Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Booknote: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, vol. 2

Title: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, vol. 2
Authors: Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill
Publication Information: La Jolla, CA: America's Best Comics, 2003
ISBN: 1-4012-0118-0
Genre: Graphic Novel
Subgenre: Fantasy/Adventure/Science Fiction

This is the second volume of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and like the first volume, it has that strong Victorian feel to it. I know; this sounds obvious, but I mean that they catch the essence of the Victorian era with great attention to detail not only in the art but in the text as well as in the authorial comments. I read the first volume, and I enjoyed it very much. I have no note for it because I read it before I started blogging. This was a good follow up, and very engaging as well once I got into it. This series is known for taking characters from classic fiction and bringing them to life. In this instance, the League faces an invasion from Mars (think War of the Worlds, the classic novel, not the recent movie), and they enlist the help of a special doctor who practices what we would call today genetic engineering. Readers who enjoy science fiction and adventure fiction will definitely enjoy this novel. The art is very good, and the quality has been preserved in the series. Like its predecessor, the novel includes some supplemental material, in this case an almanac. The almanac is a travel guide to the world compiled from various sources including the journals of Mina Murray. The pleasure in reading this, and the series, is that excellent Victorian tone and feel that the authors have put into the work. The writing captures the late 19th century. The only warning is that this volume does contain a couple of brief sex scenes, so readers who are sensitive to that may want to avoid this book. However, for fans of the series, fans of classic adventure literature, and graphic novel readers, this book is highly recommended.

As an additional note, some readers may be interested in seeking out works that feature the characters of the League as well as others in the novels. This means seeking out the works of Jules Verne for Captain Nemo, H. Rider Haggard for Allan Quartermain, and Robert Louis Stevenson for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde for instance. For readers wanting to go a little further in their reading, seeking out these and other works is definitely worth it.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Experimenting with

(Cross-posted at The Itinerant Librarian)

Readers can note that I have placed a small link to my page on the side column under links. There is not many things yet, but it seems to be slowly growing. At the moment, I am trying out as a way to back up bookmarks I have on my computer. It seems to be ok so far. I have not gone about trying the other social things yet, but we'll see. In the meantime, it seems it can certainly work as a good reference tool of things I want to keep track of.

Speaker on World Hunger and Peace

The week before the Thanksgiving Break, I attended a couple of campus events. This one was the speech given by Mr. Jew Don Boney, Jr. on the topics on world hunger and peace. Mr. Boney spoke on the UHD Campus on Tuesday November 15th, 2005. Mr. Boney, a political consultant and activist, is the assistant director of the Mickey Leland Center on World Hunger and Peace at Texas Southern University. He is also a former Houston City Councilmember and an ordained minister. The Mickey Leland Center is dedicated to carrying on the work and legacy of Mr. Mickey Leland, Texas State Legislator and United States Congressman for the 18th District (Houston). According to the biography on the center's Web site, "in 1988 Mickey was becoming increasingly active in international human rights and world hunger issues. He worked endlessly to solve the problems of domestic and international hunger and malnutrition. On August 7, 1989, Leland was leading another humanitarian mission when a plane carrying Mickey, members of his Congressional staff, State Department officials, and Ethiopian nationals to a United Nations refugee camp in Ethiopia crashed in a mountainous region. There were no survivors." The mission of the center then is to serve as a resource locally and internationally for information on the problems of world hunger and peace.

The speech was prefaced by a member of the UHD Democrats, who gave some basic remarks on hunger in the United States. As an illustration, she had placed small bags of rice on the audience's desk to illustrate how little people around the world actually had to eat in a day, if at all. She also provided a fact sheet, which can be found here. I think it is important to note the figure for Americans that were food insecure, or hungry, or at risk of hunger in 2001: 36 million Americans. Mr. Boney would later go on to remind us about the poor we often encounter on the streets, "there, but by the grace of God go I." The key quote from the young lady was when she said that "hunger is not a foreign face. It is the face of your neighbor." She then introduced Mr. Boney.

Mr. Boney opened with the following fact: extreme hunger killed 30,000 people yesterday. It kills 30,000 today, and it will kill 30,000 tomorrow. The extreme poverty in the world means deaths by hunger and preventable diseases. A set of numbers like this is not seen as newsworthy.

Mr. Boney then asked where are we in terms of our beliefs and the times that we live in. He mentioned Macolm X's cycle of the poor neighborhood. He also recalled W.E.B. DuBois's ideas of the problem of the 20th century being the race line and of the talented 10th. DuBois had high hopes for the small talented group at the top of Black society. However, as Mr. Boney observed, these today seem to disconnect from others and turn inward rather than look at the world around them. And yet, the world comes back to us for we are part of the human race. The discussion of these issues then is transformed by our individual actions. The problem is that not too many care about these issues. The poor are invisible.

The danger, according to the speaker, is the lack of hope in the poor, seeing there is no chance to get ahead or improve. The question no one asks about the terror war is why? Why are they willing to kill themselves and others? The answer is hatred, nothing to lose, a lack of hope. You cannot address the issue without asking and answering this question, and it is clear the powers that be in this nation are not even considering the question.

We need to deal with the now ("I am hungry now") as well as the long term (to get that poor person out to work and continue feeding himself and his family. This refers to the systematic issues). To this end, you need the social services such as the food pantries and soup kitchens, but you also need the long term social services for education, job training, housing, etc.

"The times and spirit of now demand the best of ourselves. Nothing less will do," said Mr. Boney in closing.

Mr. Boney recommended the book End of Poverty by Jeffrey Sachs.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Booknote: Warmly Inscribed

Title: Warmly Inscribed: The New England Forger and Other Book Tales
Authors: Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone
Publication Information: New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2001
ISBN: 0-312-26268-X
Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Books, book collecting
Pages: 215
Similar book: A Passion for Books, edited by Harold Rabinowitz and Rob Kaplan.

This book was a pleasure to read. The authors, who are also novelists, write about their travels in the antiquarian book trade. Any reader who enjoys reading about books and those who collect them will enjoy this book. The book has seven chapters, including the title chapter telling the story of the New England Forger, which reads like a detective story. The authors visit the Library of Congress with their 8-year old daughter, which makes for an interesting visit. The chapter about the forger is the longest in the book, but the readers will not mind since the narratives are warm, engaging, and after a while the readers just get lost in the book. Readers don't have to know about how the antiquarian book trade works to appreciate this book because a lot of this book is simply about the love for good books. It is also about the people who collect them and those who sell them. But it is also about interesting people met in travels. I highly recommend this book. The authors have written other books about books, and if this one is any indication, those are just as good. I will likely try to find their other works in this area. This is the type of book to read with a cup of tea or hot cocoa. And the last chapter has a set of "outtakes," follow-ups to other stories, and a few other details that did not make it into the rest of the book. It makes for a nice way to close a very good book.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Facts about Thanksgiving from the Census Bureau

(Cross posted from The Itinerant Librarian)

In preparation for the upcoming Thanksgiving Holiday, readers can go over to Census Bureau's Facts for Features page. This one contains various fun facts and figures about the holiday. For example:

"13.7 pounds
The quantity of turkey consumed by the typical American in 2003 and, if tradition be true, a hearty helping of it was devoured at Thanksgiving time. On the other hand, per capita sweet potato consumption was 4.7 pounds. (From the upcoming Statistical Abstract of the United States: 2006)"

I wish readers a safe travel if they are travelling and a happy holiday with family and loved ones. I will be travelling tomorrow early to be with family upstate and will be offline until the weekend. Happy Thanksgiving!!

Reference Note: Same Sex Couples and Same Sex Couples Raising Children Study

I got the heads-up for this report from Docuticker. I would probably have just read it and made a brief note later, except for the fact that I could have used this about two weeks ago when I had a student coming in with a question on the topic. Her question was: "what are the effects of children being raised by gay couples?" In other words, what she wanted to know was if these children suffered any traumas or had any different experiences from children being raised in households of heterosexual couples or single-earner households. I managed find her some articles through our databases about gay couples raising children and about adopted children in other settings (since gay couples are more likely to adopt, which was a finding of the report I am noting here) as well as children in other settings in general. However, I would have loved to give her the link to this report, which at only 19 pages or so, is actually something that could be useful and not too hard to read. It would not have answered all her questions, but it would have made a good addition. The report itself looks at Census data, and it finds that same-sex couples are actually very much alike the rest of the population. Readers can find the actual report in PDF format, produced by the The Williams Project on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy, UCLA School of Law. Actually, I took a look at the site, and the Williams Project provides other studies on sexual orientation, for instance, broken down by ethnicity, which may be of interest to researchers in this area.

