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Love Life As Metaphor For The Digital Revolution

In the early days of our romance, when we were living in cities 500 miles apart, I was "the other guy."  Lynn was in a not terribly satisfying relationship with a guy who lived in Texas (we'll call him "Texas"), and I suppose that it was that dissatisfaction that provided an opening for me.

She was always straightforward and honest with the two of us, and when Texas got wind of the fact that Lynn was starting to invest some emotional energy in somebody else, he started paying more attention.  This surprised her a bit because she'd felt for some time that his interest in her had been waning.  This went on for several weeks, but I was pressing my case, working hard to convince her that I was the one.   Then, on the weekend that she invited him to B'ham to tell him that she had to break it off with him, he proposed.

This was a dilemma.  Her relationship with Texas had been going on for a couple of years and although for a variety of reasons she'd thought he was unattainable, Lynn had long since decided that he was "perfect" for her.  The fact that when she was with me she was happier, that I never made her cry, that we seemed to be able to so easily and gently reach into each other's hearts, and that I always seemed to know exactly the right thing to say or do was perplexing.  It certainly didn't feel like what she'd come to recognize as "being in love" -- but it sure felt good.  Texas, on the other hand, frequently disappointed or embarassed her, she'd had many long weepy evenings pining over him, she would never have considered sharing her innermost secrets with him, and she knew that she couldn't entirely trust him -- that was much closer to her experience of being in love.  (I'm told that this experience of "being in love" is fairly common for single women in their thirties).   How was she to choose?

So she'd have "Texas days" and "Scott days".    On her Scott days, she was in love with me and knew that she'd have to eventually break it off with Texas.  But on her Texas days, she was back to thinking that he was "perfect for her."  What made it somewhat awkward was that since our relationship was built on a deep friendship, even on her Texas days, I was the one that she'd call at the end of the day to talk about her dilemma and the difficulties she was having making a choice.  She'd joke about marrying Texas, but keeping me in the basement.  We agreed that he probably wouldn't be in favor of that arrangement.

Every evening we'd talk on the phone, and we'd chatter about our work days and the other things going on in our lives, but we'd inevitably talk about how she was going to work her way through to a decision.  Generally, I was pretty patient.

There was one day when Texas had done something unexpectedly sweet or thoughtful.   Lynn was having a Texas day.  She gushed to me about what he'd done and said, "I really think that if I can give him a little more time, he could be almost as good as you!"

I remember taking the handset away from my ear and staring at it for a moment.  I brought it back to my ear and said, as gently as I could, "Y'know, I'm as good as me right now.  Why wait?"


When I hear technophiles talk about how they're sure that any day now e-book readers and electronic ink are going to be so good that we can get rid of paper books altogether, I think about this.

Avoiding the Poles

I'm leery of proclamations of "paradigm shift."  But at least Eric appears to have actually read Kuhn's book.  I was at a conference some months back where a speaker said that she was using Kuhn's theory as the basis for her presentation, but then confessed she'd never actually gotten around to reading the book.  I walked out.

Kuhn himself was skeptical of the notion that his scheme could be applied outside of the hard sciences and was somewhat dismayed when the term became popularized and people began seeing "paradigm shifts" everywhere.  But there seems to be a natural human tendency, when one enters a new job or a new organization or a new profession, to assume that the way things are on your day one is the way things always have been.  So you identify that as the static 1.0 situation from which all change must flow.  You miss altogether the possibility that you may be stepping into the middle of a long flow of dynamic change.  (Heraclitus was my favorite pre-Socratic philosopher).

The difficulty in applying Kuhn's concept to librarianship is that you have to actually be able to define the difference between the two paradigms.  The dilemma that the 2.0 enthusiasts have is that not only have they been unable to come up with a coherent definition of  Library 2.0, they've been even worse at defining Library 1.0.  If you pick through the various postings and comments, you come up with something like "the traditional librarian is resistant to change, fears technology, and doesn't want to let the users have any control over their experience of the library."  While there is no doubt that there have been librarians who fit that description, surely that has never been the paradigm of what a librarian is supposed to be!  Librarians who fit that description aren't traditional librarians -- they're just not very good librarians.  Never have been.

Eric quotes Blyberg's description of librarians drifting into two camps -- those who believe that libraries are in peril and those who don't.  According to Blyberg, those in the latter camp are going to be resistant to technology and change and those in the former believe that libraries need to "change in a number of fundamental ways."  I wonder what those "fundamental ways" are. 

