The availability of think tank literature in Canadian academic libraries

Below is the text from a poster presentation that I delivered at the Canadian Library Association 2012 National Conference and Trade Show, May 30-June 2, 2012 in Ottawa. An image of the poster itself is above.


Think tanks are in the business of creating innovative ideas to address policy issues, which are disseminated through timely, well-researched publications made available for free or at a nominal cost. In 2007, L. DeLong published “Do think tanks matter to libraries?” which revealed “if not surprising, rather unsettling” results of the absence of this literature in Canadian library collections. The study drew on public and academic libraries across Canada and identified that only 31% of the publications sampled were available. As think tanks produce highly relevant literature to many academic disciplines, the disparities in visibility and inclusion in Canadian research libraries are worth re-visiting.

Objectives and Purpose:

  • To determine if think tank research, rich in policy-relevant academic study, is being included in academic library collections.
  • Update and contribute to DeLongʼs 2007 study: is the relative absence of think tank literature still a problem? What has changed?
  • To identify if library research guides include information on think tanks.


  • Six Canadian think tanks were chosen, ranging in area of focus (environment, economics, social issues, and international politics), and political lean (conservative-right, non-partisan, liberal-left). The organizations chosen were:
  1. C.D. Howe Institute
  2. Caledon Institute of Social Policy
  3. Conference Board of Canada
  4. Fraser Institute
  5. Institute for Research on Public Policy (IRPP)
  6. Pembina Institute for Appropriate Development
  • Four publications were selected from each organization to be used as a sample for the study. Each at least 5 months old, substantial in length, and free. These publications were searched in the OPAC of eight large Canadian academic libraries, from Nova Scotia to British Columbia:
  1. Dalhousie University
  2. University of New Brunswick
  3. McGill University
  4. University of Ottawa
  5. University of Manitoba
  6. University of Saskatchewan
  7. University of Alberta
  8. Simon Fraser University
  • Subject guides were also consulted for the mention of think tanks and their activities.

Findings and outcomes:

  • The availability of the 24 publications differed greatly by library, however, this study found that since 2007 there has been an overall increase in the availability of think tank literature in Canadian academic library collections.
  • From the sample of 24 publications searched in the 8 library OPACs, only 99 were available out of a possible 192. Therefore 52% of the publications sampled in this study were available in library catalogues across Canada.
  • 5 of the 8 libraries maintained research guides that list Canadian think tanks, their activities, and resources.

Lessons Learned:
What has changed since 2007? The increase in availability from 31% to 52% is
worth noting, as well as the inclusion of think tanks within research guides. Consortium agreements among libraries, the expansion of electronic documents, and the advent of WorldCat OPAC systems at many academic libraries have also assisted with the visibility and access of think tank publications and other grey literature in Canadian academic libraries.
Works cited:

  • DeLong, L. “Do think tanks matter to libraries? Assessing the availability of Canadian think tanks publications in Canadian libraries and databases.” The Serials Librarian, Vol. 5 (3/4), 2007: 157-164.
  • Moon, J. “Microlog and the ʻCanadian Public Policy Collectionʼ – A comparison.” Partnership: the Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research, Vol. 6, No. 2, 2011: 1-13.
  • Tompkins, E. “Think tanks and public policy research institutes: An annotated bibliography.” Behavioral & Social Sciences Librarian, Vol. 26, No. 2, 2007: 11-27.
  • Umbach, K. “Think tanks on the web as a curriculum resource.” Knowledge Quest, Vol. 32, No. 5, May/June, 2004: 44-45.

Learning from relatives: academic, school, and public libraries

Librarians and information professionals who work in special libraries often stick together. This makes sense, of course, as they tend to serve like-minded users, provide similar information services, and face challenges unique to special libraries. Librarians in corporate, non-profit, law and “non-traditional” information centres must rarely (if ever) consider some of the fundamental and everyday decisions of their distant relatives, the public and academic librarians. While public librarians debate the impediments of children’s literacy, or academic librarians struggle to teach undergrads how to find a peer-reviewed journal article, the special library community faces entirely different user-needs and information management concerns. Despite these inherent professional differences, I believe there is much that can be learned from one another.