Booknote: The Rubáiyát

Title:The Rubáiyát
Author: Omar Khayyám, translated by Edward Fitzgerald
Publication Information: New York: Random House, 1947
Genre: Poetry
Pages: 147, including notes.

The text I used was a donation to the library that was added to the collection. It has a very nice cover, and beautiful end papers. It also contains various color engravings that add to the beauty of the book and the verses. The book includes the first edition of the poems as well as the later 3rd, 4th, and 5th editions as well as the translator's notes and prefaces. For readers, I think it may be more accessible to find a modern edition, though I think they may miss out on some of the reading experience from reading a volume like the one I had.

Had I known that this book was such an easy and yet lyrical read, I would have picked up sooner. This is one of those books on lists of great books, the ones we often mean to read but never get to. Well, this one is well worth it. In fact, readers may already be able to quote it without knowing it. It is a collection of quatrains, four line stanzas, that rhyme on an aaba pattern. This means they rhyme on the first, second, and fourth line. Here is an example:

"Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,
A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse--and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness-
And Wilderness is Paradise enow."

I am betting a lot of people have heard this quatrain before. Well, now you know where it comes from. This work has a lot of verses like that. The author explores life, love, and beauty. A common theme is the idea of seizing the moment, the old carpe diem. The language is simply beautiful; one can read these verses with ease. It is a very relaxing experience, and musicality adds to it. I highly recommend this volume.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Is E-mail So Five Minutes Ago?

Through Steven Cohen's Library Stuff, an article from BusinessWeek entittled "E-mail is So Five Minutes Ago." The usual caveats about how long the article may be available online apply. The article basically discusses how the business world in many places is moving away from e-mail as a collaboration tool in favor of things like blogs, wikis, and instant messengers. Some small quotes as food for thought from the article:

  • Darrin Lennard is an investment banker featured in the article. The article says that, "of the 250 e-mails he received each day, he says '85% were totally not important to my job.' Think that ratio of e-waste sounds depressing? It gets worse. Legitimate e-mail will drop to 8% this year, down from 12% last year, according to Redwood City (Calif.) e-mail filtering outfit Postini Inc."
  • "Despite the brawniest corporate filters, more than 60% of what swarms into corporate in-boxes is spam. Since so much of what's received involves scams about millions languishing in nonexistent bank accounts, interoffice status contests, and people plopping unwanted meetings onto Outlook calendars, the e-mail blow-off factor is rising."
I personally do not use e-mail unless I absolutely have to in terms of work. If I can get up from my desk and tell someone something, I do it. And yes, I do agree that there is a large e-mail blow off factor rising. I know I spend a lot of time just deleting mail I do not want in terms of spam and stuff I could definitely do without because it is redundant. However, my workplace is small enough that it is easy for us to use e-mail. I don't foresee us moving to a collaborative tool like IM anytime soon, though I am sure it would make our lives a lot easier. Force of habit I guess. One thing I know is that I wonder how many librarians and libraries are moving towards this model more of abandoning e-mail. I know some libraries already use blogs for serving patrons, but how many use them internally? For instance, the library where I used to work before I came here had a reference desk log. This is the kind of thing that should be a given at any reference desk. I am not saying e-mail will be totally gone. For certain communications, like one on one, it is still a good tool. But for things like collaborating on documents or keeping staff informed on the latest sermon from the administrative mount, a wiki or a blog would do a better job. I can just add the rss to a reader and get to it as it comes. The article is a brief piece, so worth it to take a look.

Booknote: Hipira

Title: Hipira
Author: Katsuhiro Otomo; Illustrated by Shinji Kimura
Publication Information: Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse Press, 2005
ISBN: 1-59582-002-7
Genre: Children's Literature
Subgenre: Fantasy
Pages: 174

Hipira is a vampire boy in a city of vampires where it is always night, and the sun never comes up. His best friend is a little fairy named Soul. Hipira has various little games and adventures which are fun and and interesting. Once we meet Hipira, the book is divided into little stories. These are very short, and they go along with each other. One time he decides to rise the town from their sleep by singing like a rooster, fooling the town given they have not heard a rooster in so long. The book's art is well done, and it is very colorful, a pleasure to look at. Though Hipira is a vampire, he is really a very cool boy who likes to stay up late. Then again, if you lived in a place where the sun never came up, would you not like to stay up late as well? Highly recommended for children of all ages.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Notes from Teleconference on Google and Patrons

Last Friday, November 18, 2005, I had the opportunity to view the teleconference "Google and Your Patrons" provided by the College of DuPage's Soaring to Excellence series. Here in Texas, it was sponsored by the Texas State Library and Archives Commission. Steven Bell was the presenter. In the link to the DuPage's page, readers can find the handouts and slides for the teleconference, so I won't try to duplicate that here. What I would like to do is use this post to make some notes of ideas that caught my attention. Also, I think this teleconference was very timely for me given my recent reading about Google's value.
  • Googleization was defined as a desire to see library resources be more like Google. The idea behind this is to give users the Google experience.
  • An answer to this could be federated searching. In a library setting, this would be searching for content within the library's resources.
  • Being anti-Google will turn patrons off. Instead, use the fact that users are in tune with Google as a teachable moment. I personally found this idea appealing, and it has been something I have been using in my instruction sessions as of late. When I get the question of "why can't I just use Google?" I run a search and use to illustrate some ideas.
  • The concept of libraries migrating to Google was discussed. The idea is to put the library's content on Google. If patrons bypass the library, they can still find the library's content. This assumes they can find it on Google, of course.
  • Remember Open WorldCat. A trick on Google is the typing of "find in library" followed by your search term to locate library results.
  • Other places are experimenting. For example, Gale at Keep in mind that in using this valid subscriptions are required to access content.
  • Some concerns include:
    • What message does all this send to patrons?
    • The need for user education.
    • A positive can be that the content goes to where patrons are.
  • On Google Blogs and other blogs.
    • Use blogs for current awareness and for keeping up.
    • Google has its own blog and there are other blogs that report on Google.
    • Use an aggregator/reader to read the blogs.
    • Steven Bell has a tutorial on rss and aggregators.
    • Remember that keeping up for librarians involves LIS as well as other areas such as higher education, local and national news, popular culture, etc. Look outside of librarianship. I have written about keeping up and reading a few times. Two examples are here and here.
  • Alternatives to Google:
    • Tools like Dogpile. In Dogpile's case, it has a comparison tool. This one can make an excellent teaching tool as it uses a Venn diagram visual to compare search engine results.
    • Another tool is Jux2.
  • Some of the questions from attendants included the following. I am putting notes on them as food for thought.
    • What is the criteria for the content on Google Scholar? Well, Google has not been very forthcoming about this. This may be a reason to be a bit cautious.
    • Is it desirable to have OpenURL with Google Scholar results? From what I have seen in the biblioblogosphere, it can be argued either way.
    • For libraries, an option may be to create a separate Web page within the library's page for listing other search alternatives besides Google such as Dogpile. This page can include small annotations from librarians as to why the tools are good.
    • Who pays for Google? Well, the advertisers. However, it is necessary to note that the company is diversifying.
  • The final thoughts from Steven Bell:
    • Librarians need to develop their expertise and keep it up.
    • Librarians need to preach balance. Don't be anti-Google. I will add don't ga-ga over it either.
    • Create user awareness in your community. For example, do workshops and use blogs.
Overall, this workshop was valuable. For me, it was a bit of preaching to the choir, but I found it to be a very nice supplement to my recent readings. Also, I wanted to hear what Steven Bell had to say given I've had more questions about Google in classes and at the desk. Not a deluge, but enough to want to stay informed. I think for me the workshop was a bit on the basic side; however, for many librarians who are still starting out or trying to stay informed, this was definitely very useful.

