.


The Librarians’ Forum meets monthly to discuss issues the latest issues facing University of Michigan librarians. Sometimes these meetings are focused on campus issues, sometimes they are focused on issues that affect the library profession as a whole. This month the meeting was about different publishing initiatives in the library and on campus. Representatives from Deep Blue (University of Michigan’s institutional repository), MPublishing (University of Michigan’s publishing department, a department of the library), Open.Michigan (open access educational resources created at the University of Michigan), and HathiTrust spoke about how they support the University of Michigan campus and scholarly publishing. There was a lively discussion and donuts.


Once I’ve cleared out some email, I get started on an order for the Undergraduate Library’s leisure reading collection. I maintain a large leisure reading collection. All books from this collection are purchased through a local independent bookseller.

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Private Academic Library: A Day in the Life

picture of CarrieHi! I’m Carrie Dunham-LaGree, the Librarian for Digital Literacy and General Education at Cowles Library at Drake University. The primary focus of my job is information literacy instruction. I teach one course a semester, and I love the opportunity to work closely with students for an entire semester. In the fall, I teach a First Year Seminar. In the spring I teach a two-credit Information Literacy course. I’m developing a new information literacy course on documentary films for Drake’s first J-term in January 2013. I also coordinate all of the library instruction for the First Year Seminar program and serve as the liaison to the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. How does that all fit into a typical day?

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What We’re Reading: April 2012

Welcome to the first monthly installment of What We’re Reading. On the first Friday of each month, we’ll share what we’re reading, which may include everything from magazines and blogs to novels and books for work or pleasure.

I am somewhat obsessed with the Orange Prize, a British literary award given to the best novel written by a woman in English each year. I’m currently making my way through the twenty titles on the 2012 longlist, which was announced in March to coincide with International Women’s Day. So far, I’ve read eleven of the twenty and am currently enjoying Island of Wings by Karin Altenberg, a debut novel set on the St. Kilda islands in 1830. The six-title shortlist will be announced Tuesday, April 17th.

Currently, I have been burning my way through Cassandra Clare’s Mortal Instruments series. The 5th book is being released on May 8th, and anticipation is running high among my teen readers.  An intense series featuring demons, angels, vampires (not the sparkly kind), werewolves, and more, it is easy to see the appeal. Clare has a deft writing style, and each story is packed with action and drama, filled in with likable and realistic characters. I’ve also been brushing up on the Vampire Knight manga series by Matsuri Hino. Lush illustrations and an intriguing vampire mythology make this a series not to be missed! Of course, since its storytime season, my reading roster is filled with picture books, too.  Most recently, The Cow Loves Cookies by Karma Wilson and Farmyard Beat by Lindsey Craig have charmed me- both are great reads with wonderful rhythmic story lines and delightful illustrations.

I’m reading Wendy Wasserstein’s Shiksa Goddess: Or, How I Spent My Forties (2001). In this collection of essays, the Tony and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright earns her reputation as “a vicious dumpling,” thrusting the private lives of friends and family into the spotlight, to reveal the humor, sadness, and injustice of the human experience. Wasserstein’s personal essays confirm the thesis of Julie Salamon’s poignant biography, Wendy and the Lost Boys (2011): Though Wasserstein was quick to share the secrets of others, she worked hard to disguise herself, both literally (she hid her pregnancy) and figuratively, from the many people with whom she shared her bizarre, compartmentalized life.

I read mostly non-fiction (albeit with a weakness for good YA novels).  Right now, I’m nearly finished with The Information Diet by Clay Johnson.  Johnson makes an interesting comparison between nutrition and information consumption, arguing that poorly-chosen media consumption has negative effects on the mind and body (similar to eating a diet based on junk food).  He makes a case for what librarians would call information literacy skills without mentioning the concept by name (so far).

I just started reading the novel Vaclav and Lena by Haley Tanner. It’s been on my to-read list since Nancy Pearl put it on her “7 Books with Personality” list on NPR’s Morning Edition in December.  I’ve also been geeking out over Pew Internet’s “The rise of e-reading” report.

Now tell us: what are you reading this month?

Community College Library: A Day in the Life

by Amy Barlow

As evidenced by our banner, the authors of Chasing Reference will follow reference and information trends, each of us writing from a unique professional point of view. I’m Amy Barlow, a Reference and Instruction Librarian, and I’ll focus on community college librarianship.

Don’t fret: You will not get stuck reading long, boring commentaries that defend publicly funded two-year institutions. The worst that can happen is a short, boring commentary.

My day in the life post will not make sense if I chronicle a real eight-hour day. As a member of a tiny library staff, professional roles often blur, leading to wildly unpredictable days and nights. A big-picture To Do list is a much better reflection of my role on campus. Like Temple Grandin, I think in pictures.

thinking in pictures

  1. The web-scale discovery project: Connecticut community colleges and state universities are getting together to request funds to purchase a shared discovery tool. I’m on the task force. Disclaimer: We do not endorse Summon, nor does Summon endorse us. I (not my real name) just needed an image.
  2. Choice magazine: I indulge in collection development on Fridays, as a treat.
  3. Dressing for success: I spend a lot of time searching for unobjectionable blazers. Doesn’t this one make me look fierce?  (Thank you, Emma Stone, for looking a lot like me, only way prettier and much younger.)
  4. Situational irony: When I try to teach students how to find good books in the stacks, they often tune me out, selecting the books that they want, and reading them.
  5. Sketches and poems: During the spring semester, I preside over a popular poetry contest at the college. I use the contest as an excuse to make drawings and use desk-top publishing software.
  6. One Book, One Campus: This semester we’re all reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. I host a Reader’s Circle Series.
  7. Info Lit: I spend a lot of class time showing students how to identify common features on websites. They need to recognize the features in order to cite websites as sources of information. It’s dull work when you do it every day, but I finally found a way to use the time wisely. I take screenshots of favorite blogs and mark-them-up in class, so that I can catch-up on my reading while students learn to cite sources. It’s a win win.

(Image sources: 1. University of Michigan Libraries; 2. Choice; 3. “Under Cover” at Vogue; 4. QVCC Website; 5. Personal copy; 6.; 7. Screenshot of The Man Repeller.)

Hospital Library: A Day in the Life

by Sarah Elichko

“I didn’t know hospitals even had libraries!”

This is a typical response when I mention my job to someone.  It’s perfectly reasonable to want to avoid spending time at the hospital, so it’s not surprising that hospital libraries fly under the radar.

My name is Sarah Elichko and I work as one of two librarians serving the staff (and occasionally patients) of an academic medical center and healthcare system in upstate New York.  Laura Dixon, the library manager, and I both do a little bit of everything to keep the library running.

Curious about an average day for a hospital librarian?  Here’s an ordinary workday for me.

8:30 am – Arrive at work, turn on the lights and computers in the library.

Today is one of my days to handle article delivery, so I open up the library email account and forward PDFs to patrons.  Then I check Docline for article delivery requests from other libraries, and send those along.

9:00 – 11:00 am –  Send emails to upcoming presenters (physicians and nurses) reminding them that I can help with research and obtaining articles for their Grand Rounds talks.

Open Pubmed and work on a literature search for a physician who needs articles on treatment options for the pathologic subtypes of breast cancer (example), as well as a few other related topics.

My office is the de-facto reference desk in our library, so I also help with questions about mandatory education videos, Excel tutorial sessions, and finding Cochrane Reviews.

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