Open Source vs. Open Access (vs. Free)

The near-simultaneous rise of interest in open source and open access in the context of academic libraries has made these concepts ripe for confusion. Adding to the confusion is the presence of projects that are both open source and open access. Rather than cringing in silence when these terms are used interchangeably, I’m hoping to clarify the conversation. Note: I’m not an expert in either concept, so please feel free to research more and/or to add your comments. Continue reading

Seattle Public Library

The Future of Academic Libraries

The two library-related questions I hear most are:

1) Will ebooks replace print books in the near future?

2) How is the digital revolution changing the mission of libraries; what will academic libraries become in the future?

The first question frustrates me on a number of levels, primarily because I hear it so often. The question is asked either in a tone of horror at the thought that the Era of No More Print Books is imminent, or with a bit skeptical cynicism, wondering who would choose to be a librarian in an age when you might soon become “irrelevant” (sigh). My pat responses are: this shift isn’t happening as fast as originally anticipated, print books continue to have lasting power beyond device lifetime and software upgrades, and ultimately the ebook format isn’t killing literature, it’s simply another format in which to digest the content of books. Cultures originally related stories and information orally before turning to stone and scrolls, then becoming books. Books have remained in essentially the same form for centuries because they are cheap, portable, and when printed on quality materials can be preserved for eons. However, stories and information will last beyond the medium of the print book. This is simply a change in format: like VHS to DVD to Blu-ray. Yes, there are other issues inherent in this conversation (for instance, the relative cheapness of a paperback to buying an ereader), but that’s as far as I want to get into that issue now.

Mosaic of Libraries

The second question, what will academic libraries become in the future, is more interesting to me. This question is built on an assumption that libraries are currently defined by providing access to print books, that this mission is dying (see above), and that they must redefine themselves or risk losing cultural relevance.

I believe the issue comes down to: academic libraries have always supported the parent mission of their academic institutions. They will continue to do this. But there is no predictable all-encompassing “future of academic libraries” because there is no predictable “future of all higher education institutions.”

Let’s take this in stages. First is the misconception that there is broad commonality to institutions of higher education in the United States. The truth is that American higher education from colonial times onward has drawn from multiple models, including the German research university model, the liberal arts model (preparing “well-rounded” citizens), and the (more modern) home-grown U.S. model of community colleges with open access to all, regardless of academic preparedness. Aside from those and other broad models there are a multiplicity of institutional missions serving different student populations. Some institutions are supported by (continually dwindling) public funds, some are private. Some are backed and shaped by religious organizations. Some cater to young students living on-campus, while others primarily serve commuting professionals or “non-traditional” students returning to school after a long absence. Some were designed to serve specific ethnic or cultural groups. Some institutions focus on teaching undergraduates while others are havens of research that improves medical, technological, and other advances. Some institutions prepare individuals for specific careers by teaching practical professional or vocational skills, while others focus on broad concepts like critical thinking. This great variety is a strength of American higher education, providing an education as rich and varied as the needs of our diverse population. With all of this diversity of mission and execution of education, why would we expect that all academic libraries would evolve into similar organizations?

Second, higher education is shifting in unpredictable ways. The digital revolution isn’t just affecting academic libraries, it’s affecting educational practice. Online education is exploding as institutions continue to migrate or replicate face-to-face courses in online sections and as a variety of organizations and individuals offer MOOCs. Even traditional face-to-face courses often have technological components such as class websites for resources or discussion and technology-dependent assignments. And higher education is changing rapidly beyond technological considerations. Public institutions are scrambling for ways to keep tuition affordable even as state support for education crumbles, leaving them a far cry from the truly public-funded model upon which they were founded. Institutions and their academic libraries seek to supplement deflated budgets by increasing efforts in fund-raising, grant-writing, and seeking alternate methods of gaining revenue. Students and the public are up in arms about increased tuition costs and unsustainable student debt, demanding change. Companies argue that higher education must adapt to meet community employment needs, spurring arguments about the nature and purpose of undergraduate education in the U.S. Institutions react to these situations in a variety of ways, thus it stands to reason that their supporting libraries will similarly shift in different ways.