On a final note, Steven Bell cites this article by Mary Ellen Bates, an information broker. She wrote a column entitled "You Still Google? That Is So Last Week" for EContent Mag. Her main point is that Google leaves a lot of information out, and if you want to do a better search, you better try other options and be willing to put in a little extra work. The article is well worth reading. Google is yesterday according to the column because it is just not keeping up with the various search options and new ways to make searches work better besides just listing the most popular items found. Two quotes from the article that made me think:

  • "But the backbone of Google's search-results sorting is still Page Rank, and, frankly, it's not keeping up with the content available on the Web. Often, finding the most popular sites isn't what I want; I need to find the most authoritative sites or ones that were evaluated by experts, or I need to look at just one aspect of a topic."
  • "The new search tools that are available do require more work for the user. Rather than just rely on the first page of search results, you are encouraged to look at some of the suggested modifications."

Article Note: On Google's Value

Citation for the article:

Caufield, James. "Where did Google Get Its Value?" portal: Libraries and the Academy 5.4 (2005): 555-572.

I usually stay away from the whole talk about whether Google is good for libraries or if Google is going to become their demise. I personally see Google as a tool, and like any other tool, it depends on how it is used. I do read up on the topic now and then. Also, I am finding more questions about using tools like Google from my students and even a faculty member or two, so I have an incentive to keep up on this. This article's title seemed intriguing, and its thesis is an interesting one.

James Caufield says that "the thesis of this paper is that Google has succeeded mostly because it has adopted many library values" (557). He then goes on to discuss some library values, drawing on documents like the ALA's Code of Ethics and the Library Bill of Rights. What Caufield then does is look at what Google has done over time, showing how the company's actions are often analogous to values that librarians hold. He does know that there are reasons to criticize the company, but he makes clear in the paper that he is looking at how Google has embodied some library values. He follows the following plan for the paper: ". . .it is now possible to delineate two ways in which Google has brought library values to the Web environment. First, Google has adopted many of the precepts that guide librarians in their work. Second, Google has created systems that replicate (or at least are analogous to) some of the valuable functions that libraries provide" (557). I am sure this will rub some librarians the wrong way, but I think Caufield at least deserves to be heard.

Caufield begins by summarizing the early days of the web when search engines where not effective and mostly limited to keyword searching. He then describes how Google innovated with their use of PageRank algorithms. He argues, drawing on documents such as the ones listed above, that the early Web environment fell short of many librarian values such as maintaining a balanced collection and facilitating access to the materials. Without an effective search tool, there could be no effective access. Google changed this. Caufield writes, "while the Web provides physical access to materials, search engines and directories provide intellectual access. To do this, any search engine must perform two functions that are essential to a library: it must index the materials in the collection, and it must provide a retrieval system for matching search queries to the index" (559). Libraries provide the physical access, and cataloguers and other technical services make sure users can find it. Search engines do this through their crawling, indexing, and then facilitating searches of what they have indexed.

First, Caufield argues that Google shows value by providing better indexing. To illustrate this, he gives a basic explanation of PageRank and the uses of link analysis. What is interesting here is that he connects this to an idea that operates in the library world: the concept of citation analysis. To illustrate, Caufield states, "for example, an otherwise thorough review of search engine history attributes Google's success to the 'grounbreaking insight . . . that the Web is a giant popularity contest--and that the most-cited pages will probably be the most useful.' Only rarely is it recognized that this is not groundbreaking at all but rather a translation of a traditional library (or academic) value to the Web environment. 'What has made Google special is that, in assessing the quality of sites, it takes note of how many other pages link to any given page. This is an old idea from academia, called citation analysis" (562).

Second, Caufield suggests that Google brings value through better access with a simple user interface. Readers who use Google probably know this is one of Google's strengths. "Simplicity of interface improves access in several ways. First, physical access is improved because the time required to load a page is shortened. Second, an uncluttered interface implies the user's experience and so facilitates intellectual access" (562). When I read that sentence, I had to ask myself how is this changing given that Google is now jumping to offer a variety of other services: rss reader, e-mail, news pages, so on. So far, they have maintained the clean interface, but given the apparent move to have people set up accounts and use other services, I can't help but wonder if the problems that often affect portals will be affecting them down the road.

Third, Caufield claims that Google brings value with (relatively) unbiased selections. This is definitely open to debate. He justifies it on the basis of Google's use of targeted advertising, which in search results show up as the sponsored links on the side. It is not really an innovation, according to Caufield, who sees it as analog to what journalistic enterprises do when they set up a wall between the news section and the advertising section. "In the same way, Google has erected a barrier between advertising and research" (564). Again, for me, it begs the question given targeted advertising in things like Gmail. This is not to mention the privacy issues, which Caufield addresses later in the article.

Fourth, Caufield says that Google provides an uncorrupted index. He looks at Google's efforts to counter manipulation of the search results by advertisers and other unscrupulous parties. He does point out that what some may see as objective others might see as a tyranny on Google's part. However, it does seem a positive for Google that "when confronted with deliberate efforts of this sort [like extreme manipulation of link rankings], Google now takes steps to punish these sites, reducing their ranking or barring the site completely. Google also makes modifications to its ranking process, and it seems that these are also in part intended to defeat the most dubious aspects of search engine optimization" (565).

Fifth, Caufield adds that search engines are aiming to at least be able to emulate the reference interview. This is done through the ways in which they gather personal information from creating personalized accounts to the use of cookies. The idea is to use such information to then customize search results and make them more relevant to an individual user. Caufield observes that "generally, Google's desire to gather personal information has been thought to be motivated by an interest in targeting advertising. While it is certainly true, user profiling can also render searches more relevant by providing a context for an otherwise isolated query" (566). This then leads to the question of privacy, which Caufield uses as his one illustration of critical issues that face Google.

Readers need to keep in mind that there are many incentives for companies not to respect your privacy. Caufield looks at Google's Gmail privacy policy and the way in which Google reserves the right to change it at any time and without notice. It begs the question, if Google really does not intend to sell or share this information, why do they need to state up front that they may change this policy? This brings into place the question of ethics, which to be honest, librarians tend to uphold better. For librarians, patron privacy is practically a sacred trust not to be violated. Down the road, it may be possible that companies may find it in their interest to uphold your privacy. "For instance, outrage over privacy violations could conceivably provoke a massive boycott of certain search engines in favor of others that are more scrupulous" (567). In this case, I think the author is more optimistic than I could be. For one, respect for privacy is clearly dependent on whether the company sees it as a good business practice (read profitable in the long run). Also, I don't think that many people would be outraged because of very low awareness. A lot of users on the Web barely know what a cookie is or what it does. It would take some serious malfeasance, a la hacker stealing a bunch of credit card numbers from a bank for instace, before some serious outrage actually happened. Again, this is my opinion. I wonder what other librarians out there may think.

The article concludes with some speculations about what the future may hold. On profit and quality, the author provides a good example. "For example, Google does not create recommendations of relevance, it only gathers them. Compared to the labor-intensive work performed by librarians, this automated gathering is relatively inexpensive and so makes profit possible. But while an automated system is cheaper than one directly managed by human judgment, it is far less reliable and far more open to manipulation" (568). I think this is where librarians should concentrate their strength and efforts. Every time they worry that Google is going to replace them, they should remind themselves and the powers that be that just because Google gives fast results, it does not mean they are relevant or good for the user. Short sighted administrators and communities may want to keep in mind that saving a few bucks can actually hurt the quality of services. Just an idea to consider. This is why I say Google is a tool. Notice that it gives you the results. What a user does with the results is up to that user, who may need assistance figuring out if they are the best results or not. In the case of a student, yes, they may choose the first two results from a Google list, but if they did not take the time to actually evaluate those results, they will likely pay for it with their grade down the road. Again, just a thought.

Friday, November 18, 2005

The librarian as a confessor: some musings

I went to a Catholic high school run by Benedictine monks. One of the monks, Brother Tarcisio, had the great gift of being able to relate to the students. He was not a teacher. In fact, as I recall, he mostly did work on the grounds and other tasks. However, he always was the one that students could go to if they had any problems or just needed someone to talk to. The priests would often say that the students would go see Brother Tarcisio for confession and that Brother Tarcisio would simply send them back to the priest to get actual absolution after the confession. For those of you who are not Catholic or just not familiar with the traditions, in the Catholic Church, only a priest can administer absolution for your sins after your confession. A monk, who is a minor cleric, does not have that power to administer the sacrament of penance, as confession is officially known. We all knew that students bared their souls to Brother Tarcisio, so the scheme of him sending them on to the priests actually made sense, even though the priests likely meant it in a lighthearted way.

