Sunday, June 26, 2011

"C'est la vie say the old folks"

Helping my friend Carol, who is in her sixties, buy a computer, brought back memories of my boss, another sexagenarian, and assisting her to navigate her PC (this was back in the mid '90s.) What seemed for me then and now to involve quick mouse movements or keyboard macros to accomplish a task (cutting and pasting text, opening and closing an application, switching between windows on the desktop,) caused some degree of bewilderment to both women. Things I take for granted cause others anxiety and frustration.   I found it hard to explain what I was doing in simple steps.  In my friend's case we opted to buy a mouse since the touchpad on the laptop enervated her.  All she wants to do is write verse using a word processor, and perhaps send her literary output to her sister via email, while at the same time she does have some curiosity about the online world, particularly online music.  No simple machine, however, presented itself, and most everything we looked at required additional software or hardware to accomplish what she wants. 

Then there are many older people who have no problem with technology for a variety of reasons, many having acquired some facility through everyday professional use.  My mother, a career reference librarian is a great example, and in her early working years dumb terminals were just beginning to appear.  She has a wide knowledge of internet resources and curiosity about social media sites and tools.  And from what I see on Twitter and Facebook there are many like her. 

But what about the people coming to our libraries to use a computer for the first time to fill out a job application or a government form or set up an email account?  Maybe they get some assistance from us or they avail themselves of a class at a particular time, but what they encounter on the computer screen must make no sense at all, never mind small print and unfriendly web design and inexcusable information architecture (let's not get started down that road.)  Librarians who navigate internet sites on a daily basis take for granted what mystifies relative newcomers to say, Yahoo, for instance, trying to attach a Word file to an email or verify that something was saved or sent, all new and mysterious to one library user who I helped with his email account to accomplish similar tasks.

You may wonder, if our libraries provide the computers pretty much as is, and due to staffing limitations must ration support to patrons (and a recent survey indicates many rely on libraries for computer access, ) then what?  Maybe these technology "newbies" are doing and will continue to do just fine and don't need our help.  Maybe they have to do it our way or the way it is now and catch up and get with the program.  Granted, among our libraries there is so much variation, from resource-rich to comparatively resource-poor, well-funded to under-funded, busy and less personal to a small staff/patron ratio and more personal service.  Maybe we don't want to know what our patrons are doing online, maybe it's a question of privacy and allowing some space, or maybe I will be asked a question about some application I don't have experise with and feel stupid and exposed.  And yet I sense that our future may lie in facilitating patron use of technology, in ways we may not have even encountered.  This might not sit well with some of my colleagues who prefer to provide a comparatively wholesale rather than a retail service operation, from perhaps the concern that giving too much attention to any one patron will cause others to demand the same and overwhelm the staff.   However, if we don't help those in need, where will our advocates be when our funding and space are at stake and through lack of tears the atmosphere is arid and the silence high frequency?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Open to the unknown

 (Cross posted to Quit Taking It Personally. Sorry if anyone is offended by the duplication.)

Today's #Trust30 prompt by Jonathan Fields asks: “What alternative opportunities, interpretations and paths am I not seeing?” In a field facing potentially drastic changes, librarianship, this is extremely relevant for me. So rather than defining myself as a librarian or information specialist, person, whatever it is, I have to ask, what do I like to do, what am I good at, what new abilities might I want to acquire? Maybe I don't know the answers to any of these questions right now.

Take computing. I had great difficulty using a computer when I was younger, had to rely on help from my father to pass a math course, or from more skilled peers just to type a college essay into a word processor. I knew nothing of commands or programming, could barely play games even, and for me a computer was little more than a sophisticated typewriter.

This all changed with the world wide web, software developed to browse it and information placed on remote servers for me to find using these tools to help me in my library work and answer questions for the people I served as well as for my own personal interest. And all this was completely unknown to me several years before, I could not have conceived of it, even as others were working hard to turn it into reality. And what followed has been a long fascination with information discovery on the internet. Finding. I think of the Latin word invenio, I find, I come upon, from which comes our word "invent."

