Friday, June 30, 2006

All the World’s a Stage

One thing I learned about librarianship is the amount of responsibilities and different roles required for this profession. Recently, I read A Dramaturgical Perspective on Academic Libraries, which makes a fascinating comparison between libarians and performers. In it, Brian Quinn points out that dramaturgical theory has 6 themes which relate to the library:

(1) Performance – a librarian is always an acting, from answering reference questions to directing staff meetings. In the library, he plays the role as information gatekeeper, but outside of the facilities, he is a son, father, husband, and/or multiple other roles. It is interesting though that the higher the position in the administration hierarchy, the greater the performance is required.

(2) Teamwork – All plays need a cast, and such is the case with libraries. Librarians often help each other out with reference questions when they are stuck, very much like an actor who helps out with an awkward pause when another player has forgotten his or her line.

(3) Regions – Performances take place at the “front,” and in the case with libraries, the circulation desk. The “backstage” is where players are out of view of the audience, and in the library is usually technical services (e.g. cataloguing) and the staff lunch room. What is most fascinating is the “make work” role-playing, where librarians are supposed to appear as if they are working even though they are playing sudoku on their computers, looking busy as if they are at work when in reality they are just “phasing out.”

(4) Other roles – Librarians and users often play roles outside of their realm and not in the script. For example, librarians might clean up after a flood even if this is not written in the contract; however, this is a duty that he must perform for the play to function.

(5) Communicating out of order – Even the best librarians cannot be in their roles 24/7. Hence, it is not uncommon for them to talk “out of character” with expletives and loose their cool from time to time.

(6) Skilled Performers’ Attributes – Loyalty, humour, thinking on one’s feet. Ah yes, the questions that interviewers ask. The skills for success in performances are often the very ones required of librarians. If a rowdy patron stirs up trouble by refusing to leave during closing time, much like an audience member who heckles the actors during the play, it is ultimately the skilled librarian who defuses the situation with as little damage and notice as possible.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

The MLS as Union Card?

I recently came across Phillip Jones and Jamie Stiver’s Good Fences Make Bad Libraries: Rethinking Binary Constructions of Employment in Academic Libraries in Portal, a wonderful Open Access journal. The article is illuminating in that it adds another layer to the professional vs. paraprofessional discourse in the world of librarianship. The article disputes some of the arguments made by previous scholars. Jones and Stivers make some fine arguments which, in my opinion, should be required discussion for every intake of LIS students.

(1) Is the “bifurcate model” which pits the professional librarian with the paraprofessional member(s) of the library still sustainable? The authors argue that in our post-industrial world, defining librarianship by minimalizing paraprofessionals is “tragicomic.” Instead of pettily bickering over the exact duties of job positions, we should focus on teamwork for the information environment to function properly. What is the point of arguing if you can't even get the job done?

(2) Librarians are not doctors. Arguments have been made that librarianship is a profession very much like law or medicine or accounting. But no, the authors take this grand argument back to reality, and argues that it is unfair to put librarianship in the same rank with doctors. We are professionals, but let’s leave it at that.

(3) The “Fence” has to be put down. There seem to be unwritten rules all around us which rebuffs paraprofessionals from entering the “librarian” world. One example is fees for participating in professional associations. While LIS students can pay lower fees, non-library professionals and students are either refused entry or forced to pay higher remittances. This is clear discrimination.

(6) Unfortunately, Stivers and Jones does not add to the fray with any fresh solutions or alternatives. Rather, they admit that they prefer to remain “on the fence,” arguing that librarianship is one of “responsibilities” versus “tasks.” Although librarians perform many of the same routines as their library assistants and staff do (e.g. taking out the garbage or answering the phone), at the end of the day, the librarian is ultimately charged with the responsibility of managing the library.

Although an MLS does not a good librarian make, it is unfortunately the only credential which is currently available which sets apart the professional and paraprofessional. To use a crude analogy, many pursue an MBA not because they are more diligent than their peers, but because they are ambitious and enjoy future challenges. In order to do so, they need the proper “networking” and training to do so. Whether they really become competent managers is really determined on the job.

