Systems and Technologies

Fighting fake news: a frank conversation with Nicole A. Cooke

Nicole A. Cooke, a Library Journal Mover & Shaker, believes that the current flood of fake news and dubious information represents a golden opportunity for libraries. Her new ALA Editions Special Report Fake News and Alternative Facts: Information Literacy in a Post-Truth Era shows how librarians can make a difference. In this interview she talks about why information literacy is a key skill for all news consumers.

Information literacy seems to be one of those perpetually timeless topics, and there are dozens of books about it out there already. What motivated you to write this book, and how did you take a fresh approach to the topic?  

I was an academic instruction librarian before becoming faculty at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, so I have worked with information literacy strategies for a long time, and I have read many of the books! I am also an information behavior scholar (I.e., how  people seek, avoid, and use information). Information literacy is absolutely a form of information seeking and use which has a particular emphasis on pedagogy, in that we are trying to instruct people how to be better and more efficient information evaluators and consumers. Specifically, I have been long been interested in affective information behavior (how emotions impact people’s information behaviors and patterns).

As fake news reached its fever pitch I saw really intelligent people sharing fake news on social media, not because their intelligence failed them in any way, but because they were personally invested in the message and/or the person/source of the information. Another thing that I noticed is that people shared chart from IFLA showing how to spot fake newsinformation without reading the content, which is a result of trusting a source, but is also indicative of information overload, or being inundated with information and not always knowing how to deal with it our parse it out in such a way that automatically weeds out the bad stuff. The plethora of information also makes it easy to dismiss or avoid information that makes them angry, fearful, frustrated, uncomfortable in any way.

I wrote this book because I wanted to explore the emotional/affective investment people have in the information they consume and share, and see if that exploration can impact how information professionals teach and learn about fake news.

When it comes to strong research and evaluation skills, are there generational differences between kids and their parents?

I think so, but I think kids and their parents have more in common than not, particularly when it comes to the emotional investments in messages or groups, and their capacities to be better and savvier consumers of information. I think the main differences manifest in the mode of delivery and consumption of information – meaning kids likely spend more time online and have many more online sources and apps to consult. Their parents may still be reading newspapers and watching television news and may have a better sense of source credibility. Of course, there are exceptions to all these rules!  

The ease with which many of us are hoodwinked by phony information seems directly tied to the sheer glut of information that bombards us all day long. What advice can you offer to help people be more discerning about what information they consume?

  • Be skeptical and don’t take everything you see at face value. A lot of us are very entranced in filter bubbles and echo chambers (i.e., we so carefully curate our information and social media feeds, we miss a lot of information, including conflicting information). It’s easy to fall into a lull that convinces us that we’re receiving quality information all the time. We need to read more broadly.
  • Take the time to examine the information before absorbing it; question it. Manually inspect the information, as opposed to relying on browser plug-ins and other tools designed to automatically detect fake news.
  • Also, question your reaction to the information. Are you dismissing it because it’s not factual or comes from an unfamiliar source, or because it makes you uncomfortable?

What are a few telltale signs that a “news” story you’re reading online may not be news at all?

  • Extravagant headlines – headlines that use flowery, inflammatory, and/or absolutist words.
  • Ask yourself: have I seen the story anywhere else? Triangulation (finding the story in at least 3 places) can help us determine whether a story is fake.
  • Trust your gut. Does something seem off or unbelievable about the story? Check the date on the story. Ask yourself: do I recognize the website? Is the site overrun with ads?
  • Click the link! Take the time to read the story before sharing it and see what it’s all about. Clickbait headlines usually don’t match the content.
  • If you’re still not sure, check the hoax busting and fact checking sites.

People don’t necessary appreciate being told that the article they just read was actually made up. How book cover for Fake News and Alternative Facts: Information Literacy in a Post-Truth Eracan library staff share methods to help library users think critically about information without offending or irritating them?

I think being proactive is something that will work in our favor here. If we can share informal strategies and techniques for information evaluation (such as displaying the posters and infographics in the back of the report) we can work towards keeping ideas in the forefront of people’s minds. So, the next time they see something questionable, they might remember that dramatic and/or absolutist headlines are fishy, and that might lead them to check the date of the article or look to see if it appears someplace else. Just as we do passive programming, dealing with fake news lends itself to passive education; and we can of course continue to conduct instruction sessions and workshops.

Another way to address this is not to approach susceptibility to fake news as a deficit (e.g., you fell for the hoax because you didn’t know any better); rather, we might approach it from the angle that fake news, misinformation, and disinformation are increasingly sophisticated and are so pervasive, it’s hard to negotiate everything we come across. We’ve all been victims of fake news at one time or another. It’s another area that requires our vigilance and attention.

Learn more in the new ALA Editions Special Report.

George Stachokas on ERM issues and trends

"Electronic resources are now the predominant component of academic library collections," says George Stachokas, editor of the new ALCTS monograph Reengineering the Library: Issues in Electronic Resources Management. "Special collections, archives, and other physical collections are still important, but libraries spend most of their money and much of their technology acquiring and managing electronic resources." It's more crucial than ever to look at electronic resources management (ERM) using a variety of perspectives. His new collection does exactly that, discussing how ERM can best fulfill the mission of today’s academic libraries. In this interview we asked him about putting the book together, some key cost containment strategies, and where he thinks technology is heading.