So the path for me in the future may or may not involve a library building. It may involve skills used in finding and organizing and presenting information, connecting people with people and information, or it may be something I haven't even thought or heard of. My colleague Bill Mayer is known to say that the distinction between the library and IT in organizations or the distinction between the library and the network is dissolving. In a place, be it a business, educational institution or municipality, where these things are conundrums, this can present an opportunity for someone interested in information and knowledge, making things accessible for people and putting them to use. And I once worked with a scientist who told me it was my job to make myself obsolete, and if I did, and did it well, there would potentially be other opportunities and rewarding work for me. I believe he is right.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Follow up on the video culture

Considering yesterday's hit and run post on video games and libraries, here are a few more thoughts (in another quick and dirty post).

I don't heed the studies that purport to show negative effects of video games on youths, that they become aggressive or socially isolated or addicted.  The studies seem to be inconclusive, contradictory, and one has to question the methods, the sample size, it may still be too early to know the effects.  I'm interested in Jane McGonical's point about World of Warcraft containing enough crowdsourced information to rival Wikipedia, as she describes in her TED talk.  How could we apply gaming principles or activities to resource creation and development on a similar level?  Maybe this has been attempted with Second LifeJenny blogged more about gaming and libraries fairly recently, also David Lee King. Other's thoughts?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Likes games

Notice of an event at ALA, via 8bitlbrary, came through my  ews reader recently, describing best practices on video game collection. The emphasis is on public libraries but why not other kinds of libraries developing an interest in this phenomenon?  For example, check out the University of Illinois' Gaming Initiative, featuring material on gaming research, gaming resources and careers using gaming technology. Or consider the MASS Digital Games Institute, launching at Becker College and including a partnership with Massachusetts and companies from the game industry.  An article from earlier this year in Fast Company demonstrates how we're already playing video games with many of the apps we use for health and other information uses.  There's also a TED talk by Jane McGonical, Director of Game Research and Developement at the Institute for the Future,  discussing applications of games to real world problem solving.  What can we bring to the table?  Can we collaborate with gamers for library apps?  Provide information and data infrastructure?  Thoughts? 

Friday, June 10, 2011

Confession of a librarian

I have a confession to make, even as I'm a librarian with twenty years plus experience in the field.

I'm a terrible reader.

It takes me forever to finish a book.

And there are huge gaps in my learning, "classics" I've never read, contemporary works many of my colleagues and acquaintances know that I haven't cracked.  I look at my bookshelves (well all my books are in storage now) wistfully thinking there are many titles I may never read.  And I still buy a few more, but not like in my younger years when I would think this is something I will want to read, or this is something I should read, or get this edition before they muck it up with a barcode (imagine.)

And for the most part, I am not inconvenienced by not having a book at hand.  That's where libraries come in for me and it's astounding how much is available on the web from the Gutenberg Books Project to the Internet Archive to what's just been uploaded anyhow (especially poetry, can often find what I want on another person's blog.)  And I'm not ashamed to admit that I haven't read something.  I can learn from someone who has, or put it down to read for a later that may or may not arrive.

So it is with a little amusement that I read, via Alison A, on the WebJunction LinkedIn group, that an article was published in Wired pointing out the shortcomings of ebooks at the present time.   I admire ebook technology (even as I don't have an ereader myself, except for the free app that comes with the iPhone, which leaves something to be desired, but what do I know, really).  Being able to store a library of books in a device or even just a full number is cool.  But I don't even make time for print books (or dead tree books as I hear from Shirl and others.)  What would I do with it?   Carry around more books to not read?

At the same time, as a librarian pointing people to tools and information, it is incumbent upon me to learn as much as I can about ebooks and ereaders to provide access and solve problems.  It is an evolving technology.  (See the WebJunction group for a lively discussion of preferred ereaders, and Paula Hane's overview of free ebook and ereader software sources.)

