Monday, October 31, 2005

Resources for Nonfiction Reader's Advisory

Katie, of the Young Librarian, pointed to a series of handouts on Reader's Advisory from ALA-RUSA Reader's Advisory Committee. These are very well done, and I think I will be able to make use of them at some point. I am an academic librarian, so I don't do very much RA; however, I do have a high interest in it, and I keep up with various RA sources to stay in shape. The one RA I have done is for a Reading class we offer here on campus. The students usually come in looking for some nonfiction to read. The class is a skills building class, and they have to read various books throughout the year to help improve their reading skills. Since they get a choice, they just come in asking for a book to read. Sometimes they have a topic, sometimes they don't. This gives me a nice opportunity to find and suggest books for them. So the handouts are most welcome. I am sure other librarians out there will find them useful as well.

I read over the handouts, which I printed out for myself as well. The one on "Narrative Nonfiction Appeal Factors" has some good pieces of advice. For political nonfiction, it suggests for the advisor to exercise diplomacy when asking a reader about preferences. After all, no one wants to have a political debate at the RA desk. I like some of the suggested questions to use: "Do you want to explore our current political opinions or explore opposing beliefs?" and "Do you want to explore a particular political issue? From which viewpoint would you like to explore it?" I am sure a good reader's advisor would be able to have variants of these questions in mind when a reader looking for a political book comes in. A good reminder is the one about bias. Librarians are often taught to avoid bias and to always present all sides of an issue. However, when recommending political books, keep in mind that the bias may be a good thing. The handout states that "some readers may want their own beliefs explained and thus affirmed." In a simple way, you the librarian may not like a particular author or his work, but it may just be what the patron wants or needs. I suppose this is where an ability to evaluate a book objectively, well as objective as a human being can be, helps. It may also help if once in a while a librarian reads some of these, specially ones from the opposite side one espouses. I can tell you from having tried it myself that it may not be easy to read a book from a political point of view you do not find agreeable. However, it does help to get some exposure to other ideas. At least, I think so. And no, I am not telling readers which ones, that way I can at least keep a semblance of neutrality. More fun, I can keep readers guessing where I stand on the political fence for a while longer.

Overall, the handout makes for a good and quick overview of the types of nonfiction people read for recreation. The other two handouts on the link are book lists. A librarian can never have enough book lists.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Booknote: Marvel 1602

Title: Marvel 1602
Author: Neil Gaiman; illustrated by Andy Kubert
Publication Information: Marvel Comics, 2005
ISBN: 0785110739
Genre: Fiction/Fantasy
Subgenre: Graphic Novels
Pages: 248

This has been the most engrossing graphic novel I have read in a while. I took it to read a couple of parts before bedtime, and I ended up reading the whole volume until about 2am on a Saturday night; time just flew as I followed the story. Neil Gaiman, the award-winning author known for The Sandman and novels like American Gods, has envisioned the Marvel universe of superheroes four hundred years in the past. The time is Elizabethan England. Sir Nicholas Fury is the Queen's spymaster and Dr. Johnathan Strange is her royal physician. Along the way, readers will meet and recognize various characters from the Marvel universe. They come together in an interesting story of intrigue and mystery. There is a quest to find a mysterious object of great power, and the weather is taking a turn for the worst in what could indicate signs of the end of the world. I am trying my best not to give too many details because I highly recommend this volume, a collection of a series of eight comics. The art is excellent and brings to life the story created by Gaiman. It captures the ambience of 17th century Europe. The volume includes a preface by Peter Sanderson and a script draft with sketches, which I found a nice addition to the volume as well as a nice way to see a bit more of the creative process.

For Marvel fans, this volume is a must-have. For some of them, they may find themselves wishing this or that hero had more "play time," but overall they will enjoy the story. For Gaiman fans, there is no need to be concerned he got away from things like The Sandman. Yes, this is different, but it is still Gaiman. He has taken the Marvel mythos and done something new and unique with it. It is more than just an alternate timeline but a fresh look at the characters and their mythology. Gaiman's ability to explore mythology and tell a good story lives on in this volume. For the casual fantasy reader or occassional comics reader, this volume is a good recommendation as well. While I think fans who know the Marvel universe will be fine, I think the casual readers do not need to be experts in order to appreciate the work. If you are a reader wondering if you should read comics, this may be a good entry work. Overall, I highly recommend it. My edition is the softcover edition; libraries may want to consider buying the hardcover as this looks like it could be a popular volume in terms of circulation.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Booknote: 265 Troubleshooting Strategies for Writing Nonfiction

Title: 265 Strategies for Writing Nonfiction
Author: Barbara Fine Clouse
Publication Information: New York: McGraw-Hill, 2005
ISBN: 0071445390
Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Writing Guides/Handbooks
Pages: 178

This is the type of book a writer can use to get a refresher on writing techniques and on the writing process. It is written in the form of a troubleshooting guide. There is a question or problem, for example "I can't think of the right word" (Chapter 8). The author then provides strategies to solve the problem. This format makes the book easy to read and scan. Readers can read it cover to cover, but I think they can derive more benefit fro mthe book by looking for sections suited to their needs at a given time.

One of the suggestions the author gives is to write on a daily schedule (30). This is not new; other handbooks say it. It stuck with me because I am terrible that way. I write when I feel the need, which is often daily, or every other day. It is never at the same time. Part of me always feels guilty about this: I am a writer, yet I can't disciplined enough to get a work schedule when it comes to writing? Well, I think in my case, my writing gets done on flex time. I will say that since I started blogging I feel a greater need to write, and my writing has gotten a bit more regular. I still use my journal, though a little less because I save drafts in the blogging system's cue. I still write a good share of stuff by hand and use the journal for the more personal things. I learned that you have to find what works for you. Flex time works for me.

Since the book's focus is on nonfiction, the book may be helpful to writers who blog as well given that much of blogging is nonfiction. It offers good ideas that can help bloggers improve their posts. I like the book because it is simple and clear in its style and content. You look up your topic and find what you need written in a good and friendly style. The section on editing is good for a quick grammar refresher. For students of wrtiting and for practicing writers, this is a good book.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Keeping up with the biblioblogosphere

(Cross posted at the Itinerant Librarian blog)

The 12th edition of the Carnival of the Infosciences is now available at Frequently Asked Questions. Also, This Week in LibraryBlogland for the week of October 23rd, a weekly featured by Bentley presented in LIS News, is also up. These are both excellent sources to keep up on thinking and conversations in the biblioblogosphere, so go take a look.