The question is thus, is the MLS an MBA? Yes and No. Once on the job, let the curriculum's training of the so-called "professional" do the real talking.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Never Ending Wonders of Google

I followed up on Google Scholar with an article I came across by James Caufield, Where did Google Get Its Value, which is not only fascinating and thought-provoking, but also forced me to think of the search engine within the library domain, not as a complement to the electronic and hardcopy collections, but ultimately as a "predecessor" of Google.Whether Google's success is based on the shoulders of librarianship is certainly up for debate (one in which I'd like to reserve front row seats for), it does offer food for thought in how we use and perceive Google and search engines. Here is what Caufield says are the strengths and weaknesses of Google:

(1) Better Indexing – As Caufield argues, “Google brings a library value to the web environment [by] improved access through better Indexing." I'm certainly much more enlightened now on the mechanics of how Google works. (So that's what separates Google from the rest. . . ). Indeed, while other websites blindly ranks the relevance/importance of a website based on the number of key terms that a website has, Google uses a unique algorithm that ranks webpages based on the links that it has to other relevant websites. In many ways, this is almost as if the internet is "peer-reviewed," and relevance is constantly upheld by other websites. Whereas websites can get away on other search engines by simply padding their websites with any key terms to cover the wide spectrum of subjects, Google restricts this practice. If you highlight the rest of this line, you'll know what I mean. (See, you use the entire dictionary just to fill up entire pages with words! How ingenious yet devious!)

(2) Better Access through Simple and Disinterested User Interface - Instead of urging the user to stay within the same page for the purposes of advertising and data collection, Google erased this questionable practice when it introduced its plain and simple search engine box. What this did was improve access, and allowed the user to obtain information in a much timely fashion. (In other words, it made thing quick and tidy).

(3) Google Brings the Library Value of Unbiased Selection to the Web Environment - Unlike other web search engines, Google didn't accept any advertising fees. (Hence, the simple user interface). What this did was that content from its searches were uncorruptable, since all materials were on equal footing -- one didn't and couldn't pay money to get material slotted to a higher ranking.

(4) Google Produces Better Access through Uncorrupted Indexing - With some controversy, Google also "punishes" websites that try to manipulate and break the Google PageRank algorithm. So-called Search Engine Optimization plays by Google's rules and increases the ranking of webpages by creating inbound links. However, Google counters such moves by manipulating its own algorithms to match that of culprits. But in the end, who manipulates who? And at what cost? As the Machiavellian conundrum goes, "Does the end justify the means?"

(5) The Reference Interview - This one caught me offguard. However, Google apparently processes a reference transaction very much like a librarian by having cookies attached to every user. By having a history of the searches made by a user, Google has a better and more focused understanding of the user's need.

(1) Privacy! - Not surprisingly, with cookies come problems of privacy. Indeed, one can see how Google can keep track of search histories simply by having it up on the RSS feeds. It's widely available for anyone to see his or her own searches. Which is nice if one is comfortable with it; however, if users share the same computers (or is unaware that they are), then privacy issues can certainly emerge.

Interestingly, I have not been entirely aware of the conveniences of Google until only quite recently. For years, I have preferred due to its familiarity (it's been around since 1994). While countless search engines have come and gone, Yahoo! has always stayed faithfully by my side throughout my online experiences. Moreover, not only has it been quite consistent with its user interface throughout its existence, it has a handy indexing system that separates different subjects for the user - not that anyone really uses it. . . ) But nonetheless, Google is the preferred choice of most users, and it seems as if it is here to stay for quite a while. Which leads me to a short anecdote. During an interview, the librarian asked me what search engine I prefer using. Naturally (and naively) I stood up for Yahoo! However, my reasoning was illogical in that I admitted that I liked it for nostalgic purposes. Hindsight is always 20/20, but if I had another chance. . .

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Google Scholar

As fodder for future discussion, BMB Librarian Dean Giustini suggested that I read Neuhaus, et al.’s “The Depth and Breadth of Google Scholar: An Empirical Study.” The authors ask a series of questions, (1) How often is this database updated? (2) Does Google Scholar have particular disciplinary strengths and weaknesses? (3) How does the content of Google Scholar compare with that of other databases. To do this, the study compared the contents of 47 databases to Google Scholar. Here are the points which I found most germane to the discussion.

(1) Time – Despite it’s vast net of coverage, the drawback of Google Scholar is that it is slow. As the authors discover in one example, there is at least a three-month time lag existed for uploading the information that appeared in BioMed Central Scholar into Google.

(2) Subject coverage – Google Scholar’s “short comings” is that its coverage is biased towards the sciences while its coverage of databases in other areas is somewhat poor. Thus, as a researcher in the humanities, education, business, and social sciences, using Google Scholar might not be as advantageous.

