Friday, September 29, 2006

College students doing too much Internet?

Initially, when I saw this article on college students and Internet addiction, I gave it no further thought. That was until a student came to see me for some research assistance a few days ago. As we were talking about her research needs, we also had a casual conversation. She made the offhand remark that she felt that maybe she should shut down her MySpace because it was taking so much of her spare time. At that moment, the lightbulb went off for me, and I remembered this article.

Glancing from the Information Desk at any given time, you can see at least 8 to 10 terminals on MySpace or other social site, plus a couple more on games. Those are the ones I can see without standing up in a lab of 70 terminals. Problem or not, the fact that these students spend large amounts of time on the Internet for purposes other than academic, as reported additionally by colleagues who have made similar observations, is a given. Personally, I am pretty mellow about the whole thing. It's their tuition, so as long as they are not doing anything illegal, I don't really care what they do on the computers. And yet, I think of that one student now. At least, she has some awareness. Many students simply lack that awareness. "Increasing numbers of students are reporting their extracurricular online activities are taking a toll on their academics," according to the article.

The article mentions a survey conducted at Michigan State University. One of the survey's findings is that "18.5 percent of Michigan State University students reported that spending time using the Internet and playing computer games caused them to get low grades or drop a class altogether." For campus administrators, this is a sensitive issue. On the one hand, findings like these are a cause for concern and the impulse may be to want to do something, like start considering some kind of limits on online activity. On the other hand, administrators, and we can include some librarians in this blend, don't want to appear as an antiquated scold. I am definitely not one to advocate any kind of limits or monitoring of student online activity. I think it may well be part of learning life management skills. Maybe for some of those students, realizing that grades will suffer or having to drop a class is the lesson they need in order to learn about balance and moderation. At the end, that is the bottom line: balance and moderation. So, if students were to ask for my advice, I would say this: keep in touch with your friends, play a little game here and there, but please get your school work done. It's all part of getting an education.

A hat tip to the Kept-Up Librarian.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

On IM and Libraries, some musings

As another semester rolls along, I find myself busy teaching. I started experimenting with using IM as an option for my students to contact me. As I am catching up with some feeds, I came across Joy's post on "IM a Librarian." I thought about adding the status widgets to my blogs' sidebars, but the coding was not as easy as it looked, so I decided against it. While she is writing about a library service, as opposed to a single librarian, at least part of her post made me think about the process.

For one, Joy reports that during orientation at her institution, when promoting the IM service, a surprising number of students said, "I don't do that." In my setting, I would not find that remark surprising. Most of the students here use MySpace or a similar tool, but IM seems to be something they don't do. This is based on observation in our computer lab and asking now and then. They do use texting on their cells quite a bit. Those are the students with a bit of tech savvy. In fact, I have had a student in one of my classes actually did not know what MySpace was. In some other campus, I would have wondered what rock was she hiding under. In this campus, that would be consistent with the student demographic.

I am beginning to accept the possibility that IM may not be working for me because a lot of the students simply don't use it, whether by ignorance or choice. This also leads me to believe that use of IM as a form of virtual reference by the library may not succeed, at least not anytime soon and not as long as IM is not something on the student's radar. While I like the idea of offering as many options as possible, I don't think IM would work in our setting. Individually, I can keep my IM open on my desktop while I do other things. For the library as a whole, this would require some collective effort. Given concerns about manpower and covering the Information Desk as they are now, suggesting the addition of monitoring any incoming IM's at the desk may not sit well with some of my colleagues.

What is working so far for us is the e-mail form for asking a librarian on our website. It does get a good amount of use. Personally, students from my classes will send me an e-mail directly to my address when they need help, and I do get a good number of visits at my desk. In fact, I think they are coming a bit earlier in the semester these days, which I take as a good sign. Anyhow, just random musings.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Article Note: On Evolving Librarians

Citation for the article:

Benson, Amy and Robert Favini. "Evolving Web, Evolving Librarian." Library Hi Tech News Number 7 (2006): 18-21.

Read via Emerald.

This article basically is a call for librarians to adapt and work with 2.0 technologies. As such, it is nothing really new. If you are already doing this, then you know the stuff in the article. If you don't, you may want to look at the article. There are some things I would like to jot down.
  • "As searching the entire WWW becomes an experience tailored to the needs and interests of individuals, library users expect the same kind of experience when they visit the library's information space" (18). The catch, and this is mentioned in the article, is balancing patron privacy with service.
  • "Giving users the option to receive only the information on topics that interest them is an important first step in personalizing the library user's experience" (19).
  • "Libraries need to liberate the valuable data locked in their catalogs and use today's technologies to share it with and integrate it into other information sites and services" (20).
Much of the idea here is to make libraries more like commercial endeavors (i.e. Amazon). While I am not sold on that idea, this is still worth thinking about.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Article Note: On Creating a Library Blog

Citation for the article:

Yuan, Haiwang and Rosemary L. Meszaros. "Information Innovations: From the Web to the Blog: A Case Study." Library Hi Tech News Number 7 (2006): 22-25.

