The Ambivalent Librarian

About six months ago I wrote about the perception of professionalism in libraries. About three months ago I began a post with the above title. That post was begun at a point of emotional nadir in which my depression had had a significant resurgence. I was in fear of losing my job, and I really didn’t know what I was doing in the profession anymore. Fortunately, that time has passed and I have since deleted all of the content from that depressive would-be post.

Why Am I an Ambivalent Librarian?

I was twenty-six years old and halfway through my undergraduate degree when I began working in my first library job. Over the next two years I began to really enjoy the environment and the work I was doing and decided to make libraries my new career. I knew that for the best paying and most career advancing jobs I’d have to get a Master’s degree in Library Science. But, as I looked around at the librarians and paraprofessionals I worked closely with I saw no significant difference in the work they were doing. Even my department head was little better than a retail manager. What then was the purpose of a library degree? Later, I worked at a local public library, where again, the librarians in charge were little better than retail management and they did many of the same tasks as the paraprofessional staff. What was the degree good for? Later, still, I got my first full-time library job at a university library and again, I couldn’t tell what was so special about the library science degree. As far as I could tell, all of the specialized work that was being done — in the front of house, at least — was stuff that was relatively easy to learn through one-on-one instruction and trial and error. Now, I was never involved in library instruction, subject selecting, and the like, but I still didn’t see what was so important about that library degree.

I did see that I was never ever going to get a better job without it, though.

I enrolled in library school and spent the next four years mostly complaining about the lack of depth and generally low instructor expectations from something that claimed to be a Master’s degree. I was not a happy student and did not make many friends in that time. With only a few exceptions I felt that I was required to work much harder as an undergraduate than a graduate student, which seems upside-down to me. Furthermore, I was learning that that for so many jobs in academic libraries one was expected to have a second Master’s degree in a certain subject. Still, the question persisted, what was the purpose or use of a Master’s degree in Library and Information Science?

I Call It “Librarian Hazing.”

It’s the gauntlet; the basic training, of a profession that rarely looks like what is presented in the classroom. I’ve talked to librarians from all across the country who went to any number of library programs. Some, seem to had wonderful and challenging experiences in library school that they are grateful for. Others, like me, had disappointing experiences that really put into question the value of the whole process. I, for one, think the whole thing is done incorrectly.

I’d endorse a medieval-style apprenticeship program that placed a novitiate in the library on day one in which they develop skills based on actual library work, rather than relying on textbooks and theory. Textbooks and theory are important, of course, but can’t convey the realities of the work. Ever. This approach would not only make better librarians, but also stem the market flood of inexperienced library graduates that hit the streets every year. This would also greatly extend the time required to train librarians and be so relationship-based — rather than classroom-based — that it would be financially unfeasible for universities to implement. So this won’t happen, but it’s a dream.

When I began thinking about librarianship as a career, I was thinking of getting into ILL or cataloging (i.e. back of house operations), but by the time I was half-way through my librarian education I had realized that while I do have a cataloger’s brain and could be very successful in that kind of work, that the lack of variety and patron interaction were something that I’d miss. I’d accidentally become a public services (i.e. front of house) librarian. I couldn’t have made that change without direct experience in the field.

I would get very frustrated with classmates — who usually were lovely people — who seemed to enter library school on a whim; who did not or had never worked in a library. People who seemed to have romantic notions of what library work was like and saw it as the greener grass on the other side of the septic tank. Library schools, by not being able to provide these people with hands-on work, only did these people an expensive disservice. I wanted to shake them by their shoulders and tell them that they were wasting their time and their money, especially when they would look you in the face and say they could never relocate from their tiny Missouri town because they had children or whichever honorably sentimental excuse they were using.

After I received my Master’s degree it took me two years to get another job, and even that one only required a high-school diploma. I’m still not a “professional” librarian by industry standards, regardless of the work I perform. The reasons it took me that long to get a job are complex and we can’t ignore the significance of sheer dumb luck, but there are two relevant professional reasons that my job search was longer than advertised:

  1. I had no full-time employee management experience (student assistants only).
  2. I had never been a teacher.

Lack of management and teaching experience disqualified me from ninety percent of the jobs out there. If a decade’s experience as a student assistant and paraprofessional weren’t enough to qualify me for librarian job after achieving my master’s degree, my wistful classmates wouldn’t have a prayer.

So, we have a situation in which the library degree, by itself, is not enough for the best-paying, most advancing careers, and is sometimes seen as secondary to your other Master’s degree. Furthermore, librarian education is uneven, at best. Yet, we have this culture that only says your a “real” librarian if you been through the MLIS degree process. Library school is truly librarian hazing: an expensive, difficult, and time consuming process with few tangible rewards.

That’s Library School, Yeah, but the Work…

The work. I really like the work. I get frustrated like anyone else, but I get to come to work every day and work with college students on both sides of the desk. I get to work with these remarkable and ambitious people and be a small part of their education. With the youngest of them who work for me I get to be a small part of finishing their journey to adulthood. I get to support my amazing colleagues who are teaching research skills and information literacy. I get to lean on talented technicians making sure the information is findable.

The thing about the work, though, is that it is largely moving away from what is stereotypically seen as library work. The traditional reference desk is dying the slow painful death of suburban shopping malls as more and more information is readily accessible online. SMS and Chat services mean that many questions about library access can be managed from any computer. With the advent of RFID tagging and self-checkout stations, plus, tablets and web-based circulation software the traditional circulation desk will soon begin to die out as the reference desk has. Neither will disappear completely, but if you can purchase an iMac at the Apple store without a cash register, then why do we need a massive piece of furniture dedicated to book circulation or ready reference consultation?

