Monthly Archives: March 2014

The future of libraries is in good hands

“Don’t underestimate the power of a lifetime ahead.”¬†Electric Youth, Debbie Gibson [YESSSSS – bonus points for nostalgic song choice]

Several questions about the future of libraries have been floating around these here intertubes lately. There’s a feverish panic to some of them. DO WE HAVE FIVE YEARS TO LIVE? ARE LIBRARIES KEEPING PACE? ARE WE BEING INNOVATIVE ENOUGH? ARE WE PICKING THE RIGHT PRIORITIES? For the low, low price of $500, we can all finally wrap our heads around it. Or, rather, your bosses can.

Or not. Here’s a list of events that are either coming up or have taken place very recently that leave me wondering why there’s panic in the streets of library land:

Digital Odyssey 2014: “Code, the most important language in the world”

Startup Weekend EDU: Library Edition

Collections Hackfest

Software skills for librarians by Software Carpentry

Access Conference 2014: Growing in the 21st Century

… and then there’s that wee event that we hold dear to our heart called Superconference, where the theme of this year was A Universe of Possibilities and next year’s is Think it! Do It!

Indeed, what a glum bunch we are. Here’s the thing – I suspect that there actually isn’t panic. I look at my own library and those around me and I see thriving institutions that are doing amazing things, despite shrinking budgets and uncertain times. I feel excitement when I think about the future of libraries.

My point is this: events that wag their finger at us suggesting that we’re doing it wrong, and here’s how you should fix it that are run by for-profit consultants are not worthy of our scarce professional development dollars. When you choose events such as the ones that I’ve listed above, you are reinvesting in our profession by helping our associations thrive, and by encouraging learning and skill development on a peer-to-peer basis. We’re good. We’ve got this. Don’t let anyone tell you any different.



Update on direct linking to HBR

Last week I blogged about the infuriating discovery that we could not link to the revered “chosen 500” Harvard Business Review articles via our discovery layer. Through some testing and examples provided in the comments on that post (thanks so much!), we’ve* created a workaround. Note that I said we have not fixed it. As is the case with many tech issues in library content management, us clever librarians spend inordinate amounts of time working around artificial barriers (mainly profit-driven) that have been created by the vendors and publishers to whom we are beholden.

It turns out that EBSCO turns an SFX created OpenURL with an article level target into a persistent link. Hence, HBR throws up the drawbridge and won’t allow a link to full text PDF in the resulting screen. We learned that those using the 360 Core resolver were not experiencing this problem. The functionality of the resolvers is slightly different. As I understand it, 360 Core creates a link using the metadata entered to link to a results list, whereas, SFX uses an accession number to link to a PDF. Presumably, because that’s a better user experience. You know, to get to the actual article you are seeking as opposed to combing through ANOTHER result list. The workaround has been to create a link parser for SFX that will behave the same way as 360 Core for HBR content. Not ideal, but better than the confusing dead end that we are currently experiencing.

So, in the end, we are getting our users to these 500 articles (sort of) without the help of those who are charging us for the privilege of accessing content via their platform. Our incredibly talented ER librarian has invested a significant amount of time in this issue. Time that could have been spent in pursuit of tasks that are not so narrowly focused and borne solely out of a publishers pursuit of higher profit margins. Harumph. This is how I feel about it.


*Full disclosure: That’s most certainly a royal “we”. I have had almost nothing to do with this solution. I really need to learn more about link resolvers.


The very definition of artificial scarcity – discovering HBR

There’s lots of opportunities. If there aren’t, you can make them.” – Opportunities (Let’s make lots of money), Pet Shop Boys

Here’s a tale that’s been taking shape for about a month now. I received a call while I was on the reference desk a while back from a woman who was trying to read an article known to be in the Harvard Business Review. She knew the author name and article title. It was my librarian instinct to walk her through the journal title lookup, but I remembered to check myself and “do as the user does”. So, together, we walked through looking up the article via our discovery layer, Summon. This is what we found:


Huh. No link to full text. Indeed, the user was not confused – there was no access to this article. And this is where I should have been thinking straight and redirect her to the journal title lookup, but in the moment, I became confused myself. This appeared to be one of those HBR articles. The chosen 500. I became flustered and explained that HBR had started charging a levy to link to these articles and since we did not pay, it looked as though she was going to be out of luck (NB: I know now that this was incorrect). I apologized and we ended the call. Of course, I continued on my hunt, and within minutes, not only did I find a copy of the article on the open web (take THAT, HBR), but I also followed the old fashioned steps to look it up via journal title. When I did that, here’s what I saw:


Oh, hey there PDF Full Text! How you doin’? And where were you five minutes ago when a student needed you? Oh, that’s right, stuck behind an artificially created barrier orchestrated by an incredibly greedy publisher. Silly me.