As you mention in your introduction, many of the assumptions that underlay electronic resources management in academic libraries were developed in the late 1990s and early 2000s. So it's pretty clear why this collection is so needed right now! How did you find your contributors, and what was your collaboration like?

Academic libraries have to continue working to improve electronic resources management in order to stay relevant in the 21st Century. Finding contributors was not as difficult as I had originally expected in that I am fortunate to have connections to a network of strong e-resource librarians who are both professionally active and philosophically like-minded. We may not agree on every specific issue, but we all want to move our profession forward and to keep libraries relevant. Drawing on these folks as my core contributors, I was then able to recruit some authors whom I did not yet know personally, but who have a presence in the LIS literature. I recruited authors to write about topics that fit my overall vision for the book, but they each brought their own ideas, knowledge, and experience to this collaborative effort as well. I enjoyed working with all of them and I hope that readers of Reengineering the Library will learn as much from my colleagues as I have.

What are some of the biggest shifts in the landscape over the past decade? Which trends have surpassed our expectations and which ones have so far failed to measure up to their promises?

Given the growing emphasis on digital humanities and the digitization of special collections as well, there really is no aspect of librarianship that is free from the online information environment. Increasingly, patrons use the library’s physical spaces for face-to-face meetings with librarians, peer collaborators, and instructors, to study, to use technology such as special-format or 3D printers, even just to socialize, but not to use physical collections apart from archives or rare books. This long-term trend began almost as soon as electronic resources emerged in the 1990s.

It has taken libraries somewhat longer than I might have expected to adjust their personnel, workflows, and organizational structures to the requirements of electronic resources management, but given the technical, political, and financial challenges, this is certainly understandable. Nonetheless, most academic libraries are finally starting to reorganize technical services to manage electronic resources rather than shifting responsibilities to solitary electronic resources librarians or small units alone. I also hope that more a diagram illustrating the concept of TERMSlibraries will transition successfully from integrated library systems (ILS) and electronic resources management systems (ERM) to library service platforms (LSPs) in the not too distant future, particularly given such efforts as the FOLIO Project and the ongoing development of other systems such as Alma, Sierra, BLUEcloud, and WorldShare Management Services. Of course, it is striking how many academic libraries do not currently have and have never had a fully functioning electronic resources management system (ERM).

The transition to Webscale Discovery services has occurred relatively quickly with most ARL Libraries using tools like Summon, Primo or EBSCO EDS, in most cases only a few years after some of these products first appeared in the information marketplace. The transition from the physical card catalog to online catalogs seems to have taken much longer in comparison.

Reading through the various chapters, what are some common challenges that academic libraries are facing right now?

Money is a critical challenge for libraries in many ways. The rising costs of electronic resources, particularly the cost of electronic journals, is well known. Beyond that, libraries also require more funding to recruit personnel with more advanced skill sets, particularly information technology. Most library facilities at research institutions are undergoing the repurposing of library spaces and need financial resources to transform stacks space to a wide variety of formal and informal workspaces that contemporary students have come to expect. Someone has to pay for the latest smartboard, flexible furniture, and all of the extra electrical outlets. More funding is also required for improved analytics, both in terms of new tools and personnel.  Higher education is required to assess itself more than in the past and so are academic libraries that serve these institutions. Assessment is in practice, very closely linked to money in that it is required to justify existing spending and to support any requests for additional funding. Many academics are loath to admit that libraries are required to demonstrate some type of return on investment. I would hope, however, that librarians accept this burden so that we can take the lead in establishing at least some of these measures ourselves and help to guide the conversation that promotes successful libraries and helps our users.    

Your own chapter examines cost containment strategies. Can you offer some advice to institutions who are ready to do some reevaluation of their electronic resources and services?

Open access is of great interest to many libraries, but the movement has still not overtaken the majority of highly ranked academic journals in most disciplines. There are a number of interesting projects and efforts going on right now, including mass cancellations, but most large academic libraries still subscribe to big book cover for Reengineering the Library: Issues in Electronic Resources Management (An ALCTS Monograph)deal journal packages due to the relatively low unit cost per title and the convenience of having subscriptions for users. The overall information marketplace is a type of mixed economy in which a number of paid and freely available electronic resources coexist. I would advise libraries to establish good working relationships with their most important vendors, leverage memberships in consortia without conceding their own strategic vision to any other institution or group, negotiating good deals directly with vendors when it makes sense, and continue to track and make freely available electronic resources of high academic quality to their users.

Looking into your crystal ball, what would you say is the biggest change on the horizon? How can libraries prepare for it?

I confess that I do not have a working crystal ball, but I will try to speculate by extrapolating current discernible trends and by borrowing some ideas from other disciplines. Beyond the realm of electronic resources management, but perhaps linked to it in some ways, is the need for libraries to continue developing and improving research data management. Libraries will also need to take advantage of linked data and the Semantic Web. As our society and the greater academic community continue to be transformed by the transition from more traditional analogue information systems to digital information systems, both in terms of technology and the wider human experience, libraries will have to keep up. All too often, our profession has a broadly based antiquarian bias, but most librarians now have to work quickly in real time to deliver the best possible solutions to busy users. Please understand that studying the past is incredibly important. I personally value the work of history and all its related disciplines. How could scientists create credible predictions for future climate change without the use of extensive historical data and models? Nonetheless, one has to have a good reason to look backward. While it is not always easy to do, we as contemporary librarians need to spend more time looking ahead. 

