Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Notes from Charlottesville

Barbara and I are enjoying our time in the town of Charlottesville, which in some ways is very similar to Kalamazoo – the airport is about the same size, the university is a large part of the town and economy, and downtown consists of a pedestrian mall anchored by an hotel – the Omni, where we are staying. The first night I was talking on my cell to my son and looking out of my hotel room window, across the open atrium, I saw lights beyond the trees and people circling around. Turns out they have put an ice arena there and a hockey game was going on. Looking for dinner, Barbara and I left the hotel and found ourselves in a bustling pedestrian mall – full of restaurants, bars, galleries, book and gift shops. Later I talked to friends who live here and they said that their downtown mall almost died too, but they didn’t give up, drew in the hotel, opened a movie theater, the skating rink, and people started coming, restaurants opened, and now it is very much alive. The university is about a mile away, but the merchants have paid for a free trolley service to bring students downtown. We used it to get to a reception at the university library and found it is well used.

I have to admit I didn’t know anything about the University of Virginia before coming here, so the following is just a miniscule window to the place, but I have to say I really liked what I saw. It was founded in 1819 by Thomas Jefferson (called Mr. Jefferson by UVA folks), and his influence is still felt today. He designed the first buildings – two rows of buildings with a huge Lawn in between. The buildings alternated between two story “pavilions” and one story rooms for students. Faculty lived on the second floor of the pavilions with classes below. Each pavilion has its own unique set of columns and friezes, and there is a fenced walkway along the rooftops connecting all the pavilions, so the faculty could visit without dealing with the student riff-raff. Jefferson loved visual games, so there are some unique things about the spacing too. Behind each pavilion were two sets of gardens, set off by snaking brick walls – an upper garden for flowers, the lower for animals. Today, the pavilions still house upper level administrators, and the student rooms are the most prestigious place to live on campus, or on the grounds, as they say here. There is a tough competition for these rooms that have their own fireplaces, and a stack of university provided wood outside, but they have no air conditioning or bathrooms – students have to go outside and use a group bathroom. The rooms are awarded by a point system based on university involvement. When students graduate, they gather by the Rotunda (former library) – at one end of the Lawn, come around the sides of the rotunda and march eight abreast down the Lawn to the amphitheater where graduation is held. So graduation is called “Walking the Lawn” around here.

I had to look up the quick facts. It is usually ranked first or second best public university by US News & World Report (though their state funding is down to 12%) and in the top 25 universities in general, usually comparable to the University of Michigan. They have 20,000 students, of which 4700 are grads, and 1700 are in law or medicine.

The Libraries are a happy place. They have numerous libraries scattered around campus, but we got to see three that are next to each other. The reception was at the Harrison Institute – a new special collections library that has a reception building above ground, but the collection is housed underneath the lawn and is marked by a few skylights that are visible above ground. I missed the reception, as I was having dinner with some family friends that teach at UVA, so I just took a quick look around and was duly impressed – similar to the underground set-up at Cornell.

Alderman Library is the Humanities & Social Sciences graduate library. I was most interested in seeing their Information Commons set-up, though I don’t think they call it that. As you walk in the door into the large main hall, you see it is divided into 4 areas: the cafĂ©, the comfy seating area, the computers, and the circulation/information/reference desk. We talked to the circ students and they explained that they will answer simple reference questions if they are asked and know them, otherwise they are handled by the reference people. There is also an IT consultant available to answer technical questions at most times. There was a small ready reference collection by the desk. The reference room with a reference collection comparable to ours was off of the main hall. At the other end of the main hall was a passage to the Scholars Lab. This is a new area with high end computers, scanners and other equipment. It is used by students and faculty to create digital projects. My friend Dr. Benjamin Ray had worked with this lab to scan and XML code the transcripts of the Salem witch trials and had used the GIS system to locate the proximity of the accusers and accused. Barbara and I talked to the woman working there and she explained that is was a joint effort between the library and IT. Specialized IT help was split between this lab that mostly helps with digitizing and GIS projects, while the scientific software experts went to the science library. The quiet study area was two stories below in the former rare book area – with dark paneling, comfortable furniture, and old style feel like in our Meader Room.

