If any of us ever did doubt that the traditional stereotype of the librarian is alive and well, here in 2010, right here in New Jersey, doubt it no more. Convincing evidence to confirm this is easily found. I’ve been reflecting on this since I read an article by Brad Parks from the April 11, 2010 Newark Sunday Star-Ledger. His headline was compelling “Budget Imperils New Jersey’s Libraries.” I was eager to read this story, as I am everything written in the NJ press about the impact of and reactions to Governor Christie’s proposed 74% budget reduction to NJ library funding. Parks’ editorial supports the library communities’ struggle for funding restoration, but even though he touts the value of libraries in promoting literacy and democratic access to information, he chose to open his article by evoking traditional librarian stereotypical images.
Reading the first words of his story made my heart sink: “In both stereotype and practice, New Jersey’s librarians are a fairly unexcitable bunch, more prone to shushing than they are to hyperbole. So take this into consideration was you read this from Edison Public Library director Judith Mansbach. ‘If this goes through, it’s going to be devastating.’” The three column article decries the proposed cuts and mentions the May 6th librarian rally in Trenton that many of us, myself included, later attended. (Some of us even got quite excited – imagine that.) Parks returns to the library stereotype by ending on this note: “Needless to say they could use your help. So if you value your local library – or literacy in general- please make your view known to your legislators. It’ll be one time your librarian won’t shush you for raising your voice.” I sincerely appreciate Mr. Parks’ support and thank him for asking readers to complain to NJ legislators about the ghastly cuts, but ask why could he not resist the cutesy and clichéd reference to librarians’ shushing that devalues our profession?
Post rally, Karen Sudol picked up the theme in her article: “Librarians Demand Christie Not Close Book on Services” in the May 7th Star-Ledger (p. 22). She begins: “Librarians accustomed to saying “Shush” and “Quiet, please,” spoke up at a Trenton rally yesterday in protest of a proposed 74 percent cut in state funding. ‘I think we’re going to dispel all of the shushing rumors that librarians are just quiet little people,’ said Patricia Tumulty executive director of the New Jersey Library Association which organized the two-hour event. ‘We’re strong advocates for the people of New Jersey to have good library services.” Pat’s advocacy and leadership continue to be strong, although I’m sad to say the “shushing rumors” are firmly ensconced in the press and popular culture, much to the detriment of our professional image.
This example is one of countless newspaper articles, blogs, cartoons, television shows, commercials, novels, advertisements, motion pictures, etc. in a broad range of mediated discourse, that continue to evoke the librarian stereotype. Librarians, usually female, are consistently portrayed as bespectacled, mousy, unassuming, sexually repressed introverts who primarily engage in three behaviors – shushing (as we see above), stamping and shelving books. The male librarian stereotype, 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 accorded the low status of the female librarian, deserving little respect.
This stereotype has persisted as remarkably intact since the early 1900s, despite the information age that has transformed the profession as one now immersed in sophisticated digitized systems and online services, Some, even within our field, may dismiss stereotypical texts and images as harmless, cute, or funny, and chide others to get a sense of humor. As one who has studied the librarian stereotype in depth, and published several journal articles on the topic in Library Quarterly, I have come to view these media representations as far from harmless, with serious, anti-intellectual, and anti-feminist messages. In these hideous budget times in NJ, and across the nation, it is appalling to me to see how frequently the stereotypical librarian image appears. In another recent example, on May 11th, Library Journal reported on “Jay Leno’s Bad Library Joke” . If you click on this link you can see a video of Leno saying: “People here in Los Angeles are upset [at] their mayor’s proposed plan to cut the budget of libraries…this could affect as many as nine people.” The LJ link includes the letter from city librarian Martin Gomez who points out that over 17 million people use the LA libraries every year and that the budget cuts are no laughing matter.
Perhaps I should not be so appalled at these stereotypical images and low blows to libraries. After all, thinking of libraries as dusty, unused places (instead of vital community centers) and librarians as unproductive, fussy old biddies who shuffle around the library shushing, stamping, and shelving is useful to the powerful elite who use this ill-informed view as justification to cut already low salaries and benefits for public librarians, fire librarians, reduce hours and close libraries (including the library for the blind and handicapped). This 74% cut is sadly going to occur at a time when NJ citizens’ need is greatest for what libraries have to offer: equal access to information to all, free to all.