And I wonder what it means to say that "libraries are in peril"?  As I've pointed out in some of my recent presentations, it seems obvious to me that in the world of digital information and the internet, libraries are less relevant.  That doesn't mean that they're irrelevant, of course, but what's the problem with recognizing that libraries do not play the same central role in providing access to knowledge that they've played in the past?  What is it you're afraid of?

I'm not really worried about libraries.  There are so many examples of great, vibrant libraries of all types out there that it seems silly to me to go around proclaiming that the sky is falling unless we all embrace... what?

I do think that there is one fundamental shift in thinking that librarians need to make, however, and all of the chatter about Library 2.0 tends to obscure rather than clarify this.  In the print world, the library was the essential locus of activity for the librarian.  Managing the physical collection (with the vast variety of activities that implies) and providing services to those who came to the library generally circumscribed the librarian's professional world.  (There were a few exceptions -- bookmobiles and clinical librarians took services out of the library more directly to members of the community, but they were ancillary services, not part of the core mission).  Of course, the librarians who were effective in this world embraced change, made good use of the best technology available, and were closely connected to their user community, just as good librarians have always been.

In the digital world, "the library" is just one tool among many.  The library is less important, and librarians need to develop creative ways to engage with the members of their communities outside of the library.  The various technological tools are one way to do that, but they're not enough -- librarians need to be physically present outside the library.  In the academic setting, that means being in the classrooms, at departmental meetings, in the labs and clinics, functioning as full partners in the teaching and research enterprise.

I do wish my colleagues would quit getting hysterical about the dire state of libraries and start applying that creative and innovative energy towards finding effective ways to get out of the library and engage with the members of their communities where they live and work.   That's how we'll continue to make a difference.

I've been ending my presentations with this line:  "The great age of libraries may be waning, but, if can seize the opportunity, the great age of librarians is just beginning."  Maybe this is a "paradigm shift".    I dunno.   Maybe it's  just the latest turn of the wheel.


I was very young -- maybe four?  We were at some county park on a beautiful, warm, Wisconsin summer day.   There was a swimming area -- I don't remember if it was natural or manmade.  I suppose I was too small to care about the difference.    Some distance out, there was a slide.  It was nothing fancy by today's waterpark standards, but the kids who were climbing up, sliding down and splashing into the water looked like they were having a lot of fun.  I wanted to do that, so I headed for the ladder.

I was still some distance away when it became clear that the water was quite a bit deeper than I was tall.  And I didn't swim yet.  But I was undeterred.  I'd take a long bouncing step, grab a lungful of air, sink to the bottom and kick my way back up.  I was very close to the slide when I was suddenly yanked up out of the water and carried back to the edge by my scowling father (or was it my mother that time?  They've each had to save one or the other of the kids from drowning more than once).  I was annoyed.  I'd almost made it!  Other than the fact that I'd disobeyed their rule about not going out to the slide, I couldn't figure out what the fuss was about.

As I was pouring my first cup of coffee yesterday morning, I realized that the dream I'd just woken from was a replay of that scene -- only this time it was me frantically splashing after a completely unconcerned Josephine as she bounced into deeper and deeper waters.  I could see the drop off a few feet in front of her.  She couldn't.  The dream ended before I found out whether or not I reached her in time.

A couple of weeks ago, when I had her for two full days, we went to the zoo one day and to the science center the next.  (And, of course, I took her to a  couple of my favorite restaurants).  When I watch her in a group, she is generally bolder than most of the other kids her age.   Her playground attack is to systematically climb every slide or ladder or perch in the place -- she prefers the ones that are a little too big for her to handle, so she always seems to me to be on the verge of falling off of something.  I keep a close eye on her, but I tend to keep my distance.  She bangs herself up two or three times a day.

I hope that we'll be able to nurture that streak of boldness, even though it means she'll inevitably go splashing out into the too-deep water.  I take her to the pool by her house.  She watches a small boy, just a little older than herself, who is repeatedly jumping off the side and then clumsily making his way over to the ladder to pull himself out and do it again.  She wants to do that.  She's a little scared of it, but I encourage her.  "C'mon, Jobug -- jump out and I'll catch you."  Everytime she does, I'm afraid she'll tilt back and crack her head on the edge of the pool.  I push aside the flutter of fear in my stomach and encourage her anyway.  We have a great time.  She's learning to swim.

