Friday, 17 August 2007

Word of the day

Today's word is third place or thirdplace. Home and work are the first two, and the third place is somewhere else. Word Spy explains what the term means. There are lots of thirdplaces, and the term has caught on in a mild way. Everyone needs some place, other than home and work, where they can feel they belong, and do different things.

I came across it at the Public Libraries Australia conference in Adelaide last week (5-7 August), where the engaging Kate Meyrick of the Honery Institute, who had a closely scheduled plane to catch, presented a lightning paper on the concept of a third place and its relevance to public libraries. The virtuosity of the paper lay not in its speed, however, but in its very comprehensive and fluent examination of the library as a third kind of trusted place. The text does not seem to be available yet.

Interestingly, for me anyway, my own university is an exponent of thirdplace, described in a recent report by our Centre for Regional Development at Lilydale as "'safe' informal social gathering places", fast being supplanted by outlets for the gaming industry. In Queensland the Caloundra public library is a leading exponent of the concept as it relates to public libraries.

I will be away for a fortnight, but please keep thinking and contributing, and I will look forward to reading your comments as I relax and evade various responsibilities.

Thursday, 16 August 2007

Brand librarian

It has been interesting to see the various comments on what we should call everyone. Have a look at the comments on the word of the day and on the post on what to call ourselves and each other.

I think that acceptance of the brand librarian must be a given. There is no alternative, and there is nothing wrong with the brand anyway. We have failed at creating an alternative brand, and our gambit to include the word "information" in everything has not worked. There is also a large amount of accumulated good will in the librarian brand (and the library brand) which we cannot easily recreate for an alternative brand.

But this does not mean that all librarians should have the title librarian. There are many circumstances where we may prefer or be required to use something different, or where it may just make sense, or be to our advantage - just as some accountants are called Chief Financial Officers rather than something with accountant in the name.

I have been thinking of developing some kind of statement with the heading "These people are librarians", or maybe "This is a librarian." It would include a list of people/positions who are really librarians, and a short description. The point is to make it clear to people the scope of the brand, librarian.

For example, I have collected several examples of situations where people have said to me "what we need in this job is a librarian." They were non-librarians, and they were right. These are three pieces of evidence about what OTHER people think are the core skills of a librarian.

The same is true of the term library. People intuitively use the term library in relevant contexts. My posting on the Mousebrain Project indicates that there is public use of the word library which is often right, but wider than ours. A recent example is the Atlas of Living Australia, which is described as "a biodiversity search engine providing access to information held in biological collections in museums and public research institutes across the country" (there is also to be a "mouse phenomics network"). The Atlas is to be affialiated with the Encyclopedia of Life and the Biodiversity Heritage Library. These are digital libraries.

What do you think?

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

What do you call your staff?

Titles are very important, especially in universities, where they are often used instead of money as a means of rewarding people. They can often make people feel good about themselves. Although this leads to a steady title creep or title inflation, little harm may be done. The staff receive something which they value, and the university is able to stretch its budget a little further. The language is subtly and gradually changed, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

Thank you to those who have comments on the term title creep. Kim suggested that we should have simple and generic titles, and Andrew pointed out the interesting Information Consultant, Information Awareness and Literacy Services at the University of Melbourne. But he asked "Why not call a spade a spade?"

My point in this post is that we can use titles to achieve benefits for our workforce, rather than aiming to use simple words to represent straightforward concepts - always a difficult process. The reason we do not always call a spade a spade is because we don't have to - language is rich and varied, always changing, and always accessible for a wide variety of purposes. We want our staff to feel good about their jobs. For our immediate environments (in my case, a university) titles carry meaning in ways other than the literal. I suspect that our customers rarely notice or care, but we do, and our peers in our working environment do.

So, we need nice titles. In the library world, including the university library world, we have experienced less title creep, and less exuberant proliferation of titles than in other areas. There is certainly title creep in the academic sphere - as Cullen Murphy suggests, most commonly as "the extension of restricted honorifics to an ever widening circle of claimants." Murphy suggests that the new discipline of managing the development of titles might be called exaltametrics.

