Saturday, May 29, 2010

Change of Pace

"Change of Pace" will be a few weeks of posts from Guest Blogger, Billie Jo Kaufman, Washington College of Law, at American University.
Billie Jo headed out of DC, Wednesday with her first travel stop in Frankfurt, Germany.
The importance of being a part of the alumni and development operations is becoming more of a part of our everyday life.
Here in Frankfurt, the Alumni Office furnished email addresses for the alums; an email was sent and a wonderful event at "Lemons and Limes" was had by all.
Alums always love seeing faculty. It was interesting to see where their legal reseach skills were being used and how many attendees said "they wish they would have paid more attention" or "who knew research was going to be so important".
I've arrived in Turkey. Here I will be a part of the teaching faculty for our summer program.
That starts tomorrow. Today's plan is to catch up with the time zones and prepare for class.
If any other librarian is working with a summer program - just chime right in - a different perspective is a "change of pace". More later everyone.....

Monday, May 24, 2010

New Directions at Harvard

It's been a tough year for library budgets. I don't know of any library whose acquisitions budget has kept pace with the inflation in the cost of materials, both print and digital. The budgetary situation has led to my announcing a new policy--we add no new Thomson Reuters titles in print because of what I consider to be the outrageous costs of supplementation, barring exceptional circumstances. Actually, my library is relatively lucky--we have had no layoffs--and are able to replace staff members who leave. The glass really is half full.

This is why I was interested to read an today's Boston Globe an article about Harvard University Library's recent actions to deal with "an unprecedented budget crunch." I always thought of the Harvard libraries as having nearly unlimited resources; this was probably never the case, but it certainly isn't true today. "...[T]he days of accumulating every important title and artifact under the scholarly sun are over for Harvard's labyrinthine system of 73 libraries." How is Harvard dealing with its budget problems? By emphasizing access to information over ownership, as many libraries with fewer resources have already chosen to do. Harvard has cancelled over 1,000 journals in favor of their online equivalents, and it is working actively to "collaborate and share acquisitions" with other university library systems. Harvard has already forged an arrangement with MIT which allows students access to both schools' collections, and it may join a library consortium for the first time. I was struck by Harvard's high-quality service to students, who can "sit in their dorms and order books directly from their computers to be delivered within 24 hours to the library of their choice from the Harvard Depository, a high-density storage facility ..." Sometimes the materials that are needed can be downloaded by students "or the library will scan relevant book chapters and e-mail them." Harvard is also working actively to digitize its collections.

Change is also afoot at the Law Library under the leadership of its new director, John Palfrey. "Harvard Law School is in discussions with other law schools about having each school collect in specialized areas." Other changes would be even more profound:

'Libraries have to think of themselves as innovation centers, and not just repeat what we have done in the past,’ said Harvard Law professor John Palfrey, who is a leading a project to shape the future of the school’s libraries.

Palfrey has added engineers, statisticians, and graphic designers to the law school library staff. His team is working on a Web application that browses a virtual bookshelf with works stacked against one another to re-create the experience of wandering through musty stacks and serendipitously stumbling upon titles.

The library is also planning to build a virtual reference desk, where students who rarely seek the help of librarians can solicit research advice without having to set foot in a library. Librarians would assist students through e-mail, instant messaging, text messaging, and Skype.

The idea of the library as "innovation center" is one that appeals to me, and is a model that will help to ensure the library's continuing relevance in the era of electronic information.

Building a Career, Not Finding a Job

A really interesting article in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Kathryn Masterson, dated May 16, 2010:

Finished College. Now What?
Wake Forest aids the aimless graduate with a road map for meaningful work

What do you plan to do after graduation?

For thousands of college students accepting diplomas this spring, it's a question loaded with expectations and pressure to make good use of a costly degree.