A bit more on blogs and usability

Mark Lindner, of . . .the thoughts are broken, has written his thoughts on the Jakob Nielsen article. I wrote my own here. I think Mark's post brings forth an interesting question, one that some other bloggers out there may struggle with: do we need or have to separate our private from our public lives? I am sure the Tribble article only added fuel to the fiery question in the minds of many academic bloggers. It is a question I have struggled with myself. On the one hand, I do firmly believe that certain things should stay private. They are my business and no one else's. I am pretty sure Mark would agree to this, though I am also sure he would correct me for taking the liberty to guess if he does not agree. On the other hand, when I chose to create my blogs, I chose to make myself known. It means my public and private lives cross somewhat. I can be googled now, and people will likely find a good deal of stuff about me. I still try to be very careful about what may go online, since you never know who is out there seeking. At any rate, I think the struggle for some comes in deciding how and where to let those lines of a public life and a private life to cross. As a writer, I think we always bring a part of ourselves to what we create. An anonymous blogger may bring out more of his/her unfettered thoughts, but that blogger still reflects his/her person in the process. These are just a few thoughts on something I think now and then, and they are definitely a work in progress.

I went with the path of a second blog, but in my case, that just reflects the fact that I have a few "random" thoughts and interests. For example, last month I posted a quiz or two, went to a festival, read about Cognac and lesbians (not in the same post), and a few other things. My second blog is my place to indulge the urge to go unconventional now and then. I wanted this blog to be my professional development/librarianship blog. The second one is my "whatever else strikes my fancy, I got to say something out of bounds" blog. Two sides of me? Not really, maybe different moods. Hey, I learn a few things, reflect on my practice and trade, and have some fun as well. It sounds like a great reason to have a blog or two.

I loved Pharyngula's line about worrying over your future boss when you blog. Mark shares the line. I think it is so good it deserves to be posted here as well. The line is:

"This is his worst suggestion of them all: muzzle yourself now in preparation for your future corporate overlords. Screw that, bozo."

I think I could not have said it better myself. By the way, I pointed to Pharyngula's blog, written by P.Z. Myers in my earlier post, but if you have not seen it, it is worth a look.

On classic hits? Hmm, not sure about that. I have not been around long enough to compile "Gypsy Librarian's Greatest Hits" or "Itinerant Hits from an Unconventional Librarian." (Catchy titles, huh? No? Oh well). I did read someplace else, and I have to look it up, that revisiting older posts now and then is a nice way to reflect on your writing as well as give you ideas for content. So, in that sense, maybe you don't want your classics too buried. Then again, for the blogger, that is what search tools are for. Just another thought.

I am getting the impression the Nielsen piece will get some wheels turning for folks, so I will be looking at the biblioblogosphere and beyond to see what pops up. I think librarians, and writers as a whole, are too rebellious to be bound by a set of rules.

P.S. I came across a response by Jenne, of Redhaired Librarian, to Nielsen. It is well worth a look as well for another point of view. I got it through LIS News and its feature This Week in Library Blogland.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Dealing with Online Misinformation

I got this article through Mr. Lorenzen's blog, Information Literacy Land of Confusion. It is an article discussing the problem of misinformation on the World Wide Web and about who should be teaching Web evaluation skills. As many educators know, the World Wide Web contains great resources, but it is also full of hoaxes, bad information, and a good share of junk. As I often tell my students, anyone with access to the Internet can post anything, and no one is looking over the quality of what they post. The article's citation is as follows, and it is available online:

Levine, Peter. "The Problem of Online Misinformation and the Role of Schools." SIMILE: Studies in Media and Information Literacy Education. 5.1 (February 2005).

The article's author observes that misinformation is not a new phenomenom. Some materials are unreliable. In addition, governments and other institutions have misled deliberately at times. Mistakes are possible. According to the author, "however, the problem took a new form when millions of people were able to publish material on the Internet for public consumption." As a result, it is more difficult to judge information, even for professionals like librarians.

The author points out that Web users can often be exposed to manipulation. They may believe arguments on a Web site due to the amount of arguments presented rather than the actual quality. Or users may see audience support as an endorsement and sign of quality. For this, all a website has to do is manipulate a counter to project a perception of audience support. These are some of the problems users may face, and problems educators have to solve. One response from educators and information literacy experts has been the creation of standards. However, these standards are not easy given that users often face information overload and anxiety.

The article goes on to ask if schools should take a leading role in teaching how to evaluate online information. One argument in favor of this is that it is practical to teach better ways of evaluating online information. It is in our best interest to educate students on these issues so they can make better and more informed decisions. Schools and their libraries are in a good position to do so according to the article.

The article points out the reasons to teach information literacy skills, and it also presents the objections. One objection is that teaching such is a difficult task. Evaluating information sources is not an easy set of skills. Some teachers may not be prepared to do it. However, the author concludes that schools will play a role in this. The author also adds that librarians will be needed. Additionally, he calls for reliable Web portals sponsored by the government. I personally am not sure about that last suggestion, but I am sure librarians can and do work to educate users on information literacy. The article looks at schools, but it would be of interest to academic librarians as well.

Adding a little more for readers, the Resource Shelf recently featured a post on Urban Legends Reference. It provides an excellent list of sites to use when checking for hoaxes and urban legends, a nice contribution to dispelling misinformation on the Web.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Not that I am selling or anything

Through Pharyngula, a link to test to see how much is your blog worth. Being someone of curious mind, I could not resist. I think they may have been generous in their calculations, or they saw something I did not see. If I am reading their information right, they are using information from Technorati results to determine linking and conversations. The creator of the calculator was inspired by the recent AOL purchase of Weblogs, Inc. Anyhow, here is my result. It was a fun little calculation. Readers should not worry, I am not leaving my day job (haha):

My blog is worth $6,774.48.
How much is your blog worth?

Friday, October 21, 2005

Review Article on Recent Books about Hugo Chávez

Citation for the review:

Guillermoprieto, Alma. "Don't Cry for Me, Venezuela." The New York Review of Books. 52.15 (October 6, 2005): 26-29.

This is a review of four recent books on Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. Two of the books discussed are in Spanish. The article provides a good and brief overview of the Venezuelan leader, and it can be a starting point for anyone wanting to get a quick briefing about the man. Readers can also learn a little about recent Venezuelan history and politics. Chávez is presented as a man of contradictions: sometimes capitalist, other times seeing capitalism as "el demonio" (the demon), as welcoming private investment, but leaving little room for opposition (28). Yet Chávez has launched large social and educational programs while enjoying very high approval in his country. For readers in the United States, regardless of their politics, it may be wise to remember that the U.S. does import about 15% of its oil from Venezuela, so it may be wise to learn a little about the country and its leader. Since I do selection for books in Spanish, I will be ordering the two books, and passing a note to the history and political science specialist to consider the other two. If and when I look them over, readers can find notes on the books here as well.

Update note: (10/22/05): I just realized it may help if I put the information for the books the article mentions, so here goes. The information is as the article provided it:

Aleida Guevara. Chávez: Un Hombre Que Anda Por Ahí: Una Entrevista con Hugo Chávez, published by Ocean Press.

Cristina Marcano and Alberto Barrera Tyszka. Hugo Chávez Sin Uniforme: Una Historia Personal, published by Random House Mondadori (Caracas).

Richard Gott. Hugo Chávez: The Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela.

Colette Caprile. La Revolución Como Espéctaculo, published by Random House Mondadori (Caracas).