Third, academic libraries already exhibit different philosophies of service and purpose. If you walk into several different academic libraries across the nation right now, you will find that they can look very different from each other. Some libraries thrive in a traditional book-driven model, with formal reading rooms. They continue to see high student use of the physical building and high circulation of physical volumes. For the faculty and students at those institutions, this is an important and relevant way to interact with the information they need. Other libraries are minimizing or eliminating print collections and using their physical space for multimedia development and group study space, utilizing the “information commons” model or becoming a student union-like space. Public service librarians may continue to perform traditional reference activities at a reference desk, may use the “roving/roaming” model of seeking out patrons in need of help, or may only perform reference interviews upon individual appointment. Some librarians have become fulltime instructors or work on instruction teams with faculty members, spending their time teaching students how to use information. Some are highly trained to help students use advanced technologically saturated spaces to craft complex media presentations. Some librarians continue to provide traditional reference services, but completely via email, online chat, social media platforms, or text message. And some public services librarians have migrated to completely new kinds of positions at institutions, perhaps digitizing collections or working in assessment.

So the question of what academic libraries will become, what will be their new mission and services in an ever-evolving digital environment, doesn’t have a blanket answer. I do not believe we are facing the imminent death of academic libraries any more than I believe we are facing the imminent death of the book (print or otherwise). Yes, many libraries are under increased pressure to defend their relevancy to maintain their shrinking budgets. The real problem isn’t finding the magic answer of what all academic libraries should become, but discovering how each individual library can best meet the needs of its parent institution. That is the key to maintaining relevance, and always has been. It may be a more difficult problem than in the past, in the face of so many varied directions and potential services—but it is, as ever, a process of discovering what the libraries’ mission should be, and how to best align limited resources and services to serve it.

Under pressure from administration or peer institutions, too many libraries try to do everything and fail miserably. They try to juggle traditional reference, increase information literacy instruction, create new digital collections, engage with students on multiple social media platforms, develop rich print and electronic resources, renovate space for student use, and any number of other activities. This results in a budget and a staff stretched too thin over competing missions. It’s difficult to succeed when your energy, attention, and resources are running in multiple directions. In my opinion, the mantra “do more with less” is far too common in academic libraries, and instead of being a rallying cry; this can feel like a giant fist pounding staff into the ground. A realistic look at budget and resources that is carefully allocated over targeted strategies and limited to a clear mission will help a library evolve in a way that is meaningful and relevant to its parent institution.

So what will academic libraries become in the future? Academic libraries will evolve as an even more varied rainbow of organizations varied in physical space, collections, services, and staff, serving their institutions in increasingly creative and unique ways.

The Digital Humanities & Transforming Scholarly Communication

Scholarship, it is a-changin’. I remember when the majority of the academic blogs I read were anonymous, lest tenure-seeking faculty be mocked for “wasting their time” on such an endeavor. Now I follow many librarians and faculty across the world on blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and more, their identities and institutional affiliations freely posted. When I finished my MA in Art History, I still had to submit my thesis in hard copy (although I was also one of the first classes to submit it electronically on a one-use CD–remember those?). Sunday, I submitted my final edited dissertation to UNT as a PDF via email. No hard copy, no tangible media, no requirements to print or bind it, ever. Still, there’s debate about “What ‘Counts’” toward promotion and tenure, of these newer scholarly activities and formats–see Ruth Starkman’s article at Inside Higher Ed for a great discussion of the issue. Disseminating your research and discussing it through social media (like Twitter, Mendeley, is a great way to ensure your research is consumed by others as well as to push it further. Research is a conversation that builds on what others have said before you, and will live on as other discuss your work and your own ideas evolve.


I’m currently working on disseminating my own research. The article drafting is slow (and will be even slower to publish), but I recently created a Prezi based on my dissertation research (a PDF version is embedded below). I defended my dissertation last fall using a traditional PowerPoint slideshow (see here), but it was a fairly boring way to present my results. I decided to re-configure it in Prezi with the idea of serving three purposes: 1) serving as an interactive abstract of my research than the text-based one on this website, 2) the basis for a more interesting presentation of my results, and 3) the potential to be printed as a research poster. I like the idea of re-using this one item for all three purposes.

This is fairly tame, as far as digital reinventions of the dissertation go. The Digital Humanities departments at CUNY and NYU have some standout work that make me want to sign up for another doctorate–well, not really. But the implications for affecting how research is done in education and library science are potent and exciting.

Last month, I attended a Digital Humanities workshop at NYU called “Thick Mapping and Spatial Humanities.” Todd Presner of UCLA walked us through several DH projects, including Visualizing Statues in the Late Antique Roman Forum. This fascinating project that uses Google Earth and digital versions of Roman statues to create a three-dimensional walk-through of the Roman Forum with period architecture, statutes, and scholarship about the inscriptions on the statues. I remember dreaming about this possibility when I was an art history graduate student, imagining how much richer art scholarship could be by using technology to experience art in its original context. Another project used GIS data, US Census data, community oral histories, video, Google Earth, and photographs to map experiences over time in a Los Angeles neighborhood.