My colleagues in the back of the house are performing work more akin to a computer scientist than the catalogers of the past. Newer features like makerspaces and whole departments like my library’s new “Knowledge Production” group are asking fundamental questions about what an academic library can or should be. We’re putting in audio and video production studios, video editing suites, 3D printers, and a GIS lab. None of this is covered in any library school I’ve ever heard of. It’s almost like the term “librarian” doesn’t mean anything anymore. That’s not bad or good. It is just reality.

I’m an ambivalent librarian because I see the wonderful work and true value of us dedicating our professional lives to ensure students and faculty have access to the resources they need to be successful in their studies, but I also see the anachronistic approach to librarian education and credentials that do not reflect the future — or even the present — of the profession.

Girl in Grief

Things They Don’t Teach in Library School: Part 1, Collective Grieving

It is a dark time for the library. A few months ago, one of my employees –a woman in her early forties — was diagnosed with colon cancer. This week we learned that she has passed away. I only knew the woman for a short time, but she was a quiet and kind person whom I could approach for an informed opinion both about library issues and management questions. While she technically worked for me, she had a lot of retail management experience that I was beginning to consult and utilize. I had looked forward to her being a vital part of my team for some time. Her loss is profoundly felt both personally and professionally.

After some confusion when the news first broke, the library administration was able to inform all of the staff members, and we are working to inform all of our student assistants. When the news finally did break we were told that at her request there would be no arrangements. This causes a bit of a practical problem, however. While the decent thing to do is to respect the family’s wishes, we are grieving as well as they are. Perhaps, not as deeply, but grieving just the same. We are in need of achieving closure with her loss no less than her family is. What do we do? How do we cope?

Administration is reminding us what campus facilities are available to us — for both employees and students — and we are already discussing what can be organized within the library that will give people the opportunity to pay their respects to our lost coworker and give everyone an outlet for their grief. The idea at this time is to have an in-house memorial event in which individuals can talk about their memories of her, sign cards, and provide gifts for the family.

This is one of those things they don’t teach in library school. How could they? Why would they? No one plans for the death of an employee or coworker. Even though we knew she was sick, and knew it was serious, we never imagined that it would have happened as quickly as it did.

As an undergrad I took a Death and Dying class that, while I had great difficulty with the instructor, has ended up being one of the most valuable classes I’ve ever taken in my life. While in that class we learned about the grief spectrum and how people manage that differently. Once I found out that the news about my employee was real I began looking for resources on how to deal with this situation as a manager. Most of the resources I found were about loosing a coworker and the grief process generally. However, Stanford University’s Faculty/Staff Help Center has a much needed resource available to us. It describes effects on individuals, coping strategies, and tips for supervisors, as well as other outside resources.

Just a few days into our own grieving process I feel that we are handling it well. Due to the fact that our lost colleague was a very reserved person, and the fact that we’re a better working group than a social one we are operating as best as can be expected. Her work had already been delegated to others as she dealt with her illness, and the sadness we feel has thus far been manageable. I, as a manager, must keep aware of changes in my employees and colleagues as they deal with the loss. Individuals may be emotional or short tempered, and there is no time limit on grief. Weeks may go by without outward signs of trouble, and then a seemingly innocuous event may trigger an emotional outburst. The most important thing I can do is give people the room they need to process their grief as they require.

Why Did My Job Exist?: Decline of Consortial Monograph Circulation at University of Missouri St. Louis, 2011-2016

In the spring of 2016 I was enrolled in the University of Missouri’s School of Information Science & Learning Technology’s (SISLT) Online Education certificate program. I was only in the program for that one semester before taking a new job in a new state that made it financially impossible to continue with that certificate program since I was no longer getting the 75% employee discount on in-state tuition. One of the classes I was taking was called “Digital Humanities” (DH). This class introduced me to that field of study and had me thinking about switching enrollments into the DH certificate program they were just about to launch. That class required a final project and ultimately resulted in the largest and most professional product I ever created for SISLT, and this is after I’d graduated with their Master’s in Library Science degree in May 2015.

What follows is a version of that final project edited for this format.


Introduction

While working in consortial lending for the University of Missouri St. Louis (UMSL) I was on the front line in the decline of monograph circulation in academic libraries. Not surprisingly, consortial usage of monographs have declined along with traditional monograph circulation. To what extent has monograph circulation declined in the consortial lending practices at UMSL? What might be the cause of this decline? What I propose to do in this project is show how drastically usage has declined over the years, even with the addition of consortium members and cooperative agreements with other consortia, using a selection of infographics and examine what may be the cause of this decline.

Key patterns in monograph usage can be reflected and culled by examining consortial usage statistics. This case study is based on the UMSL experience with the MOBIUS consortium and courier services. This is a snapshot of a larger and more complex system that interacts with other consortia.

Traditionally, lending has been a type of yardstick used by libraries to judge their effectiveness and relevance. Much like the number of volumes a library holds, this yardstick may no longer be effective or particularly meaningful in measuring a particular library’s value. The broader ramifications of such a decline in consortial lending may call into question the very need or purpose of library consortia.

This study is restricted to the perspective of UMSL and its relationship to the MOBIUS, Mid-America Library Alliance (MALA), Amigos, and Colorado Alliance (i.e. Alliance) consortia. However, the author feels that this perspective may be relevant to and representative of national trends in consortial lending broadly. This study is confined to the official statistics provided by the MOBIUS consortium and the data gathered by myself and my student assistants at UMSL. While total circulation numbers and the number of full-time equivalency (FTE) students or public library users at the various connected institutions are relevant to this problem, those factors will not be considered in this study.

Background

Founded in 1998, MOBIUS is a 501 (c)(3) organization that serves seventy-five academic, public, and special libraries. MOBIUS contracts with Stat Courier to be transport requested items. The courier connects the MOBIUS system with non-MOBIUS member libraries and two other courier systems. Primarily, this arrangement allows MOBIUS libraries to easily transport our items to the Mid-America Library Alliance (MALA) libraries which give us access to most Missouri public libraries. Since summer 2014, they also have a working agreement among MOBIUS, our courier, the Amigos consortium, and the Colorado Alliance (i.e. Alliance) consortium.