The Ontario Library Association’s annual Super Conference takes place each Winter at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. This past January I attended the Super Conference with the hopes of reconnecting and networking with colleagues, liaising with vendors, and most importantly, learning from the experiences of other librarians.

Traditionally and informally, the OLA Super Conference is more or less a platform for library technicians, academic, school, and public librarians. There seem to be few special librarians in attendance at OLA. This year I pondered if librarians from special libraries could benefit from what the Super Conference has to offer. Coincidentally, the theme of this year’s conference was “The Power of C – Collaboration!” OLA President Mary Ann Mavrinac writes, “Collaboration makes us smarter. The power of collaboration is a catalyst for community engagement, communication, cooperation, connectivity, conversations, crowdsourcing, collectivism and collegiality” and further, “helps us make better choices for communal and collateral benefit” (source). I felt energized by this message of teamwork and camaraderie, and think that despite differences in the users we serve, that both groups can take away valuable and transferable lessons from each other’s major conferences.

When the Super Conference session schedule was released, I read some abstracts out of curiosity for what might be available. To my surprise, more than a handful stood out as innovative, interesting, and helpful in the context of my library’s current projects and workflow. Fully aware that I’m not the ideal audience for this conference, I registered reluctantly but excitedly.

Below are some sessions from the 2011 Super Conference that I enjoyed:

“Library Mashups: Exploring new ways to deliver library data” presented by Nicole Engard (Bywater Solutions): Highlighted various examples of how your library can incorporate the API (Application Programming Interface) from your current subscriptions (e.g. The New York Times) and embed that code within your library’s OPAC or website. Hypothetically then, you can present your users with seamless and immediate access to the latest content related to your organization’s focus. Additionally, introduce things like Google maps and other applications to your Library’s web page.

“Using Open Source Software in a shared integrated library system” presented by A. Rivers-Moore (Hanover PL), S. Leighton, (Grand Valley PL), W. Allen (Grey Highlands PL), and R. Dotten (Shelburne PL): Explored the challenges and successes of implementing the open source ILS, Koha. My library uses a number of open source platforms, Koha in particular. As the only librarian (and one with amateur open source abilities) it was a terrific opportunity to speak to others in the same situation about some of the obstacles and rewards involved in introducing free and open source software.

Overall, I was thoroughly impressed by the diversity and depth of most sessions, though disappointed by the elementary coverage of some others. I heartedly recommend browsing the list of sessions for the 2012 Super Conference. You may be surprised at what you find! As the leaders of access and information management within our organizations, we should actively keep abreast developments, technologies and projects throughout the wider profession of librarianship in order to anticipate and meet the needs of our users. There is much to be learned from our librarian relatives in the academic, school and public environments, and there is much that we can teach them as well.

“less sane” core library services

This past week I attended the OLA’s annual Super Conference in Toronto. The sessions that I chose were kind of split between disappointing, and terrific. I never think that I’ll love everything I attend, so it was to be expected. Especially coming from a special library, I’m not exactly the target audience for the OLA conference, as it’s largely public and academic librarians, but I digress…

One session that I truly loved (and that still has me thinking) was delivered by Karen Calhoun (OCLC) and Rick Anderson (University of Utah Libraries). The subtitle of this session was “Let them eat… everything: embracing a patron-driven future.”

Session abstract:

Next Generation Workflows for Next Generation Libraries

The awesomeness of this session was due to Rick’s radical and forward-thinking ideas of how libraries should adapt to the times and trends by modifying library workflows, to “trim the fat” of long-standing and unquestioned core library services. The way he put it, there are many services that libraries provide that while not “insane”, are definitely “less sane”. For example, he spoke about Interlibrary Loan. When you think about it, ILL is… ridiculous and wasteful. Someone wants a book that isn’t available at your library, so it’s ordered from a library across the country for that person to use (an extreme instance I know, but stay with me…).