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Blogs and usability

I came across this on Joy Moll's Wandering of a Student Librarian where she comments on Jakob Nielsen's "Weblog Usability The Top Ten Design Mistakes." Mr. Nielsen argues that usability becomes important when you are trying to reach new readers; however, it is not as important for blogs that are more of a diary/personal log/family document item. I had an issue with the first suggestion of having an about page and identifying the author by name and a photograph. In principle, this seems like a good and professional idea, but after seeing some of the debate on the web about whether to be named or not on a blog, I cannot say with confidence that this is for everyone. A lot of readers simply have to read Ivan Tribble's column to know that identifying yourself on a blog is more than a mere usability issue. Mr. Nielsen says that it is a matter of trust and that anonymous blogs get less credence. This I think is a "maybe" issue. Maybe I trust them, maybe I don't. It would depend on what they write about and how they write it. Readers may want to know more, but it does not mean that the author has to give it to them. In my personal experience, I have made the choice to identify myself on my blog and to give enough information so people know what it is I do and what credentials I have. However, this is my professional blog, the blog I use for librarianship related issues; I see it as part of my work and professional development. It is also personal in the sense it is not affiliated in any way to my place of work. In my second blog, the personal one, I have also chosen to identify myself, but that has more to do with my philosophy that I am willing to stand by what I write. These are choices I made, and there is the point: blogging is about choices. I can see various cases where anonimity in blogging may be desirable, so I don't think just because a blog is anonymous it makes it a lesser blog. On the contrary, many fine blogs are anonymous. Other thoughts on Mr. Nielsen's article:

  • On photos: I am not one of those who likes to have their photo taken. Not to mention I am not photogenic. No, I am not a troll. I think at this point, I would rather be judged by what I write and do than by what I look like. If a reader needs to have my photo to feel they can trust me, maybe they need to be reading a different blog. Does this mean I won't ever put a photo of myself up? No, but I would not hold my breath if I were you. I think this is a privacy choice.
  • Titles for posts: That is one I struggle with. I do try to make my titles as useful and informative as possible. In that area, I think I do pretty well.
  • On links: I have to agree with Nielsen there. There is nothing that I find more rude or irritating than the person who puts "here" and "here" for links. Tell me what the link is or at least give a hint in the text of what I will see. If not, I am one to just skip since I don't like just taking a chance on some unlabeled link. As for linking to other people, I don't always do the top level. I will always link to where I got something. In other words, like in this post, I have a link to Joy's post. I don't always put the extra top level link. I often figure if people want to see the rest, they are smart enough to find the main page link on a blog to get to the top. Again, this may be something I need to rethink or try to be consistent about.
  • Irregular publishing: I happen to think that a blog should be updated with some regularity. I don't expect daily personally, but at least once or twice a week. For the curious, Gypsy Librarian is on a 3 posts a week schedule; Itinerant Librarian is on one post a week. That is the busy semester schedule. If I find something extra to post, that is a bonus. Again, however, that is my choice to make. At any rate, P.Z. Myers of Pharyngula points out in his own critique of Nielsen: "That's what RSS is for, to pick up articles as they are published." Pharyngula's response is well worth a look.
  • Mixing topics: Hey, I am not a specialist when it comes to blogging. Nielsen suggests that narrow focusing will make for more influence. I guess in that case, I am not influencing very much since I do some mixing. Readers can see my interests in the "about" section and on the little note on top of my blogs. I can guarantee this blog is mostly for librarian-related items. My other blog? Pretty much anything is fair game, which is what I made it for. Besides, fame and glory are not what I was looking for. I leave that to the big folks of wider readership.
  • The one about writing to a future boss. I agree with the part of making a good impression, but I think it is a matter of personal pride. If a potential employer in the future sees this, I hope they get a positive impression of what I do and who I am. I hope employers are not as petty as Ivan Tribble (see above). Then again, if I come across an Ivan Tribble clone, I know I don't want to be working for them. I have opinions, thoughts, and ideas, and I am happy to express them. If some potential employer can't handle it, I am sure someone else will welcome me.
  • Domain name? Not on my budget, but maybe someday. As for categories, not on Blogger. Again, when I really feel a need, it will be the time to move on.
The article is well worth reading; it has a couple of good ideas. However, it does come across as awfully prescriptive. Nielsen also links to other articles on general website usability which are of interest as well.

Joy in her post mentions the need to write full names. As you can see, I don't do that after the first reference to someone in a post. I am not too convinced over doing that. I assume using the full name the first time is ok, and then using first name or last name is fine? Ego feeds are something I don't particularly give a hoot about, and I guess that those who do it get their "jollies" from seeing their names on big blogs anyhow, so if I am not consistent on it I don't think it is a biggie. The one thing I always do is write out the name of someone's blog. So, on opening, I put full name and the blog name. You have to give credit when it is due. One thing may be for blogs where there is no author name or part of a name. Does that matter to the ego feeding people? I just put my first name on mine because I want people to know me that way, but my full name is no secret. Just go to my library's website (it's on the links) and get the staff list. I think overall the idea of the guidelines is to provide some consistency, but I am not sure how much you can actually prescribe on a medium as blogging. And who is to say the blogosphere cannot be like high school? If anything, some areas of the blogosphere are very much like a high school clique. Not librarians. These folks are usually a pretty welcoming and open bunch. But I have observed that they do use first names quite a bit on their posts. I mean, you know who Jessamyn (Charity West, of, Joy (Moll, of Wanderings of a Student Librarian), and Meredith (Farkas, of Information Wants to be Free) are if you are a regular navigator in the biblioblogosphere (these three individuals are just examples; there are many others I could have named). The biblioblogosphere knows who they are by now, so you see other bloggers linking often by just making their name the link. Does it mean it is like high school? I don't think so. Those folks are excellent writers for one. I have to agree with Joy that there is "casual, breezy aspect of the librarian's corner of the blogosphere." I know I like that.

On a final thought, Sharon Howard of Early Modern Notes, has a response as well to the Nielsen piece. I found her through Pharyngula's blog. She has a very nice statement, which I find expresses what I think well, I would like to quote to end my piece:

"Good bloggers do what feels right for them rather than following Commandments laid down by authority figures. They develop a distinctive style and voice. They write about what interests them. (They don’t expect every reader to find every post equally riveting.) And they have fun."

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Booknote: Hanging out with the Dream King

Title: Hanging out with the Dream King: Conversations with Neil Gaiman and his Collaborators
Author: Joseph McCabe, editor
Publication Information: Seattle, WA: Fantagraphics, 2004
ISBN: 1560976179
Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Interviews
Pages: 297

This is a collection of interviews with people who have collaborated with Neil Gaiman. The book opens and closes with interviews of Neil Gaiman, which serve to provide a frame to the rest of the book. Among the people included are Dave McKean, Kim Newman, Mike Dringenberg, Tori Amos, Alice Cooper, and Yoshitaka Amano. Since Gaiman is known for The Sandman, many of the interviews discuss this particular work and its characters. However, the subjects also include what it's like working with Gaiman, discussions about the comics and graphic novels trade and techniques. The illustrators talk about their craft, and the writers discuss their ideas and art. Many of these people know each other, which adds to the interest when they talk about each other as well as about Gaiman. Fans of Neil Gaiman's work will definitely want to read this book. Fans of comics and graphic novels will enjoy it as well. Also, readers wanting to learn a little about the work of these artists will find the book enjoyable. For many readers, they may feel the desire to get a copy of The Sandman or one of the many other works by Gaiman. In my case, I grabbed myself a copy of Marvel 1602. Stay tuned for the note on that later.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Carnival of the Infosciences 11 is up.

