Thanks to John V. Richardson and Ward Smith from UCLA who drew my attention to this “Angry Librarian” post from The Quattlebaum comedy troupe. How many “customer service” or service excellence mistakes does this librarian make?
If anyone doubted that the stereotype of the librarian is alive and well, check out this costume being offered this Halloween for $56 (ouch!) from costumesinc.com. This item was brought to my attention by a student posting to a listserv at Rutgers SCILS. I don’t know if you can make it out, but the costume features a button that says “Naughty Librarian.” That is, I guess, what you pay the 56 bucks for since the rest is just a short skirt and phony glasses, low-cut top and push-up bra which most women could scrounge up cheap (or indeed may already have in their closets).
When we get done laughing at the ridiculousness of the get-up, marveling at the idea that numerous women will pay 56 dollars for the outfit, or grinding our teeth at yet another portrayal of the (harmless) librarian stereotype, I invite all of us to think again.
As one who has deeply studied the librarian stereotype I have come to view these media representations as far from harmless, with serious, anti-intellectual, and anti-feminist messages. Gary Radford and I wrote an article in The Library Quarterly that used Foucauldian and feminist thought to analyze the stereotype. Our analysis led us to ask a number of fundamental questions such as:
“Who is speaking through the stereotype of the female librarian, and to what ends? What interests does the stereotype serve (certainly not those of women)? How can the image of subservience and powerlessness that it affords to women be challenged and changed? It is not enough to cry out that the stereotype is ‘wrong,’ ‘inaccurate,’ or ‘unfair.’ Such responses are expected, common and futile. It is time to dig deeper, to describe the conditions from which the stereotype is made possible, and to analyze the systems of power/knowledge that go to the very heart of what it means to be male and female, powerful and marginalized, valued and devalued” ( p. 263).
The stereotype of the male librarian, although less prominent, is also unflattering to the profession. Usually portrayed as prissy with the ubiquitous horn rimmed glasses and bow tie, he is distinctly feminine and also therefore is accorded the low status of the female librarian.
So, the “Naughty Librarian” costume we may see at Halloween parties this year. Harmless? Humorous? What do you think?
Cited reference: Radford, M. L. & Radford, G. P. (July, 1997). Power, knowledge, and fear: Feminism, Foucault and the stereotype of the female librarian. The Library Quarterly, 67(3), 250-266.
As I am sure many of you have heard, on Sept. 25th, 2006 Pew Internet & American Life Project and Elon University released their latest survey “The Future of the Internet II.” If you would like to see a pdf of the full report click here. Results, including quotes and biosketches from the 750 tech savvy respondents can be found on the Imagining the Internet Web site.
According to the press release, themes in the predictions made for the year 2020 include:
- “Continued serious erosion of individual privacy
- Improvement of virtual reality and problems associated with ever-more-compelling synthetic worlds
- Greater economic opportunities for those in developing nations
- Changes in languages and the rise of autonomous machines that operate beyond human control.”
My favorite quote from the experts:
“It is better to be actively, thoughtfully and humanly adapting technology than to be creating inertia to resist it.”
“Losses from internet-related crime and terror will exceed losses from all natural disasters.”
Most hopeful quote:
“Enhanced communications and access to information are on the evolutionary path to freedom.”
Click here to view more select quotes.
Like some of my fellow bloggers at Library Garden, I’ve been traveling most of the summer both on holiday as well as on a few business trips. One of my trips was to represent Rutgers University SCILS at meeting of the newly formed Internet Public Library (IPL) Consortium at the University of Michigan on August 1-2 in Ann Arbor. I was honored to be a part of this important meeting that drew many reference experts from around the US together to operate as a think tank. This group is working chart the course of the new IPL Consortium, determine its governance structure, and seek sustainable funding sources. The University of Michigan has enlisted the help of 15 additional universities to form the IPL Consortium and Rutgers is one of the IPL Partners.
As you may know, the IPL has been housed at the University of Michigan’s School of Information for the 11 years of its existence. Its mission is to provide library services to all users of the Web, but also to serve as a training ground for library school students. It has provided access to high quality web-based resources as well as to e-mail reference help. The IPL is well known and respected with approximately 12 million hits per month (estimated 1.5 million unique visitors). If you search for “library” or “public library” on Google, the IPL is at the top of the list. It has roughly 100 professional library volunteers and about 250 students who work to build collections and answer e-mail reference questions.
