Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Can graduates consult fresh out of library school? A few thoughts

For June, I have been putting together my thoughts and research on consulting and consultants in domains outside of library and information science (LIS). I have also been informally talking with independent information professionals and formulating ideas about my dissertation project, including possible conclusions and recommendations that I might want to contribute to the field. In this blog post, I want to share some of my thoughts (that I may not necessarily include in my final project). These thoughts are basically centered around providing answers to the question:
Can graduates consult fresh out of library school?

In a recent conversation with a library student about my research, I mentioned that I am studying  library consulting as a phenomenon. The conversation lead to her asking me several questions about library consultants and library consulting. One such question was whether or not library consultants need to have experience working in the field before doing consulting. Currently, it is the dominant paradigm that library consultants cannot be students "fresh out of library school". This view is not only held by MLIS students, but also practitioners and professionals. It is also embedded in the literature that basically defines a consultant as an "outside expert" that provides problem solving advice. Yet, my view is why does it have to be seen this way?

When I look at MBA graduates, they leave business schools and immediately join management consulting firms, with little or no experience working in actual businesses. When I consider this, my argument is that how we teach MLIS students could also prepare them for consulting without actually working in libraries. In my radical proposal, a consultant does not necessarily need work experience, but could tentatively have two other criteria:
  1. an outsider perspective and
  2. a specialty

When I look at MBA education and even management consulting literature, students are prepared for consulting. They learn methods and processes to do consulting through books such as



Another thing about MBA education (I know these things partially because my wife did an MBA), is that they work a lot with real life cases or case studies. So while MBA students do not have work experience, they use these cases and case studies to practice their consulting methods and principles. Sometimes, MBA courses actually insist that students actually engage real companies and organizations and prepare their own cases and proposals for solving the problems in those cases. Considering this, I wonder if library schools could borrow some of these practices in library education in order to prepare library school graduates for consulting.



Then when I look at law education, I see law students as studying mainly cases. Is it possible that library school graduates could substitute work experience by being exposed to studies of various "library cases"?

I also look at the fact that sometimes consultants are engaged in organizations for their specialty. Sometimes, this involves their knowledge of a particular software, collection, or of a particular subset of users (say for instance LGBT users, or African-Americans, or Muslims, etc.) or because of their specialty in a particular language. In other words, there are cases in which work experience is unnecessary to consulting, particularly in cases where MLIS graduates already come with a bachelors degree in a previous area of studies. In other cases, MLIS graduates may have a niche hobby that enables them to be an expert or specialist in a particular area, such as Comic books, Graphic Novels, Star Trek or some game specialty.

Finally, I look at my own experience as a MLIS student, where I actually performed information brokerage, information consulting and library consulting before graduating from library school without knowing that what I was doing had formal names and procedures. In some of those instances, the outcomes were not as successful as I would have wanted them to be. However, now that I have researched consulting and have come across principles, process models and methods for consulting, I felt that I could have been more effective in my library and information brokerage and consulting roles early on in my career. Had I been taught how to be an effective consultant in library school, I feel that I would have gotten better results in all those early freelance projects that I did as a student before graduating from library school.

Conclusion

It is therefore my opinion that while the dominant perspective in my discipline is that library school graduates cannot enter into consulting directly after exiting library school, that this is not a function of them lacking work experience, but a function of the library curriculum not preparing them for such roles. My main support for this argument is that MBA graduates consult without work experience, and this is because they are provided with adequate curriculum and informational support. Secondly, I have argued that consultants are not only important because of their work experience, but sometimes because of their knowledge derived from their hobbies or personal experiences. Library students doing their Masters, with a degree in another subject, are highly likely to possess some niche area or subject that they are quite conversant if not an expert on. Finally, I feel that my own personal experience could have been enriched by a course that would prepare me for effective consulting. (Coincidentally, I am aware of recent grads that are also doing consulting and am sure that they too would benefit from such a course). So I say, let's think more about this.