When I took over the consortia lending duties for UMSL in 2010 there was no reliable way to track usage and courier shipments available to me. This forced me to devise my own system beginning in 2011. During the years 2011-2014 the data was maintained in a series of simple Microsoft Excel files containing fields for date, destination, bag number (i.e. container bar code), item barcode, and a notes field for issues of ambiguity. Frustrated that, given my level of familiarity with Excel, it was still more difficult to keep reliable statistics in this method than I would have liked. I decided to adapt the multiple Excel files into single Microsoft Access file to give me greater ability to track usage. This also allowed me to standardize nomenclature and formatting.

The Access database contains two tables. One is a master list of all libraries served by the system of couriers which the various consortia service. The second table is a recreation of the previously established Excel files. Data from 2011-2014 has been integrated into the Access database as new information is added daily as part of the outgoing shipment processing procedures.

Daily, the number of containers used per location is collected. Monthly, data is compiled on the total number of items sent through the courier service per location. Also monthly, data is collected on usage within the MOBIUS consortium, specifically. This data is compiled by the MOBIUS consortium and collected by the consortial lending supervisor for use in an annual report to library superiors. Those superiors are strictly concerned with the total MOBIUS usage numbers. The rest of the statistics are used to determine how many shipping labels to print for a given library and if a given library uses the system enough to justify their own sorting shelf in my work space. The data also serves as a check on processes in regards to patrons’ return claims, or in-transit-too-long issues between UMSL and its partner libraries. Since contracting with the Stat courier in 2016, they can also use the bag numbers to track specific shipments.

Literature Review

Performing a literature review for this project has been rather difficult. In the resources available to me I can find very little literature to support the idea that monograph circulation has been declining over recent years, much less the causes for it. O’Neil’s and Gammon’s “Consortial Book Circulation Patterns: The OCLC-OhioLINK Study” (2014) had a promising title, but the study was of monograph usage over a single calendar year and measured frequency of use, duplication levels, obsolescence rates, etc., but did not address monograph circulation over a number of years. Cheung’s and Chung’s “Monograph Circulation Over a 15-Year Period in a Liberal Arts University” (2011) again held a promising title, but this article concentrated on usage from a collection development standpoint instead of access services, interlibrary loan, or cosortial lending. They conclude, among other things, that not all books acquired by a library circulate within the first fifteen years of acquisition and that books as young as five years may be considered for removal to a remote storage site. Table 4 in this article does seem to reinforce the notion of declining circulation however showing the decline of volumes with checkouts ranging generally downward between 1995 (21,338 volumes) and 2009 (12,366 volumes), but volumes with checkouts is not the same as total checkouts over several years. In 2016, Rose-Wiles and Irwin take as a matter of course a decade of declining monograph circulation. This study, again with a collection development bent, attempts to revive the practice of measuring in-house usage of books to determine their value to the collection, as well as their circulation. The same Rose-Wiles wrote in 2013 that Seton Hall University’s circulation rate dropped 23% between 2005 and 2009. This is in line with what my data shows and the anecdotal feeling around academic libraries. Rodriguez-Bravo and Rodriguez-Sedano (2016) looks at what library materials are being used and by whom over the course of two academic years, but does not address total circulation numbers of monographs. The single best source I’ve been able to find in the published literature is Martell’s “The Absent User: Physical Use of Academic Library Collections and Services Continues to Decline 1995-2006” (2008). Here, Martell sites other sources that show circulation at ARL and Ivy League libraries, ranging from an increase of 2% to a decrease of 58% depending on the type of library (Martell, Tables 1-2). His data comes from a variety of earlier sources, however and I have not been able to locate a similar study with more recent numbers. Moving from a database search to a web search, in 2012 the ACRL Tech Connect blog published “The End of Academic Library Circulation?” (Kurt) which posits that “by 2020 university libraries will no longer have circulation desks.” Kurt describes the drop in circulation as a function of the rise of e-books, yes, but more so in the change of library user behavior. Primarily in a graph titled “Circulation/User – PhD Granting Universities” which shows trend lines for average number of books checked out by patrons declining between 1995-2020 to hit zero on, or near, the year 2020. Library Journal published “Print on the Margins: Circulation Trends in Major Research Libraries” in June, 2011 (Anderson). Here, they stress the need to take into account FTE enrollment changes as one looks at total circulation rates. This typically means that the decline in circulation is even worse than a simple line graph can demonstrate. This paper will not consider FTE enrollments in its data.

Clearly, there is a significant hole in the research on these matters. None of the research I collected considered interlibrary or consortial lending practices as major features of their research. Universities were either measured individually, or in larger groups, but no serious consideration of either interlibrary or consortial lending usage trends were found.

Methodology

From January 2011 through December 2014 all data was collected into a series of Microsoft Excel files, each with a separate sheet for every month. Prior to that time, the only tracking that the University of Missouri St. Louis’ Thomas Jefferson Library performed consisted of filling out by hand a paper table on which was written the date, the destination, the bag number, and the number of items contained in the bag. This placed us in a position in which we could show that a number of items were sent to a particular location on a particular day, but we had no way to determine which items were sent. The January 2011 creation of the Excel files created a simple, efficient, and persistent way for us to keep better track of what we were shipping, and create better accountability for all parties involved.

Over the years this system served us well enough, however given my degree of familiarity with Excel, I was frustrated that the only way to cull statistics from this method was little better than hand counting every entry. Try as I might, I would still make errors in judging how much we sent to any given location at the end of a month or a year. Ultimately, I decided that I had to come up with a better and more reliable solution to this problem if I was going to be able to accurately account for MOBIUS and courier usage for Thomas Jefferson Library.