As a result of the August meeting, the group made recommendations a shared governance structure for the IPL that will be discussed and hopefully implemented at an upcoming meeting of the IPL Consortium at the upcoming i-Conference 2006 on October 15-17 also at the University of Michigan. In addition, several avenues for funding have been identified that will be explored in the coming months.
Stop by the IPL website to track these developments!
Although many folks have declared Ready Reference to be dead in this Googleized reference environment, our research reported preliminary results of a large international study that found 30% of the live chat questions to be of this type! Another interesting finding, users were inappropriate (rude, impatient, goofing off, inappropriate questions or language) in less than 1% of the transcripts!
Since returning from ALA in New Orleans I have been scrambling to get caught up (OY!) & have been wanting to post these finding and others reported in 2 presentations that Lynn Connaway(of OCLC) and I gave at the conference. The PowerPt. slides have just been posted to the “Seeking Synchronicity” grant website and can be viewed by clicking on the links below. Both presentations provide preliminary results from our 2 year grant project, supported by IMLS, which is now 3/4 through the 1st year of a 2 year study.
The 1st presentation was for the QuestionPoint User’s Group Meeting on 6/25/06 and was called “Seeking Synchronicity: Evaluating Virtual Reference Transcripts”
This presentation discussed the results of our analysis of 256 live chat transcripts (selected randomly) from QuestionPoint and conduct of 7 focus groups (live chat reference users, non-users, and librarians). As can be seen in the ppt, we did the following analyses of the chat transcripts (& here’s a glimpse of some of our results, see ppt for more).
Geographical Distribution (the most questions were received by California, Maryland, and Australia; the most questions referred/answered were by California, Australia, and Maryland)
Type of Library Receiving Question (most by Consortium, Public, University, Medical, Law, State)
Type of Question Asked (using Katz/Kaske/Arnold categories) (Subject Search, 37%; Ready Reference 30%; Procedural, 25%; Inappropriate <1%)
Subject of Question (using Dewey Decimal Classification (Social Science, 42%; History & Geography 21%; Science 11%)
Service Duration (Mean 13 min. 53 sec.; Median 10 min. 37 sec.)
Interpersonal Communication (found dimensions that facilitators or were barriers to positive chat interactions, see ppt for more detail).
The 2nd presentation was for the Library Research Round Table forum on 6/24/06 and was called “Face-Work in Chat Reference Encounters.” We’ve analyzed an international sample of 226 live chat transcripts from QuestionPoint using a framework from the work of the great sociologist Erving Goffman (yes, Erving not Irving!). Results of this research provide us with a way to help understand how import ritual behavior (like greetings, closings, apologies, polite behavior, etc.) is in live chat as well as in face-to-face reference encounters.
Hope the above tantalizes you enough to take a look at the ppt slides. Handouts will also be available soon at the grant website!
I’ve been wanting to follow-up on my previous post about “screenagers.” I am a Co-Principal Investigator (with Lynn Sillipigni of OCLC) of an IMLS grant “Seeking Synchronicity” designed to study virtual reference services (VRS) from user, non-user, and librarian viewpoints. Now in Phase I of the grant, we’re in the midst of a series of focus groups, so far having completed 6 focus groups: 4 with non-users of VRS (3 with teens from 12-18 years old, 1 with college students); and 2 with VRS librarians. Soon to come are 2 groups of VRS users.
The series of 3 focus groups with teens just concluded on May 15th at Elizabeth Public Library, NJ where the Library Garden’s own Kimberly Paone directs both YA and adult reference services. The other teen groups were held in a rural public library (Denton, Maryland) and a suburban high school (Springfield Township, PA). I want to share some preliminary impressions from these focus groups (stay tuned for a formal paper).
We asked the teens about their information seeking behaviors (“Where do you go for help when you are stuck in an assignment?”) For 2 of the 3 groups, not surprisingly, their #1 choice is Google. Few bothered to check any info found on Google, it was assumed to be correct unless their “intuition” urged them to fact check. They also frequently ask classmates for homework help (but usually only the “smart ones,” they said, of course).
The other group, from the high school, was more likely to go to their Springfield Township Virtual Library website to use databases or to ask their stellar librarian, Joyce Valenza for help. They regarded Google as convenient, but not as credible as articles found in databases. At Elizabeth PL, the students preferred face-to-face interactions with Kimberly Paone to any other form of communication with a librarian (e.g., phone, email, or chat). Some preferred to find information on their own through flailing around on Google or other search engines or in the library’s online catalog. Most carry cell phones but most were unaware that the library had a phone reference service (!) One admitted to being unaware that the library had a web page.