Years later, I became a teacher, and now I am librarian. I don't have that monk's gift, and it definitely was a gift. What I do have now and then is the ability to listen to my students. Back in September, I wrote a note on article about dramaturgy and librarianship. In that piece, I briefly speculated that librarians are at times confessors, and I said that someday I would write more about this topic. Well, it seems that the day came a bit sooner. A student that came to see me last Friday afternoon has prompted me to think about this a little more.

So, there I was. It was Friday afternoon, and it was an hour before closing time. It was definitely a time that I was not expecting any students coming for a consultation. She came in with a hopeful smile, the smile a student gives you when they are happy to see you, but more importantly, when they are hoping you will be able to help them out. I was at my desk, and the librarian on duty at the reference desk just led her in. I get this once in a while. They come to the reference desk asking for "that librarian that taught my class." So, I had the young lady take a seat, and she began to tell me what she was working on and what she needed help with. She was working on a science topic, or rather the social angle of a science topic. I can't recall it now, but that does not matter as much. What matters is what ensued as we got into a conversion. I have my desk set up so I can turn my computer monitor around to allow students to view it when they sit in front of my desk. So, we took some time to look over some databases. We pulled some results, made some notes of terms she may want to try out later in searches, and we even got a couple of articles that she e-mailed to herself. While we are talking, I get to learn a little about her. She is social work major in her junior year hoping to become a social worker. We get to talking a little about what kind of work she might like to do. I mention my sister-in-law is a social worker, and then we get to talking about what work she does. My sister-in-law works for a private charity. We get to talking also about her classes, and the topic of English teachers comes up, in part because I teach for so many English classes. I get to know a lot of the English teachers. So, she wants to know my impressions. This is where a little diplomacy comes in place, since I don't believe in talking about another professional behind their back. Having said that, I can gently suggest who may be a little better in the classroom based on observation and student feedback. It is a balancing act. Next I hear about the paper she wrote for another class. Somewhere in that line of conversation it comes up that I was a composition teacher, so now she wants me to read her paper. I tell her the Writing Center would be a better place for that. I am certainly qualified, but like I gently explained, I am not the actual teacher, so what I may think will likely differ from the grader. However, it was what she said afterwards that made me think. She simply said, "oh, I trust you."

What do you say to that other than thank you. It is something very humbling. I made me realize that the small role I play with students at times is a bit more than just helping them locate an article on a database or find a good book for a topic. Sometimes they need someone on the campus they can talk to, or someone who can be another contact on campus. Actually, the notion of being a contact for students often came up interviews for instructional librarian positions. Well, for positions that were "in the trenches." I went to one or two interviews where what they really wanted was a project manager, which would have no actual or minimal student contact. Those were clear examples of mislabeling in a job advertisement. Anyways, I will admit that after I left the high school classroom for higher education that I thought this role would wind down. It does not, and I don't mind. But I realize as I think about it that is not for everyone. Not all librarians have the comfort level I have with students. Sometimes I get a little too much information, but not to worry, the information is not going anywhere else. We had a long talk about many things last Friday. As librarians share the reference office, one of my colleagues was at her desk nearby, and once my student left, I said half joking, "Ego te absolvo a peccatis tuis in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti. Amen." (This means in English: I absolve you of your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.). I will say that at this moment in my life I am a recovering Catholic, but the fact I was raised and educated in that tradition colors much of my experience, including my education outlook since I was also educated during grades 7, 8, and 9 by the Brothers of Christian Schools (the congregation of St. Jean Baptiste De La Salle, who are pretty much the educators of the Catholic Church). I think to a large measure I became a teacher because I was inspired by the ideals of La Salle. Thus looking at experiences like this in such a way comes easy for me. I suppose for another librarian it may be seen as a therapy. But I will say it is closer to confession.

The student comes in looking for something, and they often come in feeling they have fallen short. How often have some of us had students come to the reference desk asking for help saying that they tried such and such a method with no result? Or they mention, "I tried, but I just could not get anything. I think I did something wrong"? I think for an instruction librarian these multiply when you do individual consultations. It's not easy coming to see a teacher for help. The library science literature has various articles on how students can be anxious about the library. So, my work becomes one not only of helping them out, but also it is the work of comforting them, of alleviating fears, of just listening, and offering some encouragement if such is needed. I have never had a student say something like "forgive me for not knowing how to do this," but in their eyes I see very often that they struggled. And I try my absolute best to reassure them. "Yes, it's ok to come see me. Yes, that is why I mentioned it during class. Your professor sent you? No problem. You are going to be ok." I say such phrases and a few more, but they are also conveyed in actions. This is a part of my work that I both enjoy and find challenging. And as I write this, I have to wonder how that monk back in high school did it. He always had a smile on his face. He shook your hand and was always interested in what you did and how were things. He would give you a hug if you needed one (this was before the litigious society we have today. I would not have dreamed of doing that with a high school student in my time as a public school teacher). Now, multiply this by about 300 students or so, and I have a little more admiration for him and those like him that students everywhere can turn to when they need someone they can trust. I can only aspire to be such a one. In the meantime, when they come, I will keep teaching a little and absolving a little.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Booknote: La Virgen de los Sicarios

Title: La Virgen de los Sicarios
Author: Fernando Vallejo
Publication Information: Madrid: Punto de lectura, 1994
ISBN: 84-663-0164-X
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 174

This is a convoluted story that takes place in Medellín, Colombia. The narrator goes along telling us the story as his boy murders various people in the city, often for no other reason than the victims were annoying. You see, the boy is an assassin for hire, a sicario. Many boys in their teens serve in this role in the city, as angels of death. The narrator is often giving little explanations about the culture, treating the readers as outsiders or tourists who may not know the reality of Colombia that he lives in. This older man, whose name we do not learn until later in the book, is in love with the boy. They are lovers, so I should warn readers that if this topic is offensive, the book is not for them. However other than minimal references of sharing a bed, there is no graphic detail in that regard. The killings are more graphic. I was not sure what to make of this story. Initially, I was drawn to it by the narrator's casual and conversational style, but there are some passages which tend to be a little verbose. Also, the book lacks any chapters or subdivisions. It is one long narration from page one to the last page, which is reflective of the intense situation and setting where one never knows when death will come to visit. The book has been described as a love story and a story of perdition. Indeed, they are lost in a city where there is no law, and a bullet can come by at any time. I will say there is a twist towards the end that makes the novel intriguing and leaves the reader wondering. When I discovered it, I lost my breath for seconds. However it came a bit late for me, and by then, I was a bit tired of the book as it has a very heavy dark tone.

Readers who like a blend of darkness and pessimism in their fiction might like this work. The blurb on the cover about an angel of death initially suggested to me it might be a book about a serial killer, but I soon saw that was far from the truth. The blurb on the back cover calls it a hallucinating journey through Colombian reality. Yet, while I am sure things in Colombia are not good, and they are probably as the book describes, the plot is pretty simple since it is mostly the narrator and the boy getting rid of those who seem to bother them, which seems to be just about anyone that crosses their path. For me, at least, the novelty of that wore off after a while. The urban setting is captured well; Vallejo does describe the city and its environs well. Overall, I have read better works of fiction. The book has been made into a movie, but I am not sure it will make it to the States. I am not recommending the book, but as it is a pretty short read, some readers looking for something different with some time to spare may want to take a look at it.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Article Note: Information Literacy for the Humanities Researcher

Citation for the article:

East, John W. "Information Literacy for the Humanities Researcher: A Syllabus Based on Information Habits Research." Journal of Academic Librarianship 31.2 (March 2005): 134-142.

I read the article full-text via OmniFile.

This short article aims to "suggest ways in which our existing knowledge of user behavior in the humanities can be applied in the development of an information literacy course for humanists" (134). The paper basically looks at the literature related to the search habits of humanities scholars, then takes the lessons from the literature to create learning objectives for an information literacy course. The concept of the article is interesting and a departure in style from other academic articles. In terms of the literature, the article presents a lot of material that humanities specialists will likely be aware of. I know I was aware of a lot of the facts cited from my coursework in humanities librarianship in library school and through my other graduate work. This includes common knowledge like books are the preferred research tool and that humanities scholars do not really see librarians as an information resource. On that last one, it is good to point out that scholars in this field tend to view in a positive light the Special Collections librarians and their subject specialists.

