Nontraditional Professionals in Research Libraries

There is an interesting article by Stanley Wilder in the "Careers" section of the February 23, 2007 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education ("The New Library Professional").

Using 2005 data, he notes that 23% of the professionals in ARL libraries are in nontraditional positions (e.g., development, human resources, and IT), and 39% of under-35 professionals are in these type of positions. In this under-35 group, 24% of nontraditional professionals earn $54,000 (or more). Forty-seven percent of under-35 computer professionals make $50,000 or more. (Needless to say, traditional librarians have not done as well salary-wise, leading to equity concerns.) The number of professionals who do not have an MLS has skyrocketed by 142% since 1985.

I wonder if there are significant differences in this trend by ARL library rank, with it being stronger at more larger, more affluent libraries or at libraries in private institutions.

My own experience during the last 20 years or so at a small public ARL library was that it was a constant struggle to get approval for new computer professional positions; to be able to recruit at salaries that, while not truly competitive, were at least not laughable; to upgrade existing positions so that they more adequately reflected job duties and marketplace values; and to retain staff. This was more difficult for non-MLS professionals than for MLS professionals.

More than once I, as an Assistant Dean/Director of Systems, had to take direct responsibility for Web support because of lengthy recruitment difficulties, including one two-year stretch where I did 100% of all Web support work in addition to my normal duties (I also ran the branch libraries for one year of that period). As an Assistant Dean for Digital Library Planning and Development, I had no staff and no prospect of getting any.

At some research libraries, non-MLS professionals may find that they have no career path or a short one. Taking computer professionals as an example, the issue is how far up the hierarchy can non-MLS professionals go before they hit the "must have an accredited MLS" ceiling? Can they become unit heads, department heads, ADs, or Deans/Directors? The answer may vary by library. Another issue is, generous salaries aside, are nontraditional professionals treated as second-class citizens in other ways than advancement (e.g., they may not be given the same level of support for professional travel and activities, especially if MLS librarians have faculty or faculty-like status and are adequately supported in their efforts to move up the academic ranks). Given that 39% of under-35 professionals are in nontraditional jobs, these are important issues to address, especially if Boomer librarians manage to retire en masse as some predict. It would not be a pretty sight to have Boomers heading out the door just as younger nontraditional librarians bump their heads on the MLS ceiling and start considering other career options.

This is a liminal period for research libraries, and, to a significant degree, nontraditional staff will determine their future success.

Source: Wilder, Stanley. "The New Library Professional." The Chronicle of Higher Education, 23 February 2007, C1, C4.

The Long Run

Enthusiasm about new technologies is essential to innovation. There needs to be some fire in the belly of change agents or nothing ever changes. Moreover, the new is always more interesting than the old, which creaks with familiarity. Consequently, when an exciting new idea seizes the imagination of innovators and, later, early adopters (using Rogers’ diffusion of innovations jargon), it is only to be expected that the initial rush of enthusiasm can sometimes dim the cold eye of critical analysis.

Let’s pick on Library 2.0 to illustrate the point, and, in particular, librarian-contributed content instead of user-contributed content. It’s an idea that I find quite appealing, but let’s set that aside for the moment.

Overcoming the technical challenges involved, academic library X sets up on-demand blogs and wikis for staff as both outreach and internal communication tools. There is an initial frenzy of activity, and a number of blogs and wikis are established. Subject specialists start blogging. Perhaps the pace is reasonable for most to begin with, although some fall by the wayside quickly, but over time, with a few exceptions, the postings become more erratic and the time between postings increases. It is unclear whether target faculty read the blogs in any great numbers. Internal blogs follow a similar pattern. Some wikis, both internal and external, are quickly populated, but then become frozen by inactivity; others remain blank; others flourish because they serve a vital need.

Is this a story of success, failure, or the grey zone in between?

The point is this. Successful publishing in new media such as blogs and wikis requires that these tools serve a real purpose and that their contributors make a consistent, steady, and never-ending effort. It also requires that the intended audience understand and regularly use the tools and that, until these new communication channels are well-established, the library vigorously promote them because there is a real danger that, if you build it, they will not come.

Some staff will blog their hearts out irregardless of external reinforcement, but many will need to have their work acknowledged in some meaningful way, such as at evaluation, promotion, and tenure decision points. Easily understandable feedback about tool use, such as good blog-specific or wiki-specific log analysis, is important as well to give writers the sense that they are being read and to help them tailor their message to their audience.