Honesty In Government

It's sort of creepily fascinating that even the announcement of the AG's resignation comes with a scattering of little lies.  According to the NYT, Gonzalez calls my president on Friday to resign.  Bush balks a little and tells him to come down to Crawford for lunch on Sunday.  At lunch, Gonzalez gives him the official letter and Bush accepts it.  And yet,

As late as Sunday afternoon, Mr. Gonzales himself was denying through his spokesman that he was quitting. The spokesman, Brian Roehrkasse, said Sunday that he telephoned the attorney general about the reports of his imminent resignation “and he said it wasn’t true — so I don’t know what more I can say.”

What in the world is one to make of that?  I can understand not wanting to preempt the official announcement Monday morning (although it would worry me if they thought it was still a secret when Gonzalez went to the microphone), so maybe you don't want poor Brian to confirm it.  So make him unavailable.  Go for "no comment."  Why flat out lie?  Is there any purpose being served with it?

No.  It's just that the "reckless disregard" for the truth is so deeply ingrained with these guys that lying comes naturally.  Even when it's pointless.  (Bush did the same thing when he fired Rummy, explicitly denying it after the decision had been made, and then justifying his lie to the press corps a couple of days later in a tone that indicated he was puzzled that anybody would think he should've told the truth about it).

Personally, I think the reason they waited until this week to make the announcement is that the Daily Show is taking the week off.  Froomkin is on vacation.

Decades hence, when the historians look back on the calamity that was 43's administration I'm afraid that it won't be the Iraq war that distinguishes it as particularly remarkable in the history of our young country.   That war is symptom and emblem of the deeper rot. 

The sheer incompetence of the president and his crew still astonishes me.  I can tolerate political differences, priorities that might be different from mine.  But my president's inability to accomplish much of anything, his serial misreading of his own constituency (the Harriet Miers nomination and the collapse of his social security proposals being prime examples), and his insistence on putting his confidence in people who are very clearly out of their depth angers me more than any policy dispute I might have with him.

But alas, the one thing that they have been good at is eroding the balance of powers that is at the heart of American democracy.   To think that only a decade ago, the United States, despite all of our bluster and blundering, our rude manners and pathetic cultural insularity, was still seen around the world as an example of hope and that "beacon of liberty" that speechwriters like to talk about.  Now there are very few countries in which a majority of the people do not see us as doing more harm in the world than good.

Theoretically, I suppose, we might, over time, be able to repair our reputation.  I'm not terribly confident, but if the democratic president to come can bring in a coterie of really smart professional diplomats and cabinet leaders we might be able to restore some confidence.  What I don't think can be repaired is the damage that's been done to the balance of powers.  The unitary executive view of the presidency (exemplified in the liberal use of signing statements), the extreme reliance on executive privilege, the bizarre transformation of the vice-presidency into a powerful office that functions as its own fourth branch of government, and the insistence that civil liberties must always give way in the face of perceived or imagined security threats are likely to be maintained.

Every president has tried to expand their sphere of power and to limit the abilities of Congress and the Supreme Court to rein them in.  None have been as successful as this one.  And since the Supreme Court is now stacked with supporters of the unitary executive, as the various relevant suits make their way up to the high court, the imperial power of the presidency will eventually be upheld.  And it would be naive in the extreme to believe that if Obama, or Clinton, or Edwards or whoever else might rise to the top over the next eight months comes into office with that power that they're going to give it up.  They'll believe that they will never misuse it.  But Bush believes that, too.

That's the saddest part of all.  I actually believe that Bush thinks that everything he does is for the good of the country.  He may be contemptuous of the American people, he may not have any clear understanding of what American democracy is actually about, he may be woefully ignorant of geopolitical realities, but he believes deeply that he is doing the right thing.  In the face of that, why should anyone be bothered by a few lies.

The Permanence of Paper

I suppose that few bibliobloggers will take the time to read William Powers' Hamlet's Blackberry: Why Paper Is Eternal.  It's long -- 20,000 words or so, plus bibliography and notes.  But it's one of the most illuminating things that I've read.