Wake Forest University wants students to think differently about how they answer, focusing on what kind of work is meaningful to them rather than what pays the most or what others want. (snip)

Too often, students' career choices are based on uninformed ideas about certain jobs, on chance encounters with people in different fields, or on what others have told them they should do, says Andy Chan, the university's vice president for career development, who designed the new program. He wants to expose more students to career paths that align with their personal beliefs and interests, so they don't spend their 20s drifting. (snip)

A Course of Self-Discovery
Starting at orientation this fall, Wake Forest's first-year students will begin identifying their passions, interests, and strengths, which they will use to develop a career action plan.

Throughout their undergraduate experience, Mr. Chan's office will help connect students with faculty members, mentors outside the university, and internships to introduce them to possible academic and career paths. Mr. Chan envisions developing classes with the university's counseling center that emphasize self-discovery, how to conduct a job search, and professional and life skills such as budgeting, financial planning, and working well with different people. (snip)

Parents as Partners
One key part of Mr. Chan's plan is parents. He writes a blog called Heart of the Matter (, which offers advice for them as well as for students. He wants to teach parents to be better mentors and advisers to their children, who are choosing their careers in a different era. (One strategy he recommends: Instead of asking what students plan to do with their major, ask them what they liked best about a classroom or job experience.) (snip)
I was really struck by the development of the broader person, and the development of broader life skills, such as budgeting and check-book balancing. Both are important and worth discussing. It never crossed my mind that there was an alternative to the drifting around through one's 20's that most people seem to do. What a refreshing idea! Though I certainly don't have anything against exploring one's options!

Keep in mind that this career services is designed for undergraduates. But I really like the blog and I like the philosophy. I hope the links are helpful to OOTJ readers.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Tell Interior & MMS what you think about the oil spill

The terrible oil spill off Louisiana has shone a spotlight on some pretty unsavory regulatory practices at Minerals Management Services (MMS), a branch of the Department of the Interior that offers drilling permitting (who knew?). The New York Times has a strong article about just how lax the MMS had been:

The federal Minerals Management Service gave permission to BP and dozens of other oil companies to drill in the Gulf of Mexico without first getting required permits from another agency that assesses threats to endangered species — and despite strong warnings from that agency about the impact the drilling was likely to have on the gulf.

Those approvals, federal records show, include one for the well drilled by the Deepwater Horizon rig, which exploded on April 20, killing 11 workers and resulting in thousands of barrels of oil spilling into the gulf each day.

The Minerals Management Service, or M.M.S., also routinely overruled its staff biologists and engineers who raised concerns about the safety and the environmental impact of certain drilling proposals in the gulf and in Alaska, according to a half-dozen current and former agency scientists.

Those scientists said they were also regularly pressured by agency officials to change the findings of their internal studies if they predicted that an accident was likely to occur or if wildlife might be harmed.

Under the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Minerals Management Service is required to get permits to allow drilling where it might harm endangered species or marine mammals.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, is partly responsible for protecting endangered species and marine mammals. It has said on repeated occasions that drilling in the gulf affects these animals, but the minerals agency since January 2009 has approved at least three huge lease sales, 103 seismic blasting projects and 346 drilling plans. Agency records also show that permission for those projects and plans was granted without getting the permits required under federal law.

“M.M.S. has given up any pretense of regulating the offshore oil industry,” said KierĂ¡n Suckling, director of the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental advocacy group in Tucson, which filed notice of intent to sue the agency over its noncompliance with federal law concerning endangered species. “The agency seems to think its mission is to help the oil industry evade environmental laws.”
There is much more to the Times article, so follow the link there. In the meantime, though, there are some other links to know about. You can tell the folks at MMS what you think about their regulatory habits. They have a sacrificial lamb for this purpose:

Office of Public Affairs contact at the Minerals Management Services, who I believe has the job of handling emails from outraged citizens:
Nicholas Pardi at

And the contact person for Minerals Management Services in the Gulf of Mexico division:
Eileen Angelico at

And the "feedback" line for the Department of the Interior, who are the supervising agency for the Minerals Management Service and who are now planning reforms to the minerals service:
email to
or use the comments box on their website,