The Clemons Library is the undergraduate library and we just had time to peek in the first floor main room. The room was full and bustling and Barbara and I thought it rather loud. The room was one large open space with different pods for computers, comfortable chairs, and tables. Along one wall were booths with padded seating and a table for working. As you walked in, there was a circulation/information desk – which acted as both circulation and reference. In the middle of the room was an IT consultant’s desk, which was not staffed at the time (8:30pm), and the reference person complained about them constantly changing their schedule. On one side was a Reserves desk.

My faculty friend said everyone was very happy with the library. They get books delivered to their offices, and he talked of a Tool Kit, which I later found out was a home grown course management software, that lets faculty create their own online coursepacks/course reserves. They have also negotiated for lower prices on journals with the help of lawyers.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

More stories about New Orleans in general

I was not aware that New Orleans is also suffering drought. How ironic. They’ve had 30 inches less rain than usual since Hurricane Rita, according to my cousin. This produces various effects, besides the burned out yards, that were previously so lushly green. There are visible holes in the ground in places. The roads are buckling, as the underlying earth dries out, the road surfaces drop unevenly creating some amazing pot holes.

Lots of little things just haven’t been a priority. Many road sign are missing, so I was often unsure what street I was on or was crossing. Along St. Charles Street I was pleasantly surprised that many of the stately live oaks have survived – lost some branches, but still standing, but driving home at night I noticed a lot of the street lights were missing. I can't imagine what it was like when there was no power and the roads were full of debris.

My cousin took me around his property one day. What was once a jungle is quite bare, but with plenty of piles of brush and debris. Many trees were lost, including one they were hoping would come down. Only a couple of big trees are left: two cypresses and a pine – all of them leaning the way the wind pushed them.

One spot was especially bare, where the tornado had touched down. I didn’t realize the hurricane was full of tornadoes too. A shed was destroyed, and the garage, which was partially falling in, had the roof totally cave in, though the walls were kept up by vines.

The four foot swimming pool has totally evaporated in this drought. My cousin showed me where the roof of the house next door had blown into the yard and onto the fence. Surprisingly the maze of gardenia bushes seems to have survived.

The amount of clearing they have had to do is amazing. He has gone through four chain-saws and has had numerous relatives and friends help. The downed trees were a factor in not getting robbed, as no one could get to their house.

The house itself sustained roof damage, so it leaked through and damaged many things. The small back porch that was crushed by a fallen tree has been replaced by a more substantial back porch, which is now full of plants, but also an area for the cats. One of the rooms upstairs has been redone – in lilac with a sky blue ceiling. The ceiling has been raised to the roof – giving a more spacious feel.

One morning I helped my cousin and his lady inventory her Barbie and other collectible doll boxes. With the damage to the original boxes, the dolls will have lost their value. So I was describing Barbie doll boxes – year, edition, item #, value, like cataloging books. I actually got a bit intrigued, but not enough to try a hand at collecting something like this myself.

The other thing that I am sure has suffered in this post Katrina period is relationships. I saw that with my cousin. The stresses of loss, instability of jobs and life, lack of services, finances, dealing with insurance, FEMA, and tons of paperwork can be overwhelming and put a strain on the best of relationships.

Just a quick example about finances: they have bee allotted $15,000 for clean-up of their yard and that has long since been spent. My cousin has put in all his savings, small inheritance, bonus, and paychecks. She has spent all of her insurance money, savings, and cashed in CD’s. And there is a lot more to be done. I wish them well.

Lance was lucky - some roof damage, but no water got into the house, though the refrigerator had to be hauled out to the side of the road, and I'm sure there was damage outside. So I saw the range from a little damage, to major damage, to total loss.