And when I reflect on my reading life, the books that have stayed with me are few, that is I can recall much of what I read and certain phrases or incidents well, mostly through rereading.  And rereading again I surprise myself that the text is different from what was in my memory.  How little I know.  I think of Gombromowicz's Ferdydurke, his description in the fourth chapter of the author's toil and ultimately the reader's distraction: "Might not just a phone call, or a fly interrupt his reading precisely at the point where all individual parts unite in a dramatic resolution ... Is this why we construct a whole, so that a particle of a part of the reader will absorb a particle of a part of the work, and only partly at that?"  Yes, this rings true with me, who reads much online and scans mostly at that. Then there are the words of Ecclesiastes.

Nobody has to read anything, but if I do, and remember it, and even act on it, I can gain something and help others, potentially.  And as far as the technology, the gain and the loss, I think of a book I didn't read but saw the movie version, No Country for Old Men, the old sheriff tells Tommy Lee Jones, "You can't stop what's coming."  And I can't, can only make the best of the situation, today and in the future.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Librarians as thought leaders

Learned of an intriguing project, via Twitter?, today, TEDxLibrariansTO (as distinguished from TED, I'm told,") calling for videos to discuss the theme "Librarians as thought leaders."  The key word is inspiration.  So what breathes life into me and how can I breathe life into others?  And what's a thought leader? 

As a model,the site offers Library 101 video by David Lee King and Michael Stephens.  I have to admire these gentleman for putting it out there and availing themselves of rock, punk and rapper styles, rapid-fire imagery and polished production.  They tell us what libraries should have but not necessarily how to get it or incorporate it.  "We're still about books, meeting rooms and story hours," they sing (or something to that effect,) but incorporation of social tools and collaborative spaces are the direction they advocate.  How will this work?  I'm starting at a college where many students I'm told don't have smartphones, let alone laptops.  Getting more computers into library spaces is important, but what kind of machines, and for what use?  For this college, there has to be a larger conversation about technology.  Where do the faculty want to go with it.  How can the library facilitate learning and collaborative spaces such as have been created here and here and here and here and here.  I'm indebted to Bill Mayer for this information.)  All involve creative use of space for technology, "flexible" environments, places for teaching, for students to work together on projects, try out new or unfamiliar software, all connected somehow to the library where they may otherwise be disinclined to venture.

Does scholarship matter any more?  What is scholarship, other than asking appropriate questions to gain insight, and maybe even scholarship practice is evolving.  How to accommodate it and support it? 

Maybe there is no one right way, but many ways, many futures, many skills evolving into many abilities.  Know what I can do, know what I need to learn, know what I want, and reach out and accept help.

Maybe the thought leader intention is for librarians to direct the conversation, articulate values, rather than be subject to decisions of larger institutions, municipalities. Another aspect of adapting to the future?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


A wonderful lunch with three wonderful librarians, two who work in major research libraries and one who has started her own information consulting business.  I've collaborated with all of them on social bookmarking and similar activities.  It was great being in their company.  One common theme we discussed is the evolution of the library, and our entrepreneurial friend has even gone as far to say something like librarians need to stop thinking of only libraries.  It reminded me a lot of Randy Hensley's talk from the other day, he was familiar to at least one of the participants.  The thinking that emerged was one of being less tied to specific positions and institutions and developing useful skills and abilities, even venturing into learning programming languages or about metadata and APIs. (Librarians venturing into similar areas has been discussed in a lively fashion elsewhere, though I believe my friends were talking about individual initiative rather than something mandated from above. )  It takes some persistence and courage and willingness to ask questions. Some online training was referenced.  I think back to my own early days and getting flumoxed trying to learn GoLive Cyberstudio in a training session, I just didn't have the graphical chops and cheated myself out of learning other software and infrastructure that might have led somewhere.  These librarians are willing.  I can learn from their example, especially one of the academic librarians who had an idea for tracking faculty influence on politics, although I am probably misrepresenting it.  And some great sites were shared.  And they wished me well in my new undertaking.  Thanks to all.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

"I haven't been following the affair"