Across all three focus groups, most teens were regular library users and all but a few were Instant Messenger users. When asked why they did not try live chat with librarians, most said that they were unaware that these services existed. All groups were also extremely wary of chat situations as being potentially unsafe. These unknown and unfamiliar chat librarians were seen as potential “psycho killers” (yes, that’s a quote!).
Many teens expressed the concern that the librarians in chat would not be interested in them or in their questions and might not have the right information for their school assignments. They clearly treasured the one-on-one personal relationships they had developed with their librarians and most were unwilling to give chat a try. When told that live chat reference was 24/7 in Maryland and NJ (PA is starting a statewide chat service in the near future) some eyebrows shot up as they liked this idea since some prefer to do homework late at night.
Interesting stuff? These focus groups are collecting preliminary information to help design online surveys and telephone interviews that will be conducted with large national samples, so more generalizable results are to come!
I recently presented a workshop on “Conflict Resolution” at the NJ Library Association conference and I have been thinking more about the idea of “state vs. trait” and the importance of being aware of how we interpret the behavior of others in library service encounters. Our judgments often depend on how well we know the other person.
If someone we know (and like or love) is rude or cold to us on any given day, we are likely to think “He’s just having a bad day,” or “Something must be wrong with her today.” In other words, we think that our friend is temporarily upset, in a bad mood, or in a bad state. We are able to give that person the benefit of the doubt and may even excuse their somewhat nasty behavior because we know that this is not their usual personality. Our first reaction is to become concerned and to ask “what’s wrong?” or “what’s going on with you today?”
If, however, we don’t know someone at all (as is the case for most library service encounters) and this person is rude or cold to us, we are much more likely to think “What an awful person” or “What’s their problem?” or even “What an expletive deleted!” We think that the person has a bad trait. We are unable to excuse their bad behavior since we assume that they are always like that. Our first reaction is to be offended. We may not be able to resist the urge to snap back with a tart retort and then conflict ensues.
For service excellence in libraries, if we are able to think of the grumpy, stressed, or otherwise annoying people we encounter as nice people possibly having a bad day or being temporarily stressed out, this would enable us to be more sympathetic. We could then perhaps respond by asking “What’s wrong?” or “Can I help you, you seem upset today?” We could openly acknowledge that they seem stressed or upset, that we understand that they are a bit fragile today, and they may be in need of a little bit of TLC. If we can see argumentative or grouchy people as being in a bad state rather than having a nasty trait, and if we react to them in a more caring way, many potential conflicts can be averted or defused.
On the days when I am stressed or rushed or hungry and tired while running a bunch of errands, I would just love it if those I encounter at service desks could understand that I am usually quite lovable and kind. Yes, I am a bit grumpy and fragile today, but I am having a really bad day.
Last night I spoke at the “Archons of Colophon” of NYC, meeting in an Irish bar called Rosie O’Grady’s in Times Square. The title of my presentation was “Far out or forthcoming? Foreshadowing the future of library service excellence. ” I spoke about “screenagers,” the 12-18 yr. olds who have grown up with computers and a life full of looking at screens. Their preferred mode of communication is Instant Messaging and SMS texting. They are busy chatting away loads of hours after school with school aged friends. I also talked about how libraries need to be present in cyberspace (through email and live chat reference) to be responsive to the needs of this cohort. In a recent focus group with screenagers from rural Maryland, I found out that this group distrusts print (ouch!), really distrusts librarians (double ouch!) and looks first to friends and Google for all their information needs. They rarely check anything found in Google and only seek librarian help as a “last desperate resort.” I posed the question of how we can morph and deliver service excellence to these students and how libraries can be responsive and relevant to this group. I believe that we need to be invested in cyberlibrarianship, in email and chat reference and we also need to be much more receptive to this group and to value their need for immediacy and respect.
I also showed video clips from 3 feature films featuring views of librarians in the distant future: Star Trek, Star Wars (Attack of the Clones), and the Time Machine. Librarians are portrayed in each of these films as stereotypical icons: judgmental, contemptuous of users, and totally condescending. Is this our fate? Can we change with the library users of the present and future or remain on the periphery of information seeking as we cling to traditional practice?