On the user side, it does little good to say "Here’s my RSS feed" to a faculty member who doesn’t know what RSS is and could care less. Of course, some will be hip to RSS, but that may not be the majority. If the library wants RSS feeds to become part of a faculty member’s daily workflow, it is going to have to give that faculty member a good reason for it to be so, such as significant, identified RSS feed content in the faculty member’s field. Then, it is going to have to help the faculty member with the RSS transition by pointing out good RSS readers, providing tactful instruction, and offering ongoing assistance.

In spite of the feel-good glow of early success, it may be prudent not to declare victory too soon after making the leap into a major new technology. It’s a real accomplishment, but dealing with technical puzzles is often not the hardest part. The world of computers and code is a relatively ordered and predictable one; the world of humans is far more complex and unpredictable.

The real test of a new technology is in the long run: Is the innovation needed, viable, and sustainable? Major new technologies often require significant ongoing organizational commitments and a willingness to measure success and failure with objectivity and to take corrective action as required. For participative technologies such as Library 2.0 and institutional repositories, it requires motivating users as well as staff to make behavioral changes that persist long after the excitement of the new wears off.

Will Self-Archiving Cause Libraries to Cancel Journal Subscriptions?

There has been a great deal of discussion of late about the impact of self-archiving on library journal subscriptions. Obviously, this is of great interest to journal publishers who do not want to wake up one morning, rub the sleep from their eyes, and find out over their first cup of coffee at work that libraries have en masse canceled subscriptions because a "tipping point" has been reached. Likewise, open access advocates do not want journal publishers to panic at the prospect of cancellations and try to turn back the clock on liberal self-archiving policies. So, this is not a scenario that any one wants, except those who would like to simply scrap the existing journal publishing system and start over with a digital tabula rosa.

So, deep breath: Is the end near?

This question hinges on another: Will libraries accept any substitute for a journal that does not provide access to the full, edited, and peer-reviewed contents of that journal?

If the answer is "yes," publishers better get out their survival kits and hunker down for the digital nuclear winter or else change business practices to embrace the new reality. Attempts to fight back by rolling back the clock may just make the situation worse: the genie is out of the bottle.

If the answer is "no," preprints pose no threat, but postprints may under some difficult to attain circumstances.

It is unlikely that a critical mass of author created postprints (i.e., author makes the preprint look like the postprint) will ever emerge. Authors would have to be extremely motivated to have this occur. If you don’t believe me, take a Word file that you submitted to a publisher and make it look exactly like the published article (don’t forget the pagination because that might be a sticking point for libraries). That leaves publisher postprints (generally PDF files).

For the worst to happen, every author of every paper published in a journal would have to self-archive the final publisher PDF file (or the publishers themselves would have to do it for the authors under mandates).

But would that be enough? Wouldn’t the permanence and stability of the digital repositories housing these postprints be of significant concern to libraries? If such repositories could not be trusted, then libraries would have to attempt to archive the postprints in question themselves; however, since postprints are not by default under copyright terms that would allow this to happen (e.g., they are not under Creative Commons Licenses), libraries may be barred from doing so. There are other issues as well: journal and issue browsing capabilities, the value-added services of indexing and abstracting services, and so on. For now, let’s wave our hands briskly and say that these are all tractable issues.

If the above problems were overcome, a significant one remains: publishers add value in many ways to scholarly articles. Would libraries let the existing system of journal publishing collapse because of self-archiving without a viable substitute for these value-added functions being in place?

There have been proposals for and experiments with overlay journals for some time, as well other ideas for new quality control strategies, but, to date, none have caught fire. Old-fashioned peer review, copy editing and fact checking, and publisher-based journal design and production still reign, even among the vast majority of e-journals that are not published by conventional publishers. In the Internet age, nothing technological stops tens of thousands of new e-journals using open source journal management software from blooming, but they haven’t so far, have they? Rather, if you use a liberal definition of open access, there are about 2,500 OA journals—a significant achievement; however, there are questions about the longevity of such journals if they are published by small non-conventional publishers such as groups of scholars (e.g., see "Free Electronic Refereed Journals: Getting Past the Arc of Enthusiasm"). Let’s face it—producing a journal is a lot of work, even a small journal that only publishes less than a hundred papers a year.

