Preparing for the Future by Embracing Non-Users’ Perspectives

In library and information science (LIS) research and practice, significant attention has been paid to users of libraries and information organizations. Since user studies first appeared in the LIS literature in the 1940s, their number has constantly increased. User studies have reported library use behaviors of specific user groups, demonstrated the extent that libraries fulfill users’ information needs, detailed user preferences for specific library services, and much more. A continuous and concentrated focus on users is sensible; after all, organizations of all types rely on their knowledge of the existing client base to ensure that operations are effective and responsive. Insights from user studies in the LIS domain have led to redesigned library physical and technical infrastructure, enhanced interfaces and information systems, and targeted marketing and outreach efforts.

In comparison, the number of studies of non-users of libraries and information organizations is small. The studies that are reported in the LIS literature have examined diverse library services and settings, including graduate student and faculty non-use of library e-book collections, discipline as a factor in non-use of library electronic resources and databases, business managers’ reactions to their employees’ non-use of business libraries and information services, and socio-demographic characteristics of public library non-users.

Clearly, it is not impossible to investigate non-users and gather their perspectives on libraries, but there are significant barriers to doing so. First, defining a non-user of a library or information organization is not as simple as it would appear. For instance, there are involuntary non-users who do not have a library to use, and voluntary non-users who have a library to use but willfully choose alternatives. There are absolute non-users who are unknown and unseen, while others are actually marginal users who under-use the library (or some aspect of it). Second, gaining access to non-users is neither convenient nor straightforward. Third, there exists healthy skepticism in the profession about whether non-users can be convinced to become library users, leading to doubts about the actual benefits gained from non-user research.

But in today’s modern, complex information environment, clarifying the position of the library in the life of information seekers—those who use libraries as well as those who do not—is more critical than ever before. With libraries facing competition around every corner, understanding more about non-users could help libraries and information organizations keep apace with digital transformations and further strategic change efforts. Taken together with users’ perspectives about libraries, non-users’ perspectives give libraries a more complete picture of their impact and reach. Furthermore, insights from connecting with non-users can provide libraries with actionable information to gain new clients, regain users who the library lost at some point along the way, or strengthen ties with current users.

The prevalence of user studies in LIS illustrates the profession’s strong user-centered tenet, but non-use and underutilization of libraries and information organizations is a valid concern. Additional knowledge, building on previous studies of non-users, would benefit LIS practice and research by establishing techniques for identifying and accessing non-users and broadening the profession’s approach for improving libraries and their services.

By Lily Rozaklis

Taking Advantage of Librarianship’s Hidden Curriculum

Photo credit University of North Carolina Chapel HillAs a GSLIS student in the mid-1990s, I took the traditional reference and cataloging core curriculum courses. Two decades later, I have seen a lot of changes to information technology and librarianship. Yet the core curricula of most library and information science (LIS) programs still retain these traditional courses or, in many cases, their modern incarnations: information services and metadata.

These courses remain in most LIS programs’ core because the American Library Association’s (ALA) Standards for Accreditation of Master’s Programs in Library and Information Studies requires that the curriculum address certain topics and prepare students with certain skill sets. On the other hand, the ALA’s Accreditation Standards also require that the curriculum “provide direction for future development of the field.”

While traditional topics in LIS remain important, the future of the field depends on a broader set of skills that are necessary to remain in relevant and mobile in today’s marketplace. And I’m not talking about additional information technology skills.

A study was recently published analyzing the prices that university libraries pay for “big deal” journal bundles. This study revealed that some institutions are paying nearly twice what other peer institutions are paying for the same bundle. While it is shocking, it is not surprising. What makes it worse is that publishers brought suit against universities involved in this study to prevent them from releasing the details of their contracts (the courts ultimately ruled that these universities could release the data). University libraries may know what they’re paying for their subscriptions, but they usually do not know what their peer institutions are paying. Vendors would like to keep it that way.

Over the past several decades, libraries have decreasingly been in the business of owning things, and have increasingly become portals through which users access resources owned by others. Libraries can provide access to additional resources this way. However, under the regime of renting access to resources, it’s critical that libraries be able to negotiate the terms of rental agreements. Contract negotiation has become an essential skill for librarians to possess.

Contract negotiation ultimately is about being a good steward of resources, which includes financial management. Budgets in libraries are often siloed by department. An example from my own research is determining the cost-benefit of reference services: How much does it cost to answer a reference question? The simple question turns out to be difficult to answer. Many studies have investigated this question, and come up with different answers because there’s little agreement on what should be included in the calculation. Staff time is about the only cost that everyone agrees on, but should some percentage of the cost of purchasing the resources used, network access, or facility space also be included? While the answers are debatable, the issue remains that it is virtually impossible to argue that the service you’re providing is worth the cost, if you can’t say what the cost is.