Reference

Kurian, G. T. (2013). Consultant. The AMA dictionary of business and management. New York: Amacom.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Talking with the vendors of InMagic Presto & MinISIS

Day 3 SLA 2014 conference June 10: Talking with the vendors

I had four unofficial priorities for this conference 
1. Network with library and information consultants
2. listen to talks presented by library and information consultants
3. informally talk about my research ideas with library and information consultants
4. experience SLA for the first time

However, on attending I found that I just went with the flow (giving up my own agenda) and sought to make the most of the experience. This included:
talking and networking with employed librarians, which enabled me to receive valuable career advice and counselling
formally joining AIIP (paying the student membership fee)
purchasing Mary Ellen Bates' book on Building & Running a Successful Research Business
learning whatever I could from each presentation at the conference (especially those relating to social media or my other research interests)
and finally, talking with vendors to get updates on their products and what’s going on with databases today

It is the latter official goal that I want to discuss some more in this blog entry.

I spent the time listening to presentations from and chatting with the vendors of library systems and technological solutions. In total, I counted 4 vendors that I actively or passively engaged to learn from:
1. Intellixir LCC,
2. Elsevier – Scopus
3. Minisis
4. InMagic 

In addition, I sat in a session where librarians shared their stories about how they made the best of SharePoint for their Intranet and library services, which deserves its own blog post.

However, in this particular blog post, I want to discuss the 2 vendors that I spoke with who actually had clients in the English-speaking Caribbean: Minisis and InMagic. In fact, because I was aware that my colleagues from the region used these vendors, I took the time to learn about their updates and upgrades.

InMagic Presto for DB/TextWorks

I spoke to Jason Buggy from Lucidea and had him demo the new Web-based interface upgrade for InMagic dubbed Presto and was impressed. New features include being able to incorporate blog entries and other social media such as discussion fora into the catalogue results. That’s right folks; the industry is ahead of academia, as they are already providing features for including blog entries and discussion forums in a library’s catalogue. Of course, the entries are based on what the librarian collects and vets. 

In addition, a new feature that I also saw was that Presto enabled one to include the profiles of experts (picture, contact information and blurbs of experience/knowledge) into the catalogue or OPAC results. That’s right; the inclusion of people information in the OPAC results as well, so that one can showcase the knowledge experts or knowledgeable people sources 

You can check out a brochure on Inmagic’s Presto here: http://www.inmagic.com/products/presto-technology/

Minisis
With news that the National Library of Jamaica is moving beyond WINISIS and on to OCLC’s WorldCat, I was a bit curious as to what’s happening with MinISIS, which is a related platform. So I had a chat with Christopher Burcsik. While for this software, I did not get a demo of the features, I got some background information about the company and MinISIS. For instance, I learned that MinISIS was Canadia. In fact, the brochure that I accessed states that "MINISIS Inc. is a multinational corporation headquartered in Vancouver, BC, with regional offices in Ontario, Tunisia, and Trinidad and Tobago" (p.2).

While MinISIS was once free and based on UNESCO’s open-sourced WINISIS, its development was later funded and sponsored by the Canadian Government (personal interview). Eventually, the Canadian Government cut the funding to the software, forcing MinISIS to change its model from a publicly funded free software development to one where it had to charge fees to be viable. According to the brochure, MinISIS is a social entrepreneurial venture. While they charge fees for the software, they continue to support the development of the software to support the needs of libraries, archives and museums across the world that still depend on and possess databases based on WinISIS records. 

I also got some insights from Burcsik, who argued that open source development of library software is not sustainable [especially for developing countries I would add]. He pointed out that there would be need for constant evolution and update, including creating new patches to prevent against viruses and hacking, for which librarians would not be experts in  [The whole time he was talking this, I was thinking about University of Prince Edward Island library’s Islandora open source project and wondering if Mark Leggott would strongly disagree]. Burcsik also made the point that WinISIS basically could not survive beyond the efforts of the founder. As such, he suggests that only commercially drive software by companies driven by profits can continue to develop sustainable products for libraries (personal interview).

