Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Faculty Perceptions of a Library: Paneling for Assessment

I presented "Faculty Perceptions of a Library: Paneling for Assessment" at the Association for College and Research Libraries 2015 conference in Portland, Oregon on Friday. What follows is my presentation of that paper. Should you like to read the real thing, it's available here, and feedback is most welcome.
Abstract: This paper introduces librarians and library staff to “paneling,” a technique employed here to analyze the discourse around and within how faculty perceive an academic library at a small university. The concept of panels comes to librarianship from anthropology, and shows great promise as not only an assessment tool, but also one that informs library practices and behaviors. 
How the assessment sausage gets made. 
In both the paper and presentation I discuss the who, what, how, and why of panels. Paneling is a methodological tool, and when assessing one should use multiple tools. 

This was for one person who I knew would attend. They know who they are. 
Panels are interpretive. What I mean by this is that we, as people, create meaning when we observe, participate, and interact with each other. Panels are explicitly subjective; that is, my interpretation and understanding may differ from another person's. 

Paneling involves editing and coding the testimony of what anthropologists call informants into narratives, which gives a great deal of power, of editorial discretion, to a researcher. 

What I was looking for here are faculty narratives about the library. How do they perceive it, understand it, and tell each other stories about it. So in the spring of 2014, the then Associate Provost and now Provost and I convened a series of faculty focus groups to assess and understand how they view the library. With a major accreditation regime acting as a proverbial sword of Damocles, or a "buy-in," if you prefer, we were able to interview all of our seventy-plus full time faculty in seven semi-structured focus groups. We organized these groups by major, program, and school wherever possible, asking faculty what they thought of library services, collections, staff, website, and more. 

There were challenges to working with faculty in what are often their "natural" groups. Focus groups comprised of colleagues, some junior, some senior, are subject to the same kind of group dynamics that may occur in faculty offices, lounges, and hallways. It's a weakness of panels, one that I was very aware of. Some faculty may have felt silenced, for example, and while editing and coding faculty responses, dissent isn't included if it doesn't fit into dominant narratives. 

Nonetheless, there were very clear faculty narratives present, across majors, programs, and schools. I hand-edited and -coded these, which were then reviewed by the Provost for some measure of interoperator reliability. We were able to organize these narratives into five panels, stories about the library.
  1. Physical library space
  2. Library website
  3. Library instruction
  4. Print and online collections
  5. Customer Service
Note that it is impossible to get a clean separation with regards to these panels. It is difficult, if not impossible, for example, to talk about online collections without talking about the library website. 

With regards to the library's physical space, the dominant narrative among faculty, across majors, programs, and schools, was that the library have more flexible learning spaces. We've been able to carve out some spaces for mixed use, but they also come with mixed results. For example, multiple faculty referred to one of the library's newer mixed-uses spaces as "scary." 

Creating these kinds of spaces can be difficult, and will involve weeding, deaccession of older materials, and stack shifting. When I mentioned this to faculty, the response was positive; being in focus groups, having a conversation with them, allowed me to make that process more transparent, which will hopefully minimize problems down the road. 

At the time of the focus groups, we were transitioning to a new library website build around a discovery service, details here, and those faculty more familiar with the changes liked it. But other faculty members were frustrated with the site, and mentioned going to other institutions' websites to conduct research, or even calling for research on social media, such as "icanhazpdf."

The overwhelming narrative regarding library instruction was "more." More one-shots; more for-credit courses, as one of our schools has; and more learning objects both on the library website and on our learning management system. 

Two narratives emerged from the Print and online collections panel. First, that our collections are out of date. Second, that the policies and procedures by which we develop and grow collections are unclear. Here, as in other panels, faculty are giving us clear feedback. If we act on it, and we are, we as library staff will be better able to earn their trust. 