Powers' ostensible subject (this is an entry in the Discussion Paper Series of the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy) is newspapers, but he spends most of his time discussing the nature of paper itself.  He points out that in all of the chatter about how soon digital media are going to completely eliminate paper, we rarely take the time to consider paper as a technology itself.   "...we don't ask the questions we routinely ask about other technologies: How does it work?  What are its strengths and weaknesses?  Is it easy and enjoyable to use?"

He points out that our experience of reading is, in part, determined by the technology that we are using for that communication, and that paper has certain qualities that are unique to it.  Media are more than just containers -- the experience of reading a paper newspaper and a digital newspaper with the same content are qualitatively different.

Much of the discussion about print books vs. e-books ignores that fact.  There is an assumption that the advantages of digital are such that, once the technology gets just a little better, people won't want to bother with print books anymore.  But Powers reminds us that print has its own advantages and that, in some cases, those advantages are, in fact, superior.  He talks about "supersession" -- what Paul Duguid refers to as "the idea that each new technological type vanquishes or subsumes its predecessors."  But, in fact, this very rarely actually happens.  New technologies create new opportunities; but the older technologies don't disappear, they find different niches.

It's never a case of either/or.  We're still in the very beginning stages of understanding what can be done with digital media.  With e-books, we're still at the stage that Gutenberg was when he tried to make a printed Bible adhere as closely as possible to a manuscript Bible.  Eventually, we will learn to discard those features that paper will always do better and focus on the features that are unique to digital.  "E-books" as a concept will disappear.  We won't think of them as a digital analog to a book -- they'll be something else entirely.

Whenever I hear a technophile going on about how once those readers get just a little better, or once electronic ink is fully perfected, we'll have digital media that will be just as good as paper, I think about my copy of Gould's Book of Fish, Richard Flanagan's novel in which each chapter is printed in a different color.  It's a perfect example of the medium being part of the content -- the printed book isn't just a container for the content of the novel -- it is inextricably part of that content.  One might be able to do a wonderful electronic rendition of that novel, but it won't be the same novel.  As we get better at understanding what digital media can do, we'll create amazing things.  And for many of the purposes that we now use print, we'll find those media to be superior.  But we'll always continue to use paper, because for certain purposes, it will always be the best thing.

Publishing Choices

Coincidental to some of the discussions lately about the scholarly literature of librarianship, an announcement showed up on the ERIL-L list a couple of days ago, soliciting contributions to a new journal, The Journal of Electronic Resources Librarianship (JERL), to be published by Haworth (now Taylor & Francis).  Given the tenor of some of those discussions, I couldn't help thinking, "Why?"

I clicked on the link to find out more, and was surprised to find myself landing on an Open Journal Systems template -- I'm familiar with the basic layout from Evidence Based Library and Information Practice.  So I looked around a bit.  The Editorial Team is excellent -- I know a couple of the people personally, and many more by reputation.    The OJS platform, in this case, is being hosted and supported by the Georgia Institute of Technology's Scholarly Communication and Digital Services Department.   I couldn't find any information about subscription rates, although there is the standard Haworth copyright transfer form.

So I posted a note back to the list, asking about subscription rates and access policies and wondering what it was, exactly, that Haworth was bringing to the table.    Very solid editorial board, locally hosted publishing platform -- what do you need a commercial publisher for?  The editor replied to the list the next day, with a detailed message that answered some questions, but raised more.

I want to be careful here, because I don't want to be casting aspersions on the judgments and intentions of a group of fine librarians.  I'm sure they'll do a very good job, but I'm troubled.

The editor says,

In regards to subscription rates, I will have to get back to you on that.  With the recent acquisition of Haworth Press by Taylor & Francis, my understanding of where the journal will live and its cost is a little fuzzy and probably will be for a little while longer.  I will send access, pricing, and subscription information as soon as I have it.

Fair enough, that the acquisition might leave some of the financial details in flux.  But it bothers me nonetheless that an editor would be going forward with a new journal without knowing the financial details.   One of the problems with the current scholarly publishing system that librarians have discussed at length is the fact that editors all too often aren't paying sufficient attention to the subscription & access policies of their journals.

She goes on,

In regards to your questions about what Haworth has added to the mix, Haworth has provided me with resources to put together a quality publication.  I am working closely with an assistant editor at Haworth who answers all my questions and has walked me through the process of setting up this journal.  At this point, without their initial ideas and momentum I wouldn't have the resources to get it up and running given my busy schedule and other commitments.