The article lays out a plan for the course on the basis of skills that humanities scholars should have based on their research needs. It addresses topics such as identifying appropriate research tools, effective database searching, and how to keep current in the field. Additionally, the article looks at specific material formats (books, articles, electronic resources) and provides learning objectives related to the formats as well. For example, the author suggests that humanities scholars wishing to stay current may want to use alerting services from publishers given that very often a small number of publishers publish most of the monographs in some fields (138). So, the learning objective related to this is: "researchers should be aware of major publishers in the discipline and be able to make use of alerting services which they offer" (138).

Readers need to keep in mind that the article only provides the objectives. The objectives provide a starting point, but librarians then need to add activities and ways to measure the success of the objectives. The article does not provide any form of lesson plan or activities. However, the article is an excellent starting point for developing an information literacy course for graduate students in the humanities.

Monday, November 14, 2005

What have I learned from blogging?

This is a post prompt that has been sitting on my cue for quite a while. Every time I find a new post or note to link to, I added to the draft. Seeing as I have survived my first year as a professional librarian, this seemed like a good reflection point.

I started to ponder this when I read through The Blog Herald, a link to a list of things learned from blogging by D. Keith Robinson. Mr. Robinson created his list in the context of celebrating the three year anniversary of his blog. Some of the comments people made to his post are interesting as well. In addition, Brian (Leiter of the Leiter Reports) reflects after two years. Posts from people in the blogosphere like Laura (Crossett, of LIS Dom) on the uses of the biblioblogosphere, Joy (Moll of Wanderings of a Student Librarian) on why she blogs, and Meredith (Farkas, of Information Wants to be Free) discussing new communities added to my inspiration to finally put this in writing. Overall, this prompt has been around, so it seems a good time for me to take a little spin on it.

Robinson lists 42 things he has learned from blogging. Initially, I thought I would reply to some of the items on his list as they fit to my situation. Some of the items on his list I knew before I came to blogging. For example, I have known for a long time that there is power in words. In facts, words can be used to make the world a better place, but they can also be used to promote hate, intolerance, and other terrible ills. What I have learned from this is that words do have great power, a reaffirmation, but they also have to be used responsibly. Sure, there are moments to play with words and have fun. I do that quite a bit. Maybe I am idealist, a fool even, but if I can use my small ability to write and make things just a little bit better, I believe I have accomplished something. For me, this happens rarely, since most of what I write is for myself: reflections on my profession and practice, notes on articles I read, some book reviews, and the occasional piece just to think. Then there is that other stuff I write or put in my other blog. Yet even with the writing as a selfish venture, I have witnessed the power of words in making meaning, in exploring ideas, in discovering new concepts. Robinson has another way to say this, or part of it: "blogging is a great way to manage knowledge and lessons learned." He also said something I would not mind telling my supervisors: "blogging can very easily be considered work. Lots of it." I am sure they know it to an extent. And no, I don't expect to spend most of my days blogging. There's other work to be done, work that I look forward to doing. Ok, so there are some moments too, but what job does not have them? The point is a lot of what I do is a way of professional development. A little support, or rather fait would be nice. Then again, something like what they do in this workplace would be nice. True, it is in Australia, but the idea of recognizing activities like this as part of what a professional can do for further development, along with other options, is a good one maybe more people in this part of the world may want to at least consider. Yet here in the States we hear more of academics worried that if they blog it may affect their job prospects or tenure chances. Then again, the Ivan Tribbles of the world just exemplify close-mindedness and how much work in educating others is yet to be done. And don't even mention people like Michael Gorman or Blaise Cronin.

Robinson also writes that through blogging "you can really meet cool people online." This is very true, even if I did not believe it at first. He also writes that "the world is full of passionate people." One has only to look at the biblioblogosphere to see this is true. Regardless of their position, beliefs, or politics, those folks are very passionate about what they do. The blogosphere, however, is like any other neighborhood. It has cool people, but it also has its share of dark alleys, unsavory places, and people who are better avoided. There are some places were civility is the first casualty, and a place or two where you wonder how so-and-so even manages to muster enough brain power to run a blog. On this, Brian (see link above) writes that "the blogosphere mostly exacerbates the worst tendencies of the 'mainstream media' that some bloggers love to criticize: factual inaccuracy, analytical confusions, moral parochialism, deference to power and so on." What I have learned is that blogging can bring forth the best in some people and the worst in others. I know; this is not breaking news, but it is a lesson I have learned.

Over time, I am discovering that I continue to learn. As I write and reflect, I hope to grow a bit more, to learn something new. I learn from what I read, from my practice, from my colleagues and students, and from others in the biblioblogosphere and even the blogosphere at large. So, as I close this post, the question becomes what will I learn from blogging? I have learned a thing or two, but there's still more to discover.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Facts about Veteran's Day

(Cross posted at The Itinerant Librarian)

The Census Bureau has put together a small page of facts about veterans and the celebration of Veteran's Day. For instance, "1.1 million veterans are Hispanic." I am sure that includes my uncle who served in the Korean Conflict and my other uncle who did two tours during the Vietnam Conflict. To them and to the many more like them, thank you for your service and sacrifice.

Booknote: The SFWA Masters, vol.1

Title: The SFWA Masters, vol.1
Editor: Frederick Pohl
Publication Information: New York: TOR Books, 1999
ISBN: 0-312-86880-4
Genre: Science Fiction
Subgenre: Short story collection, with some nonfiction
Pages: 384

This book is part of a multiple volume set, and based on this one, I will definitely be reading the other volumes. Readers can look to future posts on the other volumes down the road. The books collect selected writings of science fiction writers who have been recognized as Grand Masters by the Science Fiction Writers of America (Now Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America). The SFWA is also known as the organization that awards the annual Nebula Awards. The Nebula is one of the two major literary awards for science fiction and fantasy; the other is the Hugo Award, given by the World Science Fiction Society. SFWA's Grand Master Award, officially named the Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award, "is given to a living author for a lifetime's achievement in science fiction and/or fantasy. Nominations for the Grand Master award are made by the president of SFWA; the award is given upon approval of a majority of the SFWA® officers." This volume collects the work of the five first Grand Masters: Robert A. Heinlein, Jack Williamson, Clifford D. Simak, L. Sprague de Camp, and Fritz Leiber. It is edited by Frederick Pohl, who actually knew these writers, and it shows in his introductions and careful selection of stories. What makes this volume unique from other collections is the editing by Pohl, but it is also distinguished by selections of nonfiction by the writers. At the end of each section, there is a small list of recommended works for readers who may want to read more by a particular writer.

The volume offers a good selection of classics. This is what readers who have read science fiction for a long time mean when they say they read science fiction. This volume is highly recommended for any reader wanting to read science fiction for the first time; it is an excellent introduction to the genre and its major figures, and I can only imagine it gets better with the other volumes. Even though some of the stories today may seem "dated," I think they are actually quite timeless in terms of the characters and the narratives. These stories are as good today as they were when they were first published, and in some cases, looking at them now gives a nice glimpse at how people saw things back in the middle of the 20th century. I did not find a "bad" story in this anthology, and this is something rare in many other anthologies. There is a bit of everything for every reader.

Heinlein explores politics and the future in a story about highways in "The Roads Must Roll." Some readers may find it interesting given the current awareness over gasoline costs and transportation. Williamson takes a very interesting look at what can happen when man suddenly has nothing to do in "With Folded Hands." Williamson also recalls his days meeting and hanging out with other literary figures in his essay selection. Simak looks at the story of a very lonely man in "Grotto of the Dancing Deer." Sprague de Camp takes us on a dinosaur hunt in "A Gun For Dinosaur." It is a bit of an adventure and a bit of what happens when you try to mess with time travel for revenge. If you read Jurassic Park, or you saw the movie, leave your misconceptions from that work at the door. For fans of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, Leiber has a story of them. This was the least I liked; I am not a big fan of Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, but the story will satisfy readers of fantasy. Leiber's best story in this selection for me was "A Bad Day for Sales." It reminded me of Ray Bradbury's "There Will Come Soft Rains." For me, it had that feel to it once I got to the end of the story. Some readers may have read these and the other stories already. I know I read some, and it was great rediscovering them. I also found a good number, most of them, I had not read before. I had read the authors, but not these particular selections. For instance, I have read some of Heinlein's novels, but I had not read Fritz Leiber before. So whether you have read the stories or not, this is a great book for some good reading. This definitely belongs on the shelf of every science fiction reader, and I think it would make a good gift for someone you want to introduce to the genre.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Article Note: On Adult Learners and Library Instruction

Citation for the article:

Gold, Helene E. "Engaging the Adult Learner: Creating Effective Library Instruction." portal: Libraries and the Academy. 5.4 (2005): 467-481.