Bottom line: a perfect storm is not impossible, but it is unlikely.

More on ALA and Open Access

Peter Suber has provided clarification of ALA’s stance on open access in the below Open Access News posting excerpt:

Comment. This is the most detailed discussion I’ve seen of this question. You should read the whole thing, as I’ve had to omit most of the detail on which Charles’ conclusion rests. I’d only add that (1) the ALA Washington office has a page on OA, (2) the ALA Council adopted a resolution in support of FRPAA at its June 2006 annual meeting, and (3) the ALA has signed on to several public statements in support of OA, most recently a July 12 letter in support of FRPAA and a May 31 letter in support of the EC report on OA.

To further clarify this matter, FRPAA (Federal Research Public Access Act of 2006) and the European Commission’s Study on the Economic and Technical Evolution of the Scientific Publication Markets in Europe both deal with open access to publicly-funded research. This is certainly a major open access issue; however, ALA journals are unlikely to publish a high percentage of papers that result from such publicly-funded research. Consequently, the direct impact of FRPAA or, especially, the EC report on ALA’s journal publishing operations is likely to be minimal.

In contrast to this support for FRPAA and the EU report, ALA has not signed the "Budapest Open Access Initiative" (as other library organizations such as the Association of Academic Health Services Libraries, ALA’s Association of College and Research Libraries Division, the Association of Research Libraries, and the Canadian Association of Research Libraries have), the "Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities," or the "Washington DC Principles for Free Access to Science" (as many association publishers have).

The path from the ALA home page to the Washington Office page is: Home–> Washington Office –> Issues–> Copyright Issues–> Open Access to Research. The ALA Web site is quite large and deep, and one would not expect an OA page to be on the top level. The question is: Can this page be found by someone who doesn’t know that open access is a Washington Office concern? It appears that issues of primary concern to ALA are under the home page heading "Issues & Advocacy" (Home –> Issues & Advocacy).

Whether ALA provides more active support for the open access movement and its reform strategies is, of course, up to its officers and members. These two postings on the matter have been descriptive, not prescriptive. Further clarifications to ALA’s stance on open access or discussion of it are welcome, and can be submitted as comments to either posting.

The American Library Association and Open Access

Does the American Library Association (ALA) support open access and, if so, are its journal publishing practices congruent with open access journal publishing and self-archiving?

What is the American Library Association?

For non-librarians, a brief overview of the American Library Association (ALA) from its Web site may be helpful before considering its open access policies and practices

The American Library Association is the oldest and largest library association in the world, with more than 64,000 members. Its mission is to promote the highest quality library and information services and public access to information.

ALA’s Mission and Strategic Plans

Several key documents outline ALA’s mission and strategic goals:

Although the ALA’s mission and goals have become less library-centric over time, there is no explicit statement of support for open access in any of these documents.

ALA Memberships in Organizations That Support Open Access Initiatives

ALA is a member of at least two organizations that support open access initiatives: (1) the Alliance for Taxpayer Access (ATA), and (2) the SPARC Open Access Working Group. (ALA is not a member of SPARC, but its Association of College and Research Libraries division, known as ACRL, is.)

Information about these ARL memberships certainly exists in the ALA Web site, but it is deeply buried and difficult to find by navigating the site’s menu structure (see the Google site searches for ATA and the SPARC Open Access Working Group).

ALA’s Journal Copyright Agreements

ALA has two copyright agreements: (1) Copyright Assignment Agreement and (2) Copyright License Agreement.

In the Copyright Assignment Agreement, the author: "hereby grants to Publisher all right, title and interest in and to the Work, including copyright in all means of expression by any method now known or hereafter developed, including electronic format." ALA then grants back to the author one broad self-archiving right: "The right to use and distribute the Work on the Author’s Web site." It also grants a narrow right: "The right to use and distribute the Work internally at the Author’s place of employment, and for promotional and any other non-commercial purposes." Authors who use this agreement cannot self-archive in public sections of institutional repositories or in disciplinary archives.

In the Copyright License Agreement, the author retains copyright and then grants to ALA the rights needed to publish the article, with the only restriction on the author being that: "Author agrees not to publish the Work in print form prior to the publication of the Work by the Publisher." Authors who can choose this option can self-archive where ever they want.