Again, fair enough, and if you're going to try to start a journal it's important to do so with good expert advice.  Managing a good journal is a lot more complicated than many of us might initially assume.  But Haworth?  Forgive me, but if I was looking for expert advice and assistance in getting a publishing project going, that's not the first place I'd look.  The Haworth assistant editor may be stellar, but there's lots of other expertise available.  And without knowing the subscription rates, we don't know what the library community will be paying for that assistance.

But then, since she mentions Haworth's "initial ideas and momentum" I suppose that creating the journal was Haworth's idea in the first place.  Here's a "hot topic" so let's see if we can pull together an editorial team to publish another niche quarterly journal that we can sell to the library community.

Which brings us to the fundamental question, do we really need a quarterly "journal of electronic librarianship" in the first place?

The announcement says,

This journal aims to inform librarians and other information professionals about evolving work-related processes and procedures, current research and the latest news on topics related to electronic resources and the digital environment's impact on collecting, acquiring and making accessible library materials.

Is it actually the case that there is so much being written on this topic, and so few publishing outlets that a new journal is necessary?  You'd have a hard time convincing me of that.

So, as I say, I'm troubled.  For the entire time that I've been a librarian (and that's nearly a quarter of a century!) one of the most urgent topics of discussion in the field has been the need to reform or restructure the scholarly communication system.  (Open access is a part of those discussions, but only a part -- remember that SPARC was formed before the OA discussions heated up.)

So why is this group of very competent, talented, committed librarians putting their time and energy into perpetuating a system that we all claim is irretrievably broken?


Meetings, Bloody Meetings

If resistance to change and a need to process everything to death were unique to "library culture," the phrase "change management" wouldn't pull up over 33,000 books on Amazon.  If a penchant for lengthy, pointless, unproductive meetings were an affliction that only librarians suffered, Dilbert would not be the wildly successful franchise that it is.  Eric expresses a common frustration about "library culture" but the frustration is misdirected.

I was fortunate that at a very early stage of my career I worked for Judy Messerle, a woman who understood that getting a group of people together in a room, who have little in common except for the fact that they work in the same organization, and expecting them to naturally be productive and efficient is senseless.  Good group behavior is not natural.  So we spent a lot of time training.  We watched videos on running meetings, we discussed good group behavior, we had workshops.  It was simply a standard part of our staff development activities, just like worrying about good customer service or how to deal with difficult patrons.  We assumed that it was something that you had to work at.

In my library I think we generally do a pretty good job (although writing this reminds me that we probably need to do some more group process training in the upcoming round of staff development activities).  I sit in a lot of meetings outside the library and I often come back being amazed that anything gets done at all.  (Go sit in some meetings of your local faculty senate, for example).  Every once in awhile I attend one where the person running it really knows what they're doing -- but it's rare enough to be noticeably refreshing.

Believe me, I'm sympathetic to the frustration that Eric and other bibliobloggers express.   There are plenty of examples of badly managed libraries and change-resistant librarians out there.   But these are afflictions of organizations, not just libraries.  People are inherently nervous about change and are typically unschooled in effective group dynamics.  The "new generation" of librarians isn't going to be any different from the previous generation in this respect.   And twenty years from now, newly minted librarians are going to be complaining about the "traditional" librarians who can't seem to get it through their heads that nobody pays attention to blogs anymore (actually, that's more likely to happen in five -- or less).

That's the bad news.  The good news is that there are those 33,000 books on change management on Amazon -- and some of them are quite good.  It's easy to find people who can run workshops for you on group dynamics and running effective meetings.    Developing effective leadership habits isn't a mystery.  It just takes work.

I think the reason that David Lee King was having trouble with his Library 2.0 Spectrum diagram is that he wasn't asking the right question.  He was trying to establish a dichotomy between the library that he doesn't want to work in and the library that he does (that's a paraphrase he may not agree with), but the more accurate diagram is the tried and true bell curve.  Take any industry and there are going to be a few organizations at the leading edge -- innovative, risk-taking, well-managed, vibrant.  There'll be a few on the trailing edge -- hopelessly mired in the past and probably deserving to be put out of their misery.  Most will be somewhere in the middle, lumping along, managing to get by, trying to follow the example of those on the leading edge -- just not too closely.

