By Donald T. Hawkins (Freelance Conference Blogger and Editor)
Note: A summary of this article appeared in the June issue of Against The Grain v29#3 on Page aa.
The 2017 conference of the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) drew a record number of attendees—over 3,500 (5,000 including exhibitor personnel)—to Baltimore, MD on March 22-25. There were over 1,200 first-time attendees and 300 virtual attendees.
David McCandless, author of Knowledge is Beautiful (HarperCollins, 2014) and The Visual Miscellaneum (HarperCollins, 2009) presented an excellent keynote address, accompanied by numerous examples of fascinating visualizations.
He noted that information and data are beautiful and perhaps are a new kind of material. Numbers are constantly emerging into our world and must be visualized to be understood. What makes a good visualization? Here is McCandless’s opinion—visualized, of course.
Time lines are excellent visualizations of the patterns and stories that lurk in the data. This one shows that fear is prominent in the media.
Because of our exposure to an information design medium—the Internet—we have become trained to receive information visually. Manipulating data is an excellent way to unlock your potential as you learn new analytical skills. And using visualization, you are transforming information into a language that has interest, impact, and beauty.
The traditional triangle showing the difference between data, information, and knowledge is useful, but it does not give us a clear picture. In a visualization, we can see that there are actually six entities: data, structured data, information, linked information, knowledge, and interconnected knowledge. A simple link is dumb, but a connection embodies an exchange of meaning.
One of the powers of visualization is to display conflicting ideas. There is so much knowledge in the world; what else can you do but manipulate it? For many other examples of visualization, see McCandless’s website, http://www.informationisbeautiful.net.
The much anticipated closing keynote featured Carla Hayden, who became the 14th Librarian of Congress on September 14, 2016. Formerly CEO of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore and a former president of ALA, she is the first woman and the first African American to hold the position.
Hayden became well known for her actions when she kept the local branch of the library open during the unrest in Baltimore in 2015, and it became a symbol of stability. She began her keynote address by thanking ACRL for not moving its conference out of Baltimore.
During Hayden’s confirmation hearings, many of the people she met said that libraries do matter, which caused her to think about how she could serve as the Librarian of Congress. She said that in thinking about the Library of Congress (LC), she sometimes has “pinch me” moments when she reflects on the fact that LC has 162 million items and bookshelves that would stretch from Washington DC to Davenport, IA. She is trying to make the Library relevant and wants to partner with all librarians. It should be available for students anywhere at all times; how can it be brought to everyone? Can we make sure that everyone can see its treasures, which will mean that it is more physically accessible and more things are live streamed during its “Live at the Library” programs?
The average length of tenure of LC employees is 25 years; the total time of all of them represents 80,000 years of experience. The curators and librarians are key to the materials; they make them come alive. Without access, the library would just be a mausoleum. A recent visitor asked how we know the items in the collection are real. There is an entire department called Research and Detection that tests them and determines that they are real.
We librarians are the original search engine. We went into the field of librarianship and we are the trusted source because we believe that connecting people with the right information at the right time can make a difference. That is our strength and we should revel in it. Some people think of us as guides on the side; we should be guides out in front! Let us claim the moment and say that we are librarians. There is no shame in saying that!
Here are some points that Hayden made in the question and answer period:
- One of my dreams is that Congress will work with all groups that are interested in copyright law and figure out how the copyrighting process will work. It is their responsibility.
- LC is responsible for an entire network of services for the blind and handicapped. We have been expanding access to such users.
- LC started in the Capitol, and there is still a physical connection between the two buildings. When people visit the Capitol, we are encouraging them to visit LC as well. We are keeping the Library open more.
- One of my goals is making the tools for digitizing more available to small libraries. I want everyone to start thinking that LC is their resource. We need to have funding to ensure that what we do is relevant.
- We have senior managers who do not know how to tweet, and the areas where they have expertise are being challenged by young people. So we have paired older curators with young people, which has been very successful.
Publishing Without Walls
A new digital publishing initiative funded by the Mellon Foundation, Publishing Without Walls (PWW), has recently begun at the University of Illinois. A partnership between the University Library, iSchool, Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities, and Department of African American Studies, it will seek to understand the needs of scholars in a contemporary environment, particularly how they want to produce and consume digital publications. Two series of projects have been established: Humanities Without Walls Global Midwest (HWW) and AFRO-PWW, which focuses on African American Studies.
