Saturday, November 24, 2007

Information International: Advocacy in a Globalized Environment

Easily noticeable on the top right of this blog, I have added a Kwintessential translation tool (admittedly, this is just a web tool and is not by any means a truly proficient way to translate this site but can help in reaching non-English web surfers). In the sidebar I have also included a link category of international library associations and other international library links. The point of all this is not just to add more ‘stuff’ to this blog for adding’s sake but rather, it is the recognition of the globalized world we now live in. Information of course plays a key role in this globalization process and so likewise, do and should libraries. Information is the business of libraries and information is now a highly valued commodity in an increasingly knowledge-based global economy.

Surely all this is well known already. Nevertheless, the foregoing presents the context in which libraries have to operate and this is a context where advocacy has become all the more important. This is because in a global market there is a greater competition for resources and the attentions of audiences and clients: and this is so, whether you are in a competitive business or not. Globalization is helping to create, what in economic theory is referred to as a perfect market. Not perfect in the sense that 'all is well' but that there is more known about all the participants in the market, more known about producers and consumers, with each in either sector also knowing more about each other. Undoubtedly, there is still a digital divide but most of the world now benefits from knowing more now about people, places and events in other parts of the world. This is a sort of equalizing or flattening process, as with the term used and thesis posited by Tom Friedman in his book The World is Flat.

Such increased knowledge results in individuals and entities having to distinguish themselves all the more: to stand out and be noticed. And so indeed, is the case with libraries, where with online databases and directories, they, like other institutions putting content on the Web, can have clientele that can be from anywhere in the world and not just within the same country. Yet with the Web and so much information available from it, over the years many have wondered about the relevance of libraries and whether such relevance is on the wane with the Internet's inexorable growth. Apart from scholarly articles, a check with the blogosphere reveal a number of posts on this topic within recent years as well.

It is with some of such concerns that the OCLC (Online Computer Library Center) undertook its 2003 OCLC Environmental Scan: Pattern Recognition report. In the report there was the concern that there was:

"a dissonance between the environment and content that libraries provide and the environment and content that information consumers want and use."

However the OCLC went on to undertake another report Perceptions of Libraries and Information Resources, published in 2005. This other report emerged as despite all the studies and reports that the Scan provided:

"few of these resources emanated from the part of the infosphere that OCLC and libraries inhabit and there are no major recent empirical studies that look specifically and broadly at the role libraries and librarians play in the infosphere, from the point-of-view of the information consumer. How are libraries perceived by today’s information consumer? Do libraries still matter? On what level? Will library use likely increase or decrease in the future?"

And so in commissioning the new report the OCLC:

"wanted to know more about people’s information-seeking behaviors, how familiar people are with the variety of e-resources libraries provide for their users and how libraries fit into the lives of the respondents. One of the most important goals of the project as a whole was to collect information that would help us build a better understanding of the “Library” brand."

The methodology of the report consisted of an online survey of millions of respondents worldwide, that was "open to English-speaking male and female residents of Australia, Canada, India, Singapore, the United Kingdom (U.K.) and the United States (U.S.). "

Some of the findings of the report:

84% of respondents begin an information search with a search engine; 1% with a library Web site.

Search engines are rated higher than librarians.

Library card holders are more disposed favorably to libraries than non-card holders.

'Books' is the Library brand: no runner-up.

Most information users are not aware of nor do they use most libraries' electronic information resources.

Search engines fit the information consumer's lifestyle better than physical or online libraries.

Clearly from all this, despite the good work that librarians perform and the wealth of services libraries provide, there is still more needed to promote the work of libraries. What makes the findings all the more significant in this report is its international scope. What is highly useful about the report though, is that the findings do provide some indicators as to what libraries need to focus on to better position themselves in the eyes of the public.

Aside from public support, perhaps nothing gains the attention of policy makers more than an ROI (Return of Investment) perspective as well as how people can better interact with the very service which the federal government provides. In the ALA's (American Library Association) report, The State of America's Libraries issued in April this year, an FSU (Florida State University) study found that:

"more people are relying on library computers to find government services that are becoming less available locally and more available on line. In Florida, for example, regional offices where families can apply for food stamps have been phased out, so people must use the Internet to complete the application. Local libraries usually provide the needed Internet access, plus instruction in computer skills and completing forms."