Read via Emerald.

This short article reports on Western Kentucky University's launch of their institutional library blog. The article is basically a success story with some details and ideas to keep in mind for others attempting this. Some highlights from the article then:
  • "First and foremost, the purpose of blogging and the targeted audience of a blog must be taken into account when planning for an institutional blog. A blog should not be set up just for the sake of blogging" (22).
Their blogging is team-based, and their libraries actually set up a Blog Task Force, trained by the libraries' webmaster who leads the team. Most of his work is to manage the other bloggers. They use a single blog, using WordPress, with the categories option to manage the various entries. The manager is the top editor, but bloggers can post as they please. There are still rules:
  • ". . . the UL Blog Task Force came up with the following 'acceptable use' of the blog: Bloggers are required to check facts, present balanced views, acknowledge and correct errors, and check spelling and grammar before actual posting" (23).
According to the article, the blog is used as a supplement to the libraries' regular websites. The article also discusses in brief some of the advantages and shortcomings of blogging.
  • "Good content, among everything, best promotes one's blog" (24).
  • "The WKU Libraries has created a model, where a blog manager leads a group of sub-managers to oversee an institutional blog" (24).

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Hispanic Heritage Month 2006

Hispanic Heritage Month runs from September 15 to October 15. Here is a very small sampling of resources and ideas to help the celebration.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Revisiting the periodicals I read

It may be time for me to revisit my reading lists for periodicals. I have read in a few places the predictions that print newspapers and magazines are headed for extinction. However, this recent post asking "are newspapers and magazines dying?" by Don Dodge made me sit back a moment and look at my reading habits. I am referring here to the newspapers and magazines; I still read a good share of books.

When it comes to news, I get them online. I may glance at a local television cast in the morning before I go to work, but I do it for two things: weather (to reaffirm it will be hot as hell as usual in Houston) and traffic (to know how many wrecks, blockages, overturned trailers and other events are going on at the time that may delay my commute). Once I get that, I switch to CNN for the rest of my breakfast. For local news overall, I have found that using My Yahoo! works well. They just added more local Houston feeds, which I think are still on beta, but I get some decent coverage of the local news on that as it includes the Houston Chronicle, some of the media stations, and some of the other local newspapers. The only real reason I use Yahoo's custom page is longevity. I've had it long before Bloglines came around. I also look at various news sources the same way: Reuters, AP, The Christian Science Monitor, BBC, Salon, and others. These days, the only way I would read a print newspaper is if I lost my online and television access. I do look at magazines now and then. By the way, I scan a lot, but I do manage to stay informed.

When I started working as a professional librarian, I made myself a reading list (see my links above) for periodicals that I wanted to read or at least keep up with. I made a decent effort to read various publications, but over time I found that I was reading less of the items on the list. It turns out that a great bulk of my periodical reading is now done electronically. I read items from Table of Contents (TOC) alerts and on a feed reader. If a magazine lacks an rss feed these days, odds are good that I will not read it. However, I am not reading less. In fact, I am reading more as a whole, just differently.

Blogs have become a significant reading and information source for me. I have discovered that if something is important, the odds are good that some bloggers will pick it up. Mother Jones, to pick an example, had a good article on X topic? Someone will mention it. If it sounds interesting, I go find it. A lot of filtering gets done by bloggers. This does mean that one has to fine tune their aggregator in order to get a good set of informative and interesting feeds. This also includes removing things from the aggregator that you may have added, but that you no longer read. Librarians call that weeding.