Doctoral students in these areas are completely rethinking the traditional dissertation. Take a look at this introductory video for the CUNY Graduate Center’s New Media Lab, which helps students think through and execute these projects. Check out the virtual space for sonic interaction that one student is creating! 

So how should academic libraries respond to this shift in scholarly communication? I recently presented a case study of how one library is supporting and could further support evolving methods of scholarly communication with an emphasis on open access (click here for Prezi, or see embedded PDF below).

Here are some more related articles from Inside Higher Ed:

Pondering Professional Online Presence

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about professional online presence. Last week, I attended an ACRL-NY discussion group on Demystifying the Hiring Process.” Amidst the discussion of the differences in search committee practices across institutional types (fascinating!), we ended up discussing how online presence can play a big role in how organizations view you professionally. (Also see: Susanne Markgren‘s great article about online presence for academic librarians.) In particular, we discussed how this has changed in recent years. Five years ago, your online presence was primarily thought of as a potential liability (delete those old frat party photos from Facebook!), whereas now it’s seen as a way to promote yourself as well as show potential employers your social media and PR savvy.

Juggling Social Media

In addition to my usual tending to my online presence and in particular my e-portfolio on this website, lately I’ve branched out to create electronic portfolios for clients. (Email me if you’re interested in my services!) It’s a way to keep my “geek skillz” up-to-date, and I enjoy the challenge of taking a bunch of content and ideas from someone, and creating a web presence out of that. It’s also reminded me that no online presence solution is universal. For instance, I’m highly active on this website, Twitter, Instagram, and to a lesser extent Facebook, Goodreads, and LinkedIn. I use Flickr primarily as a storage space for my Instagram photos and blog graphics (although that ebbs and flows, depending on my Nikon D7000’s use in a given month). I’ve ignored Pinterest completely, and I’ve nearly given up on my own Tumblr (although it’s a great space for, say, Ryan Gosling’s feminism and Chandler Dancing On Things).

And that’s okay. We should use social media in a way that’s natural for us, in a way that leaves us excited, rather than overwhelmed. Everyone doesn’t need a Twitter account–regardless of the fact that I regularly gasp when someone says they don’t use it. If it doesn’t meet your needs, then choose to be active somewhere else. Find the tool that works for you, feeds into your interests and strengths and helps you grow.

Here’s why I use what I do. Take it or leave it. 🙂


TwitterAcademiaIt’s tempting to just shoot off whatever’s on my mind, and I do think it’s fun to use it as a public text-message at times. However, it’s most useful for me as a place to see news headlines, what my colleagues and friends are reading and discussing, and to get quick feedback on ideas, questions, website templates. In fact, I use this more for blog reading now than I do my actual RSS feed readers. It’s excellent for knowledge-sharing: I live-tweet at conferences, and I watch live-tweets from conferences I can’t attend (long live hashtags!). I love that I can connect not only to colleagues and friends, but also organizations, professional associations, research groups–you name it. When we lived in Ukraine, it was the most “at home” I felt online because I could see people talking online, regardless of time zone–even if most of my friends were asleep in the US (leaving Facebook a ghost town until 4pm Ukraine time).

And the best part of Twitter? It’s SHORT. The length of this blog post (yikes) is a case in point of why Twitter is important to me: 1) it’s brief enough to be digestible, and 2) it makes me think, consider, and edit my content.


InstagramMosaicI don’t tend to use Instragram in a specifically “professional” manner, but I do link it on my professional online accounts like LinkedIn and Why? Because personality is important. I don’t want to work at an institution where I clock in and do my job and clock out. I want to work at a place that’s full of vibrant, interesting, exciting people who are passionate about what they do. Thus, shouldn’t I advertise to the world that I’m also that kind of person? That, yes, I’m a great researcher and an awesome librarian, but I also love urban architecture and great cups of coffee and travel–and that’s what my Instagram feed shows. It shows beauty and humor in everyday moments, and that’s important to me.


 I use this website for two purposes. First, it houses my electronic portfolio, so I have a single URL to give potential employers, new colleagues, etc. It shows the information from my CV (that’s fancy academic talk for “resume,” for all the non-nerds in the hizzy) in more rational, digestible chunks, plus it allows me to show far more than I can on my CV. For instance, I instead of merely listing my presentations, I can embed or link to the actual slideshows with Prezi and Slideshare. I can include photos of myself engaged in these activities, which puts a more human face on my credentials. I can link to the full text of my master’s thesis and my dissertation (coming soon!). If I could, I’d send that URL to every potential employer and nix the boring, rambling CV format altogether. THIS is a far more interesting and holistic picture of who I am and what I do.

