Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Born Analog

Siva Vaidhyanathan writes in the Chronicle of Higher Ed to gently but firmly disabuse us of the notion of the digital generation, on two counts. 1) They're not all digital, whether due to lack of access or interest; and 2) "generation" is a fairly empty concept anyway.

The article is a good reminder to be thoughtful about which new technologies we adopt in our libraries, and how we do it. Students aren't all demanding them as fast as we think.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Faculty status is about freedom.

ACRLog has a recent post on the old chestnut of whether academic librarians are or should be "real faculty." This go-round was prompted by Daphnee Rentfrow's essay "Groundskeepers, Gatekeepers, and Guides: How to Change Faculty Perceptions of Librarians and Ensure the Future of the Research Library" in the new report No Brief Candle: Reconceiving Research Libraries for the 21st Century. Rentfrow argues that misperception by faculty is the biggest challenge facing research libraries, and that MLIS programs aren't helping to meet it.

StevenB at ACRLog takes Rentfrow to task for providing solutions that are unoriginal and vague, and he's right that she doesn't provide a lot of actionable steps to take - it's hard to be concrete in combating a vague sense of disdain.

On the other hand, StevenB misses the mark entirely. He argues that we need to prove our faculty status by buckling down and getting on with instruction. In my R1 experience, those faculty that look down on librarians look down on teaching equally: teaching is for grad students and adjuncts. (Note that both adjunct lecturers and librarians are disproportionately likely to be women.)

I propose a different logic about why academic librarians need faculty status:
1. The purpose of faculty status is tenure.
2. The purpose of tenure is to protect academic freedom.
3. Librarians need academic freedom protections.

The commitment to intellectual and academic freedom is in our professional DNA. The ALA Code of Ethics binds us to "uphold the principles of intellectual freedom and resist all efforts to censor library resources." Librarians were willing to risk jail time to oppose sections of the Patriot Act. And I think that an argument that the people developing and preserving your research collections need political cover to include unpopular ideas can appeal to even some of the most inflated egos among the research faculty.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Laptop Security

Lifehacker has a set of useful tips about how users can secure their laptops from theft when they're out in public. Since the library is one place on campus where laptops are often left unattended, what can we as librarians do to help students hang on to one of their most valuable possessions?

First of all, I think we should promote laptop locks. (Both Lifehacker and one of the commenters endorse this Kensington lock.) If the library has an affiliated bookstore or coffee shop, why not sell the locks there?

Secondly, we should coordinate with campus security. Many campuses offer, for example, laptop engraving, so owners can put their initials or ID number on the computer. (Here's an example, of the services offered by the University of Missouri-Columbia police department.)

Finally, we need to do outreach and reminders on these options. Not just during orientation, when students are overwhelmed, but as ongoing concern. How about adding these reminders to the bottom of webpages and handouts that tell students how to set up proxy servers or VPNs? Those are guaranteed to reach new computer owners.

Libraries should be a source of all kinds of useful information - and we want to be associated with good memories, not "where stuff gets stolen." Let's just help make these precautions things routine and easy.
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Libri & Libertas: Books & Freedom in a Web 2.0 World by Laura H. Wimberley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - Noncommercial - Share Alike 3.0 United States License.