(3) No content collection statement – If Google Scholar had a detailed description of its content collection methodology, it would certainly allow users greater insight into the capabilities and limitations of the inner workings of Google Scholar. Because it doesn’t, researchers are basically grasping at straws.

(1) Coverage - Despite its short comings on certain subjects, Google Scholar nonetheless has an expansive cast of open access journals, freely accessible databases, and single publisher databases – at the core strength of what Google Scholar offers is free content. Not just any free content, but scholarly-type information (both books and journals), which is immensely useful for information-seekers.

Interestingly, Based on the work that I am currently doing at the SFU Faculty of Health Sciences’ Centre for Applied Research on Mental Health and Addictions, I have had the serendipitous opportunity to do a lot of research from a user's point of view, particularly with health-related topics and issues.

My supervisor, Matthew Queree, a Researcher at SFU's Faculty Health Sciences who is particularly adept and quite experienced in mental health and addictions-related research in the areas of psychiatry and psychology, is an avid supporter of Google and particularly Google Scholar, arguing that they have revolutionized the way that research is done by scholars. With his enthusiastic backing, and insight from a "user’s" perspective, I was curious to do my own comparisons.

Key words used: (1) mental health; (2) primary care; (3) health care reform

Thoughts and Reflections:
(1) Commercial Websites – Although there is wide assortment of sources that is available onGoogle Scholar, I noticed that a great deal of these are "commercial" sites, and not articles like those I'd find in a journal. Thus, there is still a "search engine" element that slips through in Google Scholar, which may or may not be of benefit to the user. (It all depends on the objective of the user, I suppose...)

(2) Search Results – If not carefully limited, the search results can go into the tens of thousands of hits. As a result, it can be a rather frustrating experience for the user to sort through the diverse array of materials. For example, what is most frustrating about Google Scholar (based on my own experimenting) is the lack of chronological ordering. Articles that date as far back as the 1970's can be found together with recent materials in the 2000's. This results in hodge-podge combinations of results which the user must sort through him or herself in the end. In most electronic databases (such as PsycINFO), results can be sorted chronologically, thus allowing the user to find materials which are most current.

(3) Bibliographic Control - As the scholar Patrick Wilson said, the ultimate bibliographic instrument is one that can procure the "best textual mean's" to one's ends (i.e. finding as much information in as little time and as little effort as possible). If such is the case, then Google Scholar is only half-successful. However, like Neuhaus et al. argues, without a clear collection statement, it is somewhat teleological to argue that Google Scholar comes up short when compared to electronic databases. Perhaps that is not the primary function of Google Scholar; perhaps there it exists to serve other purposes. If so, I'd like to know!

Sunday, June 18, 2006

The Travails of Technology

I'd like to blame the past few years of my secluded existence of research in the basements of libraries as the reason for my lack of current tech-savviness. However, the reality is that I have simply neglected the world of technology and it has hurt me. I admit that I feel as if I am left in the dark, and have tried to cover up my ignorance with self-assurances that I'd catch up (it can't be that hard right?)

Interestingly, my present situation is reminiscent of the period before I had bought my first computer. The world had passed me by, and I realized I was clueless about computers. I scrambled to catch up, learning everything from DOS programming to breaking apart and piecing back together PC hardware. I read religiously all the latest PC literature (PC Gamer was my favourite), shopped frequently at Dopplers (that short but legendary predecessor of "Futureshop") and kept up to date on all things computer-related. (I was even briefly an audio/stereophile during my studies in Electronics 11 & 12). The point is, ever since I bought my first PC, an IBM 486SX 33Mhz, I was proudly confident that I'd never fall behind in technology again.

It wasn't until I started my LIS program did I realize just how far I have fallen behind. The farther I traversed in the technological wilderness, the greater the appreciate I have for information specialists. While much of their education focused on the basics of information management, much of the "real" learning is outside of the classroom, particularly with technology, which changes at blazing speeds. If Thomas Friedman's The World Is Flat represents the analysis of globalization in the early 21st century, I'd like to present my own views of the early 21st century: in particular, technology.
While Friedman has 10 ten forces that flattened the world, I have 10 forces (plus 1) which I believe have characterized technology in the early 21st century.