When I raised the issues of OCLC, it was suggested that OCLC, though claiming to be a non-profit entity, was actually between a non-profit and profit-making entity. It was also suggested that OCLC perhaps makes far more profit than MinISIS. This may be something that I might need to look into further. 

Reference:

Minisis Inc. (N.d.). Minisis Inc: Celebrating over 40 years of innovation in database technology [Computer file/Brochure]. N.p.: Author.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Social media insights from Zena Applebaum @ the SLA 2014 conference

Day 2 of SLA social media insights


Day 2 of my first Special Libraries Association (SLA) conference and I'm thinking to myself, "this is where I belong". Here I am, attending several presentations where information consultants have similar assumptions regarding using social media tools to find information as I do. Mining blogs, Twitter and other social media platforms for insights seem to be the norm in the information consulting industry. To information consultants, social media presents a very important and free information source in addition to paid commercial databases.

Zena Applebaum, Director of Competitive Intelligence at Bennett Jones LLP, was one such presenter that gave a talk on this subject. Two things fascinated me from her presentation entitled "Social media-Turning noise into action":
1.     The assumption that social media can be information sources from which information should be collected 
2.     That one can develop a social media collection and acquisition policy (or procedures) to make decisions about what social media data or information one could collect.
It is these points that I want to briefly review and talk about here in this blog entry.

First and foremost, Applebaum argues that social media sits between the spectrum of primary research and secondary research. She further argues that social media provides access to people essentially talking about themselves and others without the researcher eliciting those responses. She further suggests that on social media, there are both individuals and institutions that provide information. Her questions are not so much whether or not such information can be trusted or what's the value of such information, but how do we get at that information. This is in contrast to my discussions with some academics and in academia (including a few librarians), who are suspicious of social media information and ask can the data be trusted and how can we know whether or not the social media information is authentic or meaningful. Further, I've found that from informal discussions within limited academic circles, that there are doubts about collecting and storing such information, as social media information is deemed to be either too trivial, ephemeral or lacking the authority of traditionally published/secondary sources and primary sources.  

The second thing that impressed me about Applebaum's talk was that she laid out what seemed to be guidelines for getting or acquiring social media data. In her presentation, she discussed the need for competitive intelligence specialists to have a framework for monitoring and collecting relevant information from social media. This begins by determining what she refers to as "key intelligence topics". According to Applebaum (2014)

Key Intelligence Topic - (KITs) are those topics identified as being of greatest significance to an organization’s senior executives, and which provide purpose and direction for Competitive intelligence operations. 
How do we determine these topics? Applebaum suggests that we conduct a series of interviews of a representative group of users from which we ascertain the relevant topics to monitor media and social media for. Then we are to grouped these topics into appropriate categories and get our stakeholders (the senior organizational executives/users) to allocate a priority to the same. Hence to begin the process, Applebaum recommends that we analyse who are our stakeholders (or users) and what decisions do they make. In addition, we must also ask:
•What knowledge do the users need?
•What intelligence can we provide?


The second step in the process is to define what she terms the "collection plan" (Using my collection development training, I would call it the collection development/acquisitions policy/procedures. However, her term may indicate less formality in the process). This involves determining the producers of the information that one needs and how to locate them. In Applebaum's presentation, this analysis of the sources that need to be monitored involves asking:

•Who has the information you need?
•Who is their audience?
•What social media will they use?
•How do you search those platforms?

In my own experience as a librarian, the first two steps are similar to the process that I go about when identifying and determining which publishers (and vendors of commercial databases) to contact for what materials are needed for my library. The last point relates to how do I find those publishers (or vendors) in order to make those purchases (nowadays, we just deal with agents rather than contacting the publishers directly. Unless we are collecting rare books or items)


So when I examine this, I conclude that the skills of collection development are as relevant to social media information as they are to books and other items collected by libraries. In basic collection development policy we decide the purpose of our collection, its scope (and or limitations) and the types of decisions that we will make as to what sources to acquire or omit from the collection. Further, while we may not write it into our policy, we may implicitly establish procedures or a process to go about acquiring items for our collection. All this reinforces the idea to me that librarians can apply their skill sets (acquired from experience with traditional media and library sources) to new media and information sources/resources. The issue is whether or not we deem social media to be sources that we must collect, store, preserve and provide for our users to access.