Tip of the OOTJ hat to my socially conscious daughter, Alexa McKenzie!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Barney Frank on Transgender Rights

Congressman Barney Frank, long a courageous advocate for gay and lesbian rights after coming out himself, is taking a firm stand on his current bill in the House. Despite grumblings and rumblings from moderate and right wing allies and opponents, Frank is determined to keep in the bill on employment discrimination a section protecting transpeople. His bill three years ago included such a provision, and he was persuaded to remove it, only to see the bill fail in the Senate anyway. Here is the nice article the Boston Globe ran today on the issue.

I believe the bill referred to is HR 3017 (link to Open Congress), one of 2 bills Frank has introduced as the Employment NonDiscrimination Act of 2009. This was introduced on Sept 23, 2009 and committee hearings have been held. The related bill, HR 2981, of the same name, was referred to committee, after being introduced on August 29, 2009. There is a related bill in the Senate, S1584, also called the Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2009. It likewise includes "gender identity" as a protected class, at this time.

Transgender rights is a wedge issue that sometimes splits the GLBT community. The issue is fraught or frightening for many people, but it helps if you have met and spoken with transgender individuals and understand their issues. The best way to understand is to meet the people and hear their stories. These are people who feel that they were born into the wrong body type -- a woman trapped into the body of a man, for instance, or vice-versa. And they either choose to live as the opposite gender, or even to pursue the hormonal and surgery treatments to actually pursue the physical changes that will make them more comfortable in the body they have. In either case, this is not a passing fancy or a minor issue for them, but a life-deforming problem. And they are willing to give up everything in order to correct the imbalance in their life. People lose their careers, their families, their status, over this when they decide to come out and make this change in their lives. You can imagine a highly paid stock broker announcing to his wife that he is actually a woman trapped in a man's body and intends to pursue that life. Is his employer going to keep him on? Is his wife going to stay with him during this? If they have kids, wow!

I applaud Congressman Frank for his courage on this one! Good for you, Barney! These people need your support. Even in Massachusetts, where same sex marriage has become a matter of course, we can't seem to get a bill for transgender rights protection passed in our own state legislature! If you feel the same, please send him an e-mail of support, because you KNOW he's getting a lot of hate on this one! Here is his official web page. NB: I went there and he really resists getting e-mail from any but his own constituents... I guess you can send support for this bill to your own congressman and senator. You could try, I suppose to suss out the correct e-mail for his district and send an e-mail anyway, but I hope his staff are watching blogs.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Prof. Pennywise tells how to get out debt

At Chronicle of Higher Education, Prof. Pennywise offers a terrific column, "In Debt to Your Degree". It is very possible that you may not be able to access the column linked here without a Chronicle password. So, I am going to snip some of her best bits of advice here. But her column is witty and pithy, and if you can access it in full, I heartily recommend reading it in full. here are snips:

Take responsibility. No matter how you got in this predicament, only one person can free you from it. Look around. Is anyone else offering to pay off your debt?

Buy only the life you can afford. To erase debt, you must spend less than you bring in. That means you must control your spending. If you notice a pattern of credit-card expenditure followed by regret, then cut up all your cards and throw them away—or at least put them on ice or in a drawer. Keep only a debit card in your wallet. Instruct the bank to turn off the overdraft protection so you can spend only if there is actually money in your account. Either get personal-finance software like Quicken or just collect your bank and credit-card statements for a month. Look over your expenses. What can you cut? Could you rent more cheaply? Do you really need 137 channels? Should you eat in more? Nothing is off limits. If you free up $150, $375, or $600 a month to put toward debt reduction, your debt will begin its descent. Sacrifice. Get out of the red and into the black.