As I've enjoyed this #blogeverydayinjune exercise, and participating in it has brought up many ideas (mostly what I'd like to do, what I've yet to put in play,) I'm regretting not reading the thoughts of other participants and the Twitter stream and responding to it.  I haven't been following the affair, I'm afraid, although probably not to as extreme an example as this.  May not get many chances to post but I will keep trying.  Appreciate the opportunity and thanks for your patience and readership.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Not in my job description

Looking over the current job descriptions for the staff I will be working with, thinking of questions such as how do you do this or do you still do this, the thought came to me, what are reasonable expectations.  In a small library (as few as one, sometimes two to five staff members,) cross-training and performing of multiple functions are part of the deal, being expected to check out a book, provide direction, troubleshoot with a patron using a resource on a computer, etc.  People have said to me make clearer distinctions so we're not tripping over one another.  I will need to work this out.

Nevertheless, the phrase "not in my job description" always comes up, to the point of cliche. However, I believe that to do meaningful work other librarians and I will have to seek out activities and opportunities that may not be described in our job descriptions.  At an institution I know of, many administrators wear many hats, admistrative, financial, and as one guy described it to me he is coordinating the college's new research initiative that features a partnership with the state and local businesses. Then I'm thinking if there are needs where one is, say a lack of computing and learning facilities, why can't the library play a role in that conversation.  Or the direction of the website.  Or an organization's institutional memory, from history to the knowledge of people walking out the door, as has been described elsewhere.  Or something along the lines of the Harvard Library Innovation Laboratory

And I think of my last place of employment and an administrator who came to work there at around the same time I did. When she started she was an assistant but gradually took on more work and revamped the entire budget system for the organization.  (She also became a notary public, seeing an opening there.)  What she did was not popular with some (" X took over P's job," one staff member groused to me,) but she is effective, took advantage of opportunities, she's still working there and I'm not.  I'm not suggesting aggressiveness, necessarily, or solely looking out for one's own interests.  However, I can see missed opportunities in my past.  What if I'd taken the initiative to set up an institutional repository?  Or some archive at an essentially ahistorical organization? Some learning, in the area of software, some collaborating and asking for help were necessary.  I didn't do it and it is part of the past and here's my opportunity to learn from it and do something different, redeem the past in a way.

It's a tricky thing.  On the one hand there is something about being clear what one does and what business one is in.  At the same time, we can adapt and evolve, as print books may be eclipsed by ebooks and other disruptive technologies appear on the scene.  Intriguing discussions of evolving library work can be read here and here

So I have to be willing to change, even gradually, thinking of Red Green: "I'm a man!  But I can change, if I have to, I guess."

Sunday, June 5, 2011


I've heard differing views on the concept of fun: fun in work, "if it isn't fun why do it," work as play.  Richard K. Irish, in one of his books (either Go Hire Yourself an Employer or the earlier If Things Don't Improve, I May Ask You to Fire Me,) crtiticized the "fun ethic," of the youth of the time, looking upon those who wouldn't work at a job if it wasn't "fun."  Maybe fun is a by-product of engaging and fulfilling work and discovery and engagement with customers and colleagues.  And then I saw this post from 8bitlibrary which puts things in another context. (I like his ideas, or why not something like this?  (Maybe not the shoes.))

8bit is talking about a dance party at the ALA annual (where I will not be), but what about bringing movement and a relaxing and free atmosphere to the library setting?  Happy and confident librarians serving and engaging with patrons who feel welcome and that there's a good reason for them to come in the door, e.g. fun. 

I don't know.  I'm an academic who's worked in solitude for the most part (although not entirely, and I have a little public library experience.)  Dealing with citations, bibliographic databases, open access, current awareness (finished yawning yet?)  Finding information, especially in unexpected places, offering a solution to someone, I find exciting, sort of like Marianne Moore found baseball and writing exciting (although I have no idea, really,) and there's blogging and Twitter, which I find exciting (the best promotion of Twitter I've encountered in my recent memory is this one.)  Even these are tied to the computer.