The majority of scholars are generally comfortable using word processing software, but only 21% of them are comfortable with text markup languages, so it was decided to base the PWW project on a Word-based workflow. The strategies and priorities of the project are:
- Outreach and education: Build good relationships with authors and develop their competencies to participate in digital publishing,
- Production and workflows: Enhance scalability through development of production workflows, and
- Research and education: Determine how research can guide editorial and production processes.
The goals of PWW are to open up landscapes to reinvigorate digital conversations and reorient scholarly imagination.
The Research Lifecycle
A study at Cornell University Library looked at the research lifecycle and how libraries can support it. Researchers must be looked at in a holistic way, and it is necessary to understand the fluid environment in which they live.
Academic libraries have traditionally focused on the acquisition and searching for information, but they also can have a role in researchers’ other activities:
- Managing the flow of information and writing papers,
- Searching for information, which is the most common task for all researchers,
- “Brain work”: thinking, understanding, and figuring things out,
- Self-discipline: tools used to curb and manage interruptions, and
- Technology, which is used in all environments and maintains the flow of work.
The library should make every effort to support researchers and customize services to meet their needs. It can work with vendors to build apps and platforms; a library of apps would be especially useful.
Students’ Information Literacy Skills
Candice Benjes-Small, Head, Information Literacy & Outreach, Radford University (RU), wondered if students’ information literacy skills improve over time. She and her colleagues analyzed citations in papers written by seniors and compared them with those in papers written by first-year students. In general, the first-year students used more popular and general sources, and seniors used a wider variety of sources. There was not much difference between the two groups in the use of quotations and paraphrasing. In papers written by first-year students, 37% of the cited sources could not be found. Some students were afraid to quote and cite because they were afraid of being accused of plagiarism. In departments where information literacy was rigidly enforced and taught by library staff, students showed more sophisticated use of sources; the conclusion was that RU and the library in particular added value to students’ information literacy skills.
Library Operations and Services
“Let Me Learn” or “Just Give Me the Answer”: Research Consultations and Mindsets
We want to provide assistance to our students and better understand their motivations to doing their research and consulting librarians for assistance. Carol Dweck, a professor of psychology at Stanford University has promulgated a theory of “mindsets” which can be applied to students and research consultations. Dweck identified two types of mindsets: growth mindsets result in achievements based on hard work; fixed mindsets are based on natural ability.
A study by librarians at several universities explored the goals of students who met with librarians for research consultations, which are areas where librarians can influence students and help them to deal with the challenges of college-level work. The efforts of librarians seem to improve academic performance; however, a growth mindset does not necessarily lead to a performance orientation. A study of about 100 students who came to the library for consultations led to new ways of thinking about how they approach the research process, their expectations of receiving help from an information professional, and how librarians could approach research consultations differently for students with a fixed mindset.
Open Access (OA) and Decision Making
How can we use the level of OA to make journal decisions? According to Kristin Antelman, University Librarian at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), many journals are openly available, so the value of subscription-only journals is declining. Publishers are concerned that OA allows cancellation of OA journals (for which there is a charge) to cut costs, and there is still a significant resistance to the idea of using OA as a factor in journal cancellation decisions. Appropriate data for use in retention decisions includes the journal’s usage over time, level of OA over time, and the costs. OA usage goes up significantly after 12 months because of typical embargo times imposed by publishers, so it is better to use three years’ worth of data instead.
Metrics Selection in the Research Lifecycle
How can librarians select the best metrics to use in the research lifecycle to help satisfy a user’s needs? There is a diverse need for metrics, and most of the growth in the last few years has been at the article level. But articles are not the only things that can be measured; for example, for books, one could not only derive metrics for the chapters in the book but could ask questions such as:
- How many libraries hold this book?
- How many Wikipedia articles mention the book?
- What do Amazon’s reviews say about the book?
- For e-books, how many abstract views, downloads, and clicks did this book get?
There is also a need to capture metrics from social systems, where there is a vast amount of data.
The “Golden Rules” of research metrics are to always use qualitative and quantitative input decisions, and to always use more than one metric as the quantitative input. Always be sure to compare like with like, and distinguish between usage, captures, social media, mentions, and citations. Mechanisms for gathering metrics are also important.
Bibliometric Services at the NIH Library
An illustration of the use of metrics is in the services offered by the library of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), where bibliometrics are used in consultation (study designs, etc.), training in bibliometric theory, and conducting analyses on research topics. Analysis categories include publication counts to determine the productivity of an organization, research topics, and citation impact. Metrics should be question-driven through a reference interview, and several metrics should be used in a study to get a true picture of the results. They should also be evidence-based to ensure that that they are balanced with other forms of evaluation.