Monday, July 03, 2006

ALA - Exhibits

I spent quite a few hours in the exhibits, including time getting a few signed books and picking up quite a few free galley proofs (the pile is in the Reference office for anyone to read, but please return them.) Below are notes on some things that were related to my work and may impact our library as a whole.

Russian/International/Multicultural materials
I’ll have to talk to Bettina on how we are developing our international and multi-cultural collection that supports various programs and could support internationalization across the curriculum.
East View – we can have a minimal selection plan with them. I will have to talk to Dasha Nisula, and maybe some of the local Russian community, what we should order.
Russia Online is another one of the major vendors for Russian materials. They had an interesting encyclopedia of Russian military equipment and tour books for Ukraine.
SpeakEasy provides a series of books called Survival Spanish. We have been talking in the International Ed. Council about the need for courses that teach a professional enough of a language, to be able deal with clients, without learning all about the grammar, etc. Speak Easy has been teaching courses to health care workers, bankers, construction folk, and many others. The course materials have evolved into books and CD’s. I’ve talked to Maria about this.
Multicultural Books and Videos (in Michigan!) – I picked up the main catalogs from this company, that covers Arabic, Chinese, Farsi/Persian, French, German, Haitian-Creole, Hmong, Italian, Korean, Languages of India, Polish, Portugese, Romanian, Russian, Somali, Spanish, Tagalog, Turkish, and Vietnamese, with dictionaries available in more languages, and contacts to get to materials in even more languages.

Other things to possibly order
PREP Publishing has a series of Real-Resumes for X (various different fields)
was an interesting American art database.
College Prowler
publishes guides and grades for 200 top colleges and some regional guides based on student evaluations. I think we should get a few, at least the ones for UofM, MSU, Chicago schools, Ivy League, Big 10.

Chat Reference
has an Ask a Librarian service that can work in tandem with our own – they would cover hours we were not available.
is still out there from OCLC to help provide 24/7 reference.

Audio Books
is a new system of listening. It works like an I-pod and all the controls are right on the book.
carries a lot of classics.

There were many vendors offering RFID services. I stopped to talk to just one of them. They showed me how a chip that looks like a regular paper sticker is inserted into each book – like our current bar codes, and is used for inventory purposes as well as much quicker check-out, allowing self-checkout. I saw the check-out stations and they reminded me of the self-ticketing machines in airports. I did not ask about price, because I knew it would be high, but this vendor said he had a library that found that their RFID system paid for itself in two years. (Must have been a small library.)
Koha, an open source ILS system? We have other experts here at ALA, and we probably have too much invested with Endeavor, but it was interesting to see an open source system available for library use. Plus, LibLime, the vendor helping people adapt Koha, is based in Athens, OH, an old stomping ground of mine.

Random items
Drop boxes – I asked a drop box vendor about students using it as a garbage bin, and was told that doesn’t occur very much. Some boxes even have slots for liquids or small objects to fall through in a separate space from the books. Prices from this one company ranged from $1700 - $6000 per drop box.
I asked MLA vendors to pass on my request for abstracts in their indexing. They seemed surprised and thought the esoteric subject headings they add were adequate.
Google had a much more substantial booth than last year – showing services to librarians that they could use. I learned more about their services like Book Search, Google Earth, Google News, etc. and I picked up a couple of CD’s with downloads of some of their services. I liked the way they had us fill out a quiz – to see if we knew the details of their services, and only after we had verified our answers with someone, we could get a prize.
I briefly talked to a representative from Family Search, one of the three large genealogy search services from Utah, but the only one that is free.
I stopped by at the Endeavor booth, but got an inexperienced rep. I just wanted to see where they have gone with their federated searching (now called Discovery: Finder). I know others are researching federated searching and ERM for us, so I didn’t dwell on it.
Rebuild New Orleans Public Library
– the most heart wrenching experience at a booth was talking to the people from the New Orleans Public Library. They do not expect to see NOPL back to “normal” during their work careers. There is no longer a tax base for them to get funding, and a small percentage of the staff (I think it was something like 40) are trying to run all current open branches. I bought a T-shirt and buttons to support them.