With respect to ROI or economic returns, the study also reports in Florida, it was also found that:

"for every $6,448 in public funds spent on Florida’s public libraries, one job is created. In addition, every dollar of public support spent on Florida’s public libraries produced an increase of $9.08 in gross regional product and an increase of $12.66 in total state wages. A similar study showed that nine public library systems in southwestern Ohio create an annual economic impact of nearly four times the amount invested in their operations."

With globalization there has and continues to be international cooperation between libraries as well. With such cooperation therefore, libraries in different countries can also collaborate on their advocacy efforts. Such efforts can not only be showcased at international conferences but through bilateral arrangements libraries can also seek to help funnel donated funds and advocacy efforts each other's way. In the global market, while many corporations may not overtly cooperate with the objective or increasing earnings, they nonetheless do so tacitly and so maintain the guise of competition and in some cases also engage in this practice to avoid any trade bloc regulations in the markets in which they operate. With libraries there are no such restrictions except maybe with respect to regulations for cross-border technology exchanges where they apply, and so there can potentially be more cooperation among libraries from different countries.

With economies growing in knowledge-based sectors, the importance of the infosphere also grows in direct proportion. It is within this environment though that libraries must take advantage to reiterate their relevance every chance they get. Library cards must become as commonplace as credit cards: and essentially, these two are similar in that they both exchange information. However, the information received from libraries as opposed to traditional goods or services, always redounds to increasing and not diminishing returns. Information or knowledge gained can never be taken away. And so with such a return, libraries and the nature of their business in this information era, should likewise not allow their relevance to diminished.

In the global environment, with information being the highly sought-after and highly prized commodity that it is, libraries whose business is the business of information should thus naturally be valued likewise and advocacy on their behalf should more readily be seen as logical and necessary.

Post Addendum

I discoverd this book after writing this post and thought it would be remiss of me to not at least make mention of it in relation to this article.

Global Librarianship, by Martin A. Kesselman and Irwin Weintraub, Marcel Dekker Inc. 2004.

Book Description: Providing new insights into the role of librarianship in an age of socioeconomic, environmental, and political transformation, Global Librarianship illustrates how globally networked environments promote and increase the sharing and dissemination of ideas, information, and solutions to obstacles affecting libraries. This reference showcases methods to tailor and build collections and technologies that continually support worldwide scholarly and business communities through the utilization of digital tools and electronic media. It Illustrates breakthroughs in the organization, management, and dissemination of information to facilitate easy access to libraries anywhere in the world.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

My Blog Highlights: Short Showcase of Sites and Blogs

Starting off this blog and learning about other library blogs and Web sites has been an eye-opener for me. With this post I highlight just a few of the blogs and Web sites from my sidebar that I believe are worth further mention.

CMRLS (Central Massachusetts Regional Library System) - For my part this is a beautifully laid out Web site with lots of resources for librarians and not just for those in the CMRLS. - This a new site launched by yhe ALA (American Library Association), where any library lover can find out more about ways in which they can help libraries, find out about books, sign up for an E-Newsletter, find a library, ask questions, (Ask a Librarian) and learn more about America's libraries in general.

Information Research: An International Electronic Journal - This is an open access, international scholarly journal presenting research findings in information-related fields from around the world. It is published by Prof. T.D. Wilson, Prof. Emeritus, University of Sheffield, with support from Lund University Libraries in Sweden and the Swedish School of Library and Information Science.

Library Technology Guides - The subtitle for this site is Key Resources in the field of Library Automation. The "website aims to provide comprehensive and objective information related to the field of library automation. This site has no affiliation with any library automation company." The site is good for whether you are "in the process of selecting a library automation system, or just want to keep up with developments in the field." The site was created and is editeed by Marshall Breeding, the Director for Innovative Technologies and Research at the Jean Alexander Heard Library at Vanderbilt University.

Public Knowledge - This is the Web site of a Washington D.C. based public interest group, that is involved in advocacy for of public digital rights. This site also has a link for a policy blog on digital matters.