Discussing the cost-benefit of libraries doesn’t sit well with everyone. Librarians often like to make arguments about the benefit of libraries to society. Unfortunately long-term arguments often take a backseat to immediate concerns, especially where money and politics are concerned. A decades-long history of libraries being threatened with closure – Detroit, Denver, Cuyahoga Falls, Monterey, Chicago – drives this point painfully home. There may not be much that librarians can do to increase their institutions’ budgets, but there is plenty that librarians can do to advocate for their slice.

This sort of advocacy is ultimately about becoming a thought leader in your organization and in your community. Leadership doesn’t just mean that you’ll be a manager, such as a library director or department head. Sometimes it means chairing a committee, organizing a conference or being faced with a situation that involves managing your manager. Such circumstances require leadership skills. How do you motivate members of a group, all of whom have different concerns and agendas? How do you get people to do things for you, especially if you’re not their boss? While these skills can be learned, there needs to be increased emphasis on such skills in LIS school.

Leadership, financial management, strategic planning, and contract negotiation are the skills that will provide direction for future development of the field. These are the hidden core curriculum for librarianship.

Some courses address these skills, although they are not labeled as such. Project-based courses, such as GSLIS’ Dr. Candy Schwartz’s LIS 462 Digital Libraries and Linda Braun’s LIS 467 Web Information and Architectures involve project management, and project management is all about leadership. Dr. Mary Wilkins Jordan’s LIS 404 Management course involves writing a grant proposal, which develops budgeting skills. The onus is upon the student to find the hidden skills in each course.

Faculty do what they can to develop courses that include these skills. But it’s up to students to capitalize on these opportunities to develop those skills and talk about them in your next job interview.

By Dr. Jeffrey Pomerantz’97LS, Associate Professor, School of Information and Library Science, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

DPLA and The Promise of Libraries as Platforms

Using a digital library as a platform in which anyone can build tools and services is now a hot topic in the library and information science field. Libraries can maximize use of their digital collections — and fulfill their mission of democratizing access to knowledge – by providing a reliable method for developers, researchers, and others to integrate library data into applications, visualizations, and tools. Digital libraries not only offer access to materials, but the ability to create tools and products also. This new approach stands in contrast to the standard web portal, which provides access to digital collections through a site’s search and browse functionality. In his September 2012 Library Journal article, technologist David Weinberger writes:

One aim of this switch [to libraries as platforms] is to think of a library not as a portal we go through on occasion, but as infrastructure that is as ubiquitous and persistent as the streets and sidewalks of a town, or the classrooms and yards of a university. Think of the library as co-extensive with the geographic area it serves, like a canopy, or as we say these days, like a cloud.

The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) feels strongly about the promise of platform architecture. DPLA is a free online library that provides access to millions of books, photographs, maps, audiovisual materials, and other resources from libraries, archives, and museums across the United States. The DPLA provides access by way of metadata aggregation for millions of records and thumbnails from our national network of partners, often referred to as hubs. We bring the hubs’ metadata into the DPLA platform and enrich it with added data, like geolocation coordinates, allowing us to populate items on a map, among other innovative pieces of functionality. The aggregated metadata is distributed for free and unrestricted use under a Creative Commons Public Domain dedication, a formal method for labeling items in the public domain. Developers access DPLA metadata through a tool called an application programming interface (API), which feeds user-defined information to an external application, like a smartphone app or a visualization. (Alternatively, for those interested in unmediated access to the platform, we also offer bulk download of all, or subsets of, DPLA’s metadata database.) Since our launch in April 2013, our app library has grown to hold 18 different types of DPLA-powered applications.

The “library as a platform” concept is powerful, especially when you consider how the same data powering massive digital libraries, like DPLA and Europeana, can be used to create novel interfaces, ones often built for different purposes than its original architects envisioned. The front-end DPLA website is one DPLA interface, not the only DPLA interface.

For instance, Library Observatory, built by Harvard’s metaLAB using the DPLA platform, allows users to search DPLA through a nested, interactive graph that visualizes all of our collections by relative size, format, and type of object. Users can browse DPLA’s repository by clicking through dynamic representations of our various collections, a feature not available through the DPLA-designed front-end (see Figures 1 and 2 below). Others have built iOS applications that use a phone’s geolocation to create contextually relevant images (OpenPics), visual search tools that allow users to create collections of their favorite items (Culture Collage), as well as many other inventive uses of DPLA’s metadata platform.

