Do Libraries Collect Software Now?

Last week, ISIS  hosted an online seminar about bake-offs, processes through which individuals and institutions decide what new tools or technologies to purchase. Generally an activity in the purview of Information Technology departments, we had the pleasure of hearing a presentation from Sarah Oelker, a librarian from Mount Holyoke College, who talked about how a group of Mount Holyoke librarians applied bake-off principles to the process of sourcing technology solutions for the College. Here’s a look at Sarah’s awesome venn diagram:

Sarah Oelker's Bake Off Matrix

Sarah Oelker’s Bake Off Matrix

It’s a great visual to help us think about how libraries and technology departments can contexutalize making decisions about our resources, and how we should try to meet our community’s academic needs through our purchases and services. As we embrace a ‘just in time’ collecting model – one that allows us to purchase that book a faculty member needs on a moment’s notice or to have a cache of power cords for students to borrow to charge their laptops in the library – how do we think about software as not just a tool, but also as something to collect?

Which brings me to a larger question: should libraries collect software now? As digital humanities centers proliferate  and as heated debates come up about whether 3d printers should be in libraries, the nature of our collections is also shifting. How does/will/should that impact our collecting strategies? As libraries and information technology departments scale up to meet new demands for ‘digital’ scholarship, how do we balance the needs for ‘just in time’ and ‘just in case’ acquisitions with tools that have utilitarian value now and historical value later?

From where I’m sitting, the answer is that yes, we need to collect software, but the what and the how are other questions for which I don’t think profession yet has a cogent answer. For collection development librarians, the ground is shifting away from bibliography and toward patron-driven acquisitions for monographs and journals. I believe this shift provides an opportunity to work closely with our colleagues in IT to map out strategies for successful collection and stewardship of software, especially as librarians increasingly support classroom technologies. In any case, it represents another step towards utilizing the library as incubator of new ideas and practices, instead of just as a repository for the old.

Reciprocity: Collaborating with Faculty in the Library

As we near the end of the summer, we are nearing the end of my outreach series. You can check out parts 1, 2, 3 & 4. Today’s edition is about collaborating with faculty on the librarian’s “turf.”

Courtesy of the Hampshire College Archives

In our age of embedded librarianship, librarians are forging collaborative relationships with faculty in their classrooms and in the planning of their syllabi. However, it seems like there is a limited discussion about how librarians can invite faculty to collaborate with them in the library. Rachel Beckwith (the Arts Librarian at Hampshire College) and I explored these issues during our presentation at ACRL-New England this spring some examples of how we at Hampshire aim to invite faculty into library to work with us to develop collections and resources to benefit our students. We encourage faculty to help us build our collections through conversations and through the creation of Amazon Wish Lists, and we invite faculty to collaborate with us on developing LibGuides.

Hampshire College’s Library recently revised its collections statements to affirm that our mission is to support our unique curriculum; we rely on our consortial partners to support faculty research through our borrowing agreements in the Five Colleges. We selectors keep abreast of course developments and buy resources that best support them. Naturally, as faculty revise courses and develop new ones we expect to buy new items as they are needed. I set aside 25% of my budget for faculty driven acquisitions to support their coursework. Some of my other colleagues have set up Amazon Wish Lists to track faculty requests. This is not to say we green light every suggestion, but we do take faculty input seriously as we manage and grow our collection.

By the same token, I am always trying to improve our research guides, adding links to new resources purchase by the library, working towards integrating successful examples of work for students to emulate, and also including links to websites on the open web like successful digital humanities projects, or interesting news sites that students would not ordinarily think about on their own. While I have broad subject knowledge and a master’s degree in history, I realize that my faculty are the subject experts and have a wealth of knowledge about their areas of expertise I will never have. So why not invite faculty to participate in the creation of subject guides? I had a particularly successful experience with my Africana studies LibGuide last spring. A faculty member and I met and discussed his curricular needs and we shared our best resources with each other. He felt empowered in having a a voice in how we shape our resources and market ourselves, and I learned more about African diasporas that will benefit community members in and beyond his class.

Faculty and librarians collaborate together to support student learning. In order to work effectively together, we need to invite each other into our own spheres to be successful. Such collaborations can’t rest on faculty inviting us into their classrooms, but librarians inviting faculty into our libraries, too.

Consortial Change Agents: We’re Better Together

Along with Smith College, Mount Holyoke College, Amherst College, and the University of Massachusetts, Hampshire College is one of five colleges in the Five College Consortium in the Pioneer Valley. Students enrolled in any of the five schools can take courses at the other campuses, and can borrow books from the other colleges. As a Five College graduate, I took advantage of the reciprocal lending agreements frequently during my undergraduate and graduate years in the Valley. Now, as a professional librarian at Hampshire, I work closely with my colleagues across the Valley on a number of different projects, usability questions, and topics in the digital humanities. While these collaborative relationships have nearly a forty year history in the Five Colleges and enjoy institutional support and strength, I want to talk about an informal – and sometimes invisible – consortium of librarians across higher education, a fellowship that exists on Twitter and through relationships forged through programs like Immersion and at national and regional conferences.