Tally your debt. Before you can conquer debt, you have to know its extent. Download a free credit report at (this site, unlike its competitors, will not fleece you). The report will detail your credit history and status, enabling you to know your total debt, since it will identify every loan in your name. Alternately, you can save all your credit-card bills and other financial statements for a month and determine your total in credit-card, student, auto, and mortgage debt. Track this monthly, whether in an Excel spreadsheet, personal-finance software, or a simple piece of paper tacked above your desk. Your objective: zero balance.

Pay the minimum religiously. Late payments result in fees, high interest rates, and a disastrous credit rating. Pay your minimums on time, every month, without fail.

Go beyond the minimum. If you make only the minimum payment, it will take you decades, literally, to repay a loan. The minimum goes mostly to interest, not principal. Pay more—much more—than the minimum.

Pay off your lowest-balance card first. That will give you an immediate morale boost, eliminate one mandatory payment (freeing up money you can use to pay down another debt), and improve your credit rating (which affects what rates you are charged).

Next focus on your highest-interest card. Determine your rates (the APR's) by looking at statements or calling each card issuer. Any interest rate north of 20 percent is killer, but even run-of-the-mill rates of 14 to 18 percent are ugly. Rank your credit cards, with the highest-interest one on top and the lowest at the bottom. Pay off each card in sequence, eliminating the most expensive first. Do that, and you'll achieve success faster and pay far less interest in total.

Transfer balances. Use or similar sites to find a low-interest-rate card. Consider transferring high-interest balances to it. But be attentive: A transfer fee will likely be charged, and after a teaser time the interest rates may go sky-high. Do the math, because consolidation may not be worth it.

Find new income. Do you have books, CD's, or clothes to sell on eBay or Could you tutor high-school students? Moonlight in an SAT-preparation center? Read AP exams? Proofread for a publisher? If you add an income stream or two to your current ones, put any resulting cash to debt reduction.

Call your creditors. Tell them you are organizing a financial turnaround and ask for a reduced rate or minimum-payment level. More is negotiable than you might imagine. If you are severely delinquent, ask for balances to be slashed. Be polite, but assertive. Ask to speak to a manager if the frontline employee is unhelpful.

Tap your wealth. Retain an emergency fund of three months' expenses, but if you have other savings devote them to debt reduction, which boasts a guaranteed return. Other wealth can be deployed. If you have a Roth IRA, you can retrieve past contributions. A home can be tapped for equity, or an employer-based retirement plan borrowed against. But think hard before depleting such assets.

Restructure. If you are in real trouble, a nonprofit credit-counseling service may be the way to go, but beware high fees and scams. Bankruptcy, the last resort, wipes the slate clean—in the fashion of a neutron bomb.
Additional notes from your OOTJ reporter. Credit counseling can be tricky. Be careful how you go and careful choosing if you choose a credit counselor. The Wikipedia article on Credit Counseling states:
The Federal Trade Commission has filed lawsuits against several credit counseling agencies, and continues to urge caution in choosing a credit counseling agency. The FTC has received more than 8,000 complaints from consumers about credit counselors, many concerning high or hidden fees and the inability to opt out of so-called “voluntary” contributions. The Better Business Bureau also reports high complaint levels about credit counseling.
The IRS also has weighed in on the subject of credit counseling, and has denied nonprofit 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status to around 30 of the nation's 1000 credit counseling agencies. Those 30 credit counseling agencies account for more than half of the industry's revenue. Audits of non-profit credit counseling agencies by the IRS are ongoing.
Other organizations have voiced criticisms of the credit counseling industry, often citing the Fair Share funding model as evidence that credit counselors serve the interests of the creditors over the interests of consumers, and that credit counselors are not forthcoming in speaking out about the actions of creditors for fear of losing what little funding remains. Credit counselors respond that their job is not to take sides but to negotiate with all parties equally to help successfully resolve debts. They further argue that the steady decline in Fair Share funding belies the notion that creditors are in control of the credit counseling industry.
Another common criticism of credit counseling is the assertion that participating in a Debt Management Plan will ruin a consumer’s credit. Fair Isaac Corporation, the company that pioneered the use of credit scores, states that participation in a Debt Management Plan has no effect on a consumer's FICO credit score. However, the participation in such a plan may appear on consumer credit reports, and the client may have more difficulty obtaining a car or home loan and be denied any further unsecured credit, such as a credit card. This is because lenders often use multiple risk factors to determine creditworthiness. The major factor holding consumers back is the amount of debt they have relative to their income (the debt to income ratio) and not enrollment in a credit counseling plan. While credit card banks offering relatively low-credit-line cards may use a credit score alone to approve a new account, a mortgage or car lender typically will scrutinize the entire credit report more extensively and verify employment and income information. Some lenders view a prospective customer's participation in a Debt Management Plan as indicative of the customer being unfit to manage their finances.
Also, student loans can be reconsolidated under better terms than ever. Visit the GOVERNMENT website to explore and use the calculator and see if it's worth consolidating your loans at the new rates.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Defense of Marriage Act Challenge Argued May 6