Most importantly, the platform model creates a new community of library users, one that may have had little interest in libraries prior to finding the model. The allure of free and open data can attract creative ideas from places beyond the orbit of traditional library communities, expanding the reach of library resources and services. Weinberger writes, “[Libraries as platforms] focuses our attention away from the provisioning of resources to the foment those resources engender. A library as platform would give rise to messy, rich networks of people and ideas, continuously sparked and maintained by the library’s resources.” The rich networks of people and ideas have propelled DPLA’s efforts from day one.

For libraries and archives to continue to create and nurture communities of knowledge and civic engagement, it is essential they provide access to their resources, or portions of their resources, in ways that align with new definitions of “use” in a digital environment.

To join the community of developers building DPLA-powered apps, see our easy-to-read documentation and ideas and projects hub, or subscribe to our tech mailing list. The DPLA App Library contains apps built on our platform. DPLA’s code can be found on GitHub.

(Fig. 1) Library Observatory, built on top of the DPLA platform, allows users to search DPLA’s collection by way of a colorized tree graph, something unavailable on the DPLA-designed website.

(Fig. 2) A side-by-side comparison of the same record displayed on Library Observatory and platform, allows users to search DPLA’s collection by way of a colorized tree graph, something unavailable on the DPLA-designed website.

By Kenny Whitebloom, Project Coordinator, Digital Public Library of America (DPLA)

The Evolving Landscape of the Archives Profession

Examining a Memory-Archive of the Puerto Rican Diaspora in Holyoke, MA

Since the 1990s, archivists have increasingly studied the relationship between archives and collective memory, defined by Barbara Misztal (2003) as “a group’s representation of its past, both the past that is commonly shared and the past that is collectively commemorated, that enacts and gives substance to that group’s identity, its present conditions and its vision of the future” (p. 158). Research includes studies of how communities create and use archives to construct their collective memories. As a Puerto Rican and a scholar, I have been studying the roles of archives in the construction and dissemination of the history and memories of the Puerto Rican diaspora in the United States.

Discussions about the history of the Puerto Rican diaspora in the United States tend to focus on Puerto Ricans in New York. However, the significant migration of Puerto Ricans to the United States during the mid 20th century included the establishment of Puerto Rican communities in Chicago, Hartford, and Boston. I also learned that a significant settlement of Puerto Ricans in Holyoke, Massachusetts began in the mid-1960s. Puerto Ricans are the largest Latino group in the city. During the Spring 2014 semester, I began researching the history of Puerto Ricans in Holyoke, and at the same time looked at how the history and memories of Puerto Ricans in Holyoke have been documented. I began my journey in the archives.

The Carlos Vega Collection of Latino History in Holyoke is housed at the Wistariahurst Museum. Carlos Vega (1950 – 2012), who was Ecuadorian, was a social worker and became actively involved with the Puerto Rican community, especially their struggles for improved living conditions, work opportunities, and challenging discrimination.

Immerse yourself into the 44 boxes of the collection and you will encounter a microcosm of the struggles and celebrations of Puerto Ricans in Holyoke, Mass. Newspaper clippings show the difficult early 1980s, when a number of arsons caused significant damages to homes and the loss of lives in South Holyoke. Legal documents and correspondence show discrimination and voting rights struggles. Study the folders about La Familia Hispana Inc. and you will learn about the planning of the annual Festival de la Familia Hispana, which celebrates its 28th anniversary in 2014, and the Puerto Rican Parade of Western Massachusetts, celebrated every year since 1994. The Festival programs serve as a memory touchtone to remember the accomplishments of Holyoke Puerto Ricans the 1995 Grand Marshall, Betty Medina Lichtensen, the first Puerto Rican woman elected to public office in the state of Massachusetts, and the Mariscal Felipe N. Pantoja, the first Latino hired by the city’s public school systems.

While this collection is an invaluable resource for the study of the Puerto Rican diaspora in Holyoke, like all archival collections, this is just one part of a rich history of Puerto Ricans in the city. Furthermore, in the context of memory-making and identity, it is essential to examine how these collections are used for this purpose. In other words, it is significant to acquire and preserve resources such as the Carlos Vega Collection, but perhaps more important is who accesses them and why. Puerto Ricans in Holyoke are still dealing with issues such as discrimination, poverty and segregation. Beyond its value to interpret history, the collection can serve current generations to understand the community’s past in terms of social struggles. It can also serve as a resource for the continuous recognition of Puerto Rican identity. Events such as the Festival de la Familia Hispana and the Western Massachusetts Puerto Rican Parade have played a significant role in the preservation and dissemination of Puerto Rican heritage. These events, along with archival collections, serve as a memory-archive of the Puerto Rican diaspora in Holyoke.