Metrics for Research Impact
To determine research impact, we need to understand the numbers and look at the metrics in an appropriate context. For example, we need to recognize that journal impact factors can be manipulated and can skew citation count distributions. And papers might be cited for other reasons than acknowledging influence (to point out errors, etc.). Therefore, it is important not only to put metrics in context but to use metrics closest to the impact you wish to document.
The Altmetrics Way of Measuring Scholarly Impact
Altmetrics can be used to supplement traditional ways of scholarly impact, which frequently revolve around citation counts. Altmetrics have the advantage that they become available much faster than citation data. An article’s Altmetric Attention Score (AAS) is based on several factors such as mentions in blogs, tweets, on Facebook, etc. and is a measure of the impact an article has had and how much attention it has received. Here is a view of the AAS for a typical article.
Rajiv Nariani, Science Librarian at York University, looked at articles published by York faculty members that had the highest AASs and told them how the scores compared with those of other articles. The data were obtained from an affiliation searches in PubMed and on Altmetric Explorer for Librarians.
The faculty members were very happy to receive this data and said good things about the library. Nariani also looked at the same articles and determined the number of times they were cited in Google Scholar, which showed him the hot topics being investigated by York researchers and the top journals in which they published their results. Not many researchers were aware of altmetrics, but they were especially interested to find the mentions of their work in the news media. Not only did Nariani’s efforts reflect positively on the library; they were also used in teaching students.
New Literacies for Academic Library Makerspaces
Because of the technologies in makerspaces, librarians need new skills to run them, and they need to teach students about them as well. At the University of Nevada-Reno, the library offered courses in Photoshop, 3D printing and modeling, and related skills. Students had difficulty in adapting, and several of the courses had only a very few attendees, leading the staff to wonder if the time and effort invested was worthwhile. It was difficult to address the level of knowledge, expertise, and skills of the attendees. But when the course content was revised to focus on objects rather than processes, attendance increased.
The most popular program was the “Tech Wrangler”, which provides consultation to individual students using reference interviewing skills. Photoshop consultations supported design and editing activities, and even a patent and trademark course was offered because some students wanted to sell their creations. The Tech Wrangler sessions were very popular because they dealt with a wide variety of equipment. Online courses were offered through Lynda.com; the most popular one was “Fundamentals of Programming”, which was viewed for 735 hours during 2016 and completed by 91 students. The online courses are popular because they can be accessed on the student’s own time and schedule. The number of consultations and online tutorial users continues to increase.
Makerspace or Waste of Space? A Course for Successful Academic Library Makerspaces
A panel of speakers from Radford University studied makerspaces and what makes them successful. They said that a makerspace is a place for people to make things using tools or equipment that would be too expensive for them to have in their homes. But it is also a gathering place for people with similar interests. Surveys of seven academic libraries that considered their makerspaces a success were done. Their makerspaces were marked by high usage, excellent feedback, partnerships with the faculty, relevance to the curriculum, outreach, and an expanded role for the library. Before setting up a makerspace, consider these questions:
- Will it meet an expressed need? Consider who your users will be.
- Are there maker communities in campus departments? They will be an instant user base.
- Can dedicated staff be hired? High demand for the makerspace will create a significant demand on staff time. One possibility is to hire students who have a genuine interest in makerspaces and thus will find the work personally valuable.
- Is there space in the library for the makerspace to be visible? If it is tucked away, it can be forgotten.
- Can users be given free rein to experiment (after training)?
A makerspace is a way that libraries can democratize access to their facilities and services.
Predatory Publishers and Piracy
Everything You Wanted to Know About Predatory Publishing but Were Afraid to Ask
Monica Berger, Assistant Professor at New York College of Technology said that predatory publishing is slippery and controversial, just like fake news. It is the dark side of publishing; many predatory publishers create a venue for the lowest tier of scholars and are mostly interested in money. Aspects of predatory journals include promise of rapid publication, copycat journal names close to those of legitimate journals, creative bibliometrics, and the use of forms for contact instead of email addresses. Hijacked journals use the name, look, and ISSN of legitimate journals; sometimes they collect author publishing charges (APCs) averaging $178 and publish nothing.
Berger showed a map with locations of predatory authors; the overwhelming majority of them come from the “global south”. India accounts for 35% of the predatory authors, followed by 16% from Africa. Frequently, authors in those countries are pressured to publish in predatory journals. Operations of predatory publishers were exposed in a well-known sting operation conducted by John Bohanon, a correspondent for Science magazine, who sent a spoof article to over 300 OA journals, and over half of them accepted it without any peer review.