So, allow me to briefly share what has worked for me:
  • My Yahoo!: I've had this since who knows when. On it I have major news sources in topics like news, business and technology, and entertainment. In essence, this serves as my virtual newspaper. I usually give it a quick scan and focus on anything interesting. I combine informative, interesting, and amusing here.
  • Bloglines: This is where I read blogs. To keep things neat, I don't use it for anything not a blog for the most part, and I include big and small bloggers. I will admit I favor smaller blogging voices over the big A-listers, who after a while seem more like echo chambers. I look at this every day, and it is part of my current awareness strategy. A big reason that I have little patience for CNN and most news programs on television is that by the time they get a story, very often I saw it on a blog or online first.
  • TOC Alerts for academic journals: I am referring here to LIS journals as well as journals in my subject areas and area of specialization. This is probably one of the best things to happen for current awareness. As I review my reading lists, I find that I am reading most of the academic stuff I set out to read because I am alerted to it on my e-mail. My next step will probably be modifying alerts from e-mail to putting the feeds in an aggregator for those journals that provide feeds. We'll see how it goes.
And something that has not been working for me:
  • Newsgator: This I just don't use as much. Now and then I like to experiment with other 2.0 online tools, and I opened this account to try it out. I use it mostly for some news feeds. I have in it things like AlterNet and some Spanish language feeds. For the most part, no blogs here. I scan this maybe once every week or less. A big reason for this is that I find their interface slow and clunky. When you click on a feed title, you still have to click on another link to mark them as read, and then it tends to be slow to do the marking. I find Bloglines more user-friendly. Now, I do like the idea of separating publications (newspapers, magazines, etc.) from blogs (I think here I mean more non-professional or less corporate?). The scheme makes sense to me. I am thinking maybe I need to move the stuff in here to MyYahoo! if possible, or I could try out a different reader, which would give me an excuse to experiment further with something else. Another little annoyance I found with Newsgator is that it can time you out for inactivity. While I am fine of the security rationale, it can be annoying if I open a link to a post, go over to the post's site to read it, then get back the feed reader only to find it has timed me out, and I have to log in again. If it is a long post I am reading, this would not be uncommon for me.
  • Remembering to check the print publications when they come out. With my busy schedule, especially during the hectic parts of an academic year, remembering that Harper's or Atlantic came out is less of a priority for me. For magazines like those two, bloggers again come through for me by pointing out stories I may want to see. While I still like the serendipity of picking up a magazine and finding something interesting, letting the aggregator to some of the work makes my life a little easier. I don't feel like I am missing much.
On other thoughts, I don't have any personal periodical subscriptions at home. The only things that I get are due to organization memberships like the American Library Association (ALA), and even those I am debating whether to keep them or not. Part of the debate is that I pick up a lot of the stuff ALA puts out via libloggers. The newfangled newsletter that ALA spams on my inbox as a "membership perquisite" is pretty much useless and old news by the time it arrives. I usually delete it upon arrival. I ought to see if I can just unsubscribe from the thing. Same goes for American Libraries magazine, which is notorious for arriving very late in my home. I do like the journals from ALA divisions like RUSA and ACRL, though I personally find more substance in articles from publications like The Journal of Academic Librarianship, Reference Services Review (RSR), and Library Trends among others. Any other readers note these are not ALA publications? We could debate the merits of certain journals, but that would be a separate post. By the way, I read those journals via TOC alerts.

I guess that my reading patterns have changed. What I find fascinating is that the change has been gradual. I just adjust based on what I find useful and/or interesting. I went on and started reviewing my lists to see what can be read online or put in the aggregator. For the personal list, I found a few. For the academic items, I will get to those later. In the meantime, I will keep on reading, writing, and learning.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

On letting posts marinate

This post, "Let Your Posts Marinate," has some useful tips for bloggers. For me, it provides affirmation. I clip a good number of items from my aggregator for possible blogging prompts, in addition to just the things I write about from experience. I have a small cue here on Blogger of items to explore. I am not as good about reviewing clips though, which is why at times I will post about something that got clipped weeks ago. However, since I am not aiming to be BibNN, it works for me to look at things as I have time and post them as I get some inspiration. I like taking my time to think about what I write. When I was taking one of my graduate courses in composition, the professor would talk about vomitting what you had in mind. It meant that you would think about the topic, let it stew, and then let it all out on the paper at once. I know, not a pretty image, but effective. Once you got it all on the paper, you could let it sit a bit more, then go back and do your revision and editing. In brief, the four tips provided by the post are:
  • Jot it.
  • Review it.
  • Let it develop.
  • Post.
In a way, that is not different from the writing process that students are taught in composition classes. Start by prewriting the ideas (jot), you look them over (review), let them develop (do some writing on it and revise), and post (write the final draft). For me, this makes me wonder if a blog is the best format for me. This is on the basis that many people have the expectation that a blogger should post regularly. Since I said the heck with expectations, I post as it works for me. I care about my writing, so I would rather put out something decent than the first flicker out of my mind. I prefer reflection given it is a learning tool for me. Does not mean I don't do the occasional quickie post. In the end, bloggers and writers should do what works for them as long as it gets the job done.

A hat tip to 43 Folders.

Tips for conference attendees

Stephen Abrams, of Stephen's Lighthouse, has posted a substantial and helpful list of tips for conference attendees. File this under helpful little things. No, it's not new, but as I am thinking about attending another conference (and having second thoughts about it given the bureaucratic odyssey, to put it in polite terms, MPOW puts me through), this piece of information seemed like a good idea to post.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Nominees for the Quill Awards 2006 Announced

The Quill Award Nominees for 2006 have been announced. Look for the winners' announcement on October 10th. This award is voted on by readers, so go on over to the site and vote for your favorites. The only nominees I have read are Jim Henson's It's Not Easy Being Green (booknote here) and Al Franken's The Truth (with Jokes) (booknote here). The new Calvin and Hobbes complete set is nominated; I have read Calvin and Hobbes, but not the big volume. I have also read Sherlock Holmes, but not the new edition they have nominated for an award. At any rate, I have to note some of the titles to add to my reading list.

Bibliographies on animal rights and prisons

I know: those two topics sound pretty disparate. However, I found bibliographies on Animals: Ethics, Rights and Law and on Criminal Law, Punishment and Prisons. Please note the links open PDF files. These are put together by Professor Patrick S. O'Donnell of Santa Barbara City College.

A hat tip to the Leiter Reports. According to Leiter blog, the professor has other bibliographies, but I went to the link it provides to the school and could not find anything else as of this writing. Still, these two can make useful resources on the topics.