ALA’s Journals

ALA publishes a number of serials. This section only considers its major journals. Since it is impossible to determine from their Web sites if some ALA journals are peer-reviewed, there has been no effort to distinguish peer-reviewed journals from those with other editorial policies.

  1. Children and Libraries: The Journal of the Association for Library Service to Children: The Web site provides no table of contents information or online access at all, although there is a link that says: "Click here to subscribe to Children and Libraries online now!" The Policies and Procedures page says: "All material in CAL is subject to copyright by ALA and may be reprinted or photocopied and distributed for the noncommercial purpose of educational or scientific advancement." There are no links to the ALA copyright forms. Verdict: Not an open access journal and, since it is unclear whether the Copyright License Agreement is accepted, it may only support limited self-archiving.
  2. College & Research Libraries: There is a six-month embargo period, after which issues are freely available at the Web site. Volume 57 (1996) through volume 66 (2005) are freely available. The journal page solely links to the Copyright License Agreement. Verdict: Not an open access journal, but fully supports self-archiving.
  3. Information Technology and Libraries: Recently, the journal’s access policy changed. There will be a six-month embargo period, after which issues will be freely available at the Web site. Selected articles from volume 20 (2001) through volume 23 (2004) are freely available. The home page links to both ALA copyright agreements. Verdict: Not an open access journal, but fully supports self-archiving. (Disclosure: Since ALA Annual, I have been on the Editorial Board.)
  4. Library Administration and Management: Web site only provides access to table of contents information. No discussion of copyright agreements in Author Instructions. Verdict: Not an open access journal and, since it is unclear whether the Copyright License Agreement is accepted, it may only support limited self-archiving.
  5. Library Resources & Technical Services: Web site provides access to table of contents information and the full-text of volumes 44 (2000) through 46 (2002). Instructions to Authors page links to both ALA copyright agreements. Not an open access journal, but fully supports self-archiving.
  6. Public Libraries: Web site provides free access to volume 42 (2002) through volume 44 (2005). There is no discussion of copyright in the Public Libraries Editorial Guidelines page, and there are no links to the ALA copyright forms. Verdict: Not an open access journal and, since it is unclear whether the Copyright License Agreement is accepted, it may only support limited self-archiving.
  7. RBM: A Journal of Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Cultural Heritage: Volume 13 (1998) (of the prior journal) through volume 6 (2005) are freely available. No links to ALA copyright agreements. Guidelines for Submission of Articles to RBM page states: "Articles published in RBM are copyrighted by the American Library Association, and subsequent inquiries for reprinting articles are referred to the ALA Office of Rights and Permissions." Verdict: Not an open access journal. Since it is unclear whether the Copyright License Agreement is accepted, it may only support limited self-archiving.
  8. Reference & User Services Quarterly: Web site only provides access to table of contents information and article abstracts. Information for Authors, Advertisers, and Subscriptions page links to both ALA copyright agreements. Not an open access journal, but fully supports self-archiving.
  9. School Library Media Research: Web site provides free access to all issues. Manuscript Policy page links to both ALA copyright agreements. An open access journal under the most liberal definition of that term (i.e., free, immediate access without using a Creative Commons Attribution License or similar license) that fully supports self-archiving.
  10. Young Adult Library Services: Web site only provides access to table of contents information. Author Guidelines page states: "A manuscript published in the journal is subject to copyright by ALA for Young Adult Library Services." There are no links to the ALA copyright forms. Verdict: Not an open access journal and, since it is unclear whether the Copyright License Agreement is accepted, it may only support limited self-archiving.

It should be noted that the Science and Technology Section of ACRL publishes Issues in Science & Technology Librarianship, a freely available e-journal whose Instructions for Authors page does not discuss copyright at all; however, ALA does not list this journal on its American Library Association Periodicals page, which "is a list of the various newsletters, magazines, and journals published within the American Library Association, including those which are only available over the Internet."

Summary

This brief investigation has not attempted to determine whether the divisions of ALA more vigorously support and enact open access principles than the parent organization. The Association of College and Research Libraries is certainly known for its general support (e.g., see ACRL Taking Action, Principles and Strategies for the Reform of Scholarly Communication, and Scholarly Communication Toolkit).

A user starting at the ALA home page would be hard pressed to find any information that suggests that ALA is an advocate of open access without using the search function. Yet, there are a number of pages on the site that deal with it, although many are ACRL Web site pages or serial articles.