(Cross posted at the Itinerant Librarian blog)

The Carnival of the Infosciences, 11th edition, is up at Christina's LIS Rant. Find some interesting reading and get details for how to submit to the next one over at Frequently Asked Questions.

On gatekeeping and other questions

This was prompted by another librarian blogger who recently read Mr. Walt Crawford's recent edition of Cites and Insights. Mark Lindner, of . . . the thoughts are broken, takes a look at some of the questions that Mr. Crawford poses. I initially was going to leave a comment at Mark's blog, but as I found myself making some notes in response, the comment became a bit longer. Taking notes often is a sign that one actually wants to write more than just a comment, so here go some of my thoughts in the hope of continuing the conversation.

I did read Walt's article and the parts that Mark refers to. I will admit that at the time I did not give it much thought in the sense I went on to read other things. Maybe a part of me also had the feeling someone else would pick up on it, and I would not have to write about it. In that regard, it seems I was right. It also seems I ended up writing about it anyhow. Mark poses an interesting question in regards to the "widely read library bloggers." He observes that "most of them write short posts often, or mainly, linking to other items." I wonder if that is a symptom of widely read bloggers in pretty much every field. Political blogs are a fine example of this. The "widely read" (dare I use the label "A-list"? Guess I just did) in politics seem to be nothing more than collections of links. I have found that if I want some good content in that regard, I have to dig for it and look for the less trodden paths. There is nothing wrong with providing links for others to look at. However, I suppose that I like some content, some thought, something to ponder much like Mark does. Some of the "widely read" in our field have become link collections. Mark mentions that he is wresting with the idea of removing his "widely read" bloggers from his aggregator. I am not quite ready to take that step yet. But as I look at my roll on Bloglines, I notice that I have a large share of "smaller" folk (there is a bad label for you, as if the size or readership mattered when it comes to the quality of the content) in my aggregator. As of late, I notice that they tend to have more of what I find to be interesting.

On the topic of gatekeepers, do we have to be gatekeepers? Sure, I like the idea of opening doors; I do it almost every day. But for me, I open those door leaving it up to the patrons to walk through or not. I think I like the idea better of a bridge builder, someone who builds bridges so others can cross and get to their destination.

On the question of "do you really want to know what some array of strangers concluded about an article—or do you want to be guided by a handful of "trusted strangers," the bloggers you believe offer good advice (5)?" (This comes from Cites and Insights). I will have to side with wanting to be guide by the handful that I trust. I think this is a bit of common sense, but it is also something that is part of our profession. We often tell students and patrons to evaluate sources and to choose the best sources to meet their needs. Librarians do this for a living, so it would be contrary to what we do if we just took the word of just anyone without some verification. It has to be noted that trust is something that is earned. Actions, in my case at least, speak very loudly and clearly. So, if someone has proven to provide good insights on a topic consistently, given thoughtful analysis and guidance, that is where I am placing my trust. Does that make me elitist? I don't think so, but if some people see it that way, so be it. I don't see myself morally superior in the sense Mr. Crawford may suggest. It is my choice, an informed one I hope.

From Mark's post, I also like how he explains what he hopes from the "widely read." He makes the clear distinction from expectations. I have to agree to the extent that they are bloggers, and bloggers will always do whatever they want to do. It is the ability to roam and wander as one pleases that makes blogging what it is. Expectations, like bets, are off. Having said that, maybe what I will say next may sound quaint, old fashioned, or even idealistic. I come from the "Uncle Ben School of Thought" where you learn that "with great power comes great responsibility." If you have a gift, a power, an ability, you should make the best use of it. I could go on, but I was never one to preach too much. I am starting to get self-conscious writing this. All I know is, at least for now, I had someone inspire me to be a librarian. Some day it will be my turn to do it for someone else, and thus I will have repaid the faith placed in me. That's just me though. Maybe my hopes are a bit higher that those who have so many ears tuned to them would do more. Yes, I know a lot of them do plenty, and that is admirable, something to look up to. Yet I think Mark brings up an interesting idea in hoping for a little more. Just a thought.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

English Spanish Glossary for Higher Education

Through the Resource Shelf, a link to an English-Spanish glossary of terms. It applies mostly to higher education and financial aid, so administrators in those areas would find it useful to use for making documents and keeping the language consistent. I know I have seen some terribly translated documents in my time, so this is just a little bit of help I am passing along. The authors note that the glossary uses standard Spanish, avoiding anglicisms and Spanglish. The document is a PDF file. If you need to, you can download Adobe Reader to view it.

Happy Dictionary Day

(Cross-posted at the Itinerant Librarian blog)

From, Jessamyn's blog, a note that today is Dictionary Day. Dictionary Day is a a celebration of Noah Webster's birthday; he was born in 1758. I am sure a few people in their younger days got told by an adult when asking about a word, "go ask Mr. Webster." The link to Dictionary Day goes to a press release from Oxford University Press that gives some suggestions on how to celebrate. Jessamyn is celebrating by subscribing to a podcast. Me? I am at work today, so I will be celebrating by doing what I do best: helping patrons and meeting their information needs, which may include pointing them to a good dictionary.

Friday, October 14, 2005

A note to a patron with an objection

Michael McGrorty, of Library Dust, gave an "exam" after Banned Books Week. The prompt, in essence, is to write a note to a patron that objects to some materials in the library. The example McGrorty provides is a fotonovela. To that end, I would be tempted to reply as Amy did in part of her reply. She made her reply in a comment to McGrorty's post. Amy wrote, "I promise that we have something in our collection to offend everyone. If we did not, then I believe we would not be doing our job." By itself, the quote may sound a bit snappy; I like its playfulness and truthfulness since every library is likely to have something to offend someone. However, she did write a very thoughtful reply as a whole. I happen to agree with the quote, and it would be my initial reply. Yet, I will curb my enthusiasm a little. Here then is a reply I might draft if I was in the situation McGrorty suggests. The prompt would assume that the branch manager of the local library would be required to write such a note. This is probably as close as I will get to playing manager:

Dear Madam:

In regards to your phone call of October __ about the fotonovela El Chacal de Coyoacán, the library is grateful for your interest in our collection. We appreciate your concern.

In terms of what we buy and place on our shelves, the ______ County Public Library has adopted the Library Bill of Rights of the American Library Association. The Library Bill of Rights is a document that the library has adopted to ensure good service and to allow our visitors and patrons to exercise freedom in choosing what to read. In addition, the library maintains a collection development policy of collecting works and materials that meet the needs and interests of our diverse community. This includes providing materials that present a diversity of viewpoints and perspectives. It also means that the library does not exclude materials on the basis of origin, background, or views of the authors or creators of the materials. The Library Bill of Rights and the collection development policy are available to the public through our Web site, or you can request a copy at the library.

