Monthly Archives: October 2014

History & Archives UCD Subject Guide Review

knowledge

The subject guide for History and Archives certainly has everything students need to get started, but I would say it is aimed more at undergraduate students than postgraduates.

Firstly, the page provides easy access to contact information for the subject specialist. It is positive that this information is clear and inviting for the user. It also contains clear links to the different sources of information available for the subject along the menu bar at the top of the page. The videos on library use and OneSearch are also well placed, as is the OneSearch engine which allows you to perform searches while watching the instructional video. The links to the different kinds of sources do lead to extensive source lists and descriptions, and also links to relevant databases, e-journals and catalogues. The language is simple and clear, and there are additional text boxes with basic explanations of terms like ‘peer-review’ as well as directions to where materials can be found in the library.

However, this guide is mostly designed for new users and most likely undergraduate students. This is apparent because of the basic language used to explain terms that postgraduates should already know. Also, the guide has OneSeach engines on every page. This search engine is not necessarily as helpful for postgraduate students who are performing more specific searches than OneSearch allows for. It is very difficult, for example, to find bibliographic and reference materials for PhD proposals through OneSearch. It would be more helpful for postgraduates if there was another link along the main menu bar specifically for them. This additional page could provide more detailed advanced search guides for different databases and journals. It could also contain an appointment booking form encouraging research students to meet their subject specialist librarian for consultations on finding information within their particular area of interest, which is always a good idea for research students to do.

So, to sum up, the History and Archives Guide is clearly presented with all necessary information for students to get started finding information, and it also contains relevant contain information for the subject specialist librarian. However, the guide needs to be updated with more detailed information for postgraduate students.

‘Financing’ public libraries through permaculture

permaculture-image

Glen Holt’s article ‘Getting Beyond the Pain’ assessing the impact of funding cuts on US libraries and suggests ways in which these libraries need to adapt to not only retain efficiency with less money, but also to maintain their relevance in an ever-evolving information age. Holt points out that, ‘the point is simple: unless yearly income is rising faster than inflation, the library’s annual spending power erodes precipitously. When any political leader starts talking about “stable budgets,libraries need to watch out for real-dollar income declines”. Added to this problem of placing the library within an quantitive socio-economic framework, is the fact that the ALA have adopted a strategy in which they treat the funding of public libraries as local matter. He suggests that “he most important thing is making sure that your community is aware of the library and what the library can do”. In this sense Holt argues that libraries need to improve the ways in which they communicate their funding needs and their benefits to communities and society.

There is no doubting that libraries can do more to improve their services even with less money. Holt further points out that bureaucratic processes within a library can often lead to an unnecessary depletion of finances, especially at a time when the taxpayers are less willing to provide public funding for any public purpose irrespective of how good a cause it is. Finally Holt lists four ways in which libraries can retain their relevancy and their funding:

  • Need to demonstrate the critical need for youth services, adult literacy, help for immigrants, job preparation and economic development

  • Need to tell voters, politicians and civic leaders about the critical benefits they provide to their communities

  • Funding is not only a local matter because libraries are crucial to the nation

  • Library leaders need to focus much more on customers

  • Need to ask what role can libraries play in international information industry

I have no doubt that there is a lot of waste within public libraries, but there is also a great deal of potential. There is no doubt that libraries need to become more connected to a global economic and information framework and they can do so by connecting more directly to national and university library services, as well as partnering with information services abroad. A promotion and move towards Open Access can also open up new avenues for libraries to pursue. However, for now I would like to focus briefly on a principle borrowed from agriculture that could be applied to how libraries operate within a local community. These communities may not now be willing to give financial support to libraries through public funding bodies, but they should be encouraged to contribute in other ways. I believe permaculture practices can be applied to libraries in order to find ways of becoming more efficient, saving money, and also involving the community more. Permaculture originated as an agricultural movement that promoted permanent agriculture practices by mimicking nature. In nature, nothing is given away for free and wasted. What you have, on every level, is a kind of energy exchange. Patrons in libraries are not customers in a traditional sense in that they pay for the service through their taxes. However, at times when people are not willing to fund a library, they may be willing to contribute to the library community by giving up their time and skills in exchange for services. This principle is at the heart of permaculture in that rather than providing books for free, patrons exchange time and skills for the services. Basic services could be run in this way freeing up time for librarians to do more specialised work. It creates a stronger sense of community spirit and brings the library firmly to the centre of community.