GLAD is representing plaintiffs challenging the DOMA (federal Defense of Marriage Act) in the federal district court in Boston, the case, Gill v. Office of Personnel Management. See here for a press conference (kind of hard to hear -- there is a lot of traffic and wind noise). The GLAD site has lots of info and documents. If you stick past the attorney from GLAD, you get to hear from the various plaintiffs, and it's really worthwhile. You begin to hear their stories and get a personal view of how the Defense of Marriage Act unfairly impacts them and their families.

There is a separate, but related lawsuit by Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley challenging the constitutionality of the federal DOMA in federal court. Further, there is a bill, HR 3567, "The Respect for Marriage Act" which ... "Amends the Defense of Marriage Act to repeal provisions allowing states, territories, possessions of the United States, or Indian tribes to give no effect..." The last action on that bill was that it was referred to the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties on October 19, 2009. I don't know if that means it is stuck and languishing, but it looks like it to me. Maybe it has to be introduced again each year.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Google to Sell Digital Books

Google has announced that it will start selling digital copies of books this summer, according to an article in the Telegraph. What makes this news significant is that these digital editions will not be tied to individual devices; rather, they will be available wherever and however a user accesses his Google account. As the Telegraph points out, this approach "will put the search giant in direct competition with established digital book retailers such as Amazon's Kindle Store and Apple's iBook Store." It also has a potential democratizing effect as users won't have to purchase expensive dedicated devices.

Book Recommended

One of my faculty colleagues recently presented me with a personally-inscribed copy of a new book written by a friend of his, who happens to live in the same county where I live. The book (the publisher's blurb is linked to from the title of this post) is entitled This Book is Overdue! How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All, and the author is Marilyn Johnson, whose previous book explored the writing of obituaries. She is clearly a quirky and vibrant person whose interests are broad and deep. The book celebrates libraries and librarians, and Johnson's profiles of librarians who deviate profoundly from the stereotyped image of our profession make for entertaining reading. The book has been favorably reviewed in The New York Times and elsewhere. I have a couple of criticisms. The author's enthusiasm for her subject sometimes gets the better of her, and when it does, the book tends to lose its way and become rambling. In addition, it is definitely written with more of a public-library focus; there is not much here that relates specifically to academic librarianship. It is nonetheless engaging.

Some of the chapters I particularly enjoyed concerned the Connecticut librarians who stood up to the FBI and fought to keep library records private; members of Radical Reference, who, "armed with iPhones, provided online support to protesters at the 2008 Republican National Convention in Minneapolis/St. Paul; librarians who participate in Second Life (I don't see the point of Second Life, but it makes for a good read); the upgrading of the Westchester Library System's online catalog, which revealed the differences between the librarians and the IT staff; the opening of the new Darien Public Library, which is known for the high quality of its patron services; and several profiles of librarians who work at the New York Public Library. The portrait of librarians that emerges is very positive--as a profession, we care deeply about making information available to all regardless of ability to pay; we value our patrons' privacy; freedom of speech is paramount--most librarians oppose censorship; we are dedicated to helping to tame information overload by working with people one on one or in groups to teach them how to manage information. This book is a quick, enjoyable read, and reminded me of why I chose to become a librarian.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