By Marie L. Radford
A post by Marie L. Radford
Nothing thrills a writer/editor more than the joy of finally being able to see a finished book that you have had in the works for many months. I am delighted to announce that Reference Renaissance: Current and Future Trends is now available from Neal-Schuman! I had the privilege of working with co-editor Dave Lankes of Syracuse University on the book which captures the latest in the work of researchers and practitioners, updated from their presentations at the first (hugely successful!) Reference Renaissance Conference. Dave is the creative, intellectual, and dynamic force behind the ground-breaking Virtual Reference Desk conferences and books which have provided inspiration and models for the Reference Renaissance events and publications.
Anyone interested in the latest buzz should take a look at this book which features current research in reference, including virtual services like IM and live chat, innovative service models, and philosophical approaches. In addition, numerous “reports from the field” chronicle innovative service models, virtual reference successes, marketing, initiatives in staff development and training, and using search engines and other virtual tools.
I have authored a chapter with Lynn Silipigni Connaway of OCLC called: “Getting Better All the Time: Improving Communication and Accuracy in Virtual Reference” that features results and recommendations from our Seeking Synchronicity IMLS, Rutgers, and OCLC, Inc. grant project. Here’s a sneaky – peek from our chapter… The top tip for boosting accuracy when you are providing live chat VR is the following: when asked for specific information, before you push a Web site or URL, check to make sure it contains the precise information requested by the user, not just a general overview of the topic. We found this simple verification step would have increased accuracy from 78% to90% for ready reference questions.
The book also contains the provocative keynote “Reference in the Age of Wikipedia, or Not…” by David W. Lewis, Dean of the IUPUI University Library, as well as the remarks from the plenary panel on “Theory Meets Practice: Educators and Directors Talk” featuring Dave Lankes and myself (the educators) as well as Jamie LaRue, Director of the Douglas County Libraries, CO and Carla J. Stoffle Dean of the University of Arizona Libraries (the directors).
To heighten our excitement, this book’s publication comes as we are dead smack in the middle of planning for the second Ref Ren conference: Reference Renaissance 2010: Inventing the Future which will be held from August 8-10, 2010 in Denver, CO. I am again honored to be co-chair of the conference program, this time working with co-chair Rivkah Sass of Sacramento Public Library, and Justine Schaffer of BCR, who is the overall conference chair. The Call for Participation is out and we are upping our game, inviting a greater diversity of submissions in innovative as well as traditional formats. We seek papers, panels, reports from the field, workshops, and Pecha Kucha proposals to do with forward-looking initiatives and strategies in all types of reference service and from a variety of library environments.
April 1st is the deadline, and I encourage all LG readers to think about submitting a proposal and planning to join us in Denver!
I write today from Harrisburg, PA, site of the REFolution Conference: Reference Service in a Constantly Changing World sponsored by Lyrasis (formed by the recent merger of PALINET/SOLINET). I just love the name and spirit of this conference, and was honored to deliver the keynote speech on the future of reference this afternoon to an audience of about 200 reference enthusiasts.
I am delighted to announce (as a Library Garden scoop, I might add) that a team of faculty and students at Rutgers have just launched the long awaited, highly anticipated Virtual Reference Bibliography designed to be used by librarians, students, scholars, and others who are interested in publications dealing with all aspects of virtual reference.
Hosted by Rutgers University’s SCILS, this site is a continuation of the digital reference services bibliography maintained from 2000 to 2004 by Bernie Sloan. It now contains 700+ entries from Bernie’s original bibliography, plus 200+ new items published from 2004 to the present. The redesigned site and new search interface was created by Ben Bakelaar of Rutgers as part of a final project for Information Design class, taught by Jacek Gwizdka, Ph.D.
I’d like to thank Ben, Jacek, and Bernie for their creative input and design expertise. I would also like to thank SCILS alums Andrea Simzak and Gillian Newton, and current student Jeff Teichmann for their competent and enthusiastic assistance in hours of verification and data input. I am also indebted to Andy Mudrak, IT Systems Administrator and Assistant Dean Jon Oliver for technical support.
This resource is designed to be an ongoing work in progress. We welcome your input to keep it current and accurate. Please leave a comment at the VR Bibliography website if you want to add a citation, to correct a mistake, or wish to make a suggestion.