How to initiate fun?  David Lee King has some great ideas here and here, particularly involving technology, space, staff and technology.  "You have visitors now," he asks in one of his slides, what kind of experience are they having?" Among his other suggestions are listening to the community rather than trying to sell them just what we have, involving conversation, participation and connecting through stories.

And Bohyun Kim talks about the "infectious library," asking us to "dream" of what that would look like.  Two of her suggestions include "libraries as tech shops," places where patrons can learn about new cool and useful tools; content collaboration with users in academic and other settings, which could be especially interesting for coursework and unique community resources and special collections. (All Bohyun's suggestions are great, but these first two seemed in sync with what I highlighted from David and the general topic of fun.)

So we can bring something to the table.  Our customers may know what their goals are but not how we can welcome and support them, why they would want to come to us.  We may not know that yet either.

And whatever I do, I will relax.  It's just librarianship.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Three little words

I like the motto of the University of Vermont libraries: Ask. Discover. Create.  Beautifully and succinctly stated, flowing like an arrow through the research, knowledge process. 

UVM even initiated an outreach campaign with students as models to promote the first part.  (The youngsters in the last photo look a little disinterested, though. ;) )  Engaging students in library promotion, creating allies, suggests great potential. 

The "discover" part I like too, suggests an open process, including serendipity.  "Inventing is finding," I read somewhere.  But we don't stop there, do we? 

How do the libraries foster creation for their users.  A clue may be in the Center for Digital Initiatives. An email link is provided for someone in the community to suggest a new collection.  Elsewhere, the librarians state: "It is the UVM Libraries' goal that students, faculty, staff, scholars, and community members participate as users and creators of digital resources in an open, collaborative environment. The CDI works with users to integrate digital collections in their research, teaching, and learning strategies." The image archives they host are beautiful.  I would be interested to learn how such collections have been used in courses and study, with what outcomes.

Nice work, UVM!

Friday, June 3, 2011

Creativity in Instruction

Thoughts on the ACRL/NELIG program which I attended this morning, courtesy of one of my staff members who gave me her place since she was unable to go. Comments from other attendees can be read in the Twitter stream.  Slides from the presentations will eventually be available on the website.

The theme was creativity and the keynote by Randy Hensley involved  (well first he sang "I Remember You,") puzzles and group problem solving, working with images, senses and visualization. For example, we were asked, in teams, to describe a problem we might encounter teaching a library skills class to students (some of us went with the situation of not having enough computers for everyone to use.)  Then we were asked to report, what does the problem sound, smell, taste and feel like to the touch.  With the puzzles and these sensory stretches, Randy was engaging us at looking at what we do in novel ways.  One way he framed it was to bring the concept of "brain lateralization" to the discussion, asking us to consider how education starts us off with a more right-brained focus (emphasis on play,) and then moves, almost exclusively, to a left-brained focus (organizational and analytical,) with the result that when people try to do creative work, they haven't been educated or are out of practice.  So applying senses, images, memories can generate stories in our minds which are useful to apply to problem solving. 

Randy went on to introduce concepts from Daniel Pink's work (haven't read him,) who emphasizes that we are entering a kind of post-information age, "conceptual age," where the emphasis will be on collaborative work, creation and empathy.  Abilities will matter more than skills which will be regularly in flux for creative work we can only begin to imagine.  While I welcome this new world view, skeptically I think of the work of Matthew Fraser and his Throwing Sheep in the Boardroom which examines, for example, how companies are or are not adopting social media and a more open information sharing culture at their peril.  Matthew and I had a discussion about this a couple years ago and I asked him, among other things, about the flattening out of the corporate hierarchy that was talked about in the 90s, the horizontal organization.  Didn't happen, he told me, because people who have power do what they will to hold onto it.  Will a similar scenario prevail in the business and culture we know now and will see in the future?  Further more, if everybody's an entrepreneur or artist or creator, must we all buy from each other to survive? Or barter?