With regards to customer service, one faculty member referred to our reference librarian, at the reference desk, as "the nice lady at the reception desk." Overall, faculty asked for more events at the library, and some even volunteered their services, talking about their research, or current events, which I take as a sign that faculty are reaching out to the library staff, interested in partnering with us. 

What we as library staff want to do is to act on these faculty narratives, approach them from multiple angles. Faculty are telling stories about the library, narratives. As library staff, we don't have to be passive here. By listening to faculty and acting on their perceptions, we can participate in those narratives and reshape them. 

There are, of course, alternatives to panels. We could have used surveys, as many librarians are wont to do. However, surveys never would have told us about how scary one of our rooms is, for example, and with these focus groups we were able to have all full-time faculty participate. Surveys have more of an issue with representation, because not everyone, or even most faculty, would fill them out, and the questions one asks in a survey often affect the outcome, how people answer. 

On the other hand, individual interviews would be too time-consuming, as would be the case with an ethnographic study of how faculty use the library. 

Again, we were able to leverage accreditation to get full faculty participation in focus groups, but it's just one piece of the puzzle, because yes, you should use these other methods as well. Lots of kinds of meat go into a hot dog, and assessment should be multi-method as well. 

In addition, in a time when higher education seems obsessed with numbers, with statistical data, we shouldn't lose sight of other methods, there's more out there, and if we ignore it, we ignore both interesting and useful questions and answers.
Higher education is quantitative in part because of a policy orientation where evaluation is seen as equivalent to counting and measuring. - Donna Lanclos
Panels helped us uncover stories about the library, and stories have power. We're able to act on those stories, those narratives, and that too is power. And that's why I used panels here.

We might use them again, for adjunct faculty, for university staff who don't use the library for whatever reason or reasons, and maybe for students as well. They're a tool in a toolkit for assessment, and as you can tell, I think this method is more organic, and useful, than most.

I'd like to find out more about what many different groups think of our library, and I think that interpretive methods have a role in getting us there. Thank you.

I had about 13 minutes to discuss what turned out to be more of a 15-minute presentation, so I had to gloss over issues of epistemology in discussing interpretivism, and some of the nuts and bolts of editing and coding faculty testimony, but again, the paper goes into these in a bit more depth, and I welcome your thoughts, comments, and questions.

Elsewhere on the site:
Explore the presentations and conferences tags.

Presentation image credits:
Hot dog Venn diagram via Woot Shirt, 3/19/15, http://derbyimages.woot.com/73175/7a1aad0d-9545-4a52-84a6-8aeff6266cdf.jpg
Dancing squirrel via Imgur, 3/19/15, http://i.imgur.com/op3mwqQ.gif
Snow, “Informer,” via EastWest Records, 1993, 3/19/15, giffed by Back2th90s, http://www.back2the90s.com/upload/9/6/5/back2the90s/informer-snow.large.gif
Prime Directive slide from @anthrotweets
Sword, maybe of Damocles, via MS Clip Art
Frye Meme, Futurama, Fox Network, 1999, 3/19/15, https://imgflip.com/readImage?iid=176908
Parker Posey, “Party Girl,” via Sony Pictures 1995, giffed by cryinanddrivin http://33.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_lx8xazJ6J61qzq62xo1_400.gif
Loading Page gif via http://www.dotnetfox.com/Terms-and-Conditions.aspx
Puppy! via Imgur, http://i.imgur.com/Zhr7yNY.gif
Counting money, via Yahoo! Money, 3/19/15, http://l.yimg.com/os/publish-images/news/2013-10-16/3d716da5-9448-4fef-b15e-5e5bc58fb975_counting-money.gif

Monday, March 23, 2015

The #acrl2015 post

The 2015 Association of College and Research Libraries conference is in Portland, Oregon this week. Here's where I'll be.

Wednesday, March 25th:
Critlib Unconference. Critical theories and librarianship at Portland State University.
Battledecks. Even The Wall Street Journal is on it.