The bell curve isn't going to change.  The goal for those frustrated bibliobloggers shouldn't be to "change library culture".  It should be to try to make their library one of those on the leading edge.  Or, if they think that's not possible, they should find one to work in that is.

How do you know where you're going?

Near the end of the session I asked how many of them had actually finished reading the book.  About three-quarters of the twenty students in the room raised a hand.  "And how many of you liked it?"  More than half of the hands went down.

This surprised me, because I had been fairly impressed, myself, with Bragg's All Over But The Shoutin'.  I asked a couple of them what they didn't like.  Overly dramatic and exaggerated... just a random sequence of stories... the ending didn't hold up...    But one young woman, one of those who'd liked it, said she'd been inspired by it, and that it rang true for her even though she wasn't raised in the south, and that she'd been very moved and thought it was a pretty good book overall.  I'd've liked to have spent more time on these different reactions, but we were out of time and I had to release them to go to the ice cream social or whatever other obligations they'd set for themselves.

I don't get to spend a lot of time with students, so I was glad that my schedule worked out this year for me to be a facilitator for one of the Freshman Discussion Groups.  This is the third year that a particular book has been assigned to all freshman to read in the days before classes start.  Faculty from across the university are then enlisted to lead discussion sessions that are intended to probe the themes in the book as they relate to some of the priorities that we have for the undergraduate experience, and to give the students a taste of what one hopes is the kind of discourse and discussion that they'll get a lot of during their college years.

Years ago, before the JMLA soaked up all of my spare time, I taught a couple of seminars on intellectual property and the internet for students in the honors program.  Those were great fun.  It was back when we were still on the quarter system so it was one three hour session a week for nine weeks.  When I was successful at getting discussion going it was fascinating and I learned a lot.  By and large, they seemed to enjoy it as well.  But it took a huge investment of time on my part and I just haven't been able to make that kind of commitment since.  Now I do the occasional one-shot lecture on copyright or plagiarism, but that's about it.   

I'm trying to cut back on my other commitments, however, so I'm thinking about doing another seminar, if not this spring, maybe the next.  Granted, I don't have the same passion for teaching that motivates the best instructors, but experience tells me that I can do a pretty good job.  And I like the way that it stretches me and challenges me and pushes me to try to do things that I'm not entirely comfortable with.

We spent a little time yesterday talking about life goals and ambitions.  Just a few of the students had definite plans -- medical school for one, orthodontics for another, getting drafted to play professional baseball proclaimed a third.  But most of them aren't sure.  Frankly, I think that's wise -- the people I've known who were that sure about where their lives were going at that age are generally the ones who had the toughest time actually getting to the place that was right for them -- often, it was something very different from what they intended.  Some of them never found it.

I'm thirty years older than the oldest of them, and I'm still trying to figure it out for myself.  At their age, I could never have imagined that I would end up in the life I'm living.  I've been ridiculously lucky, and I still can't figure that out.  I operate in a nest of obligations, some of which have been freely chosen, some of which have evolved out of other choices that I've made.   Every day is another mystery.

Had you asked me, when I was their age, what I really wanted to do with my life, I would have said, "I just want to be able to figure out what's really going on."  I was a philosophy major, with a penchant for poetry and science fiction, after all.  I look back on my earnest, long-haired, eighteen year old self and think, fondly, "Silly boy."

It's Different Everywhere

"It never rains like this in the South."

Mom and I were driving from Delavan to Madison last week in the kind of gentle, even rain that I remember from growing up in Wisconsin.   We'd had a couple of beautiful days at the Lake Lawn Resort, with bright sun and temperatures getting up into the low eighties, so this cool rain was welcome on a day when we didn't expect to be outside much anyway.  The cornfields were thick and green and we took old narrow uncrowded highways so that we could enjoy the drive.

Turns out that it was moving-in day around the UW campus.  As we slowly made our way up University Avenue toward our hotel, the streets were lined on both sides with U-Haul vans and pickup trucks, with miserable looking students and even more miserable looking parents milling around trying to figure out how to get their keys and get their stuff up into their new apartments.  Decades earlier, my Mom and oldest sister might have been among that crowd.  Those were good memories for her, she said, but she was glad that she wasn't among them today.

We had a wonderful late lunch at the Orpheum Theater restaurant -- a perfectly done seafood linguine with a bottle of good New Zealand Pinot Noir.    The restaurant has been installed in the lobby of the grand old fashioned theater on State Street, where you eat surrounded by fading movie posters of the stars of yesteryear.    If I lived in Madison I'd have lunch there once a week.

