Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Decisions and revisions

Do I dare
disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
for decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
- T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of Alfred Prufrock

Thanks to the economy, more than a dozen schools and programs, including two Ivy League schools and a prominent medical center, have instituted hiring freezes.

Cornell won't hire new faculty members from outside the university through March and has halted all new construction for at least 90 days. At Brown, the president announced a freeze for staff and administrative...

Go, A. (2008, Nov. 7). the paper trail: More schools impose hiring freeze. U.S. News & World Report, from http://www.usnews.com/blogs/paper-trail/2008/11/7/more-schools-impose-hiring-freezes-2.html.


I wonder how many news stories now begin 'In these uncertain times,' or some permutation of that phrase, or how many rest uneasily upon such a base.

This morning I read, in the Chronicle of Higher Education, reference to yet more schools freezing hires (or as one Florida university prefers it, at least a 'heavy frost.' News of a 16% budget cut for Florida is echoed elsewhere, by decisions to do this, or that, to take a coffee spoon's worth from here or there, to melt away through attrition, to halt purchases of materials in the library (and oh, how dolorously familiar it all seems to me after 20 years in libraries, how inextricably downward-spiraling losses must be!)

Reading all this I am driven to look away but cannot. I am haunted by it, by 'what ifs,' thinking about - well, now what do I do? That's the starting point for my thoughts, I admit - me, me, me. And then I think we may all be haunted by ghosts of unemployment lines, of professors selling apples and pencils, times that have shaped the nation and the world.

How has it changed us? If we can point to the Sputnik era as a starting point for upsurges in university hiring, science-focused education from the bottom up, and increases in library budgets - what are we not saying about harder times, and their effects upon these things?

After I get done with these speculations, or set them aside, I think about those subtler things - among them, evidence-based practice. If we know that some of the primary barriers to research in library settings are time and lack of resources, it may follow that in a recession, these commodities will be increasingly more scarce. If there is a heavy frost on hiring at the library (and we all know this math, don't we?) then staff do more with less of both time and resources. It would not be a good time to subscribe to LISA, or to free up just two hours per week for full time staff for research efforts. Add to this that we serve others whose own resources may have shrunk.

There are places my mind does not wish to go with this.

But it seems to me that this is a time when library associations, and the larger university LIS programs, need to lead more strongly. I had heard that once upon a time, MLA offered research mentors (in fact, I know they still do), and that very few people took advantage of this program. This is a time for collaboration, and we are now technologically more capable of boundary-crossings than ever before. In Second Life, more than 1,000 librarians from all types of libraries have been talking - for several years now - about what it means to work in a virtual space. We've been engaged in discovery about one another, and benefiting greatly from that ongoing conversation.

I want to connect the dots here.

We need strong leadership to emerge, and a new focus on collaboration: let's all learn more about how we can help each other through. As we do so, the future will be shaped. We knew it was coming anyway, right? At the same time, there has been much talk about the aging of the profession, and about the need to enlist younger people to carry on as older ones retire. We will welcome them to environments altered by cuts and heavy frosts, and they will arrive with paradigms and perceptions of their own.

Let's talk about how we can offer students new opportunities to practice in settings that range across all types of information environments. Let's invite students to those conversations, so that we begin now to work toward transition in a collaborative mode. Let's attend to new visions, rather than closing out the dark, from fear or our faltering complacency. If EBLIP is about moving from an expert opinion mode toward one that is more transparent, we all (all information environments, all levels) need to be a part of this conversation. Leadership will (or should) belong to those who think about how to build bridges across the boundaries we have created within and between our present-day spaces.

Our universe is (again, again!) disturbed; it is changing with or without our participation. Meanwhile, we have these new voices...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Dregs and bits

The other day (more days ago than should have been), I posted about evangelism in EBP:

I don't have an answer to that (usually) unvoiced opinion, either. I think I used to have one, but as I find I tend to do over time (must be that maturity thing), I came to a realization that soapbox-standing is not my metier. There is a certain aspect to EBL that is evangelical, so that a certain proportion of research articles and editorials about EBL are about persuasion ('for years editors of leading LIS journals have deplored the quality of practitioner research...') Shouldn't our discourse be about those questions, about our existing practices, about our perceived needs? Otherwise it's selling - not ice in Alaska - but ice someplace where there is no use for it.

Nothing like quoting myself for that certain something-or-other, is there? But I was talking yesterday with Michelle Samplin-Salgado of AIDS.gov, pursuant to our planning for World AIDS Day (see http://www.karunasl.info and http://www.karunasl.info/WorldAIDSDaySL/ for more on this, and our NLM-funded project), and we got around to generalized discussion about how one goes about convincing skeptics of the value of new widgets and practices, in this case, convincing academics and federal health agencies of the usefulness of Second Life for consumer health / public health promotion. I realized this morning while drinking my 2nd cup that this is not really so different from the persuasive tug-and-push of EBLIP, after all.

It is true that I never seem to append my comments about the value of EBL with jokes about wearing pink pig slippers while riding a flaming bike through the sky, but in so many other ways, conveying the value of change seems to entail a certain measure of rah-rah, or, relating it to the recent election, hype and promises of benefits that will - yes! - transform the profession and public perception of it, according us all, finally, with the recognition we so desire. For EBLIP, that's (more) unassailable decisions and less uncertain status within the institutional structure; for Second Life (well, maybe for EBL, as well) room to explore new ways of being.

We have the perception of quality deficits by some, while others feel the old widgets continue to work just fine (seat-of-the-pants practitioners, or authority/expertise based, just as with medicine). We have the kaleidoscopic shift of culture, technology, economy, need, each with its own urgency toward change or stasis; in libraries, these pressures can be threatening to the viability of budgets. Detractors kick back at change for many reasons, and this may be one of them: the rational, self-preserving voice of experience from a library director who knows that no matter what happens in the academy, the hospital administration does not support research, that there is no time or space for risk-taking, that collection decisions are very often more the result of special interest groups (like the neurosurgeons, who insist on those $3,000 subscriptions, or residents' groups, who insist on UpToDate). I'm veering off topic here, but I'm doing it because while writing this, I am thinking it through, and remembering exactly the kind of pressures described, above, in a teaching hospital library in Central Illinois, not all that long ago. I had previously mentioned Pat Thibodeau's half-joke that librarians are anarchists because they focus so intently on serving local populations, and I do think that the pressures described are very real barriers to EBLIP. How, I ponder while drinking all but the dregs of now-cooled coffee, can we help? Is this on the same level as, say, the hushed conversations about pricing deals with publishers?

Monday, November 03, 2008

The United States Election, 2008

Just a brief comment (a radical departure from my endless text!) and then I will settle, and await, like so many millions of others, the outcome of tomorrow's election. If I could write in a method rather than a candidate, I would elect evidence-based decision making. I would nominate it for its stepwise consideration of pertinent elements, and for its transparency:imagine if policy decision making adhered to rules of disclosure!