A second example of “less sane” core services is the academic reference desk. Rick argued that as a service model, the reference desk relies on the hope that only a fraction of students will use it. It is impossible and impractical for thousands of students to queue at the reference desk for research assistance. While it’s the intention of Reference Departments to provide reference and instruction to as many students as they can, feasibly it is an impossible goal. Further, an instruction session can usually contain 20-40 people, maximum? In-class library instruction is on the way out. He proposes that libraries should eliminate this core service and develop services based on ease of use. That is, improved information architecture on library websites and more online guides to ease discoverability and the flow of desired information. Information literacy and instruction on Youtube, anyone?

Librarians and libraries have gotten very good at doing these core services, which could (and as Rick would argue, should) be eliminated. He asserted that more sane services would include document delivery & purchasing articles as a solution to overspending on unused serial titles, using and perfecting Wikipedia, patron-driven acquisition (i.e. acquiring what’s demonstrably wanted rather than traditional collection development), and ease of use as an alternative philosophy to bibliographic instruction. I think for the most part, these are accurate, legitimate, and sensible recommendations.

Overall I’m impressed and refreshed by this kind of radical and unpopular thinking. It’s time for librarians to shake it up, think innovatively and outside the box about library procedures and service delivery. Beyond thinking differently, let’s start making changes to meet our users’ needs and put an end to the “less sane” services that, although we’ve gotten very good at doing, simply aren’t realistic or sustainable.

Access 2010 (i.e. #accesswpg)

Access, e.g. “the premier library technology conference in Canada”, was a hit this year in Winnipeg. From October 13-16, librarians, programmers, developers, technicians, and some eager job-seekers gathered in the sublime and historic Fort Garry Hotel to share ideas and experiences on functionality, open source alternatives, innovative service technologies, and most of all, access!

This was my first Access conference, and I have to admit, at first I was a bit anxious about attending because I am not a systems librarian. I was interested in attending Access 2010 because of my emerging interests in library technologies, open source, and the uses of mobile technologies in library settings. I was worried that the level of technical literacy and depth of systems-discussion would be over my head. I was relieved to learn that I was not alone in my amateur contribution to systems librarianship, but also, I found that I could relate and keep up with the content far better than I’d feared.

I would say that 65-70% of the sessions were of relevance to my current job and were of personal interest. The other 30-35% were either a bit too specific, or catered to niche library environments (e.g. GIS, bilingual considerations, linked data), and while these didn’t related to my current job, were still captivating presentation topics.

The biggest lesson that I took away from the conference is that people like me (i.e. non-systems librarians) should become as well-versed with information systems as they independently can. I don’t mean that every librarian should be writing code and developing applications for their library (although, that would be rad), I just mean that having an informed and basic understanding of the capabilities and possibilities of current technologies enhances library services.

The Access conference really encouraged me to explore areas of librarianship that many librarians are reluctant to embrace because we tell ourselves that “it’s too techy”, or that “it’s IT’s job, not mine.” This isn’t exactly a groundbreaking statement but something I’ve come to realize: collaborative creation and innovation in library services are achieved through the integration of emerging technologies with updated library service/access models. Not only is it a necessity for library services to stay current, but consider that working with open source (i.e. a customizable framework), Smart Phone capabilities (e.g. QR codes, handheld access, etc.), and metadata are all really fun!

Below were some of my favourite sessions from Access2010. You can also view the entire schedule (and some presentations) here.

Usability testing and the Google generation” – Lisa Fast (NeoInsight)

“Mobile technologies: iRoam; Goin’ Mobile” – James MacDonald, Carolee Clyne (UNBC), Rob Zylstra (Grant McEwen University)

A human library” – Randy Oldham, Janet Kaufman (University of Guelph)

After launching search and discovery, who is mission control?” – William Denton, Adam Taves (York University)

eXtensible Catalog: Take control of library metadata and websites” – David Lindahl (University of Rochester)

2010 National Diversity in Libraries Conference

As a new young professional (not a yuppie, I promise) I have big dreams of attending conferences, and budding anxieties of presenting at them. I love to talk about libraries with library-people. It is an actual interest and favourite pastime of mine, and I wish I had MORE librarians as close friends. I’ve attended a couple conferences in the past and will certainly branch out to attend others, but as a result of their (often) costly admission and far or remote locations, sometimes I simply just can’t justify it.