Learn more at the ALA Store.

Merrilee Proffitt on collaboration between Wikipedia and cultural heritage institutions

A senior program officer at OCLC Research, Merrilee Proffitt first started exploring how to develop better relationships between Wikipedia and cultural heritage institutions about seven years ago. Since then she created OCLC’s Wikipedian in Residence program, has helped run several edit-a-thons, and contributed to Wikipedia, Wikidata, and Wikimedia Commons. In her new book she and her contributors explore how to connect these various communities of knowledge, which she expands upon in this interview.

What was the genesis of this book project?

A while back, Grace Agnew from Rutgers University told me that librarians would naturally expect a collection of case studies about how librarians are engaging with Wikipedia to be in a book. There are case studies published “on Wiki” and individual journal articles in the professional literature, but, to my knowledge there’s no book on the special connection between Wikipedia and libraries. Grace’s comment stuck with me, and when Patrick Hogan from ALA Editions contacted me to see if I would be interested in putting forward a proposal, I jumped at the opportunity.

The opening lines of your introduction are, "I believe that Wikipedia is important for the future of libraries. I also believe that libraries are equally important to Wikipedia." Why do you think some libraries tend to see Wikipedia as a threat rather than as a potential partner?

I think most see it as an opportunity rather than a threat, but many librarians (and teachers, and journalists, the five pillars of Wikipediaand researchers) are concerned about the quality of Wikipedia articles and don’t know if they are supposed to use it as a legitimate resource. A wise friend, Phoebe Ayers from the MIT Libraries, once explained that Wikipedia is like a busy newsroom, and what you see are not necessarily finished articles, but articles in various stages of completeness. When information professionals realize that the “incomplete” or imperfect nature is part of the transparent process of Wikipedia, and understand how to determine where an article is in that process, they can then gauge how to assess the information and  see how they might become part of the continuous improvement process. We saw this again and again in our Wikipedia + Libraries: Better Together project.

You point out that Wikipedia definitely has flaws: for example, its contributors skew male, and there’s a large gap in articles relating to librarianship. Why should the library world be concerned with Wikipedia’s flaws, and what can the profession do about it?

Simply put, everyone is using Wikipedia; ideally they will find information there that is both accurate and reflects a diverse world view. As organizations that serve diverse communities, libraries can help readers see Wikipedia’s biases by teaching them to be critical consumers of freely accessible information. We can also guide people to understand why and how they can participate in Wikipedia. One of the chapters in the book features the voices of public librarians who use Wikipedia in the library. One librarian, Allison Frick, held very brief Wikipedia editing sessions so that young women would have the seed planted that there is a place for them to contribute to a larger body of knowledge online, they have permission to participate, and they know how to get started. This is the kind of attitude that will take us far—the “yes, and” attitude to Wikipedia’s flaws.

What are some “baby steps” that librarians can take to reach out to the Wikipedia community?

I don’t think librarians are about baby steps; they can be bold and leap in! Librarians can draw upon their resourcefulness and love of learning to become knowledgeable as they can about Wikipedia norms and practices. The chapter by Alex Stinson and Jason Evans has some helpful starting points. Also check out the materials available in our Wikipedia + Libraries: Better Together project space; look out for other training opportunities; join our Facebook page and mailing list.

Would you briefly describe Wikidata and why you believe it’s so useful for libraries?

book cover for Leveraging Wikipedia: Connecting Communities of KnowledgeSure. Wikidata is a collaboratively edited structured data set that is used by Wikipedia and by other sister projects. It is quickly becoming a go-to resource for identifiers and I believe it will play an important role in our linked data future. You read it here first!

There are numerous examples of collaborations in your book—what’s a particular example that surprised you?

It was not surprising to me at all that librarians are great collaborators, and many of the chapters in the book demonstrate there are many forms of collaboration between Wikipedians and librarians. I look forward to seeing even more examples in the future!

To me, the most surprising thing in the book is in the chapter contributed by Lily Todorinova from Rutgers, and her findings about how students understand (or misunderstand) citations. I also recommend the chapter from Kenning Arlitsch and Justin Shanks—their findings about how search engines understand libraries and how that fits into the knowledge graph are something that we, as information professionals, should take note of. Wikipedia plays a role here.

Learn more at the ALA Store.

Metadata – have we got the ethics right?

Guest post by David Haynes, author of Metadata for Information Management and Retrieval: Understanding Metadata and its Use, Second Edition

Use of metadata by the security services

“Metadata tells you everything about somebody’s life.  If you have enough metadata you don’t really need content” (Schneier 2015, p.23)

If anyone wondered about the importance of metadata, this quote by Stuart Baker of the US National Security Agency should leave no one in any doubt.  The Snowden revelations about the routine gathering of metadata about international telephone calls to or from the United States continues to have repercussions today (Greenwald 2013).  Indeed Privacy International (2017) has identified the following types of metadata that is gathered or could be gathered by security agencies:

  • Location
  • Device used
  • Date/time
  • Sender
  • Recipient
  • Length of call

“Metadata in aggregate is content” as Jacob Appelbaum observed when the Wikileaks controversy first blew up  (Democracy Now 2013).  In other words when metadata from different sources is aggregated it can be used to reconstruct the information content of individual communications.

Photo by Matthew Henry on UnsplashInvasion of privacy or personal benefit?

