Category Archives: Commentary

April 27, 2013, 5:55 pm

Are online public universities the new land-grant institution?

I see that Florida approved an online-only public university and that California is exploring faculty-free colleges that would award exam-based degrees. Combine this with the fact that the federal government is exploring different models for financial aid based on competency rather than the quantity of credit hours. And add in that accreditation bodies are warming up to more open learning models.

Question: Is this the new “land-grant” university?

If the federal government  will fund online universities (via financial aid for tuition and fees) and accreditation organizations recognize these degrees as equivalent to other state-operated higher ed schools—is this the land-grant for the 21st century? Is this the new environment that opens up affordable and diverse education to a larger audience? Is this a contemporary approach to acquiring and developing skills, insights, and…

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April 14, 2013, 8:57 pm

DIY vs. STARTUP: choose your flavor of change

I attended an ACRL session titled “From the Periphery into the Mainstream: Library DIY culture(s) and the academy” and I was expecting something about makerspaces and related DIY-eque topics, but that wasn’t the case. Instead the panel asked the attendees questions about org culture.

I was surprised by the attitude that the session generated. There was a lot of “damn the man” talk and being a library administrator I guess I’m part of the problem now. As I listened I kept contrasting their attitude with startup thinking. While both DIY and startup argue for change, they differ quite a bit. Here are a few quick notes:


Destruction vs. Disruption
Many of the DIYers mentioned the need for creative destruction. In startup the aim is for innovative disruption. DIY wants to rebuild from scratch whereas startup wants hack the code—redefine what something can do.


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January 26, 2012, 5:59 pm

Encouraging Good Library Habits?

I’m fascinated with how memory (experience) influences habits (behaviors) within a particular space.


When I moved to Blacksburg I discovered Firehouse Subs and now I go there every weekend for lunch. During the workweek I typically bring my lunch, but my go-to lunch spot is Jimmy John’s. Besides my obsession with sandwiches there is something else going on here, cognitively speaking.


There are other places with more convenient and aesthetically pleasing locations, larger and more diverse menus, and possibly better prices or deals. So why am I loyal to those restaurants?


It has something to do with the psychology of place and the whole habit-forming mechanism in our brains. We’re comfortable with the known—and so we keep coming back to it. Also, when it comes to food, I’m not very adventurous. When I find something that works I tend to stick with it. I or…

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January 17, 2012, 6:59 pm

WHAT IF? The Library Blackout Scenario

Wikipedia and several other web services are going dark tomorrow. They are shutting down– largely to make a political statement, but I can’t help but feel they are also trying to make a point about their cultural value. College students everywhere are lucky it’s not during prime paper-writing season or else they might be forced to actually use their library’s website.


Library Blackout
The blackout scenario is something that has playfully come up everywhere I’ve ever worked. The conversation (usually at dinner, in bar, or at the end of an outreach planning meeting late in the afternoon) goes something like this:

People (faculty) don’t appreciate the library. I bet if we turned off our proxy (access to all digital content) for a hour then we’d get their attention. Then they’d see just how important the library is to their research.


Inferiority complex, maybe…

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December 9, 2011, 4:11 pm

LIBRARY ON LOCKDOWN: thoughts & observations from Virginia Tech

Note: this might be a good time for everyone to dust off their emergency planning protocol.

Yesterday was a wild, scary, sad day. My brother is a police officer in Florida so whenever stories like this happen it hits a sensitive spot. My sympathy to the Crouse family. It’s very quiet on campus this morning, but I’ve seen most students wearing VT clothing (it’s actually like that everyday) —so it’s good to see the school pride on display after what happened.


Reflecting on the events yesterday there were three distinct phases:

  1. The “Probably A False Alarm” aka Waiting Stage
  2. The “Oh, It’s Real, People Are Shot, Manhunt Is On” aka Chaos Stage
  3. The “Now What?” aka Quietly, Waiting, Wondering Stage


The campus buildings went on lockdown shortly after the officer was shot. Our staff responded efficiently and professionally securing the library…

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November 29, 2011, 8:36 pm

Do you own your library?

Stewardship. This is a word that gets thrown around all the time. The concept being—we (library employees) don’t own the spaces, collections, processes, or technologies—we’re just stewards of the institution’s investment.


It wasn’t until this year that I started to get that. (more on that later) Previously I viewed things very personally: my reference desk, my online chat service, my collection, my learning commons, my website, etc. Well, maybe not mine, but ours, as in those of us who worked in the library owned these assets.


And sure there is a user-centered movement—we want to strive to involve users in design or design with users in mind—but ultimately it is library employees who make decisions and who make changes happen. This is our thing.


Along these lines I was struck by a passage in Nickel & Dimed where the author reflects on her…

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November 2, 2011, 5:26 pm

New Job = Quiet Blog

Today is my last day at UC Santa Barbara. It has been an interesting few years and I’m grateful for the time I spent here. I learned a lot about administration and project management. If I had to pick one thing I enjoyed the most it would probably be our Three Millionth Volume Celebration. There were a lot of intricate parts and it was rewarding experience putting all the pieces together. I gave a short talk at the reception and I remember saying something like “The University loves to celebrate its athletes, but tonight we’re celebrating its artists.” That played well to the artsy/intellectual community.

I enjoyed working with my team and I wish them the best of luck going forward.

I was also very fortunate to meet Don Lubach who has become a great mentor to me. He taught me a lot about Student Affairs and email inbox management.


Next Up: Virginia Tech


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October 13, 2011, 5:20 pm

Are We In The DIY Era? Helping patrons help themselves

UCSB's Ole checking out some books

A core theme I see in LibQUAL+ data is that most libraries do pretty well in the service dimension, but when it comes to enabling users to help themselves their perceptions are typically much lower.

When you put all the numbers together the narrative goes something like this:

You’re pretty good at helping me, thanks, but I’d really prefer to do more things by  myself—and by the way, you don’t make that very easy for me.

But is this changing? Over the past several months (years?) a common theme seems to popping up everywhere: self-service. A few examples:

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September 26, 2011, 5:24 pm

What It Takes To Become A Scholar: helping students scale the taxonomy

We’re working on round two of our graduate student ethnography project. I plan to release the findings in January as a collection of whitepapers. The batch will include themes such as mentoring, collaboration, criticism, and work process. But my favorite thread is the progression from student to scholar. It has been fascinating to review the self-analysis and see how a scholar is defined.

Two predominate qualities emerged: independence & creation.

Some sample quotes:

1. “As you go through grad school at least in English, you begin to develop more into sort of an independent writer and scholar…. You start thinking more in terms of I’m making a book length argument that has to be interesting vs. I’ve gotta write this short argument that I think is what my professor wants.”

2. “As an undergrad, you were presented with deadlines that were dictated by others. And they we…

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July 19, 2011, 8:06 pm

Instructionally Adrift? Are instructors letting their students down?

At ALA 2011 Steven Bell turned me on to the book Academically Adrift. He wrote a thoughtful piece on it back in January— I’m a little slow getting a response out.

The gist of it boils down to the notion that students don’t appear to be learning much (academically speaking) during their time away at college—and hence there is some question about the value (and investment) of a college degree.

This is largely based on findings reporting that when students were tested before and after their college years there was little progress in standardized scores, suggesting that the college experience (which of course encompasses more than just courses) does little to advance intellectual development.

Bell points out that there is a lot of finger pointing and I tend to point mine at the K-12 system, which doesn’t prepare people (myself included) for college. However, while watching…

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