We would like to reassure you that we take any concerns from our patrons very seriously. The library always encourages parents to visit with their children and to share with them their reading choices. We are grateful that you have expressed your concern and interest. While at times the library collects items that a particular person may disagree with or find objectionable, the library's mission is to serve all the taxpayers of _____ County. The librarians are always available to provide suggestions and assistance to patrons in finding materials appropriate to their needs. Reading lists for all ages are available, and our librarians enjoy sharing advice and suggestions. Parents know what is best for their children, and the library is happy to assist you in locating any materials appropriate to your interests and needs.

We hope to greet your son and you soon, and we look forward to assisting your son and you to find books that are enjoyable as well as interesting. If you have any further questions or concerns, please contact any of the librarians. Thank you for your interest and concern in our community library.


. . .

I did consider if should have added a note about having an appeals procedure of some kind the patron might use. However, at this time I chose not to, but it could be something to suggest if this patron chose to extend her objection. At the moment, I think more in terms of the patron needs to be acknowledged and taken seriously, which I have done by explaining our procedures and more importantly, gently pointed out her parental duties. I did not provide links above to things like the ALA Library Bill of Rights since a note would not have links. However, it was done by electronic mail, links would be possible. I assumed this would be a formal note in writing.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Feed Readers Not Easy For Visually Impaired Users

Through The Blog Herald, a story on a report by the American Foundation for the Blind. The report finds that feed readers can be challenging to use for the blind and visually impaired. If you go to the article, there is a nice summary of the findings. The report evaluated various feed readers, and it found Bloglines and Newsgator to be the most screen reader friendly using JAWS, "an assistive technology product that reads the text and images on a computer screen." If readers go to the full report, they will also find information on how to make blogs accessible for people with vision loss and the evaluation of the feed readers. One obstacle, which is one thing that did not even occur to me, is the fact that many services require use of captcha's (those little wiggly letters you have to retype to verify you are a human) for registrations; I use that here for my comments, and so do a lot of people. This little tool that can cut on the spam can be an obstacle for tools like JAWS cannot read them. It does make me wonder if there could be down the road a better way to reduce the spam without alienating some readers.

On the need for librarians to stay current

Through Steven Cohen's Library Stuff, a link to an article by Peter Jacso entitled "Informed and Underinformed Librarians." I get the feeling this may get some people in the biblioblogosphere talking down the road. I think Dr. Jacso, an LIS Professor at the University of Hawaii, makes some excellent points about the need for librarians to stay current and informed, but I also think he may be laying it a little thick when it comes to the use of free resources like Google on the part of librarians. I can just see those librarians out there who swear by tools like Google and Wikipedia getting their feathers ruffled. I think what I agree with is the idea of the embracing of a "feel-good" rather than a "learn-good" attitude. I can relate to this because I have often seen it in the field of education where teachers and others worry more about little Johnny or Jane feeling good rather than actually learning something. In that regard, it is not different from what Dr. Jacso suggests. Where I beg to disagree with the article is that a librarian using Google is not just being lazy or just going the easy route. At times, there are moments when just googling something is more efficient and will get you what you need. Many librarians who do keep up are often looking for better ways to make Google and other search tools more efficient. Yes, libraries have a wide array of tools on subscription that represent very high quality, but at times they do not have what you may need. I can give you a perfect example.

I have some classes on Business and Technical Writing that have to write feasibility reports, usually on very local topics like setting up a daycare center on the campus, solving the campus parking situation, or often something about their apartment community or workplace. Some of the information can be searched on places like Academic Search Premier or Lexis-Nexis. Lexis-Nexis can be good for college student topics because it picks up campus newspapers, so the approach is one of showing them that their issue is not just local, and thus they can gather information from outside the locality. However, there are some things where they just have to look up stuff about the city or the county, and they are often things that are not covered by the subscription based databases. These items have to searched on a search engine. Sure, some things like government information you can find on something like FirstGov, but that is still a, say it with me, free website. For municipal items, and sometimes they need to look at things like local ordinances, it takes some internet digging. I am still waiting for the subscription-based resource sitting under my nose, as Dr. Jacso suggests, that will pick up such localized government documents. Here is the actual quote from Dr. Jacso to provide the context:

"It is enough of a concern that the public turns to Google for everything. It is more of a concern when underinformed librarians do so, instead of using the resources under their nose, (and informing their patrons about them) which are much better for answering the question, and which the libraries and often the taxpayers pay for."
I can certainly see his point, but it is not so black and white. I agree that there are some very uninformed librarians. But I will also suggest that there are some very savvy and informed librarians who keep up with various things through workshops, reading in the literature, and so on who know when to go outside the garden of the subscription resources. It seems to me Dr. Jacso either forgets these informed librarians or lumps them with the uninformed. Do I think it is of some concern that people turn to Google right away for just about everything? Yes, and that could be the topic of a few posts. Do I think that this means we should exclude it or assume right away it is bad? No. If anything, what we can and should be doing is educating people on how to make better use of sources like Google AND we should be informing and educating patrons about the resources the library does maintain and pay for on behalf of the patrons. For some consolation, Dr. Jacso does offer some names of people who "know equally well the free resources and the subscription-based ones" and publish and educate others. To which I say great; I am sure they are indeed great librarians and information professionals. However, he makes this mention at the end of the article by which time he has pretty much denigrated everyone else, and it comes off sounding like "there are some good people out there, count them, but everyone else who uses free resources, informed or otherwise, is less than (insert your denigratory term here)." There are no actual denigratory terms, like "dinosaur," which I have heard used, but the tone of the article has the same effect.

So, on the one hand, I absolutely agree. If you became a librarian, it is your job, your duty, to stay informed and up-to-date on the best of information resources. You should be well read; you should attend workshops and conferences when you can and budget allows (something Dr. Jacso fails to mention, that not everyone can afford to be travelling all over for workshops); and you should continually practice on your search skills. On the other hand, while I think that Google and Wikipedia are certainly not panaceas, they can have their uses. They are not perfect, but a good librarian can tell you that because they have used them and thus know what the imperfections are. Maybe the article made me think a bit more than I would usually on this topic, but all I have to do is look at some of my students and their assignments to know the databases we pay for are not going to answer their need. Am I supposed to tell them, sorry, we don't have it because it would mean having to go on Google? Or would I prefer to use a search engine or directory to find what they need, help them evaluate it and make the best use of it? I am opting for the later.