Do take a look and let us know how you like it!
Pete’s last piece on future issues reminded me to post my summary from an intriguing talk I heard in late October ’08 while at the ASIS&T conference in Columbus Ohio, I was delighted that one of the plenary speakers was Genevieve Bell, an ethnographer, who is a Senior Principal Engineer and Director of User Experience with Intel’s Digital Home Group.
In her charming Australian accent, she promised to give a provocation rather than a speech. See what you think of her ideas.
She posed the questions: “What comes next for Web? For the information/knowledge economy?” Here are a few of her predictions/observations:
- The Net has gone “feral,” now gone well beyond the PC and laptop – to cell phones, TVs, GPS, game consoles, embedded devices with IP backbones. Some people will never encounter the Web on a PC, but through consumer goods, smart printers, etc. Web usage models will continue to change shape – more transactions, but much less surfing.
The Net will increasingly bring us things we didn’t have time to attend to in real time (like those all important TV shows we missed).
The Web continues to collapse time and distance and will increasingly be used for staying in touch with people. She noted that 10% of people in Tanzania have a cell phone, 90% have made a cell phone call. She also said that blogging will continue to experience exponential growth, some underrepresented voices now being heard. Most people blogging are women from 23-45 yrs. old (Hey, I’m almost young enough to have made this group 😉 Many people are interfacing with the Web through intermediaries, for example, some illiterate people living without electricity in 3rd world countries are getting daily “email” deliveries, read aloud to them via cell phones by children and friends.
There will be an end to the “anglosphere.” In 2008, Chinese internet users overtook US users by about 253 million. English will soon end as the dominant language. New sites, new experiences, new services will arise. With this brings the inevitable incommensurability because it is difficult to make translations, especially for slang and idiomatic expressions.
There will be different modes of connectivity, new experiences will require more bandwidth.
Different payment structures are evolving, e.g., pay as you go vs. all you can eat, vs. capped downloads (up to a certain amount will be included, but then large fee is charged for more).
There will be more government regulation for the Net, controlling it, limiting access, regulating practices. Massive regulation is already happening across the world.
Increased socio-technical concerns – new anxieties, old anxieties. The list of things we are concerned about is growing. (OY! More to worry about in 2009).
Disconnection and switching-off are an interesting phenomenon (some people are now planning vacations around “dead spots” so they can switch off).
Hmm, “spring break” cruise anyone? Our family is planning one to the Caribbean this March in search of a “dead spot” (and, BTW, some warmer weather, NJ this winter is appalling – lots of icy treachery this week).
Although it is otherwise a slow news day, as we all await the start of 2009 and look ahead to a new year unfolding. I am so thrilled that “Academic Library Research: Perspectives and Current Trends,” which I co-edited with Pamela Snelson, Director of Franklin & Marshall College Library has just been released. This book has been in the making for over 5 years, and I haven’t actually held a copy in my hands yet, but I’ve been told that my copies are in the mail! We take a look back at academic library research since 1990, showcasing this time of rapid, revolutionary change. I co-wrote the chapter that summarizes research on reference (face-to-face and virtual reference modes) with Lorri Mon and predicts trends in reference over the next few years.
The book is #59 in the ACRL Publications in Librarianship series, edited by Craig Gibson. ACRL/ALA has published the book just in time for it to be showcased at ALA Midwinter in Denver which I’ll be attending. According to the Press Release the book “updates traditional topics that have undergone exceptional, and in some cases unexpected, change since 1990 as well as reaching into new areas. It combines theoretical scholarship with real world research, including case studies and user surveys, designed to inform practice. Part I highlights significant perspectives and trends such as reference service, information literacy, collection management, knowledge organization and leadership. Part II features two chapters on recently developing evaluation methods, including usability testing and measuring library service quality through LibQUAL+.
It is always a joy to see a finished product finally published and out there to add to the library literature. Am now already involved in two more book projects, one of which is an edited volume (co-edited by Dave Lankes) of reports from the field and research papers from the Reference Renaissance conference. Would be amazing if the Ref Ren book, to be published by Neal-Schuman could be out by the end of 2009, will be fun to work towards this goal.