I recently received word of a library convention called the “National Diversity in Libraries Conference” (NDLC) held in Princeton, New Jersey from July 14-16. The 2010 theme of the NDLC is “From Groundwork to Action.” The fundamental principle of this conference speaks loudly to me owing to my social beliefs, lifestyle as a minority, and my interests in multiculturalism, accessibility, and cultural pluralism. I visited the homepage for the conference and read about some of the sessions and speakers. The range of topics is unanticipated and impressive, and I’ve become increasingly interested in getting to Princeton in mid-July. Here are some of my favourite session titles:

  • Speaking up: Providing staff training and tools for dealing with diversity issues on the spotLinda Klimczyk, Jeff Knapp, Loanne Snavely
  • Much ado about Tintin? User services, collections, and racially offensive materials in librariesAngela Maycock, Loida Garcia-Febo, Julius Jefferson
  • Differently diverse: moving libraries beyond ADA compliance to full inclusion for allMs. Clayton A. Copeland, Dr. Linda Lucas Walling, Ms. Peggy Kaney, Mr. Avery Olmstead

There are also others that address literacy and youth, equal opportunities, libraries as safe places, and sensitivity training. One topic that I would like to have seen represented more is the impact that legislation such as the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act will have on both public and private libraries. Granted, the NDLC is an American conference, I’m sure similar legislation has passed South of the border that will affect accessibility planning for public spaces. It’s an interesting project to consider in terms of library project management and inclusiveness. (Perhaps I should have written a proposal, eh??). The third title listed above has to do with the Americans with Disabilities Act and this could touch on my idea, but from the abstract seems more about diverse aspects of access.

You might glean from the titles I’ve highlighted that my interests surround inclusion, accessibility, and eliminating heteronormativity and hateful language, both in literature and spoken by persons. These are important issues that continue to require the attention of all levels of library staff… and unfortunately they don’t exist in a library-vacuum (made that up) but persist in many occupations and public services. In my current workplace I’m happy to say that I hear a great deal of inclusive language (e.g. “my Partner and I…”), and I think this kind of behaviour generates a culture of acceptance and kindness.

I hope that everyone who attends the 2010 National Diversity in Libraries Conference has the best time and learns heaps from each other. I’m jealous that I can’t be there, but hopefully I’ll attend the next one (it’s biennial), in 2012!

Suuuper Sessions at the 2010 Super Conference

At the end of February, Ontario Librarians will come together at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre to celebrate the Ontario Library Association Super Conference. For three marvellous session-packed days, Librarians from all sectors (Public, Academic, Government, School) convene to share knowledge and learn from each other. It’s a pretty great thing! In 2009, I volunteered as a graduating student and attended a session about digital libraries in public schools of remote communities in northern Ontario. This year, I look forward to volunteering again, this time with Knowledge Ontario’s AskON booth. On Thursday, February 25th I’ll be demonstrating the reference chat service, and will answer questions from visitors.

Additionally, I hope to attend one or two sessions on the Thursday. Unfortunately, there are several sessions of interest to me that conflict with each other. Here are my top few to choose between:

9:05 AM

While studying at FIS, I worked as a Graduate Student Library Assistant at the Data, Map & Government Information Centre (a mouthful, I know, but is acronymed as “DMGIS”). This job was amazing: rewarding, challenging, and I learned A LOT every single shift. However, it was often frustrating when/if a historical item from the collection was missing, or was never acquired (due to being rare or brittle). What is great about digitization initiatives (as well as Open Access developments), is the ability for other institutions to share their historic and rare collections through digitization! This session outlines these initiatives, and I would REALLY like to attend.