I read the article via Project Muse.

This is one of those articles that makes me want to read more on the topic. It also provides a nice reminder of ways to improve instruction. The article is focused on adult learners, but its suggestions are applicable to traditional students as well. The article reminds readers that adult learners have unique needs and traits; these are often not addressed by the traditional library instruction methods. The author looks at adult learning theory and her experience to provide some useful suggestions.

For me, this article is very timely. For one, I recently read some of Paulo Freire's work, which deals with adult education. Second, I am at a point of reflection in my practice at work. While sessions are going well, there are many more things I would like to try out. Once things slow down, I would like to redesign some lessons and plans. There are other things too, but those have to wait. Thus the article came to me at a good time.

In the literature review, Ms. Gold writes that five themes emerge about library instruction for adult learners. These are:

  1. "Adult learners have unique social, physical, and cognitive characteristics that have an impact on learning."
  2. "A variety of barriers should be recognized and removed when creating library instruction for adults."
  3. "Traditional library instruction models are ineffective for the adult learner."
  4. "Andragogical learning theory should be used when creating library instruction and services for adult learners."
  5. "Multiple andragogical-based models and strategies have been successfully used to provide adult-centered library instruction" (468).
She then proceeds to discuss the five themes, including references to related literature. It is important to note that much of the significant literature in the area of adult learners was written back in the 1980s and early 1990s. I made a note to look up some of those sources, including Malcolm Knowles's book The Modern Practice of Adult Education: From Pedagogy to Andragogy. In his book, Knowles defined andragogy as "the art and science of helping adults learn, in contrast to pedagogy as the art and science of teaching children" (qtd. in 470). I will try to at least skim various other sources so I can see some of the sources that Ms. Gold considered.
One of the best quotes from the article is one I think every instruction and information literacy librarian should frame in their office or workspace. Gold quotes Patti Schifter Caravello, who suggests "that the librarian's goal should be to 'create independent learners who think critically'" (qtd. in 469). Maybe we should be advertising this more when promoting librarians and their value instead of fretting over Google.

At the end of the literature review, the author provides a small summary of the obstacles possible when implementing new teaching practices. These include:

  • Need for additional professional training, more institutional support, and more time and materials for librarians. This was pretty obvious to me, and I am sure many academic librarians can agree, especially the ones in smaller settings with less support and funds to draw from.
  • "Furthermore, the librarian--in almost all cases-- is responsible for initiating new adult library instruction programs, but there has been little or no mention of administrative guidance or support beyond the library" (470). All I can say is there has been the lack of mention in the literature because there is a serious lack of the aforementioned administrative support on campuses all over.
Next, Gold provides an overview of adult learners' traits. She provides numbers to show how this population has grown on campuses. In terms of library instruction, the keyword is practical. In fact, the need to be practical and show value to adult learners are the thrust of the article. Gold cites Randall Bowen and Richard Merritt who say that "introducing and explaining theories and ideas are not enough in the adult learning environment; their value and applicability should be made clear through active learning techniques such as small group work and problem-solving exercises" (471).

After the overview, Gold discusses the impact of adult learners' characteristics on instruction. Librarians need to remember that adult learners don't always have the prior technological knowledge the other traditional learners have. However, adult learners may have an advantage. "Although adult learners often lack technological and research skills, it is important to note that their resourcefulness and maturity may give them certain advantages over traditional learners" (471-472). Life experiences can often serve them to see solutions to problems that traditional students may find perplexing.

Gold goes on to give an illustration from her experiences at Eckerd College and follows that with a set of specific suggestions for providing better education to adult learners. Gold cites Stephen Brookfield on assignment and lesson effectiveness. This is another little gem educators should frame. According to the article, "Brookfield suggests educators should take risks by presenting material that might create an initially unfavorable response with hopes that, by challenging students, they may later experience a connection with the content" (473). Gold also provides reasons why traditional methods fail to meet the needs of adult learners. She states, "first and foremost, an emphasis on mastering skills outweighed the importance of teaching why the skills were necessary and how the learners might benefit from honing these skills early in their academic careers" (473). On library instruction, Gold says, "library instruction is most successful when information literacy is integrated into the curriculum. Library instruction should include assignments directly tied to the immediate curriculum, hopefull with input and assistance from the instructor" (475). To me, that is preaching to the choir, but it is nice to hear it reaffirmed.

Gold also adds a little on how to get instructor cooperation. She suggests doing it through professional development, in this case for the adjuncts. She observes that "when adjunct instructors are offered library orientation and instruction for their own professional development, an increase in familiarity and confidence makes them more likely to schedule their class for instruction" (477). I am willing to add that this would be applicable to all faculty, especially the veterans who may need a refresher on what their libraries offer.

In addition, the author has some thoughts on learner expectations, especially when it comes to full-text availability. I thought this went along nicely with other article I read on electronic journal use and acceptance. She writes the following:

"As full-text periodical literature becomes more available and affordable, distance learners, perhaps even more than traditional learners, need to learn early in their academic careers how to choose, navigate, download, and evaluate these online resources. Because adult learners have limited time for study and research, unlimited and unrestricted access to online resources is crucial for their academic success. When the issues of limited library outreach and programs to adult and distance learners combine with learners' limited access to technology, limited information literacy skills, and limited time flexibility, many adult learners are at a disadvantage before they even begin formal study" (477).

That is a lot of food for thought. She closes the article with her conclusions. This statement provides a good summary and a nice way to close this note:

"Adult learners do not need to be coaxed into the library or convinced that libraries are valuable resources. They do, however, need to be shown exactly how library services and resources can benefit their studies and why library skills are crucial to their academic success" (478).

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Some quick thoughts on Life and Blogging

I recently read Walt Crawford's essay "Life Trumps Blogging" that he publishes in the latest Cites and Insights (get the PDF here, the actual page in html to the essay here). These are just some quick thoughts I had as I was reading it. I am in the middle of drafting my "why do I blog" post, which for some reason keeps getting more complicated, but we'll see on that later. At any rate, my thoughts.

It seems to me that the title of the essay and what it says is common sense. For instance, Walt writes "that a vacation works better if the notebook stays at home (or at least stays off the internet as much as possible)." I know I would make a lousy conference or travel blogger because I would not be carrying a laptop. Travel for me is time to disconnect. I have plenty of internet time at home and especially at work. Sure, if I got the inclination to check e-mail on some freely available terminal, I might send the better half a note, but otherwise, I have not seen the need to carry a laptop. Does not mean I may not at some future if work were to require it, but as I know this is slim, I am pretty comfortable. I do however carry my personal journal for notes, so I would be able to post things when I get back, which has the added advantage that I can reflect on things. Anyhow, just my philosophy. For those who are always connected, I am sure it works for them.

When I discovered the essay, I was a bit sceptical. Not because of Walt's writing, which I know is among the most brilliant, but because I figured why would anyone need to write an essay about something that seems so common sense, well, to me at least. However, Walt's essay was interesting. I particularly liked seeing the various examples from other bloggers and writers that he presented, and I liked the little advice he gives at the end. I actually saw some of the posts he mentioned from people either taking a hiatus or leaving the blogosphere. Those who are gone for good I will miss, but I know that they have to do what they have to do: pure and simple. As Walt says, for those who may be taking a break, no explanation is required or needed. Having said that, odds are I may do such if I take a hiatus. I am funny that way. I don't need others to explain, yet I expect it of myself. Go figure. As for writing, I do need to write, and blogging has been and continues to be a nice extension of that. I do so for various reasons, which I am trying to explore in my other draft, but such reasons include seeking a little meaning and explaining things to myself.