References:

Applebaum, Z. (2014). Social media – Turning noise into action. Presented at Special Libraries Association 2014 Conference, June 8-10, Vancouver, BC. Retrieved from http://sla2014.sched.org/event/db8c0c4fe1b010468310ab57b62d9eda#.U5aEzfldUrW.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Social media sites are essentially "databases"

I once read that Facebook was a database (Arthur, 2009). I have even read that blogs were databases (Miles, 2005). And now I've heard that LinkedIn is a database. My new conclusion is that all social media are databases!

My conclusion came after reflecting on some tips on LinkedIn and other social media use from Sean Campbell, CEO of Cascade Insights. In his presentation at SLA, Sean discussed the subject of how to get a hold of people to talk to using social media (Campbell, 2014). His basic premise is that people talk about their work life story online using social media. If one wants to know about an industry, one can use social media tools to find those who talk about this industry. He argues that social media [specifically LinkedIn] are databases from which we can mine and extract individuals, groups and communities that talk about subjects relevant to providing insight for industries. As Sean puts it, the ordinary LinkedIn User does not see their profile as a database, but to LinkenIn employees, a person's profile is but one record in a large database of people information. 

The same can be said for Facebook. According to Garde-Hansen (2009), Facebook is a "database of users and for users" and each user's page is "a database of their life" (p. 141). Garde-Hansen (2009) therefore argues that while users experience Facebook as a place where they upload "non-textual content (their profile image, the profile images of their friends, shared photographs, functional icons, gift images and application icons)", this hides the "visibility of Facebook as a pre-programmed set of pathways to a database" (p. 140-141).

This truth also applies to Twitter and Google (and basically all social media sites). In a 2013 Wired magazine article, it is mentioned that Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google "teamed up to create what they call WebScaleSQL, a custom version of MySQL designed just for large scale web companies" that operate large databases (Finley, 2013). Further, blogs and blog content management systems, according to Miles (2005), also draw upon and store content of text, images, data and media objects from a database, and chronologically arrange or displays the content through templates accessible through a Web browser. So the truth is, that while we experience a clean, customised and personalised screen when uploading our user-generate content and viewing the stories told by our friends and others, we are essentially viewing records of a database that we update and input data for. In this regard, if we join any social media site, we essentially become data entry personnel. 


References:

Campbell, S. (2014). Sourcing with social media – For competitive intelligence and market research teams. Presentation at the Special Libraries Association 2014 Conference, June 8-10, Vancouver, BC. Retrieved from

Finley, K. (2013, Mar. 27) Google and Facebook team up to modernize old-school databases
Wired Retrieved from http://www.wired.com/2014/03/webscalesql/

Garde-Hansen, J. (2009). MyMemories?: Personal digital archive fever and Facebook. In Garde-Hansen, J., Hoskins, A., & Reading, A. (p. 135-50). Save as… digital memories. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Miles, A. (2005, May). Media rich versus rich media (or why video in a blog is not the same as a video blog). Hypertext paper presented at Blogtalk Downunder, Sydney, Australia. Retrieved from http://incsub.org/blogtalk/?page_id=76. [Last Accessed 23 August 2012].

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Information consulting today: Some insights from Marcy Phelps @ SLA 2014

So I arrived at my first session of my first SLA meeting with the stress of:

  1. having lost my cellular phone between Toronto and London
  2. Coming straight to the conference convention centre with my luggage to discover that there was no bag or suit check available, which meant that I had to lug with suitcase and suit carrier to all the sessions,
Nonetheless, my travel stress could not take away from my gaining some insights from Marcy Phelps, the principal  or founder of Phelps Research. According to her website:

Marcy M. Phelps, founder of Phelps Research, provides professional research, analysis, and research training services that help clients make better business decisions. She founded the company in 2000 after obtaining a master’s degree in library and information services from the University of Denver. (Phelps Research, 2013)
The session that I attended from which Marcy Phelps presented was entitled “Data Visualization” (Phelps, 2014). However, the session yielded more than just insights into Data Visualization. In addition to the information on data visualization, Phelps provided insights into the modern trends and shifts from information brokerage to information consultancy (a topic already discussed in this previous blog post).