(1) Flashdrive - I must admit, I didn't buy a flashdrive until only very recently, when I really needed one. However, the reality is, I didn't even know (or cared) about the existence of flashdrives also until only very recently. Until now, I have still been walking in the shadows of the 3.5-inch floppy disk and 740 MB CD-RW (and also email). I never really considered any alternatives to these technologies. But the question remains, how long will flash memory linger before the next technology emerges to succeed it? Is the USB Flashdrive simply another cashgrab convenience for PC manufacturers? Or is a necessary technology?

(2) RSS - Really Simple Syndication, (or Rich Site Summary) is a form of web syndication used by news websites and weblogs. The first time I heard of it and really paid attention to its existence was in an LIS class, when someone made a facetious comment about putting an RSS feed to his webpage. I had no idea what the student, and at that moment, I was a bit worried whether it should be something I shouldn't be ignorant about. And the more I read, the more RSS comes up in everyday tech-speak. I'm glad to say that I have finally set up my own RSS feeds to My Yahoo! and am maximizing its uses. However, the question is, can RSS be considered a novel technology? Or is it merely an updated form of "Bookmarks." When I first encountered RSS, I smirked at its simplicity. Is it just a lazier method for surfers to bookmark all of their favourite links to one page? Can one not just simply click on a bookmarked link, and find the appropriate information him or herself?

(3) iPod - I must be one of the few people left which does not have an iPod - at least it feels like it. It seems as if people everywhere are carrying these tiny multicoloured machines. I am certain that there will be a day that I buy an iPod, since it's "probably" a more convenient way to listen to music and also because I obtain all my current CD's from MP3's, at the back of my mind, I question whether the iPod is any different from a CD Discman. I've grown to love the feel of taking out and putting back in a physical entity; until I get used to it, listening to mere digital bytes feels somewhat "un-audio" (perhaps reminiscent to the audiophile who still cherishes the vinyl). Which leads me to the question: just how many listening devices will I need to buy for other people's birthdays and xmas'? How long will the MP3 player last among long line of deceased products, i.e. the record, 8-track, audio cassette, CD)?

(4) Google - I am embarrassed to admit that I have never thought too much of "Google" until this year. It's been around since 1999. However, I've always preferred as my preferred search engine, mostly because of nostalgic reasons (it was the "first" popular search engine), and secondly because of ignorance. Up until this fall, I have still regarded Yahoo as my preferred destination for online information retrieval. In fact, I never really thought too kindly to the overly simple interface of Google. (It's just a lazy blank screen around a search box! Until I realized that was its main purpose. . .) However, my question is, can Google last? Is it more than just a search engine for information retrieval? Or is it multimedia corporation? It seems that it is leaning towards the latter. However, I have seen the rises and falls of the Alta Vista's and Lyco's; time can only tell whether Google will follow suit. I remember I was an avid proponent of, which for a while was ranked as the #1 search engine by many. Now, it's sadly lost its original domain

(5) IP Address - An Internet Protocol Address is a unique number that devices use in order to identify and communicate with each other on a computer network. In the mult-complex world of the world wide web, it is really the only piece of information uniquely distinguishes one computer from another. If used properly, authorities can help solve online crimes simply by tracking down the user's IP address. With this said, I am still puzzled by its exact nature. What I do know is that it can be a user's worst nightmare if handled carelessly, such as adding a wireless router to an existing network.

(6) Blogs - They are websites ("weblogs") where regular entries are made (such as in a journal or diary) and presented in reverse chronological order. Although I am a huge proponent of blogs, it was not until very recently that I opened an account and realized its exceptional usefulness. However, with this said, I sometimes question the popularity of the blog, and also wonder how long it will endure. I first got introduced to the world of blogs, and really learned its nuances, when I completed an assignment on blogs. The more I read up on its history and its functions, and the more I blog, the greater the deja vu feel that I have of Geocities,,, which are free webhosting services ever so popular in the late 1990's and early 2000's. I remember fondly in highschool and my undergraduate days when I would post most of my thoughts online, not unlike what most users of bloggers do nowadays as well. Its popularity has died down considerably (along with Yahoo, incidentally). Which leads me to my next point: are blogs simply an updated version of Geocities in a simplied form, minus the basic programming and graphics options? Or is it a start of something new, of how communication will eventually evolve among the online community? Of the new Internet 2.0?

(7) Podcasting - Podcasting is the method of distributing multimedia files, such as audio programs or music videos, over the Internet using either the RSS or Atom syndication formats, for playback on mobile devices and personal computers. Podcasting is among the technologies which I have had the least experience with. However, my first impression is that they eerily resemble the realaudio or mediaplayer videos which often complement the content on webpages. However, without enough experience with podcasting, I cannot really argue whether they are a continuation or are indeed an entirely different format. (Perhaps they fall in the middle?) What is certain is that they have a great deal of potential for change, both as a format and its usage.