On a final thought, Mr. Cohen notes that Dr. Jacso does not seem to address the fact that librarians need to choose to stay current. Mr. Cohen writes, "We can't force our colleagues to stay current. What we need to do educate librarians and librarians-to-be on the value of staying current. A mandatory course in library school comes to mind." This is very much true. I know that I choose to stay current to the best of my abilities. Reading through blogs like Mr. Cohen's is just one small way I do so. I also read on the literature and do other things in the ever going quest to stay informed and current. It is an active choice, and no one can make it for you. I am not sure a mandatory course would do the trick since you have to choose to continue your professional growth after graduate school. The course can plant the seed to teach new librarians about this need, but then they have to choose it once they leave library school. It is a discipline and an ethic as much as a choice. It works best when you make the choice because you actually believe it is the best for you as a professional, not because someone forces you. Then again, having some kind of incentive in the workplace to keep up, from time to actually read up while at work to much better support for travel and continuing education, can certainly not hurt. At any rate, the article is worth reading, and I will be looking to see if it does spark conversation.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

What I do as a librarian? Part Three

If you made it this far, thanks for reading. If not, go catch up on Parts One and Two of "What I do as a librarian?"

In addition to instruction and reference, I also work as a subject specialist and do collection development. My area of specialization is Arts and Humanities. For comparison, in a large institution, a specialist would likely focus on an area like Spanish Language and Literature or Performing Arts. I do those two and a few more. I was very lucky that I got the assignment. Sometimes collection development assignments boil down to giving the new guy or gal whatever is free or whatever no one else wants to do. I work in an area that gives me a lot of flexibility in terms of what I can order and promote for the collection. I mentioned ordering. One of the tasks of collection development is to buy the books for your collection. I happen to enjoy the idea very much of getting money to spend on buying stuff. Could I use more money? You bet, but I am not complaining. Every librarian can likely say the same thing. However, it is not just buying. You actually select materials to support your collection. In academia, it means supporting the academic programs. So, I have to get materials to support programs in Arts and Humanities. In addition, I do buy some stuff for more popular uses, such as some recreational reading items. For instance, I am working on expanding our Spanish language holdings. I purchase both academic monographs and some popular literature. Notice I said some. The types of popular literature a public library would acquire I probably would not buy. They do not support our programs and are not what our patrons want or expect. A librarian learns to order and develop their collection based on the needs of their community. However, the task also involves good judgment on the part of the librarian as they are entrusted with making good choices. In an academic setting, faculty often have a say on how to develop the collection. Some places have committees for subjects, others let faculty just place orders directly. Others the subject librarian does all the ordering. In my case, I do the ordering, but I do send CHOICE book review cards to faculty for them to review and make recommendations. When they return them, I look them over and place orders. Given budget is not infinite, they are asked to rank items by preference (get it right away, get it if there is money left, don't get it). I try to be fairly responsive. Unless they ask for something unreasonable, as in a book over one hundred dollars or more or some rare manuscript no one but them would use, I usually order what they ask for along with what I usually get. As I said, this process can vary from place to place. Some places are very structured, others more relaxed. Overall, if you become an academic librarian, odds may be good you may do some collection development. The likelihood is higher in a smaller campus. Large universities usually have specific specialists, often with doctorates in a subject. In fact, some librarians get hired to be subject specialists and may not do reference other than within their subject area. For instance, the philosophy specialist may do instruction for graduate philosophy classes and work with the faculty in that department, but they may or not be working at a general reference desk. This does vary from place to place. I am just giving a picture of what I do as a librarian who wears various hats, and use my experience from my time at a research university and some knowledge from colleagues to provide a balance.

In addition to ordering, I also do weeding. This is removing items from the collection, usually due to the items being out of date, no longer suited to the collection (for example, they supported a program we no longer have), or the condition is poor and need replacement. Furthermore, being the Arts and Humanities Librarian means I work with those faculty members. I am their library contact person. If they need a research consultation, I provide it. If they want a session in the library for their students, I provide it. I make myself available to their students.

Another part of my role, one not necessarily on my official job description, but one that is very slowly growing is the role of outreach to the campus. I have worked with various campus programs when a library presence may be useful. For instance, I have worked with parents of students from local schools. The kids come on campus for advanced classes in math and science. The program, known as the Saturday Academy, also has a component for the parents where parents can come and learn a variety of computer skills. Their level of knowledge varies from "how do I move the mouse?" to "warp speed ahead." What the coordinator of the program often requests is for me to provide information on relevant topics such as finding online about financial aid for their kids to go to college. I have done topics on health information as well. Often, one of these sessions becomes a consultation. They come in, bring questions, I answer them. This is basic library outreach. Again, some larger places will hire a librarian just to reach out to high schools or other parts of the campus like organizations. Where I came from, we had a multicultural outreach librarian. Her job, in part, was to be a liaison to the various multicultural organizations on campus as well as supporting and implementing diversity initiatives for the library. In my library, the librarians do some of this, but to a large extent, it does fall on the scope of the Instruction Librarian to coordinate some of these efforts. I think it is because I am so visible and so mobile. We often collaborate on outreach initiatives, another nice thing about a small place, you have to collaborate more.

Overall, these are some of the activities and tasks I do. Clearly, I don't do all of them every day; I am sure no librarian does every thing daily. So little skills like time management and organization are necessary. I think for me it is exciting at MPOW because there is growth potential. We recently launched a library blog, and the director, who is also one of the business librarians, just launched a subject blog for the area. In time I may well add a subject blog for my areas. That is another idea for me to work on. Then there is the library newsletter. Doing maintance to my areas of the library's Web page making sure resources we link to are up to date, adding new ones, removing old ones, etc. There are all sorts of things to keep me "off the streets" and a lot of possibilities to work on new things. Again, not all librarians in academia do this. I am sure some do less depending on their focus; others likely do a heck of a lot more. Just take these humble posts as the experience of one librarian. If you are thinking about going for an MLS and joining us, welcome but also ask other librarians as well about their experiences. If in contrast you are saying that there is no way you want to do all that and more, well, I suppose I am glad I helped you discover that as well. Librarianship can be exciting, but it requires flexibility, the ability to adapt and openness to change and new opportunities.

Monday, October 10, 2005

What I do as a librarian? Part Two

Previously, I looked at what I do as a librarian in terms of instruction. My official title of Reference/Instruction Librarian means I do more than just teach.

I am a reference librarian. This means I work at the Information Desk (what we call the "Reference Desk" and some places just call information). I see my job as making life easier for people. I see my job as helping people find the information they need and assist them in making the best use of that information. I empower people. I touch lives (ok, that was a touch of drama, but hey, it is true). Since I am an academic librarian, I work at a university. My primary patrons are college students, followed by faculty. I answer all sorts of questions from quick informational items to longer research questions. Like any other reference librarian, I struggle with issues like how long to work with a patron that has an extended question while there is a line of patrons behind him or her. We have a small computer lab, so I answer some questions related to that. At the moment, we do not have productivity software on our computers, and I happen to think that is great. I know some librarians out there may be thinking I am luddite for saying such. I will clarify that before coming here I used to work at an Information Commons at a large research university. They could afford hundreds of computers, but they could also afford to have technology consultants to answer the "how do I make a Powerpoint?" questions. Where I work now, we have a small staff, so having productivity software would likely mean a burden that at the moment we just are not able to support. In my philosophy, I am all for service, but you better be able to support it fully. No sense offering service in a mediocre way just to have it. Anyways, we have excellent computer labs in other parts of the campus for productivity stuff. What we provide are research terminals (internet access). They do get very heavy use. I will also note we have wireless access, so students can also bring their own laptops, and a good number do.