At any rate, go read that great essay, and the rest of the issue of Cites and Insights is great as well. Walt has a reply to an essay by Blake of LISNews on the future of libraries which is worth reading. Walt recommends reading Blake's work first. If asked, I agree more with the way Walt took Blake's ideas apart and explained them. What disturbed me about the Blake piece was the fact that it seemed to leave behind those who could not afford the technological future he envisions. This was pointed out by some of the commenters in Blake's piece. Reading both makes for an interesting conversation. I won't add much here since I think what needed to be said in that regard has already been said by people who are more eloquent and knowledgeable than I could ever be. But hey, someone leaves me a comment, I may reply.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Article Note: Using Government Information to Teach Source Evaluation

Citation for the article:

Hogenboom, Karen. "Going Beyond .gov: Using Government Information to Teach Evaluation of Sources." portal: Libraries and the Academy. 5.4 (2005): 455-466.

I read this article through Project Muse, so it may be available for readers with access to the database.

This article describes how government information can be used to teach students the process of evaluating information sources. In fact, it also discusses how some government resources can be used to illustrate the research process. Usually, librarians tell students that websites with the .gov URL extension are good and reliable sources for a research assignment. This article proposes that .gov sources can be used for teaching critical thinking skills as well.

The article opens with a brief summary of arguments in favor of teaching critical thinking and the role of librarians in that process. This process ideally should entail the collaboration of faculty, librarians, and even the campus writing center. According to Hogenboom, "the librarian's role is often in the early stages of the process, showing students sources that demonstrate various concepts in critical thinking, as well as showing them how to find sources appropriate to their purposes, both for the specific project that brought them to the library and in general" (456). The literature review gives some definitions of information literacy and critical thinking to provide a context. This review also recalls how often faculty express concern over the fact that students seem to be doing more cut-and-paste than actually presenting arguments in their papers.

The author then opens the discussion as follows:

"One of the challenges of teaching students to evaluate sources is finding examples that demonstrate how audience, purpose, and point of view affect communication so that students can see below the surface of the information. It is also difficult to find examples that model critical thinking in action and to give students tools for examining the sources they are evaluating. Government information can help in all of these areas" (457).

This summarizes her argument, which then goes on to illustrate by showing how government sources do these things. She discusses how information can vary from one administration to the next. She points out that reports from different administrations can be used to compare points of view and agendas. The idea here is that government sources can convey biases and agendas. For instance, the Health and Human Services Department's information on sex education varies from the Clinton Administration, which highlighted condoms in preventing HIV, to the Bush Administration, which currently emphasizes abstinence and downplays the role of condoms. In addition, "even reports that seem non-controversial, like an agency's annual report, often present information in a way that is most beneficial to the agency issuing the report or to the current administration" (457).

The author then uses congressional hearings and related documents to further illustrate her argument. She goes over what a hearing does, how it differs from a report, and then how information can change in the process of going from the hearing to the report to debate on the floor of Congress. She explains what a hearing can do:

"Congressional hearings are often scheduled in order to hear from experts with differing points on a topic that the congressional committee is considering. Students can look at a single document, the hearing transcript, and see all the information they need in order to discover the point of view of the various witnesses, including their affiliation, relationship to the topic, and qualifications to speak about the issue under consideration. By looking at witnesses' testimonies, they can see how their points of view influence the information they present" (458).

The first part of that statement is something I often tell my students in instruction sessions. It often happens in the context of doing a search, and we come across a government document. A student or two may be tempted to skip it because it is a government document, and I get to tell them how helpful such a document can be because of how it can gather a broad range of information on a topic. This usually happens on the fly; it is a quick mention as part of the larger lesson. I like her additional explanation about the information in the hearing and about the different witnesses. I may be able to integrate some more, but since my sessions are often one-shots, time to expand may be minimal. However, it can be an incentive for me to find ways to bring this type of material more into my sessions. Hogenboom adds that "given the partisan nature of government and politics, these sources often contain clear examples that give students a solid understanding of the concept of point of view, an understanding they can then apply in less obvious situations" (458). Furthermore, government information sources also illustrate writing for different audiences. Hogenboom writes, "because government agencies write for the general public, specialists, the bodies to which they are accountable, and other groups, the differences in how information on the same subject is presented to different audiences by the same corporate author can be easily demonstrated" (461). She gives the example of the Department of Education's information on NCLB. There is a difference between the section for parents and the section for teachers in terms of content and presentation because the information is for different audiences.

The author also explains that government resources can be used to evaluate secondary sources. This applies to news accounts and others discussing the government information and findings. She goes on to write that "students not only need to look at the opinions expressed by various commentators but they also need to uncover the criteria being used by each commentator. They should look at the original report to see if the commentator's criteria for evaluating the report are reasonable and if the criteria are applied fairly and consistently" (461). This is not an easy task to teach. In fact, it is not a easy thing to do, but if students are to learn how to be well informed critical thinkers, they need to be taught how to go back to sources and verify what they read. In the case of statistics, as one example, going back to the source of the numbers can often reveal what a reporter or scholar chose to emphasize and leave out of a paper or article.

Hogenboom does recognize that not all instruction sessions have the time to integrate government documents in depth. However, she advocates doing so to the extent that it is possible. For example, for the short one-shot sessions, she suggests that "pointing out what congressional hearings look like in the online catalog and their value for finding experts with a variety of perspectives on a topic or explaining how to trace statistics cited in a secondary source are better ideas. . . ." (462). This is a strength of the article, giving ideas that librarians can use in their next session. She provides hints and advice for using government sources in various types of sessions. However the librarian does this, the needs of the students need to be taken into account.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Some thoughts on librarians' journal clubs

This post was prompted by a post from Mark Lindner of . . .the thoughts are broken . . . . He wrote a post in response to an article, which I cite below, regarding journal clubs for librarians. Mark is proposing the formation of a virtual journal club for librarians and others who may be interested. The article citation is as follows:

Hickman, Theodore and Lisa Allen. "A Librarians Journal Club: A Forum for Sharing Ideas and Experiences." C&RL News 66.9 (October 2005): 642-644.

Before going on to read Mark's post, I went ahead and read the article. Having a membership in ALA and ACRL meant I could access the article online. My print journals are notoriously slow in arriving via snail mail. The article and Mark's post gave me some food for thought, but it also made me a bit reluctant to write some of the thoughts below because I find myself wishing that some of the conversations made possible by the club way described by Hickman and Allen could be put in place in my library. The odds for that at the moment are a little slim. I will say I had mixed feelings typing some of this since a part of it deals with work, but for me, "alea iacta est."

In my library, like many academic libraries, we route journals of academic and professional interest that we subscribe to. This does not always happen in a timely fashion, but it is just a fact of life. At any rate, a lot of what I would want to look at can be accessed online or through an alert service. What I never hear much though is my colleagues talking about what they read. I am sure they read. I see them sneaking an article here and there at the Information Desk, and I know of one who will read a professional article now and then when things are slow. What the authors describe in their article seems applicable. They write that "more commonly, professional staff is absorbed in completing the tasks and assigned duties that fall chiefly within their immediate area of responsibility." Any dialogue on this that does happen does so on the fly. If I ever ask people what they read, I will admit to feeling a little guilty. Like I am taking them away from something else they should be doing. I hate imposing on people. Sure, I will do various things, but it does not mean I will ask others to jump along. Maybe it is a bit of myself: I am perfectly fine trying out new things and falling on my sword if things do not work out. So, where do I come from with this?

In graduate school, groups like the ones described in the article were formed. And I don't mean just groups formed for specific classes. There is an old joke about graduate students that when the professor fails to show up for class, the students still go ahead and discuss whatever the assignment was rather than go home. Students formed groups on their own to explore readings and interests. It happened in English Studies and in Library School. While I did not make it to every meeting, when I did make it, I got a lot of benefit from the process. It is one thing I miss. And while I understand that the realities of work are different than the ivory tower, I do wonder if it means sharing learning and reading have to go on the wayside. Are such things not part of professional growth and development? I think so. I am willing to gamble at least some of my colleagues think so as well, but time becomes the factor. The reading part is easy; it's the sharing and reflection time that takes work. So, the next question, how do I make it work for me?

That is where blogging and my personal journal help. I can use writing to reflect on the items that I read. In the case of my blogs, it allows me to publicly share what I read. Of course, like any blog, whether others read it or not is a different matter. It is not a matter that bothers much since first and foremost the blogs are a learning tool, a workshop space, and a place for a little fun for me.

The article authors also note there is an absence of the topic in the scholarly literature. Does this mean it is not happening? I would like to think it is happening, even if on a small scale. But like many great things in librarianship, it is not getting written about. At least not in the scholarly journals.