I think I see where Randy was headed as he left us with his models of learning and his emphasis on creating empathy with the students we want to engage and bring to our libraries (or bring the library to them but in whatever instance, have them see the library and its personnel as offering solutions.)  "Go to the place of empathy, " he said, and I've heard similar speech, the idea being rather than the library telling its user community what they offer and why they should want it, give them an image or a problem to solve, let them find the intrinsic meaning.

I saw an example of this in the next session I attended led by Andy Burkhardt and Sarah Cohen, who demonstrated an interesting exercise using polling software, asking a multiple choice question, for example ("what source do you use to get infomation?), having the students respond via text message,  and then displaying the results on the screen.  If the majority of the audience answers Google, it can become a discussion about that or the differences between search engines, the use of various social media sites, authority of sources.  This was novel since usually students are not encouraged to use cell phones in learning environments; evidently some colleges are moving to ban them.

The subsequent session featured the use of images to gather students' attention in information literacy sessions.  Alison Armstrong, working with Egyptian students, gave them icons from newspapers they would know and then instructed them to find articles on a topic.  She stressed the importance of being brief in an explanation of what they were going to do before the class.  Her co-presenter, Laurie Kutner, unveiled a graph showing comparative internet access in different regions of the world, also showing potential as a jumping off point for discussion, especially as one audience member pointed out, one can emphasize difficulties researching information about a country that has less technology infrastructure.  The discussion concluded with audience members talking about rethinking of standards for information literacy, such as those implemented by ACRL, along the lines of abilities rather than skills.  Alison alluded to a newly-adopted framework released by SCONUL, more cyclical, as one attendee commented.

A great day and thank you to the speakers and everyone involved with NELIG who made it possible.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Two worlds

I am starting a new position managing two college libraries on campuses twenty minutes apart from one another.  One is in a residential neighborhood in a sizable industrial city, surrounded by other colleges and similar institutions.  The other is about twenty minutes away in a rural community, up a hill, in something of a town square.  Interestingly, the future may point toward the latter, even though it is an old building with no air-conditioning and certainly not ADA-compliant.  Yet maybe the expansion is headed that way or did I misread the press releases.  I'm thinking a lot about library buildings and a larger conversation about technology. The libraries are equipped with computers, certainly not new and not numerous and the staff tell me when they are occupied the students walk away.  So I'm thinking of spaces where faculty can teach a class, where librarians can give instruction, where students can collaborate on creative work.  It may not be like many other colleges, I'm told, as many students come to school without their own computers.  Maybe they have smartphones and we should be looking at mobile services. 

My heart feels a little heavy.  In my previous position, my predecessor left me detailed notes, and I followed some of her suggestions (like creating current awareness alerts for the scientists,) while disregarding some others.  Nevertheless, she was very thorough.  My predecessor for where I am now, nothing, no trace, an empty office, only a few tabs on folders to indicate what went on before.  Old policies that I have yet to read that may not have been followed and that will need to be looked at anew. When I say old I mean a few years and everything's changed, libraries' use of metrics, constituents' use of the library, social media, smart phones, ebooks, data, the question of what a library and librarians are for. 

I know this.  I've inherited a superb staff who know as much as if not more about libraries than I do.  They don't want to make lattes, they want to deliver solutions and do meaningful work with students and faculty and others in their communities.  I want to help them make it possible.  I want it so badly, for all of us, not only for our sake, but for the best in each of us, why we do this work, to serve and connect with people and connect people with information and other people and tools that will help them achieve their objectives.

The collections are out of date. Thinking of the post from yesterday that mentioned PDA (Patron Driven Acquisition, and not public display of affection or personal digital assistant,) the libraries evidently have been doing that, but not anticipating needs. I believe the librarians are ready, and at the same time we need a broad knowledge of the teaching activities at the college and where things are headed to plan collections.  What's in the stacks is so out of date it makes one want to level the whole thing and start over.  There will be time, but not much. 

I think of the missed opportunities in my past.  Don't F it up, I say to myself.  I will make mistakes but I don't to make ones I've already made and create misery by not making decisions.  I've learned many things the hard way in my career.  What's the worst that can happen?  I go home.