In our own world we have benefited little from title creep. While in the field of information technology there is a wide range of new and more elevated titles, this is not the case in libraries. IT directors become Chief Technology Officers, the title creeping across new territory, too. Multiple titles proliferate. New terms define whole new sub-professions (business analysts) or new metaphors are taken from other professions (architects, for example).

Perhaps libraries have tried to be too narrowly descriptive in the way they invent titles. Perhaps they have been too tied to the term "librarian". Perhaps they have been too afraid to cannibalise terms used by other sectors, such as "dean", although this has begun to happen in the United States.

The new positions now being created throughout Australia as a result of the RQF (the Research Quality Framework) are a case in point. The generic term for the library end of this potential cornucopia of Australian library titles has now become pretty universally "repository manager". Not a great invention; the term "repository" is pretty much incomprehensible outside libraries, and the term manager is generic in the extreme. At Swinburne we use the term "Content Management Librarian". And what about Content Architect?

What kinds of terms might we use in this new sphere? I am thinking my way through this one, with my colleagues, and here are some thoughts about titles for repository staff.

Online content is the sphere of activity, so Online Content Officer or Online Content Librarian is good, and makes a wider claim. Or perhaps Online Content Supervisor, good because it is not clear that it is the content that is supervised, and leaves open the thought that there may be a small army of online content workers beavering away. Online content can also be used with the nouns delegate and broker, both synonyms for agent.

Looking at specialised roles, online content quality controller and similar terms could be used. I really like the word marshal, but in English-language usage it is mainly (but not always) a grand person, since the military took it over from people who organised things. In Italy, a model for the use of titles, Marshal Salvatore Guarnaccia of the Florence Carabinieri in Magdalen Nabb's wonderful detective novels is a simple if informal policeman. Someone should have a go at Online Content Marshal to see how it plays out.

In special libraries, there is also development in the area of titles. The Wall Street Journal suggests that titles like information specialist, knowledge manager and taxonomist are becoming more common.

I am looking for imagination in contributions on this one. Don't let anyone say that librarians lacked the soaring imagination to invent the most wonderful titles in academia and beyond.

Saturday, 11 August 2007

ALIA activities

This blog has been quiet lately, as a number of other things have taken place. I was in Adelaide from last Saturday to last Tuesday, at the 70th anniversary celebrations and award presentation at the State Library of South Australia, and at the ALIA Board on Sunday, and at the public libraries conference, Sunday and Monday. And I attended a meeting of the NetAlert Advisory Council in Sydney last Wednesday.

You may have noticed the announcements by the Prime Minister and by the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts of a $189 million funding program intended to make the Internet safe for children. So we needed to send out some information about that. You can read ALIA's press release, issued yesterday, here. You can also listen to the Prime Minister's podcast, and some coverage relating to libraries about Senator Coonan's announcement.

As you can imagine, all of this ALIA activity has led to a need for a little balance, so I am listening to Garrison Keillor while I write this. It is possible that balance is not quite the right term for this activity. And I am aware that Keillor's idiosyncratic combination of the sentimental and the wacky is not necessarily to everyone's taste - like melted cheese on noodles (apparently a Minnesota favourite) but the show is sponsored by Bertha's Kitty Boutique - "for persons who care about cats. And now here is Dr Phil with Cat Call-in Corner ..." - so bound to be a favourite with many librarians.

Take this as a short personal halt in the serious business of being a libraries blogger. Tomorrow I will share some thoughts about titles in libraries, and later next week I will send some thoughts on the Commonwealth Government's new program to provide us all with free filters.

Friday, 10 August 2007

Word of the day

Title creep is today's word of the day. I am not claiming this as an original, although it certainly fills a semantic space, but it has been used before - in 2006 - in the Kinesthesis Breakthrough blog. There was an article in the March 2005 issue of Atlantic Monthly by Cullen Murphy (you have to pay for the full article) and a blog posting about it in AC/OS too.

In higher education, title creep is evident. This can take the form of acquisition of additional titles, or an extension of titular style, or invention of new titles. For example, "Director, Finance and Chief Financial Officer." The addition of a second and more impressive title represents a double title creep.

I am surprised that there is not more use of the term title creep, given its growing prevalence, and recommend the wonderful article by Cullen Murphy - if you are at a university, you can read it via one of many journal aggregations. Although if you are at a university, you will know all about it. As Mr Murphy suggests "Universities are adding honorific modifiers like sundae toppings to the names of professorships." There will be a longer posting on this tomorrow.