In the summer of 2014 I took it upon myself to learn Microsoft Access and created a database file to solve all of my needs. The database is made up of two tables. The first, entitled “Libraries Master List,” is a compiled list of every MOBIUS member library and every other library that our courier (then 1st Choice, now Stat) serves, plus the libraries served by the Trans-Amigos Express courier which services Amigos Libraries, and the COKAMO courier for the Colorado Alliance consortium. This table consists of fields for the library name, city, state, OCLC symbol, consortium symbol, Stat courier symbol, consortium name, and cluster name. A helpful byproduct of this table is that now there is a clear list of locations for which our traditional interlibrary loan services can utilize to determine if an item needs to be mailed or simply added to the courier pick-up which saves us a great deal in postage. As of May 2017, this table had 846 records to it. Of those 846 records, 258 locations had been utilized since January 2011.

Once this table was completed, I was able to create the second table, called simply “Outgoing,” which would contain the actual tracking data. This table mirrored the original Excel files providing fields for packing date, destination symbol (i.e. consortium symbol), bag number, barcode number, and a notes field to clear up any ambiguities. Of these fields only the notes field does not require data. The Symbol field in this table was tied to the Consortium Symbol field in the Libraries Master List table creating a standardized abbreviation for each location.

Beginning in January 2015, this database became the standard for tracking outgoing courier shipments for the library. It was not until the Spring of 2017 that I decided to back fill the database with the 2011-2014 data. After several weeks of laboriously copying and pasting data, and correcting formatting errors I finally completed the conversion in early April 2017. The database now contains more than six years of shipment data in a stable and sortable database for the culling of quantifications resulting in 99,005 records, to date of this writing. For the purposes of this project we will only consider the calendar years of 2011-2016 as they are the completed datasets equaling 96,213 entries.

In terms of creating the visuals to illustrate my data, I have tried a few different options Microsoft Excel provides chart and graph capabilities, which are functional, but don’t necessarily make for engaging presentation. I use those in the paper below. I made an effort to use Tableau Public, which, while provided better aesthetics than Excel, did not allow for the flexibility I needed in its free version. Ultimately, I’ve settled on Vengage.com for creating my visuals. This product offers the creative and technical features I require in a free platform. Vengage.com’s biggest handicap, however, is that in the free version the graphics are not downloadable, but are available to the public on the web.

Results

Starting from the widest possible view, we’ll begin by looking at the total number of items shipped from UMSL to our lending partners via our courier system, called C-Total. Right away we see a dramatic drop off in usage (Figure 1). In 2011, we shipped 22,018 items, versus in 2016 wherein we shipped 11,219 items. This is a reduction of 50.95%, or 10,799 individual items. In this time period the greatest reduction of usage happened between 2012 and 2013 which saw a reduction of 16.54%, or 3,277 items. The smallest reduction happened between 2015 and 2016 which saw a reduction of 8.51%, or 1,043 items.

C-Total

Figure 1

Those numbers include all Mobius requests, along with all courier service to MALA, Amigos, and Alliance destinations. But what if we narrowed our focus to just the Mobius member libraries (M-Total)? Not surprisingly, this data (Figure 2) approximates the C-Total data. The difference between 2011 and 2016 is 9,730, or a loss of 52.47%. The largest difference between them is again between 2012 and 2013 showing a drop off of 15.17%, or 2,809 items. The period with the lowest loss of usage this time between 2011 and 2012 with only a 9.57% loss, or 1,959 items.

Because this dataset comes directly from the Mobius Consortium Office, and they keep records differently than I do at UMSL, we can also look at the total numbers for borrowing vs. lending. The first thing that jumps out at anyone that sees this data is that UMSL has always been a net-lender. We always lend more items than our patrons request. Applying the same measures, we see that the difference in total number of items lent from UMSL to our Mobius partners between 2011 and 2016 is 4,850 items, or 56.84%. The greatest period of loss in lending request was between 2015 and 2016, with a loss of 14.84%, or 1,113 items. The least amount of loss was between 2011 and 2012 with a loss of 6.10%, or 686 items. In the borrowing statistics, the difference between 2011 and 2016 is 4,880, or 47.14%. The greatest loss was between 2012 and 2013 in which we lost 20.64% in borrowing requests, or 1,643 requests. The period of least loss was between 2013 and 2014 in which we lost only 9.31%, or 588 requests.

M-Total

Figure 2

We can break this data out into a monthly representation where we see the trends from year to year (Figure 3). This chart (M-Monthly) represents the monthly usage of strictly Mobius libraries over the six years. We can see that our highest usage came in January 2012 with 2,309 fulfilled requests, whereas our lowest usage was December 2016 with only 585 fulfilled requests. Over the course of the six years, the mean number of fulfilled requests is 1,272, with a median number of 1,169. In 2011, the highest usage was in March, with 2,173 fulfilled requests. Lowest was in December, with 951 requests. In 2012, the month with highest usage was January, with 2,309 fulfilled requests. The lowest was December with 784. In 2013, the month with highest usage was April, with 1,702 fulfilled requests. The lowest was December with 805. In 2014, the month with highest usage was January, with 1,469 fulfilled requests. The lowest was July with 793. In 2015, the month with highest usage was September, with 1,301 fulfilled requests. The lowest was December with 671. Finally, in 2016, the month with highest usage was February, with 1,174 fulfilled requests. The lowest was December with 585. Through the measured time period (Figure 4) the month with the largest average usage is January, with 1,673 fulfilled requests, while December is typically the least used month with only 767 fulfilled requests.