Friday, June 30, 2006

ALA - Assessment preconference

The most valuable thing for me, as I had already predicted, was the day long pre-conference on assessment. This nicely covered different aspects of library assessment. When I asked Lisa Hinchliffe how much overlap there was going to be with the Library Assessment conference in Charlottesville, VA in September, she said almost none.

The introduction was given by Fred Heath of University of Texas - Austin Libraries. He was one of the developers of LibQual and was able to give us the background of ServQual, the theory behind it, and how LibQual grew out of that. The perceptions of our users are important - their perceptions of their needs and how the feel their institution provides for this need. I now understood why it was important that this can't be done by a single institution alone. Results from numerous institutions need to be gathered, so you can see how your institution rates compared to others. It was interesting to hear all this from the horse's mouth, so to speak.

Dave Baca from the University of Arizona had just defended his PhD thesis on using interviews for assessment purposes and was able to tell us the ins and outs of working with interviews. The hardest and most tedious part of the process is the coding of the responses, but it provides a wealth of in-depth information. This process can also be used for focus groups.

Lisa Hinchliffe from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was engaging and informative, as usual. She talked about collecting and using instruction data to improve library instruction.

The most practically useful presentation for me was the one on developing surveys. David Consiglio from Bryn Mawr College gave good suggestions on how to plan, create, test and implement a survey. I was intrigued by some of the simple guidelines he gave in creating good survey questions. It was fund to look at the various assessment surveys we got that day and throughout the conference and find what could have been improved.

Usability testing was covered by Brian Quigley from Univ. of California Berkeley Engineering Library. None of the information was new, but a good refresher on what usability testing should be like. It was interesting to see some of the user specific idiosyncrasies on their site. Since this is for the engineering library, they listed the acronyms for all of the different engineering departments. The rest of us might not know them, but they do, and for outsiders they provided the full name in a mouse-over, but it kept the home page clean and manageable.

Peggy Johnson from the University of Minnesota told us about assessing collections. She mostly talked about the different statistics one can gather to make collection development decisions and that LibQual will always show that some (mostly faculty) think we don't have enough.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Best ideas from ALA

1. Ongoing training - We could survey employees for what they would like to learn about and have regular training sessions. Bring in people from other institutions, if necessary (could be from down the road), and use inhouse knowledge. U of M has formalized this into their Instructor College. We should also keep an eye on what they are doing and there could be sessions we could attend too.

2. Coordinate library surveys - Survey fatigue happens when people are asked to respond to too many surveys, so we should do some planning on what we want to find out from which people and how often we will do this. If we are targeting teaching faculty, we should look at the best time to reach them.

3. Good teaching methods used on me –
a. The ACRL President’s Program on Information Literacy was presented with a lot of humor and goofy “interludes” between semi-serious presentations. We laughed a lot, but we were engaged and I think it made us think more about the issues.
b. Google was handing out prizes in it’s booth, but only after you took a quiz on Google services and checked your answers with Google employees that were each demonstrating some aspect of Google. The quiz was hard, but I really did learn more about what they have to offer.