ALA’s mission statements and plans reveal no explicit support for open access; however, ALA belongs to at least two organizations that support it: (1) the Alliance for Taxpayer Access (ATA), and (2) the SPARC Open Access Working Group.

Out of ten major journals that it publishes, ALA only publishes one open access journal: School Library Media Research. Two journals (College & Research Libraries and Information Technology and Libraries) have a clear six-month embargo policy. Two more (Public Libraries and RBM: A Journal of Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Cultural Heritage) may also be operating under an embargo policy. One provides free access to a subset of older back volumes (Library Resources & Technical Services). The rest only provide table of contents information, some with abstracts, or, in one case, no information at all.

Five journals (College & Research Libraries, Information Technology and Libraries, Library Resources & Technical Services, Reference & User Services Quarterly, School Library Media Research) clearly offer authors the option of the Copyright License Agreement, which fully supports all types of self-archiving. For the rest, it is unclear from the journal’s Web sites if this option is permitted, and only the Copyright Assignment Agreement may be available, which only permits self-archiving on the author’s Web site or on internal systems at the author’s place of employment (presumably including an access-restricted part of an institutional repository). It may be the case that all ALA journals permit the use of the Copyright License Agreement; however, this is impossible to determine from some their Web sites, a subset of which have language that appears to indicate otherwise.

As a whole, the American Library Association appears to support the open access movement to a limited extent. If this is incorrect and its support is strong, ALA appears to be having difficulty making its commitment visible and "walking the talk."

Hear Luminaries Interviewed at Recent CNI Task Force Meetings

Matt Pasiewicz and CNI have made available digital audio interviews with a number of prominent attendees at the CNI Fall (2005) and Spring (2006) Task Force meetings.

Navigating the Library Blogosphere

Needless to say, there has been rapid growth in blogging by librarians over the last few years, and library blogosphere has become more varied and complex. Here are some directories of library web logs to help you navigate the library blogosphere:

Want more information about library web logs? Try Susan Herzog’s BlogBib.

The Counting Game

Let’s say you run a research library and you have JSTOR. You are convinced that JSTOR is a safe, permanent electronic archive that fully substitutes for the included print journal volumes. It makes sense to take a second look at those print volumes. It’s a large number of volumes, and space (as always) is tight. What to do? You could withdraw them, you could put them in remote storage, or you could do nothing.

A question that might come to mind is: What impact will withdrawing these volumes have on my volume count? And, if your library is in ARL, a second question might be: what impact would withdrawing these volumes have on my ARL ranking?

Of course, if you are at one of the very top-tier libraries, this might be the proverbial drop in the bucket. If not, it might have an effect, possibly a big effect if you are at the bottom of the rankings.

Another interesting twist comes when the same questions come to bear on cooperative print archives. The idea is that a group of libraries band together and put one archival copy of book or journal volumes in a collective print repository, freeing up a considerable amount of collective space. Perhaps it’s in response to a shift to electronic access, or perhaps it’s based on low usage. In either case, one archival copy is stored safe and sound for that someday when it might be needed.

Makes sense—until you play the counting game.

The problem with the counting game in the emerging electronic era is figuring out how to count electronic "holdings" so that they have the same weight as print holdings. This is make especially tricky by the fact that libraries do not own licensed electronic resources, only "rent" them. What’s held one year may not be held the next due to a wide variety of factors, making counting a bit more difficult than just adding this year’s new purchases to last year’s volume counts.

Like it or not, research libraries are unlikely to stop playing the counting game. ARL’s E-Metrics project is one attempt to define meaningful new measures. In the long run, the counting game will have new rules, because it appears that the substitution of electronic information for print information is gaining momentum, driven by a variety of budgetary and other factors.

Library Juice Online Ph.D. Issue

Library Juice has collected a subset of the JESSE messages about online Ph.D. programs and edited them together into an easy-to-read format for its volume 8, no. 10 (2005) issue.

Here is a complete list of the JESSE threads about online Ph.D.’s in the May archive (in the order they display in the topic sort):

Online Ph.D. Programs: A UK View

As this excerpt from a recent JESSE message by Sheila Webber (Senior Lecturer, Department of Information Studies, University of Sheffield) shows, the view of issues surrounding online Ph.D. programs can be quite different accoss the big pond. (You’ll recall that the Robert Gordon University is about to offer an online Ph.D. in addition to its six online master’s degrees.)