(8) Bluetooth - The first experience I had with this technology was when a friend of mine was transferring photos she had taken from our trip to another friend sitting beside her. As they were waiting for the photos being uploaded, I was silently wondering what bluetooth meant, and what exactly was happening in that invisible exchange of digital technology. Quite simply, Bluetooth is not a technology, it is an industry specification. Bluetooth is an advanced wireless radio signal, very much like the ones used for wireless modems and networks. However, Bluetooth is a radio standard primarily designed for low power consumption, with a short range (power class dependent: 1 meter, 10 meters, 100 meters) and with a low-cost transceiver microchip in each device.

(9) Digi-cams - I was one of the first among my associates to have access to a digital camera when I purchased a Samsung Digital Camera Cellphone (the price still stings as I think about it). But I proudly took pictures of wherever I went to. Nowadays, the irony is that almost everyone has a digi-cam because nearly every new cellphone comes with one, while I have reverted to using an ancient cellphone which doesn't (the reason is that my digi-phone got broken). Nonetheless, digital photography is the current preferred format of photography; and sadly, the old darkroom photo-finishing appears to be near its end. While I'll miss the wonderful days of almost fainting from the chemicals and knocking into people in the darkroom, the fact is digital photography is a new and refined method of producing better photographs. Like the digital audio, it can refurnish the past by making them clearer and last longer through digital archiving. However, the fact remains that although digital photography is superior, it can never replace the nostalgic price of clicking and hearing the shutter of the analog camera.

(10) Bit torrent - Peer-to-Peer (P2P) has had a long history in online technology. In fact, without it, there can be no iPod and MP3. Unfortunately for the music industry and to a certain extent, the movie industry, much of the material transferred among P2P users is free, and any notions of otherwise is frowned upon by the P2P community.

Napster was the first widely-used peer-to-peer music sharing service, and it made a major impact on how people, especially university students, used the Internet. Despite a major lawsuit forcing its shutdown in 2002, it seems as if its demise only triggered a rebellion againstthe establishment as there are increasingly more P2P programs readily available for download, from all different regions of the world. The "new" Napster on the block is Bit Torrent; it has produced a multitude of offshoots such as Bitcomet (my personal favourite). But regardless of the legalities and its aims and objectives, the question also remains whether P2P will survive the next onslaught of new technologies. I remember fondly dialing up on my 56K modem, eagerly anticipating finishing my download of a 3.5MB song in an hour via an internet site, only to move onto downloading entire disc-sets in half that time. How long will another newer, faster, and cheaper product or service come along?

(11) This entry would be ironically bare without the very information which I obtained it from. Wikipedia is increasingly becoming a verb such as "googling," and if not for its lengthy name, it would be christened a verb even sooner. Simply put, Wikipedia is an online encyclopedia. It is open for all online visitors (with the IP address copied and tracked down) to edit its content. Wikipedia is written collaboratively by volunteers, allowing articles to be changed by anyone with access to the website. Wikipedia has redefined the way that information is published, and is part of the trend of "open access" publishing. Personally, I find the information invaluable, and I hope that it will continue to evolve along with the internet.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Libraries on the Move

It didn't occur to me until I was reading the blueprints of the Biomedical Branch Library at UBC that a lot of libraries on being built -- or at least those that I've been associated with. First, the BMB will be on the move in late (really late) August. Langara College Library is on the move. North Vancouver Public Library's Lynn Valley main branch has just got a new "Town Centre" complex. And the library (oh, sorry, I meant to say "Information Service Centre") at the legal firm Fasken Martineau and DuMoulin is also on the move. Seems like I've got all types of libraries covered, now that I think of it -- academic, public, special, and hospital...

I'm very excited, to say the least, to be able to see first hand and perhaps play at least a small role in the BMB move. The new BMB was supposed to be built along with the Children and Women's hospital Eric Hamber Library in 1982. However, while the Hamber library was built (which still looks fabulous), the new BMB never materialized, and thus the project has been on hold ever since, until plans for it finally got underway in 1998. (But still...that's still a lot of years in waiting!)