Thursday, March 26th:
There's so much going on with regards to conference sessions that I'm still narrowing down where I'll be when on this day and the next.
Everylibrary is hosting a reception at Deschutes' brewpub in the Pearl District in the evening. One of my favorite library organizations and favorite breweries, together. For those who don't imbibe, the ginger ale at Deschutes is fantastic.

Friday, March 27th:
Presenting a paper, Faculty Perceptions of a Library: Paneling for Assessment," from 11:20-11:40am in room D135-136. Here's the abstract:
This paper introduces librarians and library staff to “paneling,” a technique employed here to analyze the discourse around and within how faculty perceive an academic library at a small university. The concept of panels comes to librarianship from anthropology, and shows great promise as not only an assessment tool, but also one that informs library practices and behaviors.
Watch this space for more on the topic.

The conference reception is Friday night. It involves desserts and drinking in museums, two things I am fond of.

Saturday, March 28th:
The Portland Farmhouse and Wild Ale Festival. The timing on this was excellent, and a bunch of librarians are going to this after Lawrence Lessig's keynote. Have a gander at the beer list so far.

Speaking of beer, here's what's on my radar in Portland: Upright Engleberg Pils, Breakside IPA, Pints Schwartzbier, and Upright Fantasia and Lodgson Peche n Brett, if I can find those last two.
I'm staying within walking distance of Cascade, Hair of the Dog, and Commons, among others, and I hope to visit Gigantic as well. In sum, for both libraries and beer, I'm like a kid in a candy store here.


Thursday, March 19, 2015

Technical Services Brain Drain? Musings From an Outlier

A few recent conversations in libraryland, mostly sparked by troublesome catalogers, have me thinking about the relationship between technical services, the so-called "back of the house" tasks in librarianship, and recognition and leadership.

Let's go ahead and thank Becky Yoose for this.
When I began working here, I had the heady title of "ILL, Cataloging, Acquisitions Specialist." It rolls off the tongue, doesn't it? In due time, that became "Technical Services Librarian," and now I think I'm one of the few with a technical service background who has made the move into library administration. And I wonder why that is.

And yet there is some dissent here. This is just my impression, but others have pointed out a number of people with this background in positions of leadership, so maybe this is just my perception, or an inferiority complex.

I haven't cataloged an item this semester. Not copy cataloging via OCLC's Connexion. Not original cataloging, using Omeka, or creating a MARC record. Instead, I've taught twelve library instruction session one-shots this semester. And I spent a lot of time writing about information literacy last year, normally a "front of the house" concern. And I wonder if my transition from technical services to administration is related to moving towards more "visible" library tasks, like teaching.

Next week I'm heading to the Association of College and Research Libraries conference, and I don't see a lot of back of the house representation in the conference program. And I don't see that representation in Library Journal's "Movers and Shakers," though some of the more technology-savvy folks could be considered technical services. An aside: I read each and every winner, congrats to all of them, to see if I can "borrow" any of their good ideas for this library.

Is there something to being back there, cataloging and acquiring, alone, or at least the perception, the stereotype of it? Are catalogers worse at communicating their value, and values, than other library staff? As Erin Leach puts it:
As much as we want people to understand our point of view, we have to start talking about how our work impacts the experience of library users in a jargon-free way. We all say that cataloging is a public service, but do we explain how the metadata that has been created and remediated in the appropriate ways has a direct effect on whether or not a user finds what they're looking for? Do we explain how fields in the records we create effect facted searching and how incorrectly coded records show up under the wrong facet? [Read the whole thing, I'll wait.]
Does these factors keep capable people from leadership roles, and if so, what do we lose? What does technical services bring to the leadership table? To start:

  • A focus on details.
  • I suspect the divide between the front of the house and the back of the house is felt more in the back, so library staff who work in the back are more likely to understand the negative effects of silos. 
  • An understanding of the role of metadata in discovery and in the user experience, per this marvelous collection of tweets

I don't have any answers to these questions, but I'm thinking about them. Please think with me.