The second way I use this WordPress website is what I’m doing now: blogging. I’ve been blogging since 2005 in various incarnations, and for a long time I had a personal blog and a professional one–and it was too much. So now I only blog here, about what I’m cooking or researching or seeing or thinking about. A neat upside is that my family and friends get to see a bit of what goes on in my Nerdy Academic Side, and my colleagues get to see that, wow, I am a HUGE scifi-geektastic-fangirl (see evidence below) who likes scuba diving and lifting weights and has surprisingly good chops in the kitchen. That doesn’t mean I’m any less qualified as an academic, and it may help me connect with people that I never anticipated. I strongly believe that networking is a Big Deal in all aspects of life–but that’s another post. 🙂


L to R: me as Harry Potter for Halloween; Wonder Women underoos at 5 years old; with Gene Luen Yang; as Pink Five (obscure Star Wars fanfilm reference); as Mara Jade Skywalker (semi-obscure Star Wars novel/comics reference); in one of my several Batgirl shirts

Your online presence is super-important, and now is the time to think about it. You’re already employed? Great, then you can create a presence now that has real weight and substance behind it before you ever go looking for your next job. Unemployed? Great–you have all the time in the world to work on this, so that when you’re employed again, all you have to do to keep it updated is tweak. Looking for more tips, hands-on help, or someone to create a turnkey site? Then shoot me an email (or tweet!), and let’s talk.

Art of Packing 2: Euro Road Trip!

I’ve posted before about how to pack for conferences, but it’s a whole other ballgame when you’re vacationing. It’s particularly interesting in this case: we were gone for two weeks, driving through six countries with varied climates. We stayed at a couple places with laundry facilities (thank you, AirBnb!), so that helped… although we did scramble and wash clothes in the sink at a hotel in Nice when our plans changed last-minute.


The trickiest part was packing enough options that a) I was warm (and dry!) in the Swiss Alps and cool on southern France beaches, as well as b) not completely bored of wearing the same three outfits… while still keeping it light. I packed everything for Alex and myself into our small carry-on suitcase (20″ Travel Pro roll-aboard), my Jo Totes camera bag (doubles as purse/tote-bag), and Alex’s camera gear backpack. On a larger flight, we wouldn’t have had to check any luggage–but since this was a tiny plane, we had to check the rollaboard. At least it all fit in our rental car easily (along with a James, a Bryce, and their luggage)–and when we had to lug it up five flights of stairs to various apartments/hotel rooms without elevators, it wasn’t too bad.

Clothes I Packed:

  • 1 pair long jeans (for the plane, colder climates)
  • 1 pair shorts
  • 1 skirt (also doubles as a mini-dress)
  • 1 beige tank top (with SEQUINS for fun!)
  • 3 black t-shirts (1 plain, 1 with a front print, 1 with a studded feather design)
  • 2 3/4-length shirts (1 black, 1 teal, to throw over tank or t-shirts)
  • 1 long-sleeved knit shirt (I ordinarily don’t pack soooo many layers, but we went through a LOT of climates)
  • 1 long-sleeved wrap (to layer over the long-sleeved shirt in the Alps, and wear on the airplane)
  • 2 scarves (for warmth & fun! I also use these as blankets on cold airplanes. Or skirts, beach coverups, etc… My rule is always pack a scarf, preferably two.)
  • 1 bikini + extra halter top (swim top doubles as a shirt on hot days)
  • workout clothes: shorts & tank top (double as PJs), headband
  • 1 pair waterproof tennis shoes for hiking/walking/working out
  • flip-flops and sunglasses for beaches
  • for Alex: 6 Under Armour “Catalyst” shirts in various colors (50+ UPF sun protection, moisture-wicking, and quick dry after washing!), 1 pair khaki shorts, 1 pair jeans, 1 button-down short-sleeve shirt, bathing suit.

What I Wished I’d Packed:

  • 1 minidress for fancy days, beach coverup (I bought one in Venice, so it made a nice souvenir… just wish I’d had one earlier on the trip.)
  • 1 pair nice flats — I went back and forth on this, and decided to leave them behind to make more room–but MAN did I get sick of wearing sneakers. Again, I bought a nice pair of wedge sandals in Nice, but before that I was frustrated by my lack of choices.
  • light parka — I always go back and forth about taking an umbrella. We have two small travel umbrellas; one is so light that it’s useless in wind–the other is small and sturdy, but heavy. I ended up packing neither, but a light rainproof windbreaker would have been nice in Switzerland… unfortunately, my only parka is still in Dallas.
  • for Alex, we ended up buying sunglasses and some nice sandals in Nice.