On the night of October 7th, in the midst of financial calamity, unending war, and an election that is still way too close for my comfort, I was relaxed while enjoying my week-nightly fix of witty satire from the Colbert Report. Suddenly I sat bolt upright in my easy chair, scaring Batman, our snuggly black cat, who was cuddled up on my lap, and my husband Gary, who wasn’t. “Hey!” I shouted, “I know them! It’s Arlene and Jane!”
Colbert was spoofing reports that the current financial crisis was resulting in higher borrowing rates at libraries which were having a negative impact on market capitalism by providing free books and internet use. Colbert’s segment called “Communist Library Threat” was filmed at the highly regarded Rutherford Free Public Library and featured Jane Fisher (Library Director) and Arlene Sahraie (Library Services Director).
I’ve known and respected Jane Fisher, a Library Journal “Mover and Shaker,” for several years, first meeting her when she was at the New York Public Library and asked me to do a workshop on:“Everyday Assessment” for librarians (see more on the Library Journal blog post from 10/13/08). Several years’ running, Arlene Sahraie has been my worthy opponent, as a member of the “Library Goddesses,” in hot competition against my team, the “Alumni Avengers,” in the annual “SCILS Bowl” trivia championship at Rutgers.
The clip features first Arlene and then Jane in dialog with the overdubbed and menacing voice of an unseen Colbert, who interrogates them on library policy for providing free resources. He urges viewers to take out library books, not return them, and pay the fee for lost books in order to set the free market back on track.
If you haven’t seen the Colbert clip:”Communist Library Threat” posted on You Tube, here it is: www.youtube.com/watch?v=LvX1VLejk-0
On Wednesday March 19th I traveled south to the newly built and beautiful Anne Arundel Public Library for the gala 5th birthday celebration of Maryland AskUsNow! This festivity brought together an impressive turnout of librarians, state government representatives, and dignitaries such as the Maryland Assistant State Superintendent for Libraries, Irene M. Padilla, and Nancy S. Grasmick, State Superintendent of Schools. Everyone came together to recognize the accomplishments of this highly successful and widely admired statewide live chat and e-mail reference consortium. I happily braved the traffic of the spring break holiday getaway mob heading south on highway 95 to give the keynote address, to facilitate a workshop on chat reference service excellence, and to share in this wonderful and historic event.
I first met Joe Thompson (click here and scroll down this page for a picture of the energetic and forward-looking Project Coordinator of Maryland AskUsNow!) at the Virtual Reference Desk conference in 2003 (btw, the forerunner of our highly anticipated Reference Renaissance conference) when I was just getting started in researching interpersonal communication in live chat reference. During my VRD presentation, I made a plea to the audience for some transcripts to analyze. Afterwards Joe approached me, introduced himself, and said “I have 10,000 transcripts, when do you want them?” A bit stunned, I replied, “Well, I don’t need all 10,000. How about pulling me a random sample of about 250-300 transcripts?” Thus began an incredibly cordial and productive collaboration which has resulted in shared conference presentations and panels, the publication of two journal articles on virtual reference (VR) in JASIST and Scan, with more to come, I’m sure.
Joe and his statewide VR team of librarians at Maryland AskUsNow! have worked incredibly hard to forge the service’s success with a total of over 200,000 reference questions answered and counting. They continually reach for the highest quality standards in VR, which I strongly admire and find inspirational. Joe’s willingness to allow an outsider (like me) to have access to transcripts (suitably made anonymous, of course, to protect user privacy) and to the AskUsNow! user population (assisting me in recruiting participants for focus groups, online surveys, and phone interviews) demonstrates his keen interest in research into user behaviors, and commitment to discovering how to make live chat a better experience for both users and librarians. He is ever open to new ideas and continual improvement. I was also very impressed by the number of AskUsNow! librarians who attended my afternoon workshop as well as by their positive attitude toward customer service.
I must also add that I am proud of the amazing Julie Strange, Maryland AskUsNow! Operations Supervisor, who was my student and research assistant at Rutgers, SCILS on our “Seeking Synchronicity” grant project. Tech savvy Julie also shares an incredibly strong and steadfast commitment to high quality service and a fearless Millennial approach to learning novel social software applications, embracing new ways of reaching library users, and especially to connecting with younger chat and IM aficionados.
So here’s to Maryland AskUsNow! 5 years on and looking forward to many many returns of the day!