These concerns extend well beyond the use of metadata by Governments and the security services.  The social media giants prosper by exploiting personal data and targeting digital advertising.  Personal profiles of targeted individuals are based on metadata about online use and are the basis of online behavioural advertising.  Cookies and other tracking technologies can monitor the online activity of an individual to predict future behaviour.  Metadata about online sessions reveals a great deal about an individual and his or her life.  This may extend to gathering information about friends, family, colleagues and other contacts.

The upside of this is that metadata is a powerful tool to facilitate use of online services, by remembering users’ preferences and delivering content that is more likely to be of interest or relevance to them.  This has to be balanced against the risks associated with online disclosure of personal data.


Metadata describes an information object whether that be raw data or more descriptive information about an individual.  This is important because the treatment of metadata has become a political issue.  Personal data, especially data that reveals opinions, attitudes and beliefs is potentially very sensitive.  Use of this personal data by service providers or by third parties can expose users to risks such as nuisance from unwanted ads, harassment from internet trolls or fraud through identity theft, if the data is not held or transmitted security.  Many digital advertisers would say that because the data is aggregated it is not possible to identify individuals – i.e. the data is anonymised.  However this is no protection against privacy breaches as has been demonstrated by Narayanan and Shmatikov (2009) and others.

Fact-free content

Daniel Rosenberg (2013) makes a nice distinction between data, facts and evidence.  Data if true may be a fact, but if false ceases to be a fact.  Samuel Arbesman (2012) in his book ‘The Half Life of Facts’ introduced the idea that in a given period half the certainties that we had are shown to be false or are superceded by new understandings and that they cease to be ‘facts’.  Data, whether it is true or not, continues to be data, but is only factual if true.  Perhaps there is some way of recording the reliability of information or data so that it can be exploited appropriately.  Many of the arguments and counter-arguments on climate change for instance centre on the quality and veracity of the evidence used by each side of the debate.  This idea is not new, as medical researchers have for some time evaluated the quality of research used to make clinical decisions.  This information about the quality and reliability of data is metadata.

Metadata is political

Metadata has become a political issue because of its use by security agencies and because of wider privacy issues in the commercial world.  Anyone who had asked the question ‘What does metadata matter?’ prior to 2013 will realise just how important a bearing it has on current political issues.  The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects ‘The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures’ (United States 1791).  A lot hangs on the interpretation of privacy as Solove (2011) has so eloquently discussed in his book ‘Nothing to Hide’.  ‘Fake news’ is not new, but the phenomenon has reared its head in recent elections and is unlikely to go away any time soon.  Good governance also depends on a good understanding of metadata and accountability for past actions.

book cover for Metadata for Information Management and Retrieval: Understanding Metadata and its Use, Second EditionMetadata for information management and retrieval

In the new edition of Metadata for Information Management and Retrieval, published in January 2018 I consider the origins of metadata and look at the ways in which it is used for managing information resources.  The ethical dimensions of metadata are explored and issues such as governance, privacy, security and human rights are considered.  The book also discusses the digital divide and the potential that metadata has for making information accessible to wider audiences.

Metadata has an important role in politics and ethics.  How then do we manage it to best effect?

Haynes, D (2018) Metadata for Information Management and Retrieval: Understanding Metadata and its Use, Second Edition ISBN 9781856048248. Facet Publishing. London, 2018, 267pp.

You can follow David on Twitter @JDavidHaynes


Arbesman, S., 2012. The half-life of facts : why everything we know has an expiration date,

Democracy Now, 2013. Court: Gov’t Can Secretly Obtain Email, Twitter Info from Ex-WikiLeaks Volunteer Jacob Appelbaum. Available at: [Accessed March 21, 2017].

Greenwald, G., 2013. NSA Collecting Phone Records of Millions of Verizon Customers Daily. The Guardian. Available at: [Accessed July 7, 2014].

Narayanan, A. & Shmatikov, V., 2009. De-anonymizing Social Networks. In 2009 30th IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy. IEEE, pp. 173–187.

Privacy International, 2017. Privacy 101. Metadata. Available at: [Accessed March 23, 2017].

Rosenberg, D., 2013. Data before the Fact. In L. Gitelman, ed. “Raw Data” is an Oxymoron. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp. 15–40.

Schneier, B., 2015. Data and Goliath: the hidden battles to collect your data and control your world, New York, NY: W.W.Norton.

Solove, D.J., 2011. Nothing to Hide: the false tradeoff between privacy and security, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

United States, 1791. U.S. Constitution Amendment IV, United States.

This post originally appeared in a somewhat different form on the Facet Publishing blog

Delivering a Data Strategy in the Cauldron of Business As Usual

Guest blog by the co-authors of The Chief Data Officer’s Playbook, Caroline Carruthers (Group Director of Data Management, Lowell Group) and Peter Jackson (Chief Data Officer, Southern Water).

Being a Chief Data Officer in the current climate is a rather interesting place to be, it can feel a little like dancing on quicksand while you have to learn to juggle wriggling snakes. So in order to help people interested in this area, whether you are a new CDO, well established data hero or just wondering what all the fuss is about, we have worked on a set of articles to answer some of the questions we are asked at nearly every conference we go to. While we can’t promise you a solution to all your data related problems handed to you on a plate, we can promise that once a week you can look forward to another concise, interesting and easy to read article to help you on your data and information related journey.