On FEMA trailers

(Written June 22 in New Orleans) I am having the privilege of staying in an official FEMA trailer. My cousin, whose house was damaged, but not in any major way, has a FEMA trailer, which they are using as a storage place (until they can get all parts of their house usable) and guest room. The trailer is great for me – I have a nice double bed to sleep in, my own kitchenette and a toilet sink and even a shower, if I could squeeze into it. The toilet space is equivalent to those on airplanes. The air conditioning works well, which is a must in this humidly hot climate. The FEMA guys hook the trailer up to electric, water and sewer, so it is fully functioning. For one person staying a few days, this is luxury, bet when I think of whole families trying to live here, I don’t see how they do it. There technically is room to sleep 6 – the double, one couch-bed, the kitchen table/benches can become a bed, and then there are two bunk beds tucked away in a corner. We couldn’t figure out how even a kid would get up into the upper bunk as there is no ladder or footholds. The feel is much more RV than trailer (I lived in a trailer for three years in the back woods of SE Ohio.)
But when ones home has been destroyed, this is a roof over your head – clean, cool (up north we’d be more concerned with warm), a place to get out of the elements and to store a few essential items – not much. As I drove around New Orleans, especially the devastated parts of it, I realized the sight of a FEMA trailer was a sign of hope. If a FEMA trailer was set up in someone’s yard, it meant someone was working on fixing up their house. FEMA trailers were found in front of large beautiful homes as well as small modest houses. But most of the houses in the devastated neighborhoods were just deserted. Some were boarded up, some, you could see that they had been gutted – wall studs were visible through the often broken windows. In many places there were still piles of junk – everything cleared out of the homes – furniture, rugs, clothing - everything people owned. Wonder how much they could salvage?
My cousin’s book store was a total loss – it had been in a couple of feet of water, and other than the money in the safe (which had gotten wet and needed to be laundered) everything was removed and disposed of by the haz-mat team. I keep forgetting how foul the water was – full of sewage and dead materials dangerous to everyone’s health.(Individuals were taught to wear masks, gloves, boots, etc. when cleaning out their houses.) My cousin’s store was also totally gutted, the only thing remaining was the old, somewhat rusty safe. The bookstore has new fixtures, carpet, walls, ceiling tiles, wiring – everything. My cousin is working hard getting all the new stock up on the shelves for opening on July 3 – over 10 months after the disaster. There was no use in opening it any sooner, as the med students were still in Houston.
Another interesting word around here is “compromised.” Can you imagine the nightmare of insurance claims around here? The items listed for insurance don’t need to necessarily be “ruined” or “destroyed”, but just “compromised.” So if your VCR isn’t working quite right after the storm, you can claim it as “compromised,” and get money for a new one. But other interesting things are happening. With all the repair work going on, building inspectors are coming out to look at properties, and they are not always up to code. So before the insurance company is willing to insure my cousin’s house again, they have to bring the electrical wiring up to code. In a sense this is a good thing, but they have to pay for this themselves. The garage is being rebuilt with insurance money, but much of the other things come out of their own pocket. With the incredibly high demand for building materials, the price of them has skyrocketed. I got the sense that they have spent their life savings in getting things back to normal, and are now starting to go into debt. All the paperwork and financial stress on top of all the losses is incredibly hard on people. I just saw a microcosm of it in my cousin’s house. I didn’t feel much like partying after being with them.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

American Library Association Conference in New Orleans

This was the first time there was a significant connection between the conference I was attending and its location. ALA was the first large conference theat New Orleans had tried hosting since Hurricane Katrina. I think we were all proud to be part of ALA, which chose to keep its conference in New Orleans and we all participated in whatever small way we could to help rebuild the city. This was emphasized in the opening session by ALA president Michael Gorman. Were were also greeted by New Orleans major Ray Nagin and Louisiana Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu. Nagin encouraged us to forget our diets and pay the New Orleans tax at the casino.

Madeline Albright as the keynote speaker was just plain awesome. She started with her appreciation of librarians and their role in the fight for the freedom of speech and access to information. She then went into the topic of her latest book
The Mighty & the Almighty, about the role religion plays in global politics. I regret not buying the book and getting her to sign it.

I liked the new format of many sessions, where the panel or presentation was quite short and was followed by poster sessions pertaining to the topic. This was much better than the mass of poster sessions in the exhibit hall about everything under the sun.

Dinner at Lance's house was delightful. All of the WMU contingent was there, even those who never did experience Lance as our dean. Luche had made a wonderful jambalaya with veggies and salad. The flan and chocolate covered strawberries disappeared quickly. I was happy to hear that their house, though affected, hadn't suffered any water damage. But the story of the Tulane library was much more sobering. Lance was a natural choice for speaking about disaster preparedness at the conference.