For vacation, I abide by the same packing rule as for work: plan a clothing color palette (see the linkApartment Therapy has some great ideas for doing this). For professional trips, I usually go with black/grey/red. For this trip, I went with black/beige/teal/orange, and it was a nice change–felt very summery! I concentrated the color pops of teal and orange in the accessories: my Jo Totes bag, scarves, jewelry, one of the shirts, and the skirt. It gave me a good mix-and-match, although by the time I bought the colorful minidress, I was reeeeeally happy to wear something different! Next time, I’ll bring the dress from the get-go.

Non-Clothes We Packed:

  • minimal jewelry (2 necklaces, 2 pairs earrings), makeup, liquids
    • we bought sunscreen once we got to France
    • I often buy at least one piece of jewelry and/or scarf on a trip, so I try to pack realizing I’ll bring back more.
  • 2 iPads (in lieu of laptops: for email, blogging, storing digital photos/videos, notes for dissertation, watching movies, reading ebooks)
    • If we were less tech-dependent, or more patient, we could easily make do with 1 iPad. But since we each have one, and they’re light, and this was two weeks… I’m really glad we each had one to use in the evenings!
  • Alex’s Nikon D-800
  • my Nikon D-7000
  • Alex’s Hassleblad + film (yeah, he’s old school like that!)
  • assorted lenses — (since Alex primarily stuck with his 17-35mm wide-angle and I stuck with our zoom-a-riffic 28-300mm, I think the only other we should have packed was our trusty 50mm)
  • Alex’s tripod + camera attachments
  • assorted camera accessories, straps, blah blah blah
  • our iPhones (Alex’s has a travel SIM; we both have Ukraine SIMs)
  • USB cables, chargers, etc. for electronics
  • Belkin mini-surge-protector with USB chargers (best electronic travel accessory EVER–attach one plug adapter and you can charge 5 items simultaneously in any country!)
  • multi-plug-adapter — (we have sets with lots of plug tips, but this one is compact and best for multi-country travel; ours is similar to this one)

More Useful Travel-Related Stuff

I used CamScanner Pro on my iPhone to take photos of the most useful pages from our print guidebooks and combine them into a PDF. Much lighter than lugging those guidebooks in our suitcase! (I didn’t finish in time to ditch all the print books, but it helped.) I also use this app to keep high-res scans of our passports on-hand–just in case. If you travel a lot and find yourself needing to make PDFs, save receipts for reimbursement, sign documents, or scan stuff, etc., this app is well worth the $5 cost.

I have to admit, even knowing Kharkov’s time zone is 8 hours ahead of Texas’s CST, it’s hard for my brain to figure out good times for Skype calls–even more so during our trip when we were hopping countries! A tool I’ve been using to help schedule virtual meetings is The World Clock Meeting Planner. Sure, I could use the world time clocks on my laptop or iPhone, but this tool lays it all out with good suggestions, letting you select multiple time zones.

view out our room in Trento

I mentioned AirBnb earlier–we used this website/app to rent apartments in Bern, Marseilles, and Venice. This saved us some money (especially since there were 4 of us!), but it was also nice because 1) we were able to do laundry, 2) we could use the kitchens to cook, saving money and getting better nutrition than eating out all the time, 3) we had living areas with space to relax, and 4) we got to meet and talk to locals. We also stayed at an amazing 18th-century villa in Trento, facing a mountainside vineyard, that served a great free breakfast, where we all stayed in a charming room named “Fabio” (really!), for only $25 USD each. An amazing deal, courtesy of

Once we got home, in addition to dumping all our clothes in the wash, I took out all our go-to travel gear (ziplock bags of liquids, extra contacts, luggage locks, electronic adapters/chargers) and put them in our Travel Drawer. I started this habit when Alex started flying between Ukraine and the US every 2-3 weeks, so that I always knew where our luggage scale was, and it’s been super-handy in Kharkov. I just dump all travel-related items in the drawer–no fancy organizers, just one big place to keep it all. I also keep sample-sized makeup in there so that I can quickly grab a travel bag of “girlie stuff.” Some might call it prepared or organized… it’s really just a way to enable my proclivity for packing procrastination!

Finally, here’s a great idea I’m planning to adopt–leave a photo on your camera (or phone!) with your contact information, in case it’s lost. I love that this guy does it in a fun, humorous way… although I think I’ll use far fewer photos for mine! I also write my email address on our scuba gear in permanent marker. That way, if we drop a fin, mask, snorkel, etc. in the ocean, another diver may run across it and let us know.