As I was wading through the material (email exchanges, literature reviews, and blueprints) that the BMB librarian Dean Giustini left for me to analyze, I was simply amazed at the amount of information and learning that is required to undertake such a project. Here is what learned:

(1) Library school doesn't teach you this. Actually, it does, and it doesn't. And I do regret not taking Ann Curry's LIBR 578 "Library Planning." However, my reason is that I probably won't get many chances to build a library throughout my lifetime (ok, maybe only once -- max is twice if I change jobs). But truth be told, I am certain that there can be no education that can cover what the BMB librarian has gone through during the 8 years of library planning.

(2) Meetings, Meetings, & more Meetings. From the records and notes retained, the BMB library involves a lot of talking and communication among architects, administrators, contractors, not to mention librarians. And matters can concern anything from large topics such as budget allocation to minute details such as the what type of glass is used for the windows. Hence, I learned that to be effective in such huge undertaking of a project, communication is essential. All sides must be on the same page in order for the project to move forward. Even if this means that needs have to be flexible and accommodating.

(3) Space Changes - Reality Doesn't. One thing I noticed about the construction and preparation of library moves is that the blueprint sometimes do not fit existing environment. For example, at both the BMB and Faskin Martineau and DuMoulin are moving into smaller spaces. This means that collections will somehow need to be reduced. That ultimately means questions will revolve around moving to more electronic journals or decreasing the volume of the monographs. At FMD, the head librarian has already indicated that older volumes will be gone; and some of the lesser-used materials (such as American law materials) will need to cut according to the level of concentration that its lawyers practice.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

New Book

Need a break from LIS stuff. At the core of what we do, the book still remains the front and centre. It's what initiated our pursuits in this field, and sometimes, I feel that we get lost in the forest, and lose perspective on the importance of a good read.

Recently, I read Dean Koontz's Velocity. My fascination and admiration of Koontz has skyrocketed ever since the book. I just couldn't put it down, couldn't turn the page fast enough. Certainly, Koontz is no literary genius, but his prose is witty, entertaining, and eloquent.

I've always been a closet Koontz fan. I've read his Frankenstein series; I'm eagerly anticipating the finale of his trilogy, which is delayed, oddly enough.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

LIS - Discipline and Profession: Part 2

Lots of have written here in the previous posting. Hence, I'd like to synthesis and contextualize my arguments into four proposals which I argue should be taken at least for discussion.

(1) Distinguish between "Library" and "Information Science." vUnderstandably, doing so is very much like separating "Arts" and "Social Sciences," or worse yet -- "Liberal Arts and Sciences" (still referred to in some colleges. . .). Are we training Librarians, or "Information Professionals?" Are we studying "librarianship" (based on reference services, collection management, and cataloguing) or are we studying "Information Science" (such as information-seeking behaviour, the Semantic Web, or Informatics?) Where does one begin and the other end? If we continue integrating "information" together, then will it not eventually spill into the realms of Computer Science, Engineering, Business (. . . and eventually everything? Some schools are already demarcating their battlezones, lest LIS invades its academic/professional territory). One LIS scholar once crudely asserted that Information Science was simply "Libary Science for men." I argue otherwise, for that is simply too narrow-minded; LIS is too broad to be one and the same thing.

(2) Librarians should have the same requisite number of courses and credits in order to be accredited with professional status. Unlike medical school or law school, there is no set curriculum for librarians. Many can attain an MLIS entirely online, without taking such courses as Collection Management, Reference Services, or Bibliographic Control.v True, learning is one the job, but if one does not have at least a basic understanding of the subject matter, then the very core of the profession cannot be truly taken as seriously, especially if it wants to have the status of "professional" attached to it. Simply put, if a physician has not even undertaken rudimentary operation on a cadaver, then would his or her training be really be complete? (I hope I am not equating surgery to bibliographic control, although for most students, the similarities are striking).

(3) Clearly delineate the status of "Library Technicians" and "Libarians." This is an extremely sensitive topic for most, particularly when most Libarians start out as Library Techs or at least worked in a Libary Assisant position. True, each employee has his or her own role in the library, and without the team, the library cannot hold -- the functioning of the library depends one cooperation of each member's strengths. However, despite its elitist approach, the reason why the Librarian holds a more senior position (not to mention an office, which is worth the extra degree), is because of the extra post-graduate degree, the MLIS. Regardless of whether the person is actually competent enough to do anything with it is another story, the truth remains that the person holding the graduate degree was not only selected through a fairly "rigorous" application procedure (thus implying a substantially impressive undergraduate achievement), but he or she also holds a more "complete" training in the area of LIS, having an equal mix of LIS theory and practical hands-on skills during his/her course of studies. A graduate degree should carry weight with it, as elitist as it may sound.