As academic librarians tackle difficult the questions of how to support students in online environments, how to promote open access and new forms of scholarly communication, and how to collect for a twenty-first century library, they should not despair; while looking to colleagues at home institutions for support, they should also look towards other librarians across the profession for support, to act as a sounding board, for information, for advice. In the last few months alone, I’ve gone to Twitter for collection development questions, a colleague in New York City about digital directions in science, and joined the Program Committee for ISIS, a decentralized online community of technologists and librarians. Twenty-first century librarians are better together; collectively we can tackle the challenges that lie ahead at our home institutions, during webinars, through crowdsourced conversations on social media, and at conferences. Together, we can.

Wrapping up ACRL-NEC 2012

Two weeks ago, I attended the annual Association of College and Research Libraries, New England Chapter meeting at the College of Holy Cross in Worcester. I was fortunate enough to co-present with my fabulous colleague, Rachel Beckwith. Together, we shared some of our outreach strategies and experience in a talk entitled: “Hey, Great to Run into You! Embedded Librarians Forging Partnerships Across Campus.” We divided up our time between our presentation and a facilitated conversation with the librarians in the room, a model for conference presentations I really prefer over the standard talk followed by question and answers. The talk can be captured in six points which represents our spectrum of embedded librarianship ranging from causal encounters to formalized curricular realtionships:

  • Informal Encounters: the fine line between outreach and stalking
  • New Presentism: inserting yourself at a moment of transition
  • High Threshold teaching: a semester with Omeka
  • Consortial Change Agents: 5 College Mellon Digital Humanties Grant
  • Reciprocity: Amazon Wish Lists, collaborating with faculty to create LibGuides
  • Partners in Retention: Pouncing on fresh blood in Student Affairs.

Outreach is a key piece of my work that I invest time and energy investigating in my research and writing. I truly believe that the most effective librarians do not wait for students to show up to the reference desk or the office, but librarians who actively seek out their students, faculty, and other constituents. In addition to bringing visibility to the library on campus, it’s more fun for the librarian too. I’ve really enjoyed my serendipitous conversations and reference interviews with students and faculty at Northampton Cafes, campus events, and on the Five College Bus System. It’s organic, and reinforces how seamlessly we exist in the campus community. That presence makes it possible for our academic stakeholders to trust us with more challenging endeavors like partnering to retain students and high threshold teaching and learning experiences. Above all, it is so satisfying to have a student smile back you and say, ‘wow, it’s great that you were here right when I was about to email you to make an appointment! Here you ARE!’

Courtesy of the Hampshire College Archives

Locally Produced, Locally Published: Hampshire’s Scholarly Communications

As the semester wraps up, I am beginning to organize and prioritize my summer projects. Foremost among them is planning outreach activities around open access and scholarly communication with our faculty at Hampshire. A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to give a quick talk at the School of Critical Social Inquiry’s weekly meeting about these issues. Using my new favorite tool, Storify, I narrated my talking points. The faculty were really engaged and I had some follow up about articles and interest in exploring these issues in more depth. To that end, I am brainstorming about ways to engage faculty and students about these issues come fall.

In a recent edition of edSurge, there’s a topical posting about Harvard’s stand against the unsustainable pricing structure of academic journals:

“TOO DEAR FOR HARVARD: Last year Harvard spent $3.75 million in subscription fees for scholarly journals–including at least one with fees above $40k and others in the “tens of thousands,” complains the Harvard Faculty Advisory Council. “Prices for online content from two providers have increased by about 145% over the past six years,” says the note. Faculty are advised to “consider submitting articles to open-access journals, or to ones that have reasonable, sustainable subscription costs.” Estimated cost for an undergrad year at Harvard (including room & board): $52,652.”

True, it’s ridiculous that Harvard is crying poor over acquisitions prices when many other instituions, including mine, have far fewer resources, but I am impressed with Harvard’s support of open access. One of the giants needs to stand up to publishers, needs to lead on the charge to re-imagine scholarly communication for the 21st century that provides space for open access publishing and sustainable practices among commercial ones as well.  This is all in contrast to Yale’s silence on the issue, best captured in this article from the Atlantic. While I have faith in the grassroots effort to reform scholarly communication, it’s helpful that one of the big libraries in in the fight with us.

More food for thought as I make plans for the fall.



We all weather storms in different ways. Some might want to watch various news channels and freak out with family over the phone, others (read: me), will cope with the hurricane by mucking around  LibGuides, monitoring Twitter (I luv you … Continue reading