By Michael Kicey
University at Buffalo (SUNY)
One of the refrains in recent conversations between academic librarians and their constituencies has been a marked shift in the focus of user needs. For decades, the most pressing need was to create, broaden, and maintain access to research resources, especially but not exclusively online. As a result, an enormous heap of resources is now accessible, and the heap grows greater every day. More recently, however, as the available trove of resources has grown to unimaginable and sometimes unmanageable dimensions, we are witnessing more urgency around questions of organization, articulation, and presentation of these resources, where the most crucial aim is to illuminate relationships between the different elements in scholarly conversations. The task for librarians now lies less in growing the heap, and more in clarifying the narrative in which each element in that heap – each text, author, approach, or topic – plays a distinct and meaningful role. It is one thing to have virtually everything of significance that has been said or written on a single topic at one’s disposal en masse; it is quite another to understand the genesis and internal structure of that written totality well enough to intervene in it effectively and meaningfully with one’s own work.
Continue reading A Database Tells No Tales: Narrating Inquiry with LibGuides
By Michael Kicey
University at Buffalo (SUNY) Libraries
I’ll admit it upfront: in our present moment, LibGuides are nothing new or revolutionary. Especially in the last decade, LibGuides have gone from being the latest shiny object to an established tool among academic librarians for the organization and presentation of library resources. Nearly everyone thinks about their guides, or even worries about them; spends time creating and maintaining them; expends energy pushing them out to their various audiences; and nearly everyone grumbles about them – about the cost of the licensing, the learning curve for the software itself, the limitations of available design options, or the difficulty of creating a guide that the target audience of patrons takes up as their own, explores independently, and uses consistently. Most of us necessarily view the creation of clear and effective guides as a vital part of the work we do, and yet most of us would also admit that the chief users of the public-facing guides we create, despite our best efforts, are typically other librarians. Having faced pressure on many occasions to create or revise guides quickly, we tend to continue doing so even when we might have leisure to go about the job with more circumspection. Having encountered countless guides created by other librarians that mostly follow the same design script, we tend to reproduce that same script, whether from the need to save time and energy, the need to make the guide itself comprehensible according to accepted conventions and expectations, or from sheer lack of imagination. In other words: having performed a task ourselves, or seen others perform it, in the same way over and over again, we imagine that the way it’s always been done is the only way to do it.
Continue reading Ordinary Beauty: An Unashamed Manifesto for LibGuides