But that is simply not the case in the real world. The fact is that many Library Tech programs are as rigorous as MLIS programs (often taught by the same adjuncts). On top of that, Library Technicians are often better trained for handling cataloguing and technical services, and sometimes even have the management and reference service courses to go with them. Thus, it is not surprising to find that Lib. Technicians are often very adequate for taking on positions straight out of their tech programs. In fact, in the private sector (i.e. corporate libraries, media libraries, even law firms), library technicians are often hired in place of libarians. One law librarian brought up a case in which one of her library technicians left her position for another law firm, taking on the position of "Librarian" (as stated on her business card). Perhaps this is because library technicians are often seen (perhaps justifiably) holding the similar technical skills, but on a cheaper wage level than "professional" librarians. Why pay the dentist higher premiums when the dental assistant can do just as well cleaning your teeth for that yearly check-up for a quarter less of the price? However, as one librarian puts it, the difference between libarians and para-professionals is that librarians are more concerned with vision and looking at things from a "bigger picture" perspective. Hence, while both are interested in managing the overall budget and administrative duties, librarians are also concerned in how to improve the existing state of affairs through careful reflection and creative experimentation. In a small private library, perhaps the difference is minimal, but in a larger institution, librarians are perhaps more suited for senior positions at the end of the day.

As a result, this level of uncertainty has at times hurt the profession. Because there is no "professional designation," or accreditation board, unlike the CMA or CA for Accountancy or P.Eng for Engineering, it is difficult if not impossible to keep track of discrepancies in the library and information world. Which leads me to my next point.

(4) Uphold and increase the rigour of the MLIS program. In order to be treated seriously, it must first treat itself seriously. While all Canadian programs consist of 48 credits (16 courses), a great many LIS schools, particularly in the United States, award the MLS within 36 credits, and often within one calendar year (12 months straight). As one SLAIS professor pointed out, some MLS schools just seem to care only about the money, and acts as a trade school which churns out certifications to those who wish to upgrade their credentials. Some "information schools" have gone as far as removing core courses as Bibliographic Control and Reference Services, perhaps with the notion that LIS is more than just that -- it is everything and it is nothing. Hence, it offers "streamlined" options such as "Knowledge Management" and "Informatics" for those who wish to specialize in one particular area of LIS.

I argue that there needs to be basic "core" competencies that every information professional from LIS graduate programs must instill before leaving the podium on graduation day. This means, in my opinion, a balanced portfolio of theoretical readings on top of small hands-on assignments. Moreover, there should be a standardized LIS comprehensive final examination for every graduating class.

Friday, June 09, 2006

LIS As Displine And Profession

I recently encountered a fascinating article, "Symbolic interactionism as a theoretical perspective for multiple method research" in the Journal of Advanced Nursing by Benzies KM and Allen MN (2001). The article argues that the fundamental schism in nursing science as an academic discipline is the inability to integrate quantitative and qualitative research methods together. As a result, nursing has unfortunately always swayed more towards the side quantitative methods, and not surprisingly, too, since it is very much an empirically-centred scientific field. However, the authors argue that since nursing deals with human behaviours, there must be at least be some negotiation of qualitative methods into its studies. The author advocates for a middle ground called "Symbolic Interactionism."

On many levels, I see similarities between between Nursing and LIS. (Some similar comparisons has been made between Education and LIS, in particular, by Michael Lorenzen). What confuses and complicates the traditional scholarly world of academia is that LIS is both a profession and a discipline.

Why isn't LIS treated as seriously as other acdemic disciplines, such as History, Economics, Anthropology, or Physics? And at the other end of the spectrum, why is it not similarly respected as Law, Medicine, or Architecture? And then there are those that fall in between: Accounting, Finance, Engineering, and so on, which can be similarly compared to LIS. There are many theories to this -- usually centred on the reality of wage disparities among these professions).

My own theory is that the LIS discipline/profession has forever lacked of competing schools of thoughts. Crassly put, unlike history or economics, there simply are not enough thinkers in the field, unlike "historiography" or "microeconomics" that rouse scholars enough to foster theoretical factional warfare. True, there will always be the Michael Bucklands, Bjorg Hjorlands and Elaine Svenonius in the LIS academic sphere that gives the discipline weight, but not enough to propel the field of LIS to another level. (Moreover, such thinkers tend to lean towards bibliographic/classification theory).