Marcy Phelps provided a very interesting context to her presentation on data visualization that highlights the shift in information work of locating sources for clients and providing value added services to the information retrieved. Drawing on her experience as an information broker and consultant for a number of clients including marketing agents, Marcy Phelps suggests that in the past information brokerage was about librarians being in business to help clients find more and better information. She however suggests that today, the clients no longer want more or better information, but actually want more value added to the information. In fact, her argument is that clients are drowning in information, and do not have the time to deal with the large quantities of information. She further opined that clients don’t have the time to sort through a while lot of information and as such want information professionals to provide them with information that is “decision ready” (meaning information that they can use immediately to make decisions). Now they want to know what does the information mean? They do not want to search for the story but want information professionals to supply the meaning of the information to them.


Phelps went on to discuss the steps and process to be undertaken in creating or adding this value to information for clients, by using and creating visual analysis and presentations for information. (This discussion itself warrants its own blog entry). However, another key insight that Phelps stressed was that librarians need to use their reference interview skills in the process to get at what clients really want from the data or information that is to be supplied. She mentions that this is key, in order for the information professional to deliver the value-added result that clients demand. She went on to suggest, that sometimes clients have a hunch or theory and wants the information professional to conduct the research  to prove their theory. Our research as information professionals in this regard is to provide the message from the data that clients need to know and use to make their decisions. 


A question was asked of Phelps as to whether or not she has to provide clients with information for which she did not agree with the decisions that they intend to make. Phelps in response stated that this is why she always includes an executive summary or a cover letter contextualising the information being supplied as well as presenting the limitations of the data.

These few insights into the work of information consulting are indeed valuable for the troubles and expenses associated with my conference attendance. It is further insightful for me to be in such conferences to be part of the community of practice surrounding information consulting work. And hopefully, all these insights will transfer into helping me better understand my thesis research. And there's more to come. :)


References:

Phelps, M. (2014). More than pretty pictures: A guide to data visualization for info pros. Presentation at the Special Libraries Association 2014 Conference, June 8-10, Vancouver, B.C. Retrieved from http://www.phelpsresearch.com/Portals/0/DataViz-Adv-SLA2014.pdf

Phelps Research (2013). About Phelps Research and Marcy Phelps. Retrieved from http://www.phelpsresearch.com/AboutUs





Thursday, June 5, 2014

Gearing up to attend SLA 2014 conference and more

This week I gear up to attend the Special Libraries Association (SLA) conference, my first librarian & information professional practitioner based conference in several years. Since beginning my studies, I have focused primarily on networking and presenting at academic conferences. However, next week will see me not presenting, but rather just attending presentations and networking with the practitioners, some of whom are library consultants, the population that I am interested in studying.

SLA2014_Btn_Attendee

As I spent the day planning and scheduling the sessions to attend, I realised that at least one of those sessions or presentations was targeted at consultants. Cindy Shamel from Shamel Info Svcs & Ulla de Stricker from de Stricker Associates will present on Saturday June 7, 2014 at 8:00 am - 12:00 pm the presentation entitled "Maximizing Consultant-Client Partnerships: Key Success Factors" http://sched.co/18OutIV. This I will miss, as I fly in on the next day.

I decided to look up any other sessions on consultants and some how discovered this "Consulting: Managing the Expectations" http://sched.co/Z3YPQ4. As I was adding it to my schedule, I realised (mournfully) that this session was presented at last year's (2013) SLA conference.

Apart from the plans to attend SLA, I want to also report this week on a number of finds pertaining to the subject of library consultants. Firstly, I found an additional article discussing the work of a library consultant from a report based on personal experience (Holt, 1984).