M-Monthly

Figure 3

 

M-Avg

Figure 4

Going back to the larger set of total courier usage we can get a picture of who has used the system the most over time (Figure 5). Of the total 96,213 items in our sample size it is unsurprising that our home Mobius consortium makes up the bulk of the usage with 92,176 total items, or 95.80% of the usage. Rounding out the totals, MALA used the system 3.45%. Amigos used the system 0.39%, and Alliance used it 0.36% of the total usage. One explanation for the scarcity of Amigos and Alliance usages is that neither system was partnered with Mobius or our couriers for the full six years. Amigos was first integrated in July 2014, while Alliance was integrated in August 2014.

ConsortiumUse

Figure 5

We can break this up further accounting for the various clusters (Figure 6) that make up the Mobius consortium. A cluster is a smaller service area within Mobius that is allowed to set cluster-specific rules within the Mobius organizational framework. These clusters tend to represent universities with similar organization structures or patron bases. For instance, UMSL is a member of the Merlin Cluster, which is made up of the libraries across the four University of Missouri campuses. The Archway cluster is a group of primarily community colleges that serve the St. Louis area, etc.

ClusterUse

Figure 6

You can see here that the Merlin cluster makes up more than half of the usage across the time frame, with 12.41% of usage made up of clusters that make up less than 2% of the total courier traffic moving through UMSL. If I were to break the Merlin cluster down within this chart you would see that the University of Missouri – Columbia (i.e. Mizzou or MU) provides approximately 50% of that 54.39%.

These numbers are all well and good, but what do they tell us about the drop off in courier usage over the years? To test this question I created an Excel table that displayed the relative percentage of cluster usage in percentages of the year’s total across all six years (Table 1). I then took a mean of each of those percentages for each cluster and performed a standard deviation of the percentages. The result was that there is almost no measureable deviation in the percentage of the total usage from year to year. This tells me that no one cluster or location is responsible for the loss of usage, but that the drop off is steady across the board.

 

2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 AVG STDEV
Alliance 0.00% 0.00% 0.00% 0.35% 0.98% 1.53% 0.96% 0.01
Amigos 0.00% 0.00% 0.00% 0.38% 0.89% 1.91% 1.06% 0.01
Archway 2.81% 2.71% 2.91% 2.78% 2.32% 2.59% 2.69% 0.00
Arthur 1.81% 1.87% 1.39% 1.52% 1.55% 1.65% 1.63% 0.00
Bridges 4.58% 4.13% 4.77% 4.87% 4.00% 4.23% 4.43% 0.00
Explore 0.00% 0.10% 0.45% 0.35% 0.43% 0.43% 0.35% 0.00
Galahad 1.74% 1.46% 1.49% 1.45% 1.46% 1.32% 1.49% 0.00
Iowa 0.00% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00% 0.00% 0.11% 0.11% 0.00
Kansas City 1.76% 1.77% 1.66% 1.95% 1.59% 1.91% 1.77% 0.00
Lance 2.81% 2.36% 2.11% 1.95% 2.10% 2.32% 2.27% 0.00
MALA 3.24% 3.50% 3.40% 4.30% 3.52% 2.71% 3.44% 0.01
Merlin 55.05% 56.44% 54.70% 52.33% 51.06% 47.15% 52.79% 0.03
Mobius Managed 0.00% 0.03% 0.05% 0.01% 0.07% 0.02% 0.04% 0.00
Non-Voting 0.14% 0.35% 0.29% 0.43% 0.68% 0.76% 0.44% 0.00
Quest 1.83% 1.79% 1.71% 1.32% 1.50% 1.56% 1.62% 0.00
SGCL 3.71% 3.44% 4.20% 4.78% 5.08% 6.17% 4.56% 0.01
SLU 4.78% 4.49% 5.01% 4.38% 4.14% 4.72% 4.59% 0.00
SCCL 1.31% 1.57% 1.72% 1.95% 1.82% 2.00% 1.73% 0.00
Swan 3.94% 3.69% 4.12% 3.94% 3.76% 3.60% 3.84% 0.00
TCCL 0.00% 0.00% 0.00% 1.08% 2.82% 3.73% 1.27% 0.02
Towers 1.56% 1.53% 1.33% 1.36% 1.24% 1.29% 1.38% 0.00
WashU 8.92% 8.78% 8.69% 8.49% 8.98% 8.30% 8.69% 0.00

Table 1

Analysis & Conclusion

The data suggests that there is an irreversible decline in monograph usage through consortial lending. One of the few aspects of my findings that is reassuring is that the curve in the decline is shallowing (Figure 1). Usage is declining less over time. In part, this is due to the ever-increasing cooperative agreements and membership which the Mobius consortium has negotiated since 2014. Comparing the relative usage numbers between 2011 and 2016 the greatest area of stability providing growth is the inclusion of more public libraries, specifically Springfield-Greene County [Missouri] Library (SGCL), Tulsa [Oklahoma] City-County Library (TCCL), and St. Charles City-County [Missouri] Library (SCCL). However, this cannot provide sufficient usage to stem the ebbing tide in overall usage.

Looking at the M-Monthly graph I also find something reassuring in the flattening of the yearly curves. It tells me that while usage will continue to decline that there is a basement to the decline somewhere above zero. I don’t have the statistical skills to predict this basement, but I am hopeful that we are nearing it.

If I may speculate, and given the lack of published material on the matter I must, I see the decline in usage to have a three-fold cause. One is that circulation desks are seeing dwindling usage numbers across academia. Two is that the rise of e-book licenses purchased by universities and consortia are increasing exponentially, making the traffic of physical monographs less and less necessary. And thirdly, that the ever-growing number of libraries available in the Mobius consortium are spreading out the availability of titles. More items in more libraries would naturally create a circumstance in which any particular library’s individual holdings are less important than before.