Saturday, 4 August 2007

More on the library workforce

Thank you to my correspondents for their comments. I think that if we can assume what Dana suggests, and what I suggested, that has quite some implications for library education. There is a core area of librarianship, which Dana loosely describes as censorship, access and classification. It would be good for educators in particular to set out what they see as this core. The other players are employers, and of course librarians.

Librarian Idol suggests that there is a wide variety of people and motivations in librarianship, and that is absolutely right. Just to ask the question "What makes a good librarian?" uncovers as many answers as "Why did you become a librarian?" I have always argued, for example, that working in libraries is a good job for introverts - there is a lot of work away from customers, the work with customers is often pretty defined with clear boundaries, and the environment is relatively safe. But in addition to the diversity, there should also be an identifiable and agreed common core of knowledge, culture and values.

Part of the current task of library education is to determine in consultation with employers and our professional association (representing us as members) just what this common core might be. A further role is to determine what skills and capabilities are required by employers and how these will be acquired - through formal education, or on the job, or some combination, different in the case of different capabilities. Consulting with people who are young enough to remember what they studied and old enough to be working might be a significant part of this - the new graduates, for example.

Let me know what process you think we should take to work our way through these issues.

Friday, 3 August 2007

Word of the day

Only because it is your suggestion, Sue, am I having guybrarian as the word of the day. Not my kind of word. Although I suppose that it is worth including all styles of neologism. Not only that, but I am including an image, although I don't have any idea of what it means - pretty obviously a stereotype, I think, which is at least a change from female librarians being stereotyped. You can actually buy a copy of this as a sticker. "Put this on the bumper of your bookmobile", the site says. Only US$5.49.

As with so many engaging things, this came to notice through the discussion on the New York Times article on hip librarians. One correspondent said about the word "It's not uncommon to me, and I live in Mississippi." Whatever that means.

Thursday, 2 August 2007

Existential issues for librarians

In the run up to the Library Workforce Summit on 28 March 2008, we are going to have to focus in a disciplined way on library workforce issues, so I am very pleased that my posting on the Millennials workforce brought a considered comment from Rebecca. It was also interesting to read the washup from the Generation Y thing at the State Library of Victoria last week. And this leads to a few thoughts about the New York Times article on hip librarians, and in particular some comments in the OCLC blog - "We get furious when they write about as young hipsters. When will we not be furious? And why do we waste so much time being furious?"Much more will be required, however.

I guess you are wondering: what are the issues for a library workforce summit? And, what library workforce summit? The library workforce summit will be after Easter, 2008. Here are the main issues which we have identified
  • The skills and attributes required by employers
  • Recruitment - getting and keeping the best people
  • Defining the scope of the "library and information" sphere
  • The qualifications we should require of new librarians
  • The role of ALIA in relation to the library workforce
Each of these issues is difficult in its own way, but lurking behind them, and even more complex, are issues of image and behind them, are issues of identity. The image that people have of librarians and libraries drives all of the above to some degree, but particularly the issues of recruitment and scope.

There may be some agreement that many of the questions about the future library workforce are in fact existential questions, rather than simple issues like what training is required, which credentials, what attributes and skills do employers seek, and the like. In other words, who are we, as much as questions like - what should we be able to do? Not that the other issues are irrelevant, just that there is a dependency.

There is also a long-held belief that most library skills are learned on the job, and that it is the role of professional education to establish an identity and an orientation, as well as introducing the person to the existence and outline of a variety of relevant disciplines. But most librarians learn most of their skills by doing them. I did, anyway.

Let me know what you think.

Word of the day

A small flowover from the ongoing discussion of the hip librarian article in the New York Times is Karen Schneider's new word (new to me) appletini. This refers to a drink also called an apple martini, and including vodka, apple juice, and apple schnapps, according to the Drink of the Week site. However, Karen is using the term with more semantic luggage than that, and in the phase "the appletini library scene" she is referring to those hip librarians again. Although I can't see how a drink made of vodka and apple juice can be seen as hip, or a martini, or even half-way drinkable.