The Future of Libraries

This trenchant article, "Toward a New Alexandria," published in The New Republic is a call to arms. The author, Lisbet Rausing, a historian of science, envisions a

[N]ew Library of Alexandria ... an archive that contains all the natural and social sciences of the West--our source-critical, referenced, peer-reviewed data--as well as the cultural and literary heritage of the world's civilizations, and many of the world's most significant archives and specialist collections. Imagine that this library is electronic and in the public domain: sustainable, stable, linked, and searchable through universal semantic catalogue standards. Imagine that it has open source-ware, allowing legacy digital resources and new digital knowledge to be integrated in real time. Imagine that its Second Web capabilities allowed universal researches of the bibliome.

Such an archive is technologically possible, and Rausing points to Google Books and the Internet Archive as examples of "remarkable electronic libraries" that are already under way. However, the scope of even these worthy projects is necessarily limited compared to what Rausig envisions for the new Library of Alexandria.

What besides technology is necessary to create a new Library of Alexandria? It must "be built for the long term, with an unwavering commitment to archival preservation and the public good." It should be "largely governmentally funded." It also "needs to be hosted by one organisation that is reputable, long-standing, nonprofit, and exists in a stable jurisdiction," such as the Library of Congress.

Who or what is standing in the way of such an initiative? Gatekeepers, such as scholars and librarians, who have "traditionally gated and protected knowledge, yet also shared and distributed it in libraries, schools, and universities," are obvious culprits. University libraries do not exist to serve the public, even their own alumni; they exist to serve their faculty and students. They do not make available to the public their "'core' research materials" or other "closed academic databases." Publishers are also obvious culprits standing in the way of a new Library of Alexandria, relying as they do on copyright to lock up valuable materials from the public and charging exorbitant rates to universities to buy back research produced by their own faculty members.

Rausing points to signs of hope, such as the growing number of open-access journals and the increasingly robust repositories of faculty scholarship mounted by many universities. She also challenges libraries to do more, to be "more imaginative." Perhaps we could give alumni lifetime memberships, "develop pay-per-view portals into scholarly resources that are invoiced monthly and electronically? And in doing so could we ... lower prices?" Could libraries "digitize out-of-copyright books on demand and for a small fee ... ? Could university catalogues be turned into blogs ... [by] add[ing] commentaries and hyperlinks? ... Catalogues need to provide reliable URLs, backed by long-term maintenance policies and institutional guarantees. The alternative is to rely on Google's search-engine algorithms, which is to say, on ephemeral beauty contents."

Rausing concludes by pointing to the future:
[Our] children--always on, multi-tasking, mobile--will not engage with a body of scholarship their elders have incomprehensibly surrounded by barbed wire. But they will remain engaged in learning. The question is not whether there will be future scholars. It is how these future scholars will remember and integrate previous scholarship. And in pondering that, which means pondering our own scholarly legacy, it is worth remembering that 'the generational war is the one war whose outcome is certain.'"

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Missouri moves to universal bar exam

Lex Universal alerts us that Missouri has decided to begin using a universal bar exam. St. Louis Today has a bit more detail. The first uniform test will be administered in February. Though Missouri is the only state so far to accept the uniform test, several other states are considering adopting it: LexUniversal lists Arizona, Colorado, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Dakota and Washington, D.C., citing a USA Today article as the source. With a universal bar exam, lawyers could move between states more easily, depending on the state bar agreements. This could be a huge advantage for lawyers in difficult economic times. (note to OOTJ readers: the link to St. Louis Today seems glitchy. I cannot get it to work and cannot get them to give me a different PURL to share with you. I am hoping it is a problem with the site that will clear up. You can google or search the issue and get the article that way if the link does not clear up. Apologies!) Kudos to the ShowMe state for leading the way with something new!