9:05 AM

This session strongly appeals to me for a few reasons. The first is that I am a huge fan of Academic Librarians who research, publish, and are ambitious about contributing to library and professional literature. Next, it is one of my major professional goals to one day work as an academic librarian (collections, research & reference, electronic resources or serials), and I hope to succeed in generating papers about my library and work. Thirdly, (and similarly), I think it is vvvvvvery important for librarians in academic settings to legitimize their status and role as tenure-track librarians by maintaining a culture of research.

Those are the two conflicting sessions for 9:05 AM. Below are the 3:45 PM sessions that I have to decide between:

3:45 PM

NOT ONLY is this session being convened by Marian Davies, a past conference collaborator, co-author, and present friend, but I am greatly interested in topics surrounding minimal funding in collections management. Solutions to, and the cause for some of these problems fascinate me, including aggregators, subscription agents, platform providers, the “serials crisis”, Open Access initiatives, etc. This would be a good session to attend!

3:45 PM

I love digitization projects and community/local histories. Period. I’d be interested to learn how Knowledge Ontario approached the project, what strategies were applied, and what obstacles (if any?) that they faced. During the Summer of 2007 I worked at the Oshawa Public Library, and digitized a collection of local history materials with optical character recognition. After this experience, I came to appreciate and realize the ability to access historical materials online. It is absolutely amazing, and increasingly necessary.

3:45 PM

Open Source Software is something that I barely understand, because of my limited knowledge of coding, etc., but I recognize it as a valuable and cost-saving alternative to proprietary system platforms. This sounds like a good learning opportunity, and I wish it was at a different time!


Wordle: Create text clouds from existing texts!

Wordle is a tool that I’ve recently discovered, and have been having a lot of fun using.

What’s cool about this application? The ability to generate a text cloud for a particular document or website; to reveal content of a digital text or web page through the  representation of re-occuring words by size. Words that are repeated most frequently will appear large, while other words that are used less often will be represented much smaller.

How can you use it? There are a lot of really neat functions! The first is its main ability to create text clouds for existing documents, websites, or blogs. That means you can upload the URL from your blog or add word documents (i.e. recipes, written work, resume, CV, etc!), and the program will read through the text to generate a word cloud. Next, you can modify its appearance, font type, colour, and if you don’t like the position of words (or any particular words you don’t want included), you can re-arrange and delete items in the Wordle.

Below I’ve put my CV/resume into Wordle. Click on the image to enlarge.

My Wordle'd CV

Another rad application is TextArc. This is a visualization tool that allows you to experience a text in a very nontraditional way. Since electronic text is digital (..duh), and consequently, far more malleable and transformational than a print counterpart, there are practically infinite ways to present the text of any piece of literature. Two examples that are available on the TextArc page are Hamlet, and Alice in Wonderland. The application displays all of the words (text) from each story, and as it is “read” (by generating text, line by line along the bottom of the screen), the words are highlighted within the large “cloud” of text in the centre of the screen. This can be useful, as there are thesauri, and other tools that one can use to better interpret and experience a text. Most essentially, TextArc is a cool application because of its visual appeal. You need to check it out! Watch one of the examples provided on the TextArc page. Below is a screen-shot of the Hamlet text.

TextArc: Alice in Wonderland

I’m really interested in applications such as Wordle and TextArc, because of my broader interests in digital humanities and the creation and uses of electronic texts. On May 5th, 2009 I participated at the fifth annual TRY (Toronto, Ryerson, York) Library Staff Conference, at St. Michael’s College, U of T. With the collaboration of my colleagues Marian Davies and Alison Callahan, we designed a poster to promote awareness of how libraries can support the digital humanities, entitled “Re:evolution_of_the_text”. This poster addressed definitions of the emerging field, how its applications and services fit, and are used within libraries, and finally, the forseeable roles that librarians can assume in the creation and proliferation of digital humanities projects. We also provided recommendations for librarians, particularly for training, advocacy, and becoming creators. To read more about this conference, click here. The abstract for “Re:evolution_of_the_text” can be read on the third page of my CV or on the TRY 2009 Poster Sessions descriptions page.