FOLUSA (Friends of the Library USA) - This is just another site I feel I needed to promote so that even more people across the country can support the work of libraries. FOLUSA has a listserv and resources for library advocacy.

NCAC (National Coalition Against Censorshop) - Founded in 1974, the NCAC is "an alliance of 50 national non-profit organizations, including literary, artistic, religious, educational, professional, labor, and civil liberties groups. United by a conviction that freedom of thought, inquiry, and expression must be defended..."

SAA (Society of American Archivists) - I thought to include this site beause many people do tend to forget the important work of archivists in collecting and preserving information.

Cataloging Futures - This blog focuses on the future of cataloging and metadata in libraries. The site is authored by Chrisitne (Chris) Schwartz, a cataloger with 18 years experience, who is Head Cataloger at Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey.

The FRBR (Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records) Blog - Here the name is supposedly self-explanatory unless of course you know what is and the background behind FRBR (which the blog commendalby provides via a link What is FRBR). Essentially FRBR provides guidelines for clearer descriptions on library items for classifiaction. A short quote from What is FRBR explains:

"FRBR offers us a fresh perspective on the structure and relationships of bibliographic and authority records, and also a more precise vocabulary to help future cataloging rule makers and system designers in meeting user needs. Before FRBR our cataloging rules tended to be very unclear about using the words “work,” “edition,” or “item.”2 Even in everyday language, we tend to say a “book” when we may actually mean several things."

Library Marketing - This is a blog authored by Jill Stover, an Undergraduate Services Coordinator at Virginia Commonwealth University. The subtilte of this blog is Thinking Outside the Book. This is what Stover attempts to do with this blog, by providing librarians with unique and surely non-conventional ways to promote libraries.

Pimp My Library - This is also a library promotional blog. The name, of course, is quite noticeable and the blog's purple backgroud also adds to its spunk: fun to read and also chocked with good information.

Cool Librarian - This a is combination personal andlibrary blog. It focuses a lot on providing information and resources on databases and directories. It seeks to promote information sharing as well among librarians, by seeking to host articles submitted articles to the site. The blog also has a Join Library Links listing of librariain blogs. The is a lisitng that any librarian can place their blog with a link back to the Cool Librarian.

Whatt I Learned Today - This is essentially a technology focused blog authored by Nicole Engard a Metadate Librarian at Princeton Theological Seminary (second person from that instituiton on this list...purely coincidental). This blog is focused on covering topics such as blogs, RSS and Wikis as they relate to libraries.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Advocacy and Social Networking: Making Connections Work for Libraries

Two terms that you probably cannot go without hearing these days –particularly so if you are in the library and information field - are social networking and Web 2.0. The two terms, of course, go together, where one, i.e. social marketing, essentially explains what the other, Web 2.0, is about. Professionals and corporations have come to realize that Web sites such as Facebook and Second Life are not only for college students but can be key tools for building connections and for customer base generation. Perhaps social networking applications and Web sites can also be called 'Cocktail Party 2.0' because, in a sense, they do operate like the cocktail party of our age, where people can meet, make connections and maybe also advance careers or causes.

So similarly, this new web phase can be of help with advancing the cause of libraries and librarianship as it can and has been able to do with other causes and professions. However, the thing to keep in mind about advocacy is that one does not only want to ‘sing to the choir’ so to speak. A true test of advocacy in many cases, is reaching to an audience that would typically be seen as disinterested or maybe an audience you probably never thought of connecting with in the first place. So new relationships i.e. ‘relationships, ’ where one thought relationships did not or could not exist, can be a potent ingredient in advocacy. In fact this is one of the fundamental aspects of a Canadian author’s Steve Waddell’s book Societal Learning and Change: How Governments, Business and Civil Society are Creating Solutions to Complex Multi-Stakeholder Problems. In it, Waddell makes the point that for change to come about in society “The critical contribution is creating new relationships between people and organisations that traditionally would not interact but in fact have common interests.”

