Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Reference Services Review: Articles of interest

The Reference Services Review 33.2 (2005) seems to have a few items of interest to those involved with information literacy. That would be all librarians in one form or another, but I think those in instruction will be specially interested. I would link, but the journal is kept online by Emerald. However, chances are your library has it or may get articles for you.

The viewpoint essay by Ilene F. Rockman, "ICT Literacy," provides a note on a new assessment web tool created by ETS (yes, the testing folks) to assess Information and Communication Technology (ICT) literacy skills. The article, citing a document from ETS, defines it as:
"ICT literacy proficiency is the ability to use digital technology, communication tools, and/or networks appropriately to solve information problems in order to function in an information society. This includes the ability to use technology as a tool to research, organize, evaluate, and communicate information and the possession of a fundamental understanding of the ethical/legal issues surrounding the access and use of information. "

The tool was developed in collaboration with other IHE's, including Rockman's own CSU. According to the article, the advantages of the tool include that it is scenario based, meaning students have to solve problems rather than simply complete a multiple choice form, and it is interactive and web-based. General release of the instrument is scheduled for 2006. It must be noted that the tool includes elements to assess ethics in information and communication technology use. Overall, the viewpoint essay is favorable to the tool, but I would like to see it in action. However, so far, seems like a positive step in assessment.

Bruce Stoffel and Jim Cunningham, in "Library Participation in Web Portals: an Initial Survey," discuss the results of their research into libraries collaborating with campus portal development. The article discusses some of the portals, but it does state that more research is likely necessary. It does highlight the need for librarians to collaborate with various campus segments to develop a library presence in the campus portals that offer users a customized experience. They point out that collaborating with the campus rather than creating a unique library web portal may be more feasable in terms of resources and funding.

Steven W. Sowards discusses library use of websites for ready reference resources in "Visibility as a Factor in Library Selection of Ready Reference Web Resources." Chances are that readers who are librarians provide such resources through their libraries' websites, so this article may be of interest. We provide some ready reference web items on our website, and I have a healthy interest in providing these resources. In part because I think it is one of those things "we ought to have" like an encyclopedia or a good dictionary. The article asks how well do libraries perform when it comes to selecting these resources and what factors influence the choices. The author's survey suggests that factors such as visibility may come into play as well as quality of the resource. In reviewing the literature, the author looks at the criteria that is used for selecting these resources as outlined by standards such as those provided by RUSA. The article makes an interesting note: "Like the C&RL News articles, the RUSQ lists tend to publicize, rather than detect, new and interesting online tools." It notes that the discovery usually happens through tools like the Internet Scout Report project. By the way, I highly recommend Internet Scout Report. The author notes that visibility and prominence are not listed in the usual criteria; however, these appear to be significant factors considering how easy it is for librarians to look over lists of bests and even borrow from other libraries' websites. I can see this point. I am sure librarians can make independent and informed judgments when it comes to selection, but very often we borrow from each other as well. In education, we teachers are adept at not reinventing the wheel. If you find a good handout for a lesson, you ask for a copy from your colleague and modify it for your class. I am sure this goes on as well for librarians selecting websites for their ready reference. They see a site on another library, and they may decide to use it based on the fact so and so is also using it. Or, they may consider it but decide it does not meet local needs as well. It is a very organic process, and what I see in the article is validation for a process that I know is already happening all around. Among the findings of the research: dot-coms dominate the lists, very low number of dot-edu sites, a good number of dot-gov sites, and free resources dominate. The article includes in an appendix the list of "50 Ready Reference Websites Most Frequently Selected for Library Websites." A second appendix provides a list of "20 Ready Reference Resources that Deserve Greater Attention." The article deserves a look, and the lists are interesting, not just for those who like lists, but to those doing reference work as an evaluation as well as development tool.

Martin P. Courtois, Martha E. Higgins, and Aditya Kapur discuss assessing how useful online library guides are in their article "Was This Guide Helpful? Users' Perceptions of Subject Guides." Since I am a strong believer in subject guides and pathfinders, I wanted to read this article. The article reports on an online survey that the Gelman Library of George Washington University placed on their web-based guides. The method of the survey was to simply ask if the guide was useful and to provide a space for comments. While they found that 52% of respondents provided a positive rating to guides, 40% found the guides not useful or a bit useful. Based on this, the library has been working on various improvements. At my library, we are not at the level where we can devote six people to a committee on guides like the Gelman Library does. As Instruction Librarian, I am sort of the informal committee, making new guides as I see the need. The need is often based on what I see in the classes I teach. Other librarians make guides for their subject area. For instance, our library director, who is also one of the two business librarians, has an excellent guide for the business classes she teaches. However, there is no real systematic upkeep of the guides. They get done as needed and updated as the librarian who authored them remembers (or I gently remind them if I become aware of it). There is a stock of "premade" library guides on the "usual" topics such as online resource evaluation. By premade, I mean they were here when I got here, and as far as I know, they are still to be used, but these are on my "honey do" list of items to check for updating. We do have a display, but it is a little underused, and as for putting guides online, the business guide is online, but others more could likely be put online. Overall, there is a lot of work to be done, and we are gradually getting to it. In the short time I have been here, I have authored five guides, closer to pathfinders, on various topics to support undergrads. Anyhow, the article served to give me a good perspective since I often wonder how useful are the guides I make. The little sense I get is often when a student comes to the Information Desk, and they bring a guide, often marked and annotated, so I know they are doing something with it. As for remote users, we would likely face the same question Gelman librarians face. However, anecdotal evidence from the director tells me her guide does get quite a bit of use from the business classes that are distance education. My intuition, with as little as I have here but with the experience of an educator, is that the closer a guide is geared to a specific educational need, such as helping with an assignment, the more useful the guide will be. Anyhow, food for thought.

Pamela Jackson's article on "Incoming International Students and the Library" is valuable for the findings and recommendations it provides that may be useful to other librarians in campuses with incoming international students. Her survey is significant in that it looks at the incoming international students rather than those continuing. The survey took place at San Jose State, the author's institution, but its insights are very applicable to other places. I found particularly interesting its recommendations for instructional programs.

Finally, Abbie Landry provides a "Ten Must Reads for New Academic Librarians." This is another one of those "file under things they don't tell you in library school." The article features a list of books, article, and websites that provide insights and guidance to new academic librarians. The list ranges from C.W. Cubberley's book on tenure and promotion to making sure new librarians read things like their university requirements through items like the Faculty or University handbooks. It is true this applies a bit more to those academic librarians who go on a faculty track, but it is still valuable for those who become professional staff. The list also features items for surviving the first year of employment as well as how to locate places to either publish in or read on a regular basis. This is an excellent summary that they should be passing out to library students who are planning on an academic job. Out of the whole RSR issue this time, this is the must read. I am sure even veterans will find it useful.

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