The article authors describe the value of this activity as follows: "individual professional development, an opportunity to socialize informally with colleagues, and the birth of new service initiatives are extremely valuable to all library staff. First and foremost, journal clubs help with the challenge of 'keeping up' with the large amount of literature that is published." Challenges, according to the article, are keeping up interest after the initial period and over-reliance on the same group moderators. The authors wrote that "more librarian participation means more diversity of topics, as we each monitor different information sources, have different skill sets and professional backgrounds, and have unique perspectives on librarianship, which, if shared, would benefit the library as a whole." I will go on to add that there would be benefit for the profession as a whole as well. This is why I posted to Mark in the comments of his blog that he could count me in. The potential of librarians in various areas of librarianship sharing their ideas and readings with others, and then responding to the readings and each other is great. I think it can make for a powerful experience if it works.

Another issue I wondered about from the article is in settings where tenure is an issue. Does the club become a tool for furthering publishing agendas and research plans? In other words, does the club become more focused on finding research ideas, exploring publication opportunities and venues, etc.? Nothing wrong with this, but that would take away from the more casual nature of a journal club turning it into nothing more than a research agenda for tenure forum. That is not what such a tool is meant to be. In his article, Mark has a line that has to be simply labeled brilliant. He writes that "many of the topics that you think are most removed from your daily practice will impact what you do, sooner rather than later." I cannot think for a better reason to launch a journal club in the virtual world.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

The Reference Question of the Day, or Metal Handbook to the rescue

We just had a patron come to the Information Desk asking the following:

"What is the tensile strength of carbon steel #1015?"

The answer is:
  • If "as rolled," 420.6 MPa or 61.0 ksi.
  • If "normalized," 424.0 MPa or 61.5 ksi.
  • If "annealed," 386.1 MPa or 56.0 ksi.
The phrases in quotes are different treatments for the steel. MPa is the unit of measurement in megapascals. KSI is the unit of measurement of kilo per square inch. These are units of pressure measurement. They were not part of the question, but I had to look them up for curiosity. The answer to the question itself was in:

Boyer, Howard E. and Timothy L. Gall. Metal Handbook: Desk Edition. Metals Park, OH: American Society for Metals. 1985.

Goes to show that now and then we still have a use for the "old fashioned" reference books.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Article Note: On Electronic Journal Use and Acceptance

Citation for the article:

Serotkin, Patricia B., Patricia I. Fitzgerald, and Sandra Balough. "If We Build It, Will They Come? Electronic Journals Acceptance and Usage Patterns." portal: Libraries and the Academy 5.4 (2005): 497-512.

Part of the reason I read this article is that my library is moving with a philosophy of putting as many resources as possible online. Regardless of the pros and cons, we do face an extremely serious space issue, which I am not addressing here. It does help to propel the philosophy forward. In addition, more and more students are coming with requests for articles that can be found "online." This of course means items they can just print out on their computer and are not "stuff from Google." The expectation of finding more articles full-text is pretty much a given, at least in my experience. So, as I start to read this, I wonder if the article will validate some of my experiences or not. After reading the article, I find that it does validate some of my experiences. I was also pleased that it calls for an active role for user education.

The article begins with the literature review. The authors identify three major issues in the scholarly literature: "user acceptance or preference, confidence in the stability and accessibility of the e-journal format, and the role of user education in influencing selection of electronic resources" (498).

Under the discussion of user acceptance issues, the authors cite three obstacles the students face when they try to use e-books or e-journals. They have problems with authentication and passwords when trying to use them from off-campus. Second, they have problems navigating the library's website in order to use the items. Third, cost of printing materials is an issue. This third one refers to printing charges students may face on campuses. At the moment, we do not charge for printing in the library, but the students do have as quota of printing on campus computer labs. To be honest, I am not sure how long we will keep printing free given costs. At my library, the issue of distance access is present. We constantly get phone calls and e-mails from people having problems with accessing due to the need to authenticate. Sometimes this is due to a firewall, other times it may be some other technical reason. Whatever the reason, students simply don't care. They want their access to the articles in an easy way. If they need to sign in, that is fine for them, but that is about as far as the patience goes. If you add being on a database and having to use a resolver like TDNet, which can be confusing, the frustration can rise to ire. This I can see as a solid reason for e-journals and e-books not having as much popularity as they could be. From students who succeed in using the resources off-campus, the ones that give me feedback are usually very pleased. However, it is the displeased ones who tend to be more vocal. This is an area where vendors and technical people need to do further work. Other reported obstacles that the authors cited included lack of time and not enough training on how to find and use the information. Overall, the literature shows that undergraduates expect to use more electronic resources than graduate students and faculty, who still rely strongly on print.

The authors also cite a study by Juris Dilevko and Lisa Gottlieb conducted at the University of Toronto in 2002. The study was looking at how undergraduates use print resources for assignments in spite of electronic resources being available. Regarding that study, the article authors observe that "interestingly, 74.5 percent of the subjects in this study said they would prefer an 'exact' print journal to a 'good enough' online journal" (499). In reading that line, I wonder how much of it has to do with professors who tell their students that they will not accept "anything from the web; that only print is acceptable." Academic librarians hear this on a regular basis from students doing their research. Often, it means the professor does not want the students going to Google or Yahoo! However, the students take it to mean anything coming from a computer. In a fair number of cases too, it reflects a lack of education and knowledge on the part of faculty who fail to distinguish or realize the value and significance of e-journals and other electronic resources. True, some electronic versions are not the same as the print. Results from Lexis-Nexis Academic are an excellent example where there are no charts or graphs. On the other hand, many databases provide full-text in PDF, which are as good as getting the item from the shelf. In some cases, only the electronic may be available. I will point out that as long as these details are an issue, I will never be out of a job. Someone has to teach about this.

Further in the literature review, the article also mentions some reasons why print may be preferred. One of these reasons is the computer itself. Reading on a screen for long periods of time can cause eye-strain. As a result, many users prefer to print out an article. I know I am one of these. If I want to have an article and read it later, I will print it out. Also, printing it out means I can make notes on the margins, highlight passages, and take it with me if I need to. Portability and comfort are factors.

The study the authors conducted took place at Saint Francis University, a coed Masters I comprehensive university. It is a Catholic institution. The study was designed to find out if students will use electronic journals that do not have a print version, what kind of access do they prefer, and what can encourage them to use them. (503). It included a sample of 71 students in health sciences. They also used statistics on usage from Ovid, and the students were placed in focus groups. It has to be noted that the access was provided through WebCT as part of a grant, so the journals provided were pretty much bought for the study itself. This was also so they could isolate the journal users as much as possible. However, this meant that students could not go through the library's Web page to get the journals. They had to use the WebCT tool, which became an issue for some of the students. These students stated "that unless someone 'reminded' them, they simply forgot that the journals were available. They would have preferred accessing the new journals through the library's Web portal as they did other electronic resources, finding it confusing to learn a different access method for these resources" (506-507). This seems like something to consider for distance education classes and other classes that use course management systems.

Some of the findings are:

  • "With regard to issues of user acceptance and preference, one of the themes that emerged from the focus group discussions was that the student participants in this study preferred electronic full-text journals to print because it is faster and easier for them to get the information. Students said they also preferred using e-journals because they are not charged for printing in pubolic computer labs, whereas they stated that paying to photocopy print journals is a deterrent to their use" (506).
  • "With regard to the issue of user education, this study found that students believed that in order to feel capable of using the new e-journals (as well as other resources) effectively on their own, they wanted an introduction to the new resources followed by additional training and printed instructions that could serve as 'research guides'" (507).
  • "Clearly, one implication of these findings is that academic libraries are challenged to achieve an appropriate balance of print and electronic collections that meets their constituents' needs" (508). I am sure a good share of librarians who read this will think that is fairly basic.
  • In their conclusion, the authors write that the study "supports the notion that programs that build upon basic skills and that utilize collaboration with faculty in the development of information literacy skills across academic disciplines are both needed and wanted by students" (510). In other words, this is a good piece of evidence for the role that libraries play on their campuses. The next time someone says that libraries should have a minimal or no role on their campuses when it comes to the education of the students, readers can point to this article.
The article is a good example of an academic article. It makes some good points, and I am sure it confirms the experiences of many academic librarians. It is worth looking over.