Academia, Capitalism and Bibliometrics

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Many of the ideas/ concepts within academic scholarship are quite simple, however, they are often dressed up in quite complex discourses. This paper aims to reduce Cronin’s article to its more basic ideas and to then assess the validity and relevance of these. It is interesting that the article is framed by the title ‘Symbolic Capitalism’ and yet Cronin never makes explicit reference to the capitalist contradictions inherent in scholarship. All capitalism, no matter what tag or label you add to it, is concerned with a monetary system. Academics cannot claim to be interested only in collecting symbolic status because this status inevitably leads to greater monetary gain. Bibliometrics in this sense is an extension of a longstanding hierarchal system of the ‘economy of attention’ within academia in which politics overshadows the search for truth. Furthermore, Cronin’s semiotic approach cannot really add much value to the debate until he moves it more fully into a promotion of Open Access and Open Source modes of publishing.

Cronin is essentially attempting to validate the value of bibliometrics and citation indexes in assessing the significance of scholarship. It is for this reason that he draws a distinction between “enduring scholarly impact […] and, on the other hand, web-based measures of ‘transient group interest’”. The idea that citation and referencing provides a more relevant account of a scholar’s status than his/her media celebrity is accurate, however, there is no doubt that the two are deeply connected. Scholars sit in university chairs, but they also do consultation work across a wide spectrum of public and private enterprises. They sit on funding allocation committees, on external examining boards, on the boards of private companies and government advisories. They accumulate a media profile in much the same was as they do through bibliometrics and the one informs the other. Those academics at the top of their fields do hold quite a lot of influence over the career trajectory of those who are just entering the hierarchy. Citation in this sense then does not take place on the actual merit of scholarship, but on the necessity to network by acknowledging the work of those academics that might become influential in work being funded, published and promoted.

cartoon

The real contribution that Cronin’s article makes is in his semiotic approach to understanding citation and referencing. He suggests that citations act as signposts within a discipline to authoritative and meaningful scholarship referring to citations as “frozen footprints in the landscape of scholarly achievements.” This is drawn from Saussure’s structuralist approach to linguistics in that, like Saussure, Cronin views language as stable and static as in the structuralist tradition. Following on from this approach, Cronin can argue that citations retain ‘enduring’ characteristics in that they are quantitative in culture building. The problem here is that structuralist models were quickly replaced by post-structuralist principles within which language is no loner seen as permanent, rather, language is seen as dispersive and highly manipulatable. Or more metaphorically speaking, seasons change and alter the shape of those ‘frozen footprints’ if not melting them altogether. The Structuralist approach suits Cronin’s purpose in that he views academia as a closed off community in which cultural norms and significances are established by the participants. However, the politics of academia as mentioned above is one driven by capitalist gain in which citation indexes become a more globalized form of academic hierarchy. This happens because bibliometrics does not change the politics. A young scholar cannot get published within his/her discipline if they write a paper that does not reference the hierarchy of that discipline. Why? Simply because that work will be considered incomplete by the hierarchy itself. Structuralism will tell us that consistent referencing and citation leads to more authority in assessing an author’s contribution to a discipline. But post-structuralism will be highly suspicious of this word-game in that language becomes a tool of hierarchal control over a discipline to allow established scholars earn more money. Culture then is simply a construct of hierarchy.