Secondly, I wish to report that after conducting a search on Linked in I discovered:
  • 1,154 results for "library consultant" (within quotation marks)
  • and a further 6,901 results for library consultant without the quotation marks.
The latter search revealed that some of my friends or persons within my LinkedIn network qualified as library consultants or at least did some library consulting in the past. From these findings, it seems to me that library consultants and library consulting is far more prevalent than what is documented.

All this comes in stark contrast to Service Canada statistics that documents that 0.0% of the Occupational group 5111 (which also includes the term "library consultant") are self-employed. (See http://www.servicecanada.gc.ca/eng/qc/job_futures/statistics/5111.shtml). This data again raises puzzling questions. Are those who are library consultants under-reported in self-employment statistics? Is it that those who report themselves as library consultants are not necessarily self-employed? Or are library consultant jobs considered a full-time contractual employment opportunity? These issues and more I grapple with as I prepare for my committee meeting which coincidentally will be after I return from SLA. 


Reference:

Holt, R. M. (1984). Library consultant: Career or dead-end job? Library Trends, 32(3), 261-277.

Blogs as social technological spaces

I have been searching for ethnographic studies of blogs in lieu of locating sources to inform my methodology for my own doctoral research. To keep you up to speed on my research ideas, I have narrowed down my research to doing an ethnographic analysis of blogs and tweets for the narratives they present on the identity, work and profile of library consultants and library consulting. My new direction has therefore sparked my interest in ethnographic methodologies on online social worlds. As a result, in this blog post, I wish to share on one of the readings about this methodology as it relates to the environments of blogs. This reading I want to report on is Amanda Lenhart's (2005) Masters thesis.

Since my comprehensive examination I have been following some of the work of Lenhart, whose name I am acquainted with from Pew Internet Research Centre. Lenhart is one of the authors of Pew Internet Research's reports around blogging (See Lenhart & Fox, 2006).

Apart from her literature review defines blogs identifying blogs as having headers, side bars and posts among other technical features, in the methods section, Lenhart articulates that blogs are both technology and spaces that both reflects culture and around which culture is built. It is this concept that I feel is very important, that blogs are not only technology with specific features, but also social technology around which culture develops.

A second important idea that I derived from Lenhart's thesis is the idea that institutions are encroaching on this once personal and individual technological and social space. In the introductory chapter of her Masters thesis, Lenhart mentions that institutions are co-opting blogs and in their attempt to 'engage with the universe of blogs, their instinct is to regulate and to control, to bring blogs in line with the values embodied within the institution' (p. 4). She continues:

Still, bloggers themselves relish their location outside of institutions—free of
gatekeepers deciding what is important or meaningful enough to publish, but also free
of people and organizations whose livelihoods are based on the accuracy and
compelling nature of the information they present. In the next few years it will be
interesting to see how blogging and institutions negotiate with each other. Will blogs
become an institution of their own, complete with codes and ethics of their own
creations? Will they be subsumed into another institution? Or will blogs fragment and
be absorbed by all types of institutions based on content, gathered as a tool to forward
and foster certain public goals of any given institution? Or will blogs successfully
remain completely outside of institutions? Or all of these things at the same time?
Later, Lenhart (2005) stated that blogs allow "those who are traditionally silenced by institutions to have their voices...heard..." (p. 156). This jibes with an earlier popular post that I published on how institutions have been entering the blogosphere in order to curtail individual's freedom of expression in these spaces (See Threats to the freedom to blog).

References:

Lenhart, A. B. (2005). Unstable texts: An ethnographic look at how bloggers and their audience negotiate self-presentation, authenticity and norm formation(Doctoral dissertation, Georgetown University).

Lenhart, A., & Fox, S. (2006). Bloggers: A portrait of the internet’s new storytellers. pew internet & American life project. ( No. 2012). Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/~/media/Files/Reports/2006/PIP%20Bloggers%20Report%20July%2019%202006.pdf.pdf