This broader view of archives has been one of the emergent topics examined by archivists today. Furthermore, it has generated a different way of looking at archives and at the work of archivists, although it can be traced back to the 1960s and 1970s. In 2013, Canadian archivist Terry Cook wrote about a new paradigm in the archival profession, called community archiving. It underscores the active role of the archivist in the documentation of society’s experiences, a role that involves the archivist to become a facilitator and mentor to communities. And this role has reached the digital landscape. One excellent example is the South Asian American Digital Archive, an organization that implements a participatory approach in which South Asian Americans document and disseminate their history.

While this kind of initiative has not taken place in Holyoke, it gives a guideline for the future, not only in terms of the use of digital technologies, but even more important, in regards to a participatory approach to archives. This participatory approach is not a simple task. It primarily involves the building of trust between archivists and communities. But it open doors for a closer connection between communities and their records.

By Assistant Professor Joel Blanco-Rivera

Misztal, B. (2003). Theories of social remembering. McGraw-Hill International.

Using Customer Training To Illustrate Return On Investment In Information Services Organizations

Someone once said that if you can’t measure an activity, it’s not worth doing. Without understanding the impact of an organization’s information services, how can you set priorities for a budget? How can you and your team efficiently spend your time? Identifying metrics to measure impact — measures that are uniquely relevant to your organization — is an operational necessity. Interpreting these metrics in a way that your employers can relate to the bottom-line is a strategic necessity.

Success, survival, and sustainability for information services professionals can never be guaranteed, especially in turbulent economic times. In any employment situation, there are too many variables outside of your control. Yet proactively aligning your team with the goals of the organization and contributing to the achievement of those goals are actions within your control. Through providing training for its customers, information services makes a powerful statement that links the effective and efficient use of its services directly to an employer’s success.

Financial metrics are one of several ways to measure impact (others include: customer metrics, internal process metrics, and learning and growth metrics). Return on Investment (ROI) is a financial metric that can be applied to customer training By insuring customers are using services in which you have invested to their best advantage (i.e., towards the success of your organization), you can create an ROI that will help demonstrate the overall contribution of services.

While there are myriad ways to calculate ROI depending on each service and, in some circumstances, on provisions of contracts or licenses, below are a couple of quick tips:

• Think about how to track usage of each service and how usage relates to investments made. Training reinforces to customers how available resources can be used in their work to enhance their lives and to increase productivity. In all environments, including public libraries, the question must be asked — is the customer willing to base a decision on finding just “any answer” by doing it themselves or would they rather get the “right answer” faster instead of waiting for a professional researcher to be available? Getting to the right answer with increased speed has a financial impact at many levels.

• Think about the context to pitch an aggressive training program. Most customers will never have enough training or experience to navigate multitudes of resources and find the answers they require. Sometimes a less than ideal answer is adequate. Sometimes only a top-level piece of data is needed and the quality of the source is obvious. However, training customers to do some searches on their own frees up the time of a professional researcher. Tracking new hours made available to the information professional for sophisticated research can be characterized as a positive ROI.

• Do a training assessment. Who needs to be trained on what, by whom, when, and where? Answering these questions will help prioritize training needs and drive creativity in delivering training. Your Information Services team doesn’t have to do it by themselves. Vendors can assist (a caveat is that you help the vendor create trainings unique to your customer’s needs), or short YouTube self-help tutorials can be produced, or peer training programs can be developed. However you decide to develop and deploy your training plan, what’s important is to maximize every opportunity to relate the impact to your organization’s bottom-line.

There is no one method for creating a successful training program. The good news is that there is a significant amount of literature on the topic of instructional design, especially in academic and public library environments that can also be adapted for special libraries. If you’ve never evaluated the need for a training program or if you are beginning to develop one, I would suggest looking at Gratin and Kaplowitz’s Information Literacy Instruction: Theory and Practice, 2nd edition, and the Medical Library Association’s “Research Policy Statement,” which discusses the responsibility of information professionals to train customers. I also recommend Web of Deception: Misinformation on the Internet by Anne P. Mintz and Steve Forbes, and Web of Deceit: Misinformation and Manipulation in the Age of Social Media by Anne P. Mintz, Amber Benham, Eli Edwards and Ben Fractenberg, which will train your customers to assess the validity of information found on the Internet across a multitude of subjects.

As GSLIS Dean Emerita and Professor Jim Matarazzo and I discuss in our book, Special Libraries: A Survival Guide, there are many ways to create or control opportunities for success, survival and sustainability. Implementing an effective training program tied to your organizations’ revenue goals by demonstrating the ROI of your services is an effective one.

By Toby Pearlstein ’77LS, ’87DA, 2014 Simmons GSLIS Alumni Achievement Award Winner