Tomorrow I'm headed to a meeting at another institution to which I've never been to hear about trends in library instruction. It's been a long time.  At other campuses of this institution I heard about instruction tools and techniques but that was years ago, before libguides, before networked databases really, and yet librarians will still trying to get the attention of students and faculty.  Mostly it will be fun to be at a meeting with a role, and new colleagues and a smile.  I'm having fun and the days are flying by. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Give the people what they want?

It's a conundrum for libraries.  What is our role, as collectors, as curators, as stewards of information?

At the municipal libraries I've worked in, folks want Steig Larsson and there aren't enough copies to go around even in a well-funded, cooperative network.  And what's wrong with wanting to read Steig Larsson?  I can't say I have, although I enjoyed the Dragon Tattoo movie when I watched it with my niece and her partner last fall.  It's a riveting story.  So it may not be the zenith of literary accomplishment.

When I was a callow youth I worked in a bookstore in my home town, one which was owned by a national chain.  Of course the bestsellers of the day were prominently displayed, Judith Krantz's I'll Take Manhattan, the latest Danielle Steele, Robert Schuller's Be-Happy Attitudes, you get the idea.  The assistant manager, Jose, was fond of creating towering book displays which were referred to as "dumps."  But he would also get ideas from more literary bookstores near the colleges and universities in the cities, order them from the vendor, and they sold, he said.  Jose was giving customers choices of which they might not have been aware.  The same thinking is well described in a recent library blog post. Or, looking at it another way, patrons may not necessarily know what they need but a need exists and it's up to us to identify it, as this story illustrates.

I think of asking a researcher before I took on my previous position what he wanted from the library. "I don't know, Garrett," he answered with a sigh, and we were talking about table-of-contents journal alerting services, which he said overwhelmed his email box and consequently went unread.  (At the same time, as many journals went to e-only format or print subscriptions were discontinued, their needed, and still needs, to be a way to alert researchers of new material.)  I spent much subsequent time learning about this gentleman's research, trying to learn what keywords would pull out of database searches the articles he would want to read.  Much trial and error.  He gave me the word "clusters," talking about a concept in physics and chemistry, large aggregations of molecular material, specifically for him metal clusters in the gas phase, observed in a mass spectrometer or  with similar instrumentation.  But "clusters" pulled up computer clusters and galaxies.  The researcher laughed at me when I showed him the first search results, but I kept refining it and incorporating not only disparate literature databases but contents from the journals themselves, filtering, searching and researching, and keeping an eye on what the researcher's group was up to with regard to publishing and presenting results and new developments.  Even after all that, I don't have a magic formula, but the regular communication between us was positive for the library.  Some of my colleagues will object, probably, to paraphrase William James, wanting to do a wholesale rather than a retail basis, for efficiency's sake.  To my view, the information landscape is overwhelming and any kind of assistance we can provide these dealing with it will only increase our value.

Then today I was pointed to a posting on Patron-Driven Acquisition (PDA,) the thinking being that academic libraries with limited funds should not attempt to purchase widely or exhaustively in a subject but respond to purchase requests from their constituents.  This is what I did in my previous position, with some purchases for reference volumes and other materials of general interest at my discretion.  And I think librarians using model can maintain some middle ground and some level of participation.  Browse publisher's catalogs and also reviews in journals such as Nature, Scientific American, Physics Today, Science, Science News, American Scientist, and others.  Browse library catalogs of similar institutions and consider if your constituents need a particular title onsite or through the network. Know the activities of your institution, the current courses and assignments, the experiments going on in the laboratories and keep an eye out for publications in whatever format that will support these endeavors.  Dana Roth similarly suggests many of these ideas in his presentation on the future of science librarianship from last year's SLA meeting.

All of this is a roundabout way to say, yes, we can respond to patron wants while thinking creatively about delivering materials, services, environments, communities, opportunities, collections yet unasked for.  It's not an either/or.  It's a yes and.