At the Information Desk, I am very mobile, so I often leave the desk to help students at their computers. I also do reference work over the phone, and we have an "e-mail a librarian" system where patrons can send and e-mail to a librarian to get reference help. These e-mails go to a listserv we keep for the librarians, and then we take turns answering them. Basically, it is whoever sees it first and picks it up. If it is a more specialized question, odds are a subject specialist may answer it. We have advertise a 24 hour turnaround, but usually it is within a few hours tops of being received. I have given consideration to the idea of using IM to do a form of virtual reference. Again, it does boil down to support, but I think that idea is not totally gone. On a personal note, I have given thought to making one of my personal IM usernames public for my students to contact me. I was thinking in terms of being available that way for certain times. I may be ready psychologically (the gung-ho attitude), but I am not sure if I can keep up given my other tasks. For now, another idea to work on. My library is working on implementation of JYBE, so I will let readers know how that goes once the toolbar is in place on our site. JYBE is software that allows users to share internet browsing. The basic form is actually a free download, but we are looking at making a customized toolbar to add to our webpage for patrons to have access to a librarian.

In addition to the Information Desk, I do some research consultations. Most of it relates to students who may have taken a BI class with me, but I do get students who simply show up asking for help. A common observation they make is "my teacher told me to contact you about . . . ." I mentioned some of this when I posted about instruction, but you see, there is the catch. Instruction and reference are closely linked. Every reference librarian, at least every good one, is also an instruction librarian. At the desk or in consultations, they educate and teach. Some of us just happen to be more active in the teaching part. I also do research consultations for faculty members if they request it, whether at our Reference Office or over at their office.

Next, the rest.

Friday, October 07, 2005

What I do as a librarian? Part One

When I started this post, I did not intend it to be a series. However, it has gotten longer as I kept thinking about it, so here is Part One.

The Rambling Librarian has a little series going about what it is librarians do. He is writing to answer the question for some readers, and in the process he provides a service to other readers who may wonder as well. At a couple of points in my short career as a professional librarian (I can't believe I survived my first year. Time sure flies), I have thought about writing a post about what it is I do as an academic librarian. Usually when I was afflicted with this malady, I would simply brush it aside. I would say that I am not the typical academic librarian, whatever typical means. In my case, I often meant typical in the sense that I am not a subject bibliographer at a large and prestigious Research I campus (as classified by Carnegie). There is nothing wrong with that career path. Or I would worry that my director would read the post and have one of two reactions. One, she might think I am bragging or tooting my horn to justify my existence. Two, she might worry over all the stuff I actually do and think I am doing too much stuff. Yes, I know, most directors are not as nice, but I happen to work for people who do check on me if it looks like I am teaching too many sections in a day. Or I would worry that my experience was not as exciting and glamourous as other librarians. In essence, I used every excuse to avoid writing the post. However, after seeing the Rambling Librarian, and the letter from Meredith "to a not-so-young librarian wanna-be Librarian," I figured it was time I gave it a spin. Maybe someone will read this and find it helpful in deciding to become one of us. Maybe, on the other hand, they will run away as fast as they can to do something else. What I can say for sure is that I like what I do. So, what is it I do?

My official title is Reference/Instruction Librarian. It sounds basic and generic enough for an academic librarian, but in reality I do quite a few things. Some labels I could apply to myself are facilitator, coach, service worker (even if some librarians hate such a label), scholar, and coordinator. In seriousness, I better just go through some of my duties, and readers can then go from there.

One, I am the Instruction Librarian. In a large university, this would usually mean that I am part of a little cadre or army of librarians dedicated to teaching bibliographic instruction and other information literacy classes. Large institutions usually have four or five instruction librarians, usually led by an Instruction Coordinator (or a similar title). These are usually reference librarians that focus a bit more on teaching in addition to their reference duties. Some of the larger places may have instructional librarians just focused on undergraduate education, for instance. That would be the "luxurious" side of being an instruction librarian (I wonder how long before some large campus librarian writes to tell me his or her work is anything but a luxury). I mean it is luxurious in the sense they have a department or unit just dedicated to instruction.

Where I work at, I am pretty much the Instruction Unit. I am not saying that to brag. I coordinate the instructional program on my campus. I keep the schedule of classes, and I find librarians to teach the classes. For the most part, I do a lot of teaching. I may coordinate the operation, but I don't have the option to just watch while others teach. I actually teach a large number of the classes we schedule. Personally, I would not have it any other way. I enjoy the interactions with faculty and students, and teaching keeps me in touch with our patrons. When I say teach, I do more than just bibliographic instruction. I also do a fair share of consulting work with students. We are small enough that students can easily find me if they have questions about information needs. Heck, at times they have class questions I have to send them back to the teacher, but I also deal with things like narrowing a topic, coming up with a thesis statement or improving one for better results, coming up with ideas for an assignment, interpreting an assignment when they bring a copy, and so on. I will admit some of what I do borders on the thin line between what I am supposed to do and what I am supposed to send back to the professor. But I am not going to send a student away if I can help them for one. Additionally, I do have a second master's degree (English, with a minor in Spanish education), and I did my bachelor's in education. I think that qualifies me to go a bit beyond the mold. For classes in composition, it helps that I myself have taught composition. Of course, I can do these things because we are small and intimate here. I will add that our students are usually very grateful when they come for help and get it. They also remember you, which means if you see them one semester they may come back for a different class.

The role of Instruction Librarian also means I deal with curriculum work. I prepare classes, and I make available materials for various classes and topics. I make pathfinders and guides as needed on various topics. The other subject librarians make guides and pathfinders as well, but I very often make them in the context of need. I teach a class on a particular topic, and if there is a lot of demand, I make some aide for the students to use. To a very small extent, I do the occassional consultation with fellow librarians on lesson plans, how to cover certain topics, presentation tricks and techniques, so on. Now and then I also work with faculty to help with some lesson plans or provide supplementary materials for their classes related to research. This would be something I wish I could do more given the various "not-so-well-designed" library assignments I see from students who come to the Information Desk. When that happens, I usually have to end up doing a little extra interpreting. Some of the materials I have made have been placed on the library's website, but I think that is one area that needs work. So down the road this is something to work on. Another idea I have been spinning on my head the last few days was creating another blog, this one for library instruction purposes, hopefully for students and faculty. Now, some readers may ask why not do it on one of the blogs I already have? Well, this is my professional blog; it is more for me to explore various things about the profession and other selected topics (I think the focus here is more academic, but even that may be fluent), including things about instruction and information literacy, but it is meant as a tool for me to reflect. My other blog is my personal blog, a.ka. place to put what does not go here. What I envision for that other new blog is more a way to provide tools, handouts, materials, ideas for better searching, etc. In other words, more of a pedagogy and practical tool. Hmm, who knows. It might work better as a wiki. At this point, it is just a small idea, and I have more pressing things to do. I think some people would say that instructional librarians are a form of a trainer. Well, if you are just thinking trainer as a corporate trainer, that is not even close. I hope readers can see I do a bit more than "training."