Let it not be said that consortial lending, or even monograph lending more broadly, is dead. There is an unarguable reduction of monograph circulation, certainly. However, I find it hard to believe that Kurt’s prediction that by 2020 no academic library will not need a circulation desk. This sounds to me like the 1990’s prediction that in the future offices will not use paper. It is now 2017 and I still print pages daily, and I bet you do, too. Predictions like this I believe are short-sighted and inevitably erroneous. All doomsday predictions have one thing in common – they’ve all been wrong. The end of the world has been predicted many times and we’re all still here. The light bulb did not make fire obsolete, but simply made it a niche tool for specific purposes. This is the future I see for monographs. There will always be a need or desire for printed material through which one can flip and peruse. However, they will become specialized items for specific user groups or keepsake nostalgic items. The future of a position like mine is in much doubt, though. In the very near future no library will need a person dedicated to nothing more than consortial lending. In fact, at this moment, I am the only person I know of in the Mobius system whose job is solely to manage consortial lending for any institution. Ideally this job duty should be folded in with ILL-lending procedures. When I have moved on to the next stage of my career there will not be another person hired to fulfill my duties, but those duties will be spread out over the rest of my department, and that is the right thing to do. Consortial lending is very important to the life of the library at UMSL and Mobius. However, in the perspective of total monograph circulation trends it is declining at a similar rate. The practice must be maintained for as long as there are cooperative agreements between libraries and patrons who want distant books. But it is foolish optimism to expect that current rates will rise or flatten any time soon.

 

References

Anderson, R. (2011). Print on the margins: circulation trends in major research libraries. Library Journal. Retrieved from http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2011/06/academic-libraries/print-on-the-margins-circulation-trends-in-major-research-libraries/

Cheung, S. and Chung, T. (2011) Monograph circulation over a 15-year period in a liberal arts university. Library Management 32(6/7), 419-434/

Kurt, W. (2012) The end of academic library circulation? ACRL Tech Connect. Retrieved from http://acrl.ala.org/techconnect/post/the-end-of-academic-library-circulation

Martell, C. (2008). The absent user: physical use of academic library collections and services continues to decline 1995-2006. Journal of Academic Librarianship, 34 (5), 400-407.

MOBIUS. (2011-2012). MOBIUS lending and borrowing statistics [FY 2011-2012 Monthly & Year-to-Date Statistics Final]. Retrieved from https://mobiusconsortium.org/mobius-lending-borrowing

MOBIUS. (2012-2013). MOBIUS lending and borrowing statistics [FY 2012-2013 Monthly & Year-to-Date Statistics Final]. Retrieved from https://mobiusconsortium.org/mobius-lending-borrowing

MOBIUS. (2013-2014). MOBIUS lending and borrowing statistics [FY 2013-2014 Monthly & Year-to-Date Statistics Final]. Retrieved from https://mobiusconsortium.org/mobius-lending-borrowing

MOBIUS. (2014-2015). MOBIUS lending and borrowing statistics [FY 2014-2015 Monthly & Year-to-Date Statistics Final]. Retrieved from https://mobiusconsortium.org/mobius-lending-borrowing

MOBIUS. (2015-2016). MOBIUS lending and borrowing statistics [FY 2015-2016 Monthly & Year-to-Date Statistics Final]. Retrieved from https://mobiusconsortium.org/mobius-lending-borrowing

MOBIUS. (2016-2017). MOBIUS lending and borrowing statistics [FY 2016-2017 Monthly & Year-to-Date Statistics – Ongoing]. Retrieved from https://mobiusconsortium.org/mobius-lending-borrowing

MOBIUS. (2017). Mission & vision. Retrieved from https://mobiusconsortium.org/about-mobius

O’Neill, E. T. and Gammon, J. A. (2014) Consortial book circulation patterns: the OCLC-ohioLINK study. College & Research Libraries 75(6), 791-807.

Rodriguez-Bravo, B. and Rodriguez-Sedano, F. (2016) Trends in library collection circulation in spanish universities. Library Resources & Technical Services 60(4), 248-258.

Rose-Wiles, L. M. (2013) Are print books dead? an investigation of book circulation at a mid-sized academic library. Technical Services Quarterly 30(2), 129-152.

Rose-Wiles, L. M. and Irwin, J. P. (2016) An old horse revived?: in-house use of print books at seton hall university. Journal of Academic Librarianship 42(3), 207-214.

The “P” Word

In the first year that I was in library school my early classes were frequently preoccupied with the question “Is librarianship a profession?” And the answer was, of course, “yes!” But the yes wasn’t a confident one as much as a desperate defense of the profession as such. In fact, the early classes were more successful in putting me on the Proud Professional Librarian path than they were at teaching me anything valuable or practical about doing the work of librarianship, being that I already been working in libraries for six-plus years. Indeed, it seems that librarianship has been preoccupied with this question for approximately 150 years. If you spend that much time wringing your hands about it, perhaps it’s not really true?

Okay, for the record, I actually think that librarianship IS a profession, and we have every reason to be proud of what we do and what we offer to our communities. However, I don’t want to overstate things. Most of us are professionals in the same way that a plumber is professional. Providing a much needed and basic service that requires specialized skills and knowledge. We’re not professionals in the same way that a research scientist or nuclear arms negotiator is.

Much of the self-conscious hand-wringing comes, I believe, from the academic side of librarianship. Typically, academic librarians hold faculty status — tenure-track, or not — in their institutions. But there frequently seems to be a sense that they’re not “real” faculty. This may come from the librarians themselves, from the teaching faculty, or the administration, but it is a common occurrence that can be overt, or simply bubbling under the surface of the academic community.

I’m not going to define what “real faculty” means, as it is a logical fallacy to argue from purity. My boss is a real faculty member in that she is a tenured faculty member of a university, even though she teaches nothing. I am not a “real faculty” member because my job status is “classified staff” (but more on that later).

I’ll be honest, at this point, I only want to be a faculty librarian for the pay and status. After twelve years’ experience, two years past earning the MLIS degree, and moving 1,600 miles to get a better job, I’d really like to have “Librarian” printed on my official business cards. I don’t.