In this sense, it does not really matter how Cronin dresses up bibliometrics in semiotic garb. It may add to the ways in which citations and references produce meaning, but only insofar as this meaning is retained within a closed academic framework. But of course, Cronin is acutely aware of this closed community and, in fact, supports it. He acknowledges that bibliometrics is playing a role in commodifying academia and that academia has always been a commodity. He goes so far as to compare scholarship citations to the stock exchange. It is in this sense that he draws on Stanley Fish’s idea of ‘interpretative communities’. Fish in particular relies on a kind of ‘ganging up’ in forming community. His theory posits that readers do come to a consensus about what texts mean. However, this consensus is often dictated by those within a hierarchy that wield more power. This issue is even more acute within a closed community group such as an academic discipline community within which scholars are clamoring for university chairs and research funding, and now, positions on citation indexes. In actual fact, Cronin’s use of Reader-response is antithetical to his structuralist approach. Fish is indeed a Reader-response proponent, but Reader-response theory is itself a highly dispersed field of study with often contradictory ideas contained within it. Cronin’s use of the term is far too general to be meaningful. In any case, Fish’s ‘interpretative communities’ don’t adapt very well to academia. This is because it is extremely difficult for those outside of academia to become contributors to meaning within it and the core tenet of reader-response is that more readers build greater consensus. This is because of the inaccessibility to academic scholarship and journals. These are expensive to access and are usually only subscribed to by interested bodies such as universities and research institutes. In order for, say, an internet blogger to enter the debate, they would have to somehow gain access to scholarship. A subscription to just one discipline in Jstor, for example, costs more than $6000 per year. And Jstor is only one of very many journals.

Finally, the structuralist approach adopted by Cronin, coupled with reader-response theory does allow Cronin to open up a new way of assessing and conceptualizing the validity of citation and referencing indexes. However, his essay really only moves to reassert the status quo within a hierarchal academic system. I believe that an adoption of post-structuralist theories, coupled with a move towards Open Access and Open Source scholarship is the only way of achieving scholarly work and a bibliometrics that is truly meaningful based on the merits of the work and not its political/ monetary motives. But this idea would not work within Cronin’s framework of ‘Symbolic Capitalism’ because it would deny direct monetary reward for academic scholarship and would open scholarship up to a new world of scholars that exist outside of the university/ research system, thus dispersing homogenous hierarchal systems and allowing real innovation to emerge through new contexts. This is self-evident in Cronin’s essay because his work is written for a traditional academic audience who might not be so quick to read it if it had put forward a pro-open access argument. I believe maintaining the status quo is one reason why scholars are quick to distinguish the ‘impact’ of altmetrics from the more ‘enduring’ effect of bibliometrics.

[Perhaps we should cease citing and referencing altogether, as a protest against ‘Academic Capitalism’]

Leadership and Organizations with an Anarchist ‘Soul’

Mathew R. Fairholm in his article ‘Leadership and Organizational Strategy’ makes a clear distinction between ‘strategic planning’ and ‘strategic thinking’, the latter being more concerned with a downward focus on ensuring that employees throughout the company understand the values and purpose of the company as a whole, thereby leaving them with a greater sense of connection to the company or institute. In this sense, strategic thinking leans more towards leadership than traditional management. Fairholm’s theory is particularly interesting in that he emphasises the leader’s abilities to ‘see and feel’ important issues within a company. It is a theory that promotes a great deal of trust between employees and the company. In a more practical sense, the best experiences I have had in my 10 year teaching career have taken place in schools/ companies that I have had a trusting relationship with. This is because this trust allowed me to connect more to the companies’ ethos.

calvin_anarchism

Given my interest in postmodern discourses, I am particularly impressed with the ‘Why-What-How Approach’ to strategic thinking. Postmodernism is inherently concerned with the dispersal of homogenous discourses and the ‘Why-What-How Approach’ sees the world as non-linear allowing organizations to focus on its relationship with the whole. Leadership in this sense gives an organization more ‘soul’ in that the dispersion of homogeneity allows, in a self-consciously contradictory postmodern sense, for the organization to have greater identity from top to bottom. I recently listened to a lecture by Simon Sinek in which he repeated the mantra which he believes allows some companies to succeed when equally strong competitors fail: ‘it’s not what you do, it’s how you do it’. Sinek argues that a company’s belief in itself is its greatest marketing tool. In this regard, strategic thinking that allows all employees to feed into the belief system of the organization only adds to the organization’s purpose. Employees then, add to the ‘values’ of the company/ institute rather than only to its objectives, thus allowing them to become more connected and involved.