I realized that I had done wrong, proceeded to berate myself for not taking the student’s information down, and sheepishly proceeded to admit my mistake to my colleagues so that we could see what was what. Because this didn’t seem right to me. And indeed, it is not. We opened a call with EBSCO to investigate. We were informed that HBR is detecting SFX links (i.e. those created when linking to content via Summon) as persistent and therefore blocking access. Our reply reiterated that SFX links are decidedly NOT persistent, rather they are OpenURL, so please fix that. The rest of the story is riddled with ridiculous technical explanations about why that won’t be happening any time soon. I’ll spare everyone the details.

This story brings three issues forth:

  1. I really need to work on my reference skills when it comes to thinking on the fly. Facepalm.
  2. EBSCO is the only game in town for online access to HBR. They need to step up to FIX THIS.
  3. None of this would be an issue if HBR wasn’t operating under an unreasonable profit model. This is the very definition of creating artificial scarcity. We have already paid (handsomely) for a subscription to HBR and it is outrageous that our users cannot access them via our discovery layer.

So, friends in libraryland. I implore you to act. If you are reading this, and you have access to a discovery layer and a subscription to HBR via EBSCO, please go ahead and give this a test run. And if you find a similar result as we did, open a call to address this. Contact HBR to tell them that this isn’t cool. Conversely, if you do find that it works, let me know! Maybe we’re missing something and there’s a fix that we are not seeing.

Further reading on how terrible HBR is:

Networking under the influence

“Keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel.” – Roadhouse Blues, The Doors.

The ever thought provoking Nina De Jesus (aka. @satifice) blogged yesterday about the culture of drinking at conferences. Some of you who have hung out with me before may be surprised to find that I (mostly) agree with Nina. Full disclosure: I like me a drink (or several), but have always tried my best to not mix professionally related events and excess booze (stop laughing, librarians with whom I’ve indulged … I said I try).

I’ve never found library conferences to be too drinky-drinky, but perhaps that’s all perspective. Nina refers to tech conferences and groups of drunk white guys. I’ve been exposed to my fair share of drunk white guys, but not normally at library conferences. What really got me thinking was the point about feeling an obligation to explain abstinence. As a drinker who experienced pregnancy, I totally get that. But it also made me reflect on my own behaviour. Have I made others feel uncomfortable when I offer them an alcoholic beverage when they didn’t want one? I certainly hope not. I’d like to think that I would never press the point, but I’m grateful for having had the chance to reflect and will say with confidence now that a drinker should never make a non-drinker feel like the odd man out. Asking repeatedly if someone wants a drink is just kind of boorish. There’s being hospitable, and then there’s being an asshole.

Now, from the conference planning perspective, I’ve got thoughts. As an acquisitions librarian, I’m the recipient of a fair amount of dinner invitations at conference time. They’ve always made me feel slightly conflicted, especially when I was a newbie. They are usually at pretty nice restaurants where the waiters are freely pouring many bottles of wine. It takes persistence to ask them to leave your glass alone. You can end up getting loaded pretty quickly in that scenario if you aren’t super careful. I’ve got more experience now, and feel more comfortable in my role and with my reps/colleagues/higher-ups who also attend these dinners, but I feel for the inexperienced librarian who finds themselves at a class restaurant who may not be comfortable with booze.

Which is why I was thrilled to receive a breakfast invitation from YBP Library Services at OLA this year. Instead of a fancy dinner, YBP treated their clients to a nice hot breakfast at the conference site. A presentation was delivered by the team informing us on developments underway and a general update on how they were doing with new service implementations. I learned a fair amount and was able to ask questions of a panel of varied experts. It was a refreshing change and I got a lot more out if it than I would have at a dinner – I suspect it was the same for YBP.¬† There’s no such thing as a free dinner; we must not forget that “free” drinks and food come from the vendor’s bottom line. I’m not so naive to think that I will influence the state of vendor/client relations when it comes to the long history of wining and dining with this here little blog post, but this is my way of saying I’d rather not pay more for your services in exchange for a fancy dinner or big open bar party.

I also like the idea of providing alternative events at conferences, even for just one night instead of the traditional all-conference receptions. They are expensive and are possibly quite exclusionary for some. Organizing sign ups for various dinners or non-drinking focused events (bowling, mini-putt, board game coffee houses, etc. etc.) could be a great way for those who want to abstain find each other. It doesn’t cost the conference a thing and could be a way to reach a population we didn’t know we were missing. The folks who want to head to the pub will probably still head to the pub (me likely included – mama takes her breaks when she can get them), but for those who want options, we should do our best to provide them.