I don’t give a good gosh-darn if I’m ever tenured. It’s not because I’m not engaged in my profession — I try to be — it’s because I’m going to do the same things that tenure-track faculty do whether or not I’m technically tenure-track. In librarianship, I don’t see the tenure label as much more than a merit badge. Sure, technically, tenured librarians have more job security, but academic librarianship doesn’t exactly have the reputation of being an unstable work environment.

I’ve written a fair amount about going to professional conferences and networking. I’m going to keep going to these things as much as I can for as long as I can. By 11:00 AM, CDT, October 6, I’ll have two conference presentations under my belt, and I hope and expect to do more over the years. This blog, I hope, will inspire me to do more formal writing that would be publishable in one of our profession’s journals. That hasn’t happened yet, but there’s still time.

By the way, if someone’s looking for a co-author on a professional paper, I’m happy to jump on-board.

By most standards, I’m not a professional. Some, especially at my last job, even think I’m “unprofessional.” It makes it very hard to get a professional position when that is the case. Regardless of the type of work I’ve done, my education, the years of service I posses or the number of “meets…” or “exceeds expectations” performance evaluations I’ve been given I am not now, nor have I ever been considered a “professional.”

If I were to draw an allegory to public libraries, I’d be an assistant branch manager. But according to my institution, I’m not a professional.

The job I currently holds gives me a large amount of authority over a public services unit that includes the circulation desk and course reserves for a major U. S. research institution. It is my job to see that the department is staffed and operating smoothly and my patrons have access to what they need when they need it, so long as it’s available. It is a serious management job that requires skill, tact, and finesse, and can’t be successful if it doesn’t have a team willing to step up and take on extra loads from time to time. It cannot be done by just anyone. You have to like working with people from all walks of life and be able to shrug off the difficult ones. I have to be willing to move directly from giving an employee their yearly evaluation, to directing a patron to the parking and transportation office, to leaving my desk to go to Library Marketing and Communications meeting (all of which I’m doing tomorrow). If I were to draw an allegory to public libraries, I’d be an assistant branch manager. But according to my institution, I’m not a professional.

At least, not yet. It may change in the future, but I’m not holding my breath.

When I was applying for jobs, still, I had a version of my cover letter that described the work I’d done and responsibilities I’d held over the years as being professional-level work regardless of what my title was. I got a few interviews out of it, but not a job.

Because I’m not a “professional” librarian, there will be colleagues that will never see me as an equal. Unless my job classification changes it will be very difficult to get a bigger job at a different institution because I’ve never been a “professional” librarian before. It is classist. It is elitist. It is myopic. Once that hill has been crested, though, there will be another with the question about my tenure status. Presumably, it would end there, unless they want to know if I have a PhD, or not.

For a profession that tends to draw politically leftist and socially liberal people (even Marian the Librarian was a progressive feminist in 1912 Iowa), this preoccupation with professionalism betrays a frightful paranoid conservative strain lurking under the surface. How many professional librarians see working a circulation desk as beneath them? Most, it seems. How many Reference and Instruction librarians hate working at the reference desk? Too many, in my experience. How many administrators see public services librarianship as “professional suicide”? I don’t know, but it happens.

One of the reasons that I’m still not a “professional” librarian is that the professional librarians in my last job did not respect the work that classified staff was doing and did not think it was appropriate to bring one of us in to learn the professional aspects of the profession, regardless of our interest or education in the profession. As such, I’ve never been allowed much time to perform as a reference librarian (even though they resented doing it, themselves), and I surely couldn’t be allowed to work with the instruction librarians to learn at their feet. Being so, it took me two-and-a-half years to get a different job because I had no formal teaching experience, little reference experience, and no experience managing full-time staff, and there was not a blessed thing I could do about it because I was not a “professional” librarian, already.

Similarly, I couldn’t make the change to public librarianship because I had not already done the work. They did not want to hear about my years of experience or transferable skills. My experience was not sufficiently appropriate and therefore I was beyond consideration. In other words, “Not one of us!”

I love being a librarian. And I love being a member of this profession. I am, indeed a proud librarian. To anyone I’m talking to on the street, I’m a librarian. I think of myself as a librarian. My friends and family refer to me as a librarian, but due to antiquated and classist attitudes within the profession — therefore with the people who matter — I am not now, and have never been a professional librarian. And that is a problem not just for me, but for the profession as a whole.

Humanist Leadership

I’m new to being a boss. I’ve supervised student assistants for years, but this is the first job in which I’ve supervised “grown-ups.” Currently, I have five full-timers and two part-timers underneath me, not counting the small army of student workers they supervise. There are whole ranges in libraries that contain everything I don’t know about management and leadership. Everything I do know I learned from my own bosses through the years.* Mostly, what I learned was not to do. I have had a lot of bad managers; some of whom probably never should have been in a position of power. I learned good things from the few good ones I’ve had, too.

One of the best things I have learned is communication. I don’t mean communication theory, or the importance of sharing information (very important, of course). I mean how one communicates. In a toxic work environment no one feels valued. If one does not feel that one has input, then one’s interest in performing at a high level is probably the first thing to go and the organization begins to suffer.

In my previous job there was essentially no library outreach, and social media was viewed suspiciously or derisively. There was no effort to post to social media unless there was a change in service hours or (rarely) if some special event was going to take place. Thinking myself a savvy Xennial and enthusiastic library employee I took it upon myself to begin an Instagram account for my library one Thursday. I made a few posts that day and a few more on Friday. I talked to a colleague who had access to the library’s Facebook page and he gave me the login so that I could cross-post. It is true that I asked no one’s permission prior to this, but neither was I violating any posted university or library policies. By Monday, mine and my colleague’s access to Facebook had been surreptitiously rescinded, and by Tuesday I received a phone call from my boss who had been away at jury duty (!) saying that I was to cease and desist my posts and that he got told that someone else was “embarrassed” by my actions.