What can authors do about predatory publishing? Berger suggested educating the user community, working with strategic partners, presenting workshops on evaluating journals, and working with the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) and Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC). If OA existed without any journals charging APCs, positive change would result. Trustworthy OA publishers are listed in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) and by the Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association (OASPA).
Walking the Plank: How Scholarly Piracy Affects Publishers, Libraries, and Their Users
The rise of pirate sites is changing how researchers find and share scholarly content, which is affecting users, licensing agreements, and publishers. Publishers are becoming more restrictive; for example, a graduate student was blocked from accessing PsycINFO after downloading about 20 articles and was told she would have to deal with the publisher (APA, the American Psychological Association), which sent her a contract specifying how many articles she could download and when she could do it. The student contacted the library, which thought her usage was covered by their license agreement. Lawyers from the university and APA negotiated an agreement specifying that in any future incidents of this type, APA would contact the library, not the user, and they would collaborate on terms of a downloading agreement.
The entertainment industry has long dealt with piracy and might provide some examples for the information industry; the major difference is that entertainers are paid to publish, but students are not. Sharing results is a standard practice for researchers, and some systems facilitating sharing have existed for several years.
Sci-Hub has become a game changer and has downloaded over 50 million articles using proxy credentials gained from known-item searches on subscription databases. The originator, Alexandra Elbakyan, a student in Kazakhstan, has been called the “Robin Hood of Science”, and she was sued by Elsevier and Wiley in 2015. Although the publishers won the suit and Sci-Hub was taken down, it promptly reappeared. (For more on Sci-Hub, see the following summary.)
Here are some suggested implications and actions that libraries could take to combat piracy:
- Educate ourselves and our users. Discuss piracy openly and emphasize that credential sharing leads to more than content sharing and that Sci-Hub is not OA.
- Make content easy to find and use. Negotiate strong license rights for users because nondisclosure agreements do not serve libraries well. Allow ILL to function under national copyright laws and promote scholarly sharing and use of information.
- Support a diverse and equitable publishing system. Move beyond journal articles and away from the feeling that they are the gold standard for publishing research results.
Publishers are very worried and concerned. Even if researchers download only a few articles, they often appear somewhere else, which publishers call “the long slow leave”. Some users think that libraries should champion the use of Sci-Hub as a viable way to access information; libraries are thus in a very uncomfortable position.
Shadow Libraries and You: Sci-Hub Usage and the Future of ILL
Sci-Hub, founded in 2011, uses logins to find articles on LibGen. The 2015 lawsuit by Elsevier resulted in a flurry of media attention, so the speakers in this session conducted a study of the effect of Sci-Hub downloads on ILL transactions. They looked at usage by small colleges and compared monthly Sci-Hub downloads to ILL requests (small college usage was chosen to keep the volume of data manageable). No significant correlations were found. The indexing of the requested articles or prices for copies also did not make a difference.
Sci-Hub usage is widespread but very uneven; 10 cities accounted for half of the downloads, suggesting that there are a relatively small number of Sci-Hub power users in the US. The number correlates with the total number of faculty members, students, and library expenditures at their institutions. Four of the top 10 most active IP addresses account for 13% of all Sci-Hub downloads. Articles in clinical medicine, engineering, biomedicine, and chemistry were downloaded the most.
Unusual and Non-Traditional Library Activities
Academic libraries are moving beyond their traditional activities and developing spaces for other uses to meet students’ needs not related to information. These talks described some of these activities.
From Makerspace to Mind Spa
Stress from a variety of sources—rising debt levels, juggling work and class responsibilities, maintaining grades, interpersonal relationships, an information saturated environment, and keeping up with social media—is widespread and creating anxious students. Higher education has neglected the whole person by failing to integrate the inner and outer life; traditional education emphasizes rational objective thinking, but there is also a need to nurture a student’s mind, body, and spirit, not just the intellect.
Academic libraries are starting to express these needs by creating spaces for meditation, reflection, and contemplation to provide refuge and relief from stressful and harried lives. Brian Quinn, Social Sciences Librarian at Texas Tech University Libraries, rhetorically asked “Why academic libraries?” His answer is, “Why not?”—Libraries have traditionally been places for reading, writing, and reflection; many users understand this and seek out the library to recharge and revitalize. Yoga classes are now taught at Texas Tech, and the Texas Meditation Society meets in the library because it is quiet, peaceful, centrally located, and is used by both students and staff. The average attendance is from six to ten people at each session.