Firstly, the information (or an advertisement ;-) Sheffield University Department of Information Studies, in the UK, has options for our PhD programme—”Joint location” (full time—expected to complete the degree in normal 3 years, one year must be spent at Sheffield) and—"Remote location" (part time—there must be at least one face-to-face meeting per year, and there are conditions laid down for communication). At the moment, for example I am supervising one remote location student (an Irish librarian investigating Continuing Professional Development needs of solo librarians).

See: http://www.shef.ac.uk/postgraduate/research/away (info on studying away from Sheffield)
http://www.shef.ac.uk/postgraduate/research (info on research degrees at Sheffield)
http://www.shef.ac.uk/is/research/resappn.html (info on my Dept.—n.b. the detailed menu for more applications info, on the right of this page, including the format of the research proposal)

Sheffield is a research-led university and the Department of Information Studies has obtained the top possible score in all three of the UK’s Research Assessment Exercises (one of an exclusive band of Departments in any subject area to have done this). (OK, ad almost over.)

I *think* that British PhD programmes differ from North American ones in that the instructional component of British PhDs is less, with focus on developing and investigating your own research question throughout the three years. For full-time PhDs (on campus or joint location) there is a Research Training programme of credit-bearing modules (which most students would take during year 1). Part-time students do not have to take this programme. . . .

Finding people (in addition to your supervisor) to discuss your research with will obviously help you on your personal research journey, particularly people using the same research approach. For, e.g., some types of IR research there is a thriving research community within LIS and sometimes within individual Departments. For others (given the broad spectrum of research approaches which are employed across the whole LIS spectrum) you ideally would want to seek out fellow researchers elsewhere, anyway. Being a distance learner might push/encourage you to get "out there" that bit earlier. From that perspective, if you are able to identify a research community for that research approach internationally and engage in virtual and preferably face to face discussion (at conferences and seminars), this may exteremely valuable.

My feelings are that a mature PhD student may actually have the confidence to engage in this dialogue at an earlier stage, and also have have more command of resources (possibly!) to fund (or get funding for) attending research seminars etc. Also, having to explain and justify your research to interested fellow-practitioners back home can be very valuable & motivating. . . .

Strategic Planning Efforts at ARL Libraries, Part 2

How do some of the largest libraries in North America see their near-term future? This is part two of an investigation of that question. (Also see: Strategic Planning Efforts at ARL Libraries, Part 1.)

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) currently has 123 member libraries in the US and Canada. Below is a partial list of strategic planning Web sites at ARL libraries. This list was complied by a quick look at ARL libraries’ home pages, supplemented by limited site-specific Google searching. Web sites were included if the library’s strategic plan included the years 2004 and/or 2005.

Strategic Planning Efforts at ARL Libraries, Part 1

How do some of the largest libraries in North America see their near-term future?

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) currently has 123 member libraries in the US and Canada. Below is a partial list of strategic planning Web sites at ARL libraries. This list was complied by a quick look at ARL libraries’ home pages, supplemented by limited site-specific Google searching. Web sites were included if the library’s strategic plan included the years 2004 and/or 2005.

No Respectable University Would Offer an Online Doctorate?

During the JESSE debate on online Ph.D.’s, Bill Summers said:

Relatedly, Universities which take themselves seriously do not permit external PHD programs. At any of the three institutions with which I have been privileged to be associated, Rutgers, South Carolina and Florida State, the Dean presenting such a proposal to the Faculty Senate would be hooted off campus and the program forever thereafter labeled as Mickey Mouse.

These are some universities that offer online doctorates (there are others that offer distance-education doctorates that aren’t "online" per se).

University of Arizona, College of Nursing

Boston University, College of Fine Arts

Boston University, Sargent College of Rehabilitation Sciences

Texas Tech University, Department of English

University of Hawaii, School of Nursing and Dental Hygiene

University of Maryland University College

University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, College of Nursing

Anyone hooting?

Online Ph.D. Programs Redux

My "Online Ph.D. Programs: Unique Clientele?" posting, which I also sent as a message to the JESSE list, triggered a long discussion thread on that list. It makes for very interesting reading. (Choose "Next in topic" in the View box to move from message to message.) For related threads, see the May archive.