Who was embarrassed? I don’t know. What did they think was so terrible? I don’t know. Why was this of such importance to contact my boss while he was off doing his civic duty? I don’t know that, either. I don’t know any of that because no one ever communicated with me until my boss called me from the courthouse. I took on the risk at the beginning because I was thinking I’d try “ask forgiveness rather than permission.” But I was never able to ask forgiveness since my accuser never approached me. No one was courageous enough to get my attention and have the difficult conversation with me. They ranted about me in some other room and then told my boss to reign me in, but no one ever tried to work with me.

No one was courageous enough to get my attention and have the difficult conversation with me.

In another instance a different colleague had an excellent idea for streamlining the department, improving services, and even saving the library money in salary. He went to our boss with the idea. I got involved because the change would affect how I do things. I saw the idea and, too, thought it was great. Our boss agreed and moved it up the ladder. Within a day the big boss came back with a response that said exactly, “None of this is possible.”

That was the whole response. There was no, “Wow! That’s a great idea for the future but unfortunately at present time it is not a feasible change.” Or, “I’m sorry we can’t do that right now, but please, keep thinking of ways to improve the department.”

We got nothing. Nothing supportive or encouraging. Nothing to show that our work or input was valued. Nothing to show that any good idea could could come from the bottom, even if it was not practical at the time. In both examples, low level employees were treated like they had no value, regardless of their work history, attitude, or intentions, and all our bosses had to do was to take a moment and use a softer touch.

In both examples, low level employees were treated like they had no value, regardless of their work history, attitude, or intentions, and all one had to do was to take a moment and use a softer touch.

I’m not arguing that employees need to be coddled, or that every suggestion from above, below, or beside needs to be seriously entertained. Some ideas are just silly. But is it it so difficult to look someone in the face or write an email to explain your thinking? We’re not exactly doing national security work, here. There is no need for secrets and there is no need for flippant dismissals.

The Instagram incident, frankly, does not paint me in the best light. It shows that I have a stubborn provocateur streak in me that comes out sometimes. The truth is, though, that I never would have tried it had I thought I had something to lose. My reputation in that workplace was already as a loud and up-jumped trouble maker who dared attempt to join the ranks of the “real” librarians. The attempt wasn’t something I could get fired over, because I violated no laws and no policies, so I thought there was no harm in the trying.

But instead of being talked to about it, even sternly, actions were taken in secret and back-channel back-biting found its way to my boss away on jury duty. I was an embarrassment who was not worthy of regard. In the other story, my colleague, already frustrated with being locked in to a role he didn’t appreciate, was made to feel that he, too, had little value regardless of the amount or quality of work he did.

There was nothing that was going to salvage my reputation in my last workplace, before or after the Instagram incident. And I don’t know if anything would have helped my colleague other than simply getting a different job someplace else. However, both incidents could have been handled much better with better quality of communication. For starters, our humanity could have been acknowledged on some level. Next, our clear intent to improve or promote library services could have been commended. After that a clear explanation about why the attempt could not work or should not have been tried would have been in order. Instead, we got cowardly tattling and a glib “no.”

No one is obligated to like their boss, and no boss is obligated to like their employees. That being said, there is no good reason to treat anyone like they don’t matter. No matter how busy you are you can always find a moment to soften the “no” and explain yourself. It doesn’t have to be a long and detailed answer and you shouldn’t be hugging it out, but there is always a way to react to your employees with sensitivity and humanity. When I see people in a place of power who don’t seem to understand that, or seem to see their employees and a nuisance, I am always sad and wonder A) how they got to that position in the first place, and B) why they can’t empathize with people. What is wrong with that person?

I was fortunate enough to get out of my terrible work environment. My colleague is still languishing in his. I hope things get better for him, soon. What I’m attempting to do in my first leadership position is to incorporate my experiences in a toxic work environment, observed failures and successes of past managers, and my own humanist values into a cohesive whole that creates an effective and respectful environment for my employees and my superiors. I’m sure to make plenty of mistakes, but creating that environment is why I’m here.


*I learned nothing in my library management class in grad school because my “instructor” didn’t know a darn thing about it, either.

Announcing, Live, and In Person…

JobSeekersSupportGroup

ME!

Today, I confirmed that I will, indeed, be appearing at this year’s Missouri Library Association Conference moderating the JOB SEEKERS’ SUPPORT GROUP.

The description I submitted to them reads as follows.

Librarianship is a very competitive field to break in to. There are many more applicants than open positions and the struggle to achieve one’s career goals is extremely stressful. This breakout session is a round-table discussion opportunity for soon-to-be or recent graduates, or anyone else on the job market to come together to ask questions, commiserate, or share stories about their experiences. We can share stories about our success and failures, frustrations and hopes. It will give job seekers a place to show that they’re not alone in their search and hopefully provide helpful information to shorten their search. Questions that may be addressed: What happens in an all-day academic library interview? How soon should thank-you’s be sent? What is the difference between a CV and a Resume? What does “pay commensurate with experience” mean? What constitutes “professional experience”? How do you handle awkward moments? Etc. This will be an open forum for anyone to contribute to in a safe environment.

While I’ll be able to regale the room with stories of my own failures and lessons, as well as the positives of my 2.5 year job search, I’m hoping to provide some insight*, yes, but mostly I’m hoping to provide a safe space for people to come together and openly discuss their fears, frustrations, and experiences. It is an opportunity for us to learn from each other. If you’re attending the conference, this year, feel free to stop me and say “Hi.” I’ll be there all three days and can’t wait to see some familiar faces.

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Life Is Funny, Sometimes

 

*DISCLAIMER: I am not a licensed therapist. I have no degrees in psychology or any behavioral science. I have no experience working in human resources. I’m simply a librarian who was extremely frustrated when he had the idea for this session and saw the need for it.