One of the most difficult tasks for the new CDO is developing a Data Strategy while the organi\zation continues to operate (and must continue to operate) using and abusing data, continuing with bad habits around data and often with a lack of governance and planning. This has been likened to performing open heart surgery on a runner while they are in the middle of a marathon, in reality it’s more like patching them up, giving them water to keep them going and a clear map to get them to the end of the race. In most situations for a new CDO the organisation probably feels that it has been operating quite happily without this new person for a very long while. So, for the new CDO it may feel like they are sitting in the corner talking to themselves. Alternatively the CDO may be met with comments like ‘Yes, we tried that before and it didn’t work’ or ‘ IT/ Finance/ Procurement/ Marketing (delete as appropriate) won’t like you doing that’ or my personal favourite ‘that’s not how we do that here’.

What is the context of Business As Usual? In most cases (unless the organisation is a start-up) it will be:

  • a legacy data environment: siloes of data, multiple records, ‘duplicates’, weak data governance, no useful meta data, heavy MI and no BI.
  • legacy systems: burning platforms, bespoke developments, hard to maintain and manage, reporting systems remote from end-users, no true data management systems
  • legacy business processes: evolved over time, limited by technology and data available at the point in time, containing many work-arounds
  • multiple suppliers: of software and systems
  • legacy IT department: focused on building stuff rather than delivering and supporting software-as-a-service, internal networks as opposed to cloud
  • legacy ‘transformation’ process: based on project governance and waterfall, struggling with agile and innovation. Not able to adapt to transformation being data driven rather than technology driven

The task for the new CDO is how to steer their way through this bubbling cauldron and deliver a data strategy. One approach is to break the task down into two parts: an Immediate Data Strategy (IDS), a tactical approach to deliver support for BAU, gain quick wins and temporary fixes and to prepare the way for the second part. The additional benefit of the IDS is the delivery of incremental value to the organisation through its data, avoiding the hypecycle on the way (the next article deals with this in more detail). The second part is the Target Data Strategy (TDS), the strategic approach. The new CDO cannot sit back and deliver the TDS over a two to three year window, the organisation will probably be expecting some results now, so it is just as important to set realistic expectations as it is to provide some tactical delivery through the IDS. One piece of advice, don’t call these tactical deliveries ‘Projects’ instead refer to them as ‘Initiatives’, this might engender a more agile approach.

The IDS should listen to the organisation’s data pain and try to deliver high profile quick wins. The tactical initiatives of the IDS should blend into the strategy of the TDS, and not run down a rabbit hole or blind alley. The IDS should help build up the narrative and vision of the TDS.

The six key elements of the IDS could be:

  1. Stability and rationalisation of the existing data environment
  2. Data culture and governance
  3. Existing and immediate data and IT development projects
  4. Data exploitation and integration
  5. Data performance, quality, integrity, assurance and provenance
  6. Data security (especially with GDPR in mind).

While the new CDO is delivering the IDS they should be pushing the TDS through business engagement, the organisation needs to be prepared, ready and believe in the changes that are coming. The CDO should also be using the IDS to show the ‘art of the possible’ to a data illiterate business to help the business engage with the new data possibilities. Through the IDS they should be running Proof of Concepts, feasibility studies, data science initiatives and building a narrative around the vision of the TDS for all levels of the business.

Finally, six tips on how to succeed using the IDS and TDS approach:

  1. Use internal communications to sell the vision, don’t allow a vacuum to form
  2. Seek every opportunity to communicate the vision. Do not be frightened of becoming a data bore.
  3. Socialise the data visons and the changes that could be coming, especially the controversial ideas, locate the data champions to support you
  4. Engage the organisation’s leadership and find your senior sponsors, they will be crucial
  5. If you can’t explain it, you’re doing something wrong, ‘it’s me not you’
  6. Win hearts and minds, often a good argument is not enough to win the day.

The book is available to purchase now. This post first appeared in a somewhat different form on the Facet Publishing blog.

What's graphic design got to do with me? Diana K. Wakimoto explains

Diana K. Wakimoto speaks directly to library staff in her new book, and so we wanted to speak directly to her about why graphic design is such a useful set of skills for any librarian regardless of job description.

First off, I can imagine someone saying, “I’m not on the marketing team, I don’t do PR for the library—why do I need to know anything about graphic design?”

Graphic design is so much more than marketing and PR. It's about communicating to the best of our abilities with our patrons in our communities. Graphic design is visual communication. It's about solving problems and providing great service for our communities and all librarians are about that. So whether you're the one creating the flyer and bookmarks or you're the one giving them out to your library patrons, knowing more about graphic design can only help you be a better communicator in your job as a librarian. Graphic design is an important, but overlooked part of so much of what is driving many of the hot discussions in libraries today in the realms of UX, instruction, online resources and services, assessment, and more. Understanding graphic design will help you in all these areas.  