Let me briefly recap some of my main points in light of this discussion. Academic librarians with faculty or faculty-like status who are at the associate and full levels do not need to be taught how to be scholars: they are scholars. In this respect they represent a unique doctoral clientele. What they need, if they do not have them, are Ph.D.’s. They do not want to quit their jobs or commute long distances to get them from the few information schools that remain. If they wanted Ph.D.’s in other subject areas, they would not be troubling information school faculty. Certainly, a DLIS option would be a welcome alternative to nothing. However, they are not in any way intimidated by the prospect of a research degree. They are researchers. They are interested in a research degree, but many have no interest in joining the ranks information school faculty. Having a research degree will help them in their current career path in a variety of ways.

Illustrating the point that academic librarians are researchers, an examination of high-impact library-oriented journals would likely show: (1) academic librarians edit such journals, (2) information school faculty edit such journals, (3) academic librarians publish in journals edited by information school faculty, (4) information school faculty publish in journals edited by academic librarians, (5) academic librarians often cite papers written by information school faculty, and (6) information school faculty often cite papers written by academic librarians. In short, the peer-reviewed library literature is a co-mingling of the scholarly work of academic librarians, information school faculty, and others. If all identifying information were stripped away from a peer-reviewed library journal article, it would be impossible to determine if it was written by an academic librarian or an information school faculty member.

In spite of some frustrations, most academic librarians have a high regard for information school faculty and believe that what they do is very important. However, they find it difficult to understand how, in 2005, with the wide array of digital technologies at information schools’ disposal why, in light of their unique circumstances, their needs cannot be adequately met with these technologies, supplemented by brief on-campus stays. This dialog has revealed a number of information school faculties’ concerns. It appears to me that a key one is that such a degree would not be viewed as legitimate by faculty in other disciplines at the local institution. This is understandable, because these faculty do not have a potential doctoral study body with similar characteristics. But, depending on local circumstances, they may, at the same time, be officially recognizing local librarians as faculty members or as having a faculty-like status. They sit beside them at the Faculty Senate, and they may have elected an academic librarian to lead them. This could be pointed out to them as a case was made for establishing a special program that was designed to reflect the unique status of academic librarians.

The extent of interest in an online Ph.D. program among academic librarians may not be apparent to information school faculty. However, market research is likely to reveal that a significant subset of academic librarians are interested in pursuing such an option, and information schools that overcome the barriers that prevent such programs will find that their pool of potential doctoral students is significantly expanded with experienced, highly desirable candidates that they would never otherwise attract.

Postscript:

Based on a JESSE message from Ian M. Johnson, it appears that the Information Management department at The Robert Gordon University in the UK is about to offer an online Ph.D. (It currently has six online Master’s programs.)

Online Ph.D. Programs: Unique Clientele?

Information schools have one group of potential Ph.D. students that appear to have unique characteristics: academic librarians with faculty or faculty-like status.

To advance in rank in these up-or-out systems, academic librarians:

  1. Publish in peer-reviewed journals, edit such journals, serve on the editorial boards of such journals, write books, and edit books. They also write, edit, and serve on editorial boards of a variety of other publications.
  2. Write proposals for, manage, and analyze the results of funded research projects.
  3. Make presentations at professional conferences and elsewhere.
  4. Teach for-credit and non-credit courses.
  5. Serve as adjunct faculty in information schools.
  6. Serve on committees and as officers of professional associations.
  7. Often obtain multiple master’s degrees.

This is not to say that other librarians do not also perform the above activities; however, academic librarians with faculty or faculty-like status are typically required to do 1, 3, and 6, with the main difference in such requirements being on the need to perform higher-level activities in 1. And they are "rewarded" for performing all of them.

So, what other disciplines with Ph.D. programs have potential students with similar requirements? If the answer is "none" and if the above activities are not viewed as a kind of faux scholarship, then it would appear that experienced members this client group (say those with associate status or above) have characteristics that suggest that their need for enculturation, lengthy preliminary study, and other academic requirements that are obviously needed for freshly minted undergraduates or inexperienced MLS graduates is limited or nonexistent. Consequently, they may be quite successful in online Ph.D. programs where these other students would fail, especially if online study is supplemented with brief on-campus stays.

The Nearly Nonexistant Online Ph.D.