The rain was tapering off when we got back to the car, and by the time we  stopped to visit with my niece Wendy the sun was coming out.  Back at the campus end of University, the U-Hauls had thinned out and it looked like most of the moving in was finished. 

Mom went to her room to take a nap and I settled in to do some preparation on the workshop I'd be doing the next morning for the crew at the Ebling Library at UW.    They're gearing up a strategic planning process and my task was to help stimulate some innovative and creative thinking that would get them into the mode of  looking afresh at the things they need to do to help their institution move forward.

I think the workshop went well.  Based on the quality of the discussion and the ideas that were flowing around the room, they're going to do a good job.  Frankly, I felt a little superfluous, but sometimes it's useful to have someone come in from the outside to tell you the things that you already know.  So if I was useful in that sense, it's a good thing.

It was a good trip all around.  I got to see most of my siblings and some nieces & nephews, relaxed a little, finished reading a bad novel, had some good long conversations with my Mom, and got a bit of decent work done.   And there was that cool rain.  Now I'm back in drought-stricken Alabama where it is already 80 degrees at 7 in the morning, and predicted to top 100 -- just like every day the past two weeks.  If we do get any rain it'll be one of those fierce, quick, local thundershowers that won't put a dent in the drought and won't last long enough to cool the air.   

But I'm a patient guy.  Another month and we'll start to see some of those glorious fall days.  And no doubt, come January, I'll find myself having lunch somewhere outside on one of those bright, unseasonably warm days that we always have a handful of just after the first of the year.  I'll look at the winter sunlight gleaming on the buildings and think, "We sure didn't have days like this when I was growing up in Wisconsin."

Publishing Faster

The biggest disappointment of my six-year tenure as editor of the Journal of the Medical Library Association was my complete failure to reduce the time lag between submission of an article and its actual appearance.  Indeed, during that period of time the lag actually increased slightly, in part due to one of the big successes -- a radical increase in the number of manuscripts submitted.

The new editorial crew is doing quite a bit better, in large part due to the fact that they've got several co-editors to share the workload.    They are still hampered by the fact that they're dealing with a quarterly publication.  I was just flipping through the latest issue (July 2007) and the lag between submission and acceptance seems to be four or five months, but then it's still got to get into a print issue.  The anonymous commenter on The Krafty Librarian complains that five months is still too long, that an article submitted in November doesn't appear until April.  As long as there is a print quarterly associated with the JMLA that's going to be tough to get around -- if an article is submitted in November, the January issue is already in production, so April is the earliest that something can appear in print.

They're experimenting with one way of getting around this by posting preprints online -- there are currently four articles up that won't appear in print until the October issue.  (Whether or not they should only be available to MLA members -- as is currently the case -- is something I haven't made my mind up about yet).

Eric's frustration at the delay in getting his manuscript published leads him to conclude that traditional publication "can no longer be the trusted source for the dialog and communication going on in our profession today."   But equating one poor-quality publisher with "traditional publication" is an overreaction.  While some of the Haworth journals have made strong contributions, primarily when they've had smart and dedicated editors, as a publisher Haworth has a long track record of poorly produced publications targeting smaller and smaller niches.  Do we really need a Journal of Electronic Resources in Medical Libraries and a Journal of Electronic Resources Librarianship?  But Haworth continues to slice the field into tinier chunks, because they know they can continue to get librarians to serve on editorial boards and librarians to subscribe just enough to make a bit of a profit on each of those titles.  And as long as librarians continue to do that, and to submit their articles, Haworth has no incentive to improve things, and librarians have no cause to complain.

There are alternatives.  Consider, as an example, Evidence Based Library and Information Practice (I serve on the editorial board) -- open access, online, solid peer review, fairly quick turnaround.   Or Biomedical Digital Libraries, one of the Biomed Central journals.    These are journals started by librarians, for librarians.  The combine the best features of traditional publishing with smart use of new technologies.

On many campuses today, librarians are working with their local faculty to encourage them to make smarter choices about where they submit their manuscripts.  Librarians should do the same.  If you're unhappy with "traditional publishing," your first step should be to quit sending them manuscripts and quit serving on their editorial boards.   Publishers will only adapt when they're forced to.