For libraries, there are obvious connections to be made with groups such as educators, legislators and policy makers, community groups, nonprofit organizations, students, book publishers, book sellers, mothers and children. However, it is good to try to think outside of the typical and apparent to the not so typical and unapparent. It needs to be remembered too that an advocacy message can be tailored to any which way you see that an audience can be defined. This is what corporations do by developing customer profiles in seeking to clearly identify exactly who is their target audience.

For instance, one identifiable group that libraries can target is stay-at-home dads. According to census estimates for 2003 there were 98,000 dads in the United States (U.S. Census Bureau News, Nov. 2004). This admittedly is not a considerable figure and this group is most likely spread thin throughout the entire country. But 98, 000 is still not a small figure by any means and libraries making efforts to target such an audience in their communities will also show themselves to be conscious of a small but important group that is typically ignored.

Perhaps another group that can be targeted is athletes. The ALA (American Library Association) already makes use of professional athletes like Shaquille O’Neal (the photo on the left is taken from the ALA's Web site homepage) on their posters to encourage youngsters to read. But my suggestion here is a bit different. To target young athletes and their coaches to see libraries as another resource for improving sports individuals and teams. Libraries can provide loads of information, and not just usual reading media but also via video and online resources, where sprortsmen and women can learn about improving improving technique, kinesiology, nutrition etc.

Two last groups I can suggest is financiers and investors. By financiers, I mean the experts who know all about finance, but whose language and jargon are usually not understood by the general public and by investors, I mean Joe and Jane average, who wish to know and understand more about money matters and investment. The popularity and success of people like Suze Orman and Jim Cramer of Mad Money fame, show the great demand of people wanting to learn and know more about financial matters. There needs to be greater meeting of the minds between these two groups I have identified, where libraries and librarians as information brokers can help to facilitate greater understanding of money management which is such a crucial aspect of people’s lives.

On Facebook it is good to see that there are ALA membersip and related library groups present. The ALA also has its own island on Second Life (SL) (ALA/Arts Island Open in Second Life) where second life SL librarians can visit. A phenomenal success in terms of generating support for libraries via social networking has been LibraryThing, a social cataloging web application. A LibraryThing Wikipedia article reports this site as attracting more than 73, 000 registered visitors just one year after its launch in August 2005. On the LibraryThing site it reports its now over 300,000 members have catalogued over 20 million books. Another similar, although much smaller effort is PaperBack Swap where people exhange books via mail after making connections online. The site claiims over 1.5 million books available for exchange.

Social networking then has worked well in bringing librarians and readers together. And readers or better put, patrons are perhaps librairanship’s stongest ally for eliciting funds out of city, state, federal and corporate coffers. It is however, yet a new phenomenon which provides lots of opportunity for librarians and friends of libraries to come up with their own and novel ways of promoting this so important service and profession we all love so well.

Library Groups on Facebook

ALA Asociation Members

Library 2.0 Interest Group

NextGen Librarians

Other Library Advocacy Articles

Using Facebook and MySpace for Advocacy and Fundraising: An Interview with Carie Lewis HSUS - Admittedly, not a library related case but still good information on how to make social networking work for a cause.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Advocacy 101: First Steps for the Library Advocate

"The great end of life is not knowledge but action."

Thomas Henry Huxley, British biologist (1825-1895)

Advocacy has pretty much become a major buzzword within recent years. The term was, at a time, only associated with the legal profession, for after all, this is what a lawyer is; an advocate: one that speaks on behalf of, or pleads for the cause of another. But now, the term has become applicable to all such persons and activities that plead for and promote causes, whether inside or outside a courtroom, albeit mostly not with the type of compensation that bona fide lawyers can demand. Merriam-Webster Online tells us that the word ‘advocate’ comes the Latin advocare, meaning ‘to call.’ And indeed, this what advocates do when they speak, write or whatever activity they perform with respect to whatever cause they represent. They seek to summon or call attention to the issue which they believe has not been or is not being properly addressed.

The word that was more widely used for fighting for and promoting causes is, of course, the word activist. But somehow it seems that for many, this word has come to carry too much of a combative connotation: too radical and reserved for matters considered of greater gravity. Some on the other hand, believe, however, that this is how the fight for causes should be: pulling no punches and holding no quarter and letting the chips fall where they may. They see the term still retaining its cachet of passion, integrity, resolve and moral high ground with the likes of activists such as Sojourner Truth, Mohandas Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr.