Well, I had that bit about UNT offering an online Ph.D. program wrong. UNT’s grant PI Brian O’Connor says:

I must say that our program is NOT web-based, though it has a strong web component. Our IMLS cohort members are considered members of the same doctoral program and subject to the same requirements as our "residential" students. . . . The IMLS program is design[ed] so that more than 51% of course time is conducted with the same level of face-to-face engagement between students and faculty as would be the case for residential students. . . . I would comment that enculturation is terribly important, though one might be able to imagine someone making major contributions while not being "enculturated.". . . Perhaps more intriguing is the assertion that enculturation cannot be adequately accomplished within a virtual environment. Is this a necessary case? Is it not at all true now, but possible with different technology?. . . . Is there not some virtual way to accomplish critical thinking, sharing, debating, using different perspectives? So far, our experience shows that such give and take is quite possible, especially if the students have had an opportunity to meet each other face-to-face at some point early on. Please do not take the above to mean that I prefer the possibility of a virtual academy—I do not. I am simply suggesting that we not toss out the possibilities, at least, not yet.

Looks like we’re down to one online Ph.D. program (and waiting for a disclaimer on that one). Since it’s only been about 12 years since the Web took off with the release of the alpha version of Mosaic, I guess we need to be patient.

The Ever-Elusive Online Ph.D.

Recently, there has been some discussion of online Ph.D. programs in information studies on the JESSE list. I probably don’t need to tell you that few such programs exist.

The University of North Texas has an online Ph.D. program. However, this IMLS-funded program limits who can apply to school media and public librarians. Nova University has had one for quite some time.

While I’m sure that information school faculty have many good reasons why they believe that such degrees cannot be offered online, I’m afraid that to some academic librarians, who are not about to abandon their day jobs and who have no program within striking distance, this seems like a decidedly 19th-century viewpoint, especially if offered by a school that has morphed into an avant-garde “I” school.

It also seems to be based on the peculiar notion that all Ph.D.s must want to teach. Academic librarians, who are "neither fish nor fowl," may want a Ph.D. for other career reasons.

But leaving that aside, is it really the case that, in 2005, the rich diversity of online tools at our disposal cannot substitute for pressing the flesh, especially if augmented by brief on-campus stays? If that’s really true, why aren’t online MLS degrees second-rate? Isn’t physical proximity as important to future library professionals as to the future teachers of library (and other) professionals?

There is a certain delicious irony in the fact that "I" schools, like my old alma mater Syracuse University, strive mightily and successfully to teach and develop advanced technologies, but cannot bring themselves to use them to deliver online Ph.D. degrees in subject areas like digital libraries. Yet, they offer online digital library CAS degrees (SU and UIUC) without any apparent qualms.

But, it’s unfortunate that, by doing so, they deprive potential students of doctoral degrees and themselves of an expanded client base.

Here Comes the Sun: Morphing Library Journals

Information Technology and Libraries (ITAL) has a new editor, John Webb, and he’s outlined an ambitious agenda for the journal in his initial editorial in the March 2005 issue (volume 24, no. 1).

That issue includes articles on e-books myths, the International Children’s Library, and the Music of Social Change (MOSC) project. It’s a very promising start that suggests that he may he able to reinvigorate ITAL.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with ITAL, it is a low-cost refereed journal published by the Library and Information Technology Association. There is free access to selected articles published in the journal from March 2001 to March 2004. There is no information on the Web site about any other issues (including the current one), except a note about potential retrospective digitization.

In case you haven’t noticed, OCLC Systems & Services now has a subtitle of "International Digital Library Perspectives." Since the journal now seems to be primarily about digital libraries, why the title wasn’t changed completely is bit of a mystery. It is a refereed "for-fee" journal with no free access, which is published by Emerald. It’s edited by Bradford Lee Eden.

Both of these journals have high-quality free competitors in or significantly overlapping their niche (e.g., Ariadne, D-LIB Magazine, and RLG DigiNews). To a lesser degree, they also overlap with other significant free (e.g, First Monday, High Energy Physics Libraries Webzine, and Issues in Science & Technology Librarianship) and free-with-embargo-access journals (Learned Publishing). Not to mention some major for-fee global competitors. This presents the editors with paper recruitment challenges, especially since US authors now happily cross the big pond when they seek homes for their papers.

Both of these morphing journals are worth keeping an eye on.

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