Just as we wouldn't say, "I don't need to know about written communication or how to give a coherent update on my project at a meeting because I'm not in PR or marketing", we shouldn't discount the need for basic graphic design knowledge as librarians just because it's not a core facet of our job. It's part of all of our work. Even if you never move around a pixel on the screen for creating an instruction handout and you never hand-letter a flyer for programming, knowing a bit about graphic design can help in other ways. Knowing how to "decode" or analyze a design is helpful for understanding why it works or doesn't work as a form of visual communication. This helps all of us in quickly finding the important information in well-designed materials and knowing why poorly designed materials are difficult to read or are just plain unattractive. 

an explanation of sightlinesIf you are someone who has to sign-off on any form of visual communication in your library before it is published online or goes to print, it's imperative that you understand the basics of graphic design. Otherwise, how will you provide helpful and informed feedback for your librarian graphic designers? Everyone has an opinion about design, but not everyone is informed. If you are informed, you can have a positive impact in ensuring that your library always puts its best foot forward graphically. 

Design is everywhere and as librarians we are really good at learning a little bit about everything, so why wouldn't we want to know more about something that surrounds us everyday? Plus, learning and applying what you know about graphic design is just plain fun!

If someone only has time to start with a few “high impact” projects, what would you suggest?

High impact projects really depend on the needs of the individual library and the community the library serves. But, if you press me to name a few high impact projects that I think could benefit many libraries (and won't take months to do) they are: redesigning materials for new library patrons (bookmarks, handouts, etc. about using the library), redesigning calendars of library events, and auditing the library homepage to see if it is both easy-to-navigate and visually appealing. Notice for the last example, the library's homepage, I just suggest auditing and critiquing, especially if you haven't checked for ADA compliance recently. The redesign of a homepage is a lot of work and will take a lot more time than the two other projects. 

I see the first two projects as high impact because: 1) you want to make a good first impression on new patrons of the library and 2) lots of people view and use your library's calendar of events. Both of these projects provide great opportunities to apply your graphic design knowledge in a concrete and very visible way. Plus, if you create a great new template for your library's event calendar, you can reuse it and save yourself time in the following months--always great for busy librarian graphic designers. 

From the librarians I've talked with, most have an idea of what projects they want to tackle first and I say go for it! I'm a big fan of taking care of low-hanging fruit in the graphic design realm and using positive momentum to get you through more complicated and time-consuming redesign projects.

What are some ways that librarians can streamline the design process to save time and just generally make the job easier?

Another great question! I do go over some tips in my book about saving time, too. Everyone needs to save time since, as librarians, we are always trying to cram more work into a day than is possible! A few key points that help with graphic design projects: 

  • Don't create complicated designs when you are short on time. Simplicity really is your friend and some of the most powerful designs I've ever seen or created have been simple ones. 
  • Be okay with saying no when you can. Mistakes and frustrations happen most frequently when trying to juggle too many design projects at once without allocating enough time for each. 
  • When possible, put in the time up front to create custom templates for items you have to create frequently in your library, such as flyers or web banners for ongoing program series like book clubs and calendars of events. These templates will save you so much time and allow others in your library to also take care of things when you are out. 
  • Keep project logs, even very simple ones are so helpful for remembering  what fonts, colors, and image sources you used for each project. Hunting around to match a font you used two years ago wastes so much time. 
  • Always, always, always backup your work in multiple places and never put your only copy of a project in a shared drive. 
  • And figure out what works best for you. Just like answering a reference question or teaching a workshop, there's no one right way to design. 

In your book you write that “software is a tool, not the solution.” Can you elaborate on that?

Computers are great for design. I love Adobe Creative Cloud and Microsoft Publisher and sites that allow me to use icons royalty free, but none of these software programs or websites creates a design, I do. Every librarian graphic designer holds the solution to any design issue or problem. We are the solution to creating better, more usable visual communications for our libraries, not the software loaded on our machines. Thankfully, the software can't think for us. We have to apply our creativity and knowledge to whatever design issue has been brought to us for fixing, whether it's creating a new brochure to celebrate the library's anniversary or redesigning a handout for a resume writing workshop. 

Software simply allows us to create the final form, for most library designs, in a print-ready or online publishing-ready format. All the hard stuff--brainstorming, deciding on a theme, understanding the content book cover for Easy Graphic Design for Librariansthat needs to be included, choosing images, typefaces, and color schemes, and determining layout--are done inside our heads and with pencil and paper. The final pushing around of pixels in whatever software program is used is usually the fast and easy part of the design process. This is why it is so important for all librarians to understand graphic design and the design process so we acknowledge the hard creative work of graphic design lies with the librarian graphic designer, not the software. Software is a tool, a great tool, but just a tool. A great librarian graphic designer can create a fantastic design no matter what software limitations they face.

Lastly, you point out how important it is to share design knowledge throughout one’s institution so that everyone can share in that learning. What are some ways to do that?

There are many great ways to share design knowledge throughout a library and, again, the best ways depend on the library and the librarians. I love brown bags because they are informal and everyone has the chance to share something, but I know these don't work for everyone. If you are on the marketing or UX team, share your knowledge with others on your team so you can all implement your knowledge on current and future projects. If you are in administration, support your librarians taking courses and workshops to learn more and support time on the job to get together and discuss graphic design and how it impacts the success of the library. Also, keep your eyes open for pieces of design that inspire you and try to pull apart why the design works and what pieces of the design you can apply to your library. This is a great activity to do in a group as a more interactive way to review concepts than a lecture, too. 

And, of course, you can always recommend my book to anyone who wants to learn more about graphic design in libraries! 

Interview: Marie R. Kennedy and Cheryl LaGuardia on effectively promoting electronic resources

In this interview, Marie R. Kennedy and Cheryl LaGuardia discuss the new second edition of their ALA Neal-Schuman book Marketing Your Library’s Electronic Resources: A How-To-Do-It Manual for Librarians.