But regardless of which term is used, the objective of any strategy applied still remains to call attention to what is deemed a lack of or wrong focus upon an issue. The main strategy is also structured around gaining media attention or simply put, is described as a media campaign. And this should be so, given that the media are the lens through which most of us do get information and become aware of issues both near and far. And so advocates have to become media savvy and become expert at communication techniques to be effective.

I wish not to delve into matters seemingly too weighty but let us borrow a bit from political science and look at how authors Ball and Dagger, in their book Political Ideologies and the Democratic Ideal define ideology. They define it as “A fairly coherent and comprehensive set of ideas that explains and evaluates social conditions, helps people understand their place in society, and provides a program for social and political action.” I allude to this definition here because as Ball and Dagger go on to explain its key terms (or tags), it becomes obvious how these can be applied to advocacy.

Explanation: (Ideology) Explains why social, political and economic conditions are the way they are.

(Advocacy) In any advocacy situation we firstly must be able to explain the issue. It should be clear to ourselves and be as clear to others when we speak for our cause.

Evaluation: (Ideology) Deciding whether those conditions are good or bad.

(Advocacy) In our explanation we must show whether the conditions that prevail are good or bad (and of course provide reasons why we believe them to be one way or another). Advocacy can also be about furthering something good and not always attempting to correct a bad situation.

Orientation: (Ideology) Supplies its holder with an orientation and a sense of identity.

(Advocacy) This is self-evident, in that our audience must be able to identify and ‘buy in’ to our issue for them to support it.

Program: (Ideology) Tells followers what to do and how to do it.

(Advocacy) When you do finally have some support people need to know how to take action. Advocacy is about calling attention to an issue but after this is successful something then must done to affect change to sustain or improve it.

So advocates all, let us continue to call, and surely be prepared when others respond to our call to provide the reasons for our advocacy and a direction of where and how we would like our cause to be advanced. Onward Libraries.

Some Library Advocacy Resource Links

Advocacy OCLC

ALA Library Advocate's Handbook

IFLA School Library Advocacy Kit

ProQuest Library Advocacy

News for a Change: An Advocate’s Guide to Working with the Media

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Welcome to The LibVocate: Why this blog?

Thank you for visiting my blog. The LibVocate is all about advocacy for libraries, librarianship and information science. Libraries and the progress of civilization go hand in hand, so it seems almost pointless to question why the need for advocacy for such an institutional staple as libraries. According to the ALA (American Library Association) ALA Fact Sheet 1, there are 117, 378 libraries in the United States. The OCLC (Online Computet Library Center) in a 2003 report, Libraries: How They Stack Up, states that US libraries circulate 1, 947, 600,000 items a year, and that "Five times more people visit U.S. public libraries each year than attend U.S. professional and college football, basketball, baseball and hockey games combined."

Perhaps with such astounding figures one might then actually perceive that libraries seem to be doing quite well and in our age of information surfeit, there is now a greater and wider recognition of the work that library and information professionals perform and the need for advocacy is not really needed.

However, from June 2003, the ALA began monitoring the status of library funding in public, academic, school and state libraries across the United States. As at September 2007, the Library Funding Report to ALA Executive Board (Third Quarter Fiscal Year 2007) reported that "much of the information continues to reflect deep cuts affecting operating hours, staffing, collection and materials acquisition, programming, services, facility expansion and enhancement, and other long-term projects as local, state and Federal sources cut spending and oppose tax increases." So by "following the money" so to speak, the reduction in funds has and continues to have negative effects upon US libraries overall. And so, advocacy must and should continue for these institutions that serve our schools and communities all across this nation and which are windows to the world of information that we all have come to rely on so well: information which many have come to demand with increasing immediacy.

The LibVocate is glad to join the choir of the many other voices that advocate for libraries and the library and information profession. I hope that I will sing in tune and maintain a strong voice so that this blog may continue for for a long time to come.