what_is_anarchism__by_shanethayer-d5clpx0

In many ways, Fairholm’s reference to the unleashing of information over the controlling of it, along with his principle of working with ‘unmeasurables’ reminds me of ‘Anarcho-syndicalism’. I don’t want to turn readers away with the mentioning of Anarchism (I wish they had named it something less aggressive!), a term which does carry a lot of negative reactionary connotations. Anarcho-sydicalism supports the idea that workers should be self-managing and that they should be empowered to make decisions within an organization independently of hierarchy. This is because all decisions that they make for the organization directly affects themselves. Allowing workers to have this kind of empowerment is perhaps the most effective way of allowing them to add ‘values’ to the organization as a whole, to connect to it, believe in it, and to essentially give it ‘soul’.

Sources

Fairholm, Mathew R., ‘Leadership and Organization Planning’, The Innovation Journal: The Public Sector Innovation Journal, Volume 14(1), 2009, article 3.

Sinek, Simon, ‘How Great Leaders Inspire Action’, http://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action?language=en

Environment, Hierarchy and Cultural Stagnation

Culture 3

Chapter two of Management Basics for Information Professionals by Evans and Alire (2013) examines the ways in which an organization’s environment influences behavior. I noticed a pervading trend within the chapter’s discussion of libraries as organization, and that trend is that all environments are retained within a hierarchal structure based around the external and parent environments. I can certainly see how a public or educational library could be considered as ‘placid-clustered’ in terms of it adopting long term goals with some short term objectives that are determined by environmental factors. However, I can also see how this kind of structure may well be limiting within a library also. Long term goals tend to be quite rigid and strict and I think there is a danger of suppressing innovation in so far as the manager is rigidly focused on the pre-established long term goals. In times of a funding lull, this may well mean that a long term project may need to be paused. An example of the negative impact that this strategy can have was given by Katherine McSharry of National Library when she spoke to our class about pausing the digitization project of photographs in Ireland. There is always the danger in an ever-diversifying information age, that long term goals blind organizations to more innovative opportunities.

I say this in agreement with Childs and the anti-environmental argument. It seems to me that a major flaw in many organizations is that they see themselves as subordinate to the ‘whole’, or parent/ external organization. However, there is scope within any organization to influence and shape the whole to the demands and innovations of the organization itself. I think the concept of relevance is important here. The parent organization would like to find ways of operating that are more efficient and effective. Libraries should not wait for the parent company to set the parameters of policy, but should look to find ways to influence the external environment. Companies have often been revolutionized by innovation that has taken place within just one small department.

I think the fact that culture is mentioned in this chapter is interesting. In many ways, there is a defeatist mentality involved in many discussions of culture in which culture is seen as something unchangeable. All too often we throw our hands up in the air and say ‘that’s just the culture!’. There is a sense in this chapter that playing with cultural norms is too dangerous for managers to contemplate, as though all culture is inherently good. I have worked in organizations that have been destroyed by an adherence to negative cultural norms. As someone who has taught English Literature at third level, I am always amazed at the collections of English Literature in university libraries. There are usually hundreds, if not thousands of books gathering dust on the shelves of academic libraries. Many of these books are wasted. Examine the curriculum of UCD’s Department of English in relation to the library’s collection of literary texts. I think 80% of those books will never be read by any students or staff at UCD. But there is a culture within libraries to hang on to and accumulate objects. Maybe many books were donated by a sponsor and the library feels obligated to retain the books on the shelves even if they are not useful? It is useful to ask how much waste exists in our libraries as a result of culture. How could that space be used in ways that are more useful? Could the opening of that space lead to more innovative use of it that might alter the environment (internal & external) for the good of the library and the parent organization? Culture, if seen as a homogenous unwavering influence can be highly destructive to an organization’s development. However, I believe that if it is seen as a heterogenous malleable condition that we can move away from its limiting influence on our learning environments.