Teaching with Technology @ The FIC; photo by  Richard CawoodThe first edition has been one of our bestsellers. Why did you write a second edition, and what are some of the most useful updates?

We learned so much from our readers about their experiences using the first edition that we wanted to incorporate all that feedback and share it widely. In the first edition our readers found the marketing plan reports we included very helpful – in this edition we’ve added some more. To help you get moving on your own marketing plans faster we’ve created a downloadable template. Grab it, use the prompts to consider the essential steps in a marketing plan, and get going!

One of the central themes in your book is that libraries should focus on value rather than ROI (return on investment). Would you explain the differences between them and why value should take precedence?

We think about marketing as having an ongoing conversation with our patrons, and this book acts as a guide to help you start the conversation at your own library. It guides you to consider what you already know about your patrons, and how to find out more about them and their needs. As a result of your efforts, imagine how satisfied and empowered a patron will feel when your library supplies them with just the right electronic resource. Meeting (or exceeding!) the needs of our patrons is value; we’re not too interested in trying to place a business construct on institutions that are inherently not businesses (ROI).

What are some key questions that libraries need to ask when they first enter the planning stage?

There are some big questions to ask at the planning stage, and we encourage you to think about them as part of a team. We know that marketing works best when it is embedded in the culture of a library. You’ve likely heard the old saying, “Marketing is far too important to be left to the marketing department.” Marketing can turn a traditional administrative hierarchy on its head, empowering staff (not just administrators) to speak for the library. Once you have your team in place you’ll need to identify what the purpose of starting down a communication path will mean for your library, what are the goals you have in mind, who will be involved, how you will complete the work, and how you will determine if you’ve done a good job.

You have a chapter subtitled “Lather, Rinse, and Repeat.” Once you have a marketing plan in place, why is important to keep revising it?

We’re learning every day, and our patrons are changing every day. At the end of a marketing cycle it’s important to pause, consider what we’ve learned, and how we can improve in the future. We then put that reflection into action in a new marketing plan.

What are a few trends in electronic resources that you think will be the most important in the next five years?

Here’s our take:

  1. There’s a greater emphasis than ever before on demonstrated value to researchers. Very few libraries can afford “luxury titles” any longer. If the product doesn’t have immediate value to primary users, libraries won’t acquire it. This has major implications both for the design of electronic products and for their marketing.
  2. If subscription e-resources are not being used sufficiently by primary clientele, they’re not going to be continued; trials and deaccessioning will increase to sort the e-wheat from the e-chaff.
  3. Resource information provenance is key; libraries and our researchers want to be able to judge the validity of resources in the tighter, more competitive market.
  4. On a related note, libraries want greater transparency in aggregated content, and to keep up companies who want to survive will have to provide it. Libraries are less inclined simply to accept whatever product a company is willing to make available or sell to them, and product usage segmentation is becoming more of the practice, rather than a “take the one size fits all” package. This is an area in which savvy companies can prevail over the competition if they but have the smarts to create more individually-tailored products.
  5. Mobile access is simply being demanded by digital natives, and companies will have to redesign interfaces for excellent mobile device access to survive.

The No-nonsense Guide to Project Management

Read an exclusive interview with Barbara Allan in which she discusses writing her new book, The No-nonsense Guide to Project Management, and offers advice on the skills needed for both small and larger, complex projects.


What research did you do for the No-nonsense Guide to Project Management?

My earlier book on project management was published by Facet in 2004 and this provided a starting point. A lot has changed since then so I carried out a huge amount of online research in the academic and professional literature, as well as searching the websites of library and information services to identify good case studies. In addition, I researched the current professional project management literature to gain their perspective. Finally, and this is the most enjoyable part, I contacted library and information workers as well as people teaching project management to gain their perspectives.

What is your experience of project management?

I’m lucky as I have had lots of experience of project management and I have always gravitated towards projects and volunteered to get involved in them. Some examples include: closing a library; moving libraries; creating a new library and information service; introducing new ICT systems; designing and developing both e-learning and traditional courses; introducing new working practices and contracts; leading an institutional-wide programme with a budget of more than £2.3M.  Like most people, I have also experienced many projects in my home life: moving house; DIY projects; organizing celebrations and parties; organizing holidays. Basically, the same skills that are used in these domestic projects are essential for professional projects too.

Do you get stuck when writing?

Yes, I sometimes have so many ideas and examples buzzing about my head that it is hard to sort them out. When this happens, I tend to go for a long walk with my dog and think it through. Alternatively, I get out my Post-It Notes™ and takeover the kitchen table as I spread them about and work out the connections and contradictions between different ideas.

 How does the new book differ from your previous book on this topic?

There are many major differences. I think the first one is that standard project management methodologies such as PRINCE2® and Agile are now commonly used in library and information services. In very large and complex projects, library and information services (or their parent organisation) regularly employ professional project managers often on a contract basis and they use these standard methodologies which means that a wider group of people learn about them. Another difference is that a wide range of technologies are used in project management. For example, specialist software packages, such as MS Project, may be used to help manage the project and these provide a wide range of reports which come in very useful at meetings. Collaborative software which enable teams to work together and jointly produce reports and other outputs are very useful particularly in international projects where team members may be working in different geographic regions and time zones. In addition, social media has made a huge impact both in terms of supporting team working and also in publicising the project. Both crowdfunding and crowdsourcing are used by some libraries and I found this a particularly interesting topic to research.