Emily Daly, Head of Assessment and User Experience at Duke University, noted that in surveys, students expressed a need for these services; the top thing mentioned was adequate quiet study space. Some campus groups (i.e. Muslim students) also wanted similar spaces in which to pray several times daily. A space was created for them without spending any additional funds; the administration even placed a sign in the prayer room indicating the direction of Mecca so that students could face it when they prayed.
- Connect to institutional values,
- Identify campus partners,
- Take advantage of local expertise,
- Involve students from the start, and
- Be patient and persistent.
Daly also urged anyone considering establishing such spaces not to forget that library staff also has needs in this area; the head of HR at Duke has long wanted to cater to staff members’ needs so people will not get sick as often because of stress.
At Pennsylvania State University at Hazleton, a unique “Meditation Corner” was created, and a poster by two Penn State librarians entitled “Within This Hallowed Hallway” reporting on a survey of formal and informal prayer spaces in libraries found that such spaces are not currently widespread.
More than Just Play: Board Game Collections in Academic Libraries
Another method of stress relief and relaxation is becoming more common in academic libraries: playing board games. This panel used the format of the popular quiz show game Jeopardy to discuss this subject, from planning, sources of games and funding for them, game collections, and problems that may be encountered.
Sources of information on games in libraries include:
- ALA’s Games & Gaming Roundtable (GamesRT) that provides a venue for librarians to share their experiences. Libraries are encouraged to participate in International Games Week, which takes place this year on October 29 to November 4.
- Local institutions such as public libraries can help academic libraries that want to start a game collection. Community gaming clubs and game shops are also resources.
- Donations from students and board game companies can be a resource for collections.
A digital sign in the library is a good game marketing tool and has the advantage that it is easy to create. Many games are being developed as apps, so it is easy to test them before acquiring them for the collection.
A significant problem is that pieces, cards, or even entire games can go missing. It is useful to have spare sets of dice on hand. 3D printing can help recreate missing pieces. It is worthwhile contacting the game producer; they might be willing to supply a missing piece or even a free copy of the game because they know that people check them out to try and see if they want to buy them.
Some libraries store their games in a Media Center where there is already a process for circulating various objects, and some charge for loans (up to three days at $5/day, for example). Games are not permitted to circulate via ILL. To detect missing pieces, libraries can weigh the boxes before and after they are circulated. Directions for games can often be found on the manufacturer’s website.
It is important to have a diverse collection of games (card games, board games, party games, etc.) and buy ones in which students are interested. “Learn to play” sessions can help people become familiar with the collection, and many libraries catalog their games individually. If people are playing the games, that is an argument for making a case to the administration for funds to expand the collection.
Midterms and finals are stressful times for students and are excellent opportunities to introduce them to a game collection. Money from book sales or year-end surpluses can be used to buy games without impacting the book budget. Some games may not circulate frequently; there is no need to worry about that because they do not take up much space in the library.
The ACRL conference was large and extremely useful. Many other sessions could not be described here because of space limitations, as well as many poster sessions held during refreshment breaks in the exhibit hall. And of course, the exhibits presented a range of products and services of interest. Proceedings of the conference are on the ACRL website. The next ACRL conference will occur on April 10-13, 2019 in Cleveland, OH.
Donald T. Hawkins is an information industry freelance writer based in Pennsylvania. In addition to blogging and writing about conferences for Against the Grain, he blogs the Computers in Libraries and Internet Librarian conferences for Information Today, Inc. (ITI) and maintains the Conference Calendar on the ITI website (http://www.infotoday.com/calendar.asp). He is the Editor of Personal Archiving: Preserving Our Digital Heritage, (Information Today, 2013) and Co-Editor of Public Knowledge: Access and Benefits (Information Today, 2016). He holds a Ph.D. degree from the University of California, Berkeley and has worked in the online information industry for over 45 years.
 Douglas K. Arnold and Christine K. Fowler, “Nefarious Numbers”, Notices of the American Mathematical Society, volume 58, issue 3, pages 434-7, 2011
 See the presentation by John Burke at ACRL 2015 entitled “Making Sense: Can Makerspaces Work in Academic Libraries?” and the references cited there.
 John Bohanon, “Who’s Afraid of Peer Review?”, Science, volume 342, issue 6154, pages 60-65, October 4, 2013.