Perhaps part of the reason lies in the breadth of LIS. Taking a page from Sun Yat-sen when he called China's multiethnic populace a "loose sheet of sand," I believe it is not too brash to use the same analogy for LIS. Simply put, when describing "Library AND Information Science," we are consolidating multiple sub-disciplines together and tying them to the venerable profession of Librarianship. Doing so is very much like tying together English and rest of the world's languages and calling it (EWLS - English and World Language Studies). If such were the case, it is quite likely that it would not be taken as seriously (or at least not as clearly defined as just "English" - which already have its own difficulties of balancing between "English Language" and "English Literature").

I find that one of the new "hot" items in the LIS world currently is "Information Seeking Behaviour." It is an interesting case study, particularly since it seems to cause problems for LIS. What exactly is it, and is it really "Library-related?" How often do Library professionals deal with the results of ISB in their day-to-dy activities? Of course, the answer always, for patrons seek information every moment that they are in the library. But on a practical and realistic level, librarians are more concerned about how many people are walking into their libraries and using the library's many services rather than how many hits on certain key strokes per search entry.

The closest any library/information professional has done in amalgamating the micro and macro worlds of LIS is S.R. Ranganathan. The Indian mathematician-turned-librarian in the early 20th century wrote tracts upon tracts of timeless pieces on the topic of librarianship and library science, establishing procedures from cataloguing to proper open and closing procedures. But not all working information professionals are priveleged and talented enough to establish the Five Laws of Library of Science and still be able to run a library, worrying about payroll and staff retainment.

In many ways, the current "core" of LIS programs typify the problems of the field. Most programs require students to take the core of: (1) Bibliographic control; (2) Info Technology; (3) Management; and (4) Reference Services. (Often, a Research Methods course is included for "research purposes" which is never clearly and satisfactorily explained). So there you go, each of these courses themselves comprise a major area of LIS. Put together, they are what information professionals do. (Collection management is always left out, but it should be the fifth. . .)

An information professional is thus expected to master these skills when they get the job; however, in most instances, real learning comes on the job (unfortunately). However, this is not unlike most other professions. Engineers, physicians, lawyers, do not learn everything in two years of schooling (usually more years are involved), so why should information professionals? However, most library and information professionals tend to discount this similarity, and argue that LIS school did not properly train them for their immediate positions post graduation. And when library tech programs churn out graduates which have mastered the MARC, it often makes the LIS with the graduate degree appear unworthy and perhaps haven't learned as much as she/he should from graduate school.

If such is the case, then the world of LIS is neither here nor there; it's a game of catch-22. It cannot win as a profession, nor as a discipline.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Registration for Courses

I just registered for courses today from the UBC registration website. It's an awfully competitive process! Because SLAIS has so many students, with such a limited number of spaces, not everyone gets what he or she wants. For example, I logged in at 8:18am, comfortably believing that I'd have absolutely no problem in getting into the classes I want (and need), but lo and behold, the first course on the top of my list, LIBR 534 - Health Sciences Librarianship - was filled up within 3 minutes of the registration opening (at 8:15am). There are 22 spaces in the course; that means 22 other people registered for the course in a span of 3 minutes. Amazing!

My theory is that people woke up hours in advance, with their coffee and newspaper in hand, next to their laptops and home PC's with their alarm clocks. And somehow I missed the boat! Nonetheless, I've been put on the waitlist. (I should be able to get in from now till Sept 5th hopefully).

Here are the other courses I have registered for. I might not necessarily take all of them; but I'm told it's good idea to hang onto to all the ones I can take, just in case. And worry about what to take when the day comes...

LIBR 504 - Management of Information Organizations (required) - taught by Lisa Hussey
LIBR 520 - Collection Management (not required, but I'm told it's important to take)
LIBR 572 - Information Consulting (who knows, it might prove useful one of these days)
LIBR 511 - Cataloguing and Classification (never hurts to know a bit more about cataloguing)
LIBR 535 - Instructional Role of the Librarian (I believe in teaching!)
LIBR 548G - Genealogy for Librarians (1 credit weekend course)
LIBR 577 - Special Libraries
LIBR 530 - Subject-Based Information Services
LIBR 539A - Specialized Materials: Government Documents
LIBR 539G - Specialized Materials: Business Reference