Does this mean that all project managers need to use these technologies?

This is a really good question. It depends on the size of the project. If you are leading a small project involving relatively few people then you can manage it using everyday tools such as your diary and a spreadsheet. However, you may choose to use specialist software as a way of learning how to use it and gaining an additional skill for your CV. In contrast, if you are leading a large and complex project then I think it is vital to use appropriate tools as a means of managing and sharing the project information.

What has stayed the same in project management in the past decade or so?

I think the basic idea of following the project cycle and working through each stage in a systematic manner is essential. The detailed process of documenting each stage is important as it means any change in personnel can be relatively easily managed. In addition, making sure that you have considered all the risks that may adversely affect the project and thought about how to reduce or eliminate the risk is important too. Finally, following standard procedures for managing the project budget is vital.


The project life cycle

Allan_blog image

Managing risks sounds a little scary. Is it?

I always enjoy the risk management side of any project. Basically, it involves thinking about five questions: What can go wrong? How likely is this to happen? What is the likely impact on the project? How serious is each risk? How can the risks be managed?Identifying the risks can be fun and sometimes teams come up with extreme examples which cause laughter. A key lesson is to allow time for unexpected events. For example, I was once involved in a library move and the initial movement of furniture resulted in an epidemic of fleas. Quite revolting and we had to call in professional pest control people to sort it out. Overall, we lost a lot of time but we had built that in as our contingency so the project still met its deadline.

What about the people side of projects?

Leading and managing the people side of projects is vital if the project is to be successful. It is particularly important in strategic projects such as merging two libraries or developing shared services where major changes are taking place. These strategic projects may take 2-3 years to implement and there needs to be a management of change process in place to help support everyone through the change.

In all projects, the project manager needs to identify and think about all the stakeholders who are involved in the project or may be affected by it. She then needs to work out (with her team) how to work with and communicate with this diverse group of people who will all have different needs, expectations and concerns. In the No-nonsense Guide to Project Management, working with different groups including virtual teams and also volunteers is explored with practical guidance on how to work effectively. Nowadays, many projects involve partnership working, e.g. working with local, regional or international partners, and it is important to pay attention to establishing, developing and maintaining the partnership if it is to be successful.

What is your advice to librarians entering the profession?

My advice is to gain as much experience as possible. Take up opportunities to be involved in project work and, if possible, sign up for training courses on project management. Project management is an important skill for all library and information workers and it is essential for anyone wanting to move into management and leadership positions. Finally, it offers very interesting opportunities to shape your library and information service and the services and products on offer.

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash (This interview originally appeared on the Facet Publishing blog).

Barbara Allan is an author and trainer. Her background includes managing workplace and academic libraries. She has spent many years working in business schools where her focus was on enhancing learning, teaching and the student experience, and the internationalization and employability agendas. Her qualifications include a doctorate in education (on the topic of e-mentoring and women into leadership). She is a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and was awarded a National Teaching Fellowship in 2008. A member of CILIP, she is the author of several Facet Publishing titles, including Emerging Strategies for Supporting Student Learning (2016), The No-nonsense Guide to Training in Libraries (2013), Supporting Research Students (2009), and Blended Learning (2007).

Books hot off the press, Meet the Authors at the ALA Store in Orlando

Located just inside the Shuttle Bus Entrance at the Orange County Convention Center, the ALA Store offers products that meet the widest range of your promotional and continuing education/professional development needs—as well as fun gift items. Make sure to carve out some time in your schedule during the conference to stop by and examine the many new and bestselling items available!

ALA Store hours:

  • Friday, June 24            12:00 pm – 5:30 pm
  • Saturday, June 25       8:30 am – 5:00 pm
  • Sunday, June 26          8:30 am – 5:00 pm
  • Monday, June 27        9:00 am – 2:00 pm

ALA Graphics will feature a selection of popular posters, bookmarks, and promotional materials, including new 2016 Teen Read Week and Banned Book Week items. And stop by early to get your pick of conference t-shirts—they sell out fast! We’ll also be introducing several brand new items and exclusive gifts:

  • Libraries Transform Expert Badges
  • CSK Book Award T-shirts
  • CSK Book Award Pashmina (limited quantity and only available at the Conference Store)

ALA Editions and ALA divisions are excited to offer several new titles hot off the press, such as “RDA Essentials,” by Thomas Brenndorfer; “Engaging Babies in the Library: Putting Theory into Practice,” by Debra J. Knoll; and “The Librarian's Nitty Gritty Guide to Content Marketing,” by Laura Solomon. Come by the ALA Store for these special Meet the Author events:

Saturday, June 25      

Sunday, June 26      

Remember that you can now find titles from ALA Neal-Schuman and Facet Publishing in the ALA Store. You can also get free shipping on all book orders placed in the ALA Store (posters, bookmarks, and other gift-type items are not eligible for this offer).

Stop by the ALA Store to learn more about our eLearning opportunities. You can also arrange for a live demo of RDA Toolkit—just contact us by June 20 to request an appointment.

Prices at the ALA Store automatically reflect the ALA Member discount, so there’s no need to dig out your Member number. And remember that every dollar you spend at the ALA Store helps support library advocacy, awareness, and other key programs and initiatives!

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