Next, the "other stuff."

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Students, Searching, and Googling

This is the third and final post on the series of articles from the Spring 2005 issue of Library Trends. The citation is:

Griffiths, Jillian R. and Peter Brophy. "Student Searching Behavior and the Web: Academic Resources and Google." Library Trends 53.4 (Spring 2005): 539-554.

This article seems to go well along with Ebersole's article, so I went on reading. It is a report of studies on search engine use in the United Kingdom. Like many academic articles, this one opens with a literature review that looks at recent research on search engine usage. This section discusses limitations of previous studies as well as topics that have been investigated wich as student populations and searching.

Next, the article looks at the results of the studies that the authors are presenting. Among the findings, the authors note that search engines dominate how students seek information. One of the initial findings is that "45 percent of students used Google as their first port of call when locating information" (545). The study also found that use is low by students when it comes to academic resources. In my humble experience, this just confirms what I know and see already. If I needed further evidence, as I sit at the Information Desk drafting the notes that will become this post (earlier in the week), a student just told her classmate, "I just went to Yahoo! and there it was." I have no idea what "it" was, and I know this is strictly anecdotal, but it is an interesting piece of timing. However, I know from teaching experience that encouraging students to use academic resources like databases is not easy. Many articles and blogs posts show concern over this. It will be one thing that will keep librarians like me working. I do find reassurance in the fact that once you show students how a database provides quality results, they will go back to it the next time. This is just an observation from experience; I wonder if some librarian out there has tried to validate it somehow.

In their conclusion, the authors summarize what they learned:

  • Students prefer to locate information or resources via search engines.
  • Students' use of academic resources is low.
  • Students find it difficult to locate information and resources.
  • Students may trade quality of results for effort and time spent searching.
  • Students' use of SEs now influences their perceptions and expectations of other electronic resources (550).
I think a search on Technorati or a similar tool on OPACs and students will likely find many blog posts from librarians discussing how OPACs should or not be like search engines to satisfy students. Just as a note, I just did a very quick search, which I am sure other readers can tweak to find more relevant results. As for the other findings, I would like to remain hopeful. Maybe it is because I am a librarian and an educator, so I believe in the power of showing others how to do things, of making things easier when I can. It takes some work, some gentle nurturing, and maybe some extra marketing and promotion. At any rate, this is a good article to look over.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Visit the Carnival of the Infosciences

(Cross posted at the Itinerant Librarian blog)

On the "file under public service announcements," I urge readers out there in library and information sciences (or just anyone who wants to know more about libraries and what librarians do) to visit the Carnival of the Infosciences, now in its 9th edition and hosted this week by Mr. Mark Lindner over at the thoughts are broken. The Carnival of the Infosciences is the brain child of Greg over at Open Stacks, who provides details on how to submit as well as a schedule of where the Carnival will be stopping next. The idea for this great service is to get library and information professionals to submit their blog posts "related to the myriad of topics that fall under the Library and Information Science umbrella." It is modelled and inspired by the myriad of other blog carnivals on the blogosphere. For readers who may not be sure what a carnival is, it is basically a place that gathers the best of the blogosphere on a given topic. These gatherings are usually done by a blogger, but they can also be collaborative works like the Carnival of the Infosciences where submissions are welcomed and encouraged. Often, in collaborative ones, the host (editor or moderator) will add his or her choices as well. I tend to find blog carnivals to be excellent resources to keep up on what is good in the blogosphere, to provide great examples of good writing, and to be a nice place to find ideas for my own writing. The Carnival of the Infosciences is no exception. It always features great writers, and they always provide great food for thought.

For the Carnival of the Infosciences, writers are encouraged to provide original thoughts and opinion rather than repetition or listing. So, bloggers out there, if you have a really good post that fits the Carnival's scope, or even if it is not perfect but rather a work in progress that can foster some conversations, go right ahead and submit it. In terms of submitting, the way it works you would submit your posts to the host for a given week. Details are on the links. Jane at A Wandering Eyre will be hosting the 10th edition. I understand they are looking for future hosts, so if you are a little brave and want to help continue this excellent service, go right ahead and drop Greg a line. And keep on blogging.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Libraries and the Commercialized Web

This is the second in a series of three posts about articles from the Spring 2005 of Library Trends. The citation for the article is:

Ebersole, Samuel E. "On Their Own: Students' Academic Use of the Commercialized Web." Library Trends 53.4 (Spring 2005): 530-538.

Ebersole's article examines how students perceive and use the World Wide Web for academic purposes. The research took place during the 1998-1999 period, and it focuses on public schools. It opens with a short summary that states how schools are more wired now. It mentions the concern of critics that the Web can have a distracting effect on students. The author then poses this question: "The question remains for public schools and the whole of society: with the stakes so high, how can we harness this unwieldy resource so that it serves our educational goals and purposes?" (531). I am sure this is a question that has become more important in the era of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). It is also a question that librarians in academic settings think about. I know I think about it when I teach students how to evaluate what they find on the Web. Thus the article caught my attention.

The article goes on to explain the method of the research. The study "found that students believe the Web to be a valuable resource for educational activities; the study also found, however, that students are often unsuccessful in finding appropriate or useful resources on their own" (531). The method also describes what surveys were done and what they measured. Among the survey tools was a content analysis study of websites accessed at school media centers. If nothing else, such finding should reassure librarians that they will not be replaced by Google anytime soon. It is a finding that confirms what many of us in instruction already know. Just ask any faculty member their tale of woe when kids just turn in papers with sources from a search engine. It's a process of education and nurturing so the kids learn critical thinking and good judgment. Rome was not built in a day.

In the discussion, the author indicates that there was a disparity between what students said they did with the Web and how the evaluators assessed the websites visited (drawn from the content analysis sampling). Ebersole provides a list of possible explanations for this. One interesting reason boils down to kids being kids. Schools have expectations for Web use, outlined in policies, so kids likely gave an answer they believe to be appropriate for using the Web at school, according to Ebersole (535). Ebersole does point out, however, there may be other valid reasons for the disparity such as difficulty to distinguish between scholarly and popular sites or poor search techniques.

The article moves on next to a discussion of recent developments on the Web. He points out something librarians likely know: that the Web has grown dramatically, that it is more and more commercial, and that it has a lot of clutter. It also discusses how the search engines have consolidated over time. It additionally points out that very often search results do not distinguish between paid and unpaid results. Furthermore, there is a review of how search algorithms may reflect certain biases.

The rising commercialism is not the only issue. Ebersole observes that "the blurring lines between fact and fiction, between opinion and news, and between credible and incredible reporting also draws into question the usefulness of the Web for young scholars. A high level of sophistication is necessary to understand the hidden economic relationships that often influence content and access to the content" (537). Again, this is another reason why librarians are not about to be out of a job. Someone has to teach patrons about these things.

This article would be most interesting to school librarians. However, I think academic librarians will find it interesting as well because those high schoolers will be the freshmen we will meet in our BI classes and at our reference desks.