Thursday, December 21, 2006

Have a Safe and Happy Holiday

Readers can find my post for the holiday over at the unruly cousin's blog, The Itinerant Librarian.

Whatever choice you make to celebrate the holidays, may they be in peace, safety, and joy. See ya all next year.

Best, and keep on blogging.

Advice on Facebook for Educators

Fred Stutzman, of Unit Structures, has written a very detailed and thoughtful post on Facebook as a Tool for Learning Engagement. For professors and librarians who may debating on whether to make a profile on Facebook or not, this may provide some food for thought to help the decision along. It has given me some ideas to think about as I consider whether to make my own profile or not. If I do, I will certainly let people out there know how it works out.

(Crossposted to Alchemical Thoughts.)

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Article Note: On Students as Audience for Instruction

Citation for the article:

Willis, Carolyn N., and William Joseph Thomas. "Students as Audience: Identity and Information Literacy Instruction." portal: Libraries and the Academy 6.4 (2006): 431-444.

Read via Project Muse.

The article opens with a reminder that librarians usually focus on the material to teach rather than on the students. This is usually due to the usual time constraints, especially for one-shot sessions. Given diverse learning styles, teacher librarians have their work cut out for them. The authors also remind us to look over ACRL's "Characteristics of Programs of Information Literacy that Illustrate Best Practices: A Guideline" (see CR&L News 64 for September 2003). That document provides insights on planning and pedagogy. The document emphasizes the importance of student-centered learning and responding to different learning styles. The basic goal of instruction, learning how to use the library's resources and selecting the best resources to meet research needs, does not change. What should be changing are the methods of teaching.

  • "Instruction librarians may need to change their instruction methods, however, or change aspects of the space in which instruction takes place. This article will encourage librarians to ask who their students are and how the varied characteristics of the students will influence their receptiveness to information literacy instruction. The composition of the audience forces librarians to consider instructional space and equipment, to plan learning objectives, to deliver instruction through a variety of activities and assessments, to present instructional content in person, and to consider implications for outreach activities to new student groups" (432).

When you look at it, that is a tall order for any instruction librarian. The part about implications for outreach catches my eye as I was thinking on that a few days ago. I was having a semi-formal discussion on the topic with our evening librarian, who was considering possibilities of promoting the library and its services to campus organizations. This is definitely an area we need to explore further.

Willis and Thomas move on to describe the students. They provide a description of the Millenials or GenY. However, they point out that there are other students. This is something worth remembering.

  • "But not all students are Gen Y, and in reality, Generation Y is not monolithic. Some students are nontraditional, ranging from Baby Boomers returning to school to Generation X, the cohort immediately preceding Gen Y; some are transfer students from community colleges; and some are student athletes. There are also international students, students for whom English is a second or third language" (432-433).

The authors continue to expand the diverse picture of students in terms of learning abilities, ethnicity, handicaps, those with children, etc. The points is that librarians should be taking this into consideration rather than planning for a homogeneous group that does not exist. To address this, the authors provide some suggestions for learning more about students.

The core of the article is a discussion of a student survey at their library. The survey was designed to provide information on student characteristics, and it asked them "to select all teaching strategies that would improve library instruction for their class and to select the one strategy that would most help them personally" (433). To me, those questions are intriguing. They are questions I would like to ask my students as well.

  • The importance of learning detailed information about the students: "Learning more in-depth about such aspects of student identity through such questions as these will enable librarians to better prepare for planning and conducting information library instruction" (435).

The authors then proceed to discuss the implications of their findings.

In terms of space and equipment, it is necessary to have spaces that meet the physical needs of students. This includes making the space accessible (think ADA compliance), but it also includes awareness on the part of the librarian such as using larger fonts or changing settings on a projector. Classroom control software may be useful as well. "Creating and maintaining a place that makes learning possible owes much to well-designed physical space" (436).

In terms of planning:

  • Start by looking at ACRL's Instruction to Diverse Populations bibliography.
  • "To approach planning for different audiences, instruction librarians should incorporate discussions with departmental faculty members in order to select learning objectives, plan for multiple learning styles, select the instructional activities, and plan for evaluation" (436). This is not really new or revolutionary given that others have discussed the need for collaboration between faculty and librarians (for example, see here).

In terms of instruction delivery, or how teaching is actually done:

  • "The delivery of instruction through various activities does not mean changing the content--the students still need to learn a specific subject matter determined by the course--but it does mean using alternative activities to teach that content" (437).
  • "Modifying instruction to accommodate multiple learning styles requires planning for a variety of activities during the information literacy session. Within one session, librarians can design several activities to appeal to multiple learning styles. Varying lecture with hands-on practice and allowing for both individual, guided practice, and group work appeal to different learning styles, potentially maximizing the impact of the session" (437-438). When I read this statement, I jotted on the margin: not possible here given serious constraints. And I mean it too. While I may do my best to practice using various activities, my current physical space simply does not allow for much variety in class activities. It barely allows for a lecture model as it is. And while there is remodel plan in progress, I will say that it has not exactly been swift or consistent (to put it politely). Add to this that I often deal with faculty who only want "the usual library talk" (whatever the heck that means) and simply do not plan on any integration to their classes, and the problem is aggravated. The faculty issue can probably be fixed with some education and dialogue over time. The space issue requires certain institutional support that is simply not present, and it is out of my hands. At any rate, sometimes a librarian needs to make do with what he's given.
  • No matter the setting, this is worth remembering: "in order to reach all students, librarians cannot rely only on one mode of instruction" (438). I don't: I try to deploy different tricks and strategies at different times. This is not simply to address diverse student needs, but it also keeps things interesting to me.
  • "Far and away the most preferred teaching activity that students felt would benefit their class was hands-on" (439).
  • "A pleasant surprise was that about 10 percent of students across the board expressed their favor for individual follow-up with a librarian" (440). This seems to provide some validation to my efforts in terms of consultations and working individually with students.
  • "The variety in learning activities should be matched by a variety of assessment techniques, and assessment should be continuous" (440). The authors list some options for this and cite some relevant literature.

In terms of presenting in person, this part of the discussion is mostly a set of reminders on presentation basics. The authors conclude the article by discussing implications for outreach. They discuss targeting other student groups, such as accelerated programs, that could benefit from library instruction. Remember: "The intention of outreach efforts is, of course, to generate additional opportunities for information literacy instruction to the targeted groups" (443).

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

No, I am not too busy

I had a student approach the Information Desk yesterday afternoon while I was on duty. It was a very slow shift since the campus is on interim time before Christmas. The students, most of them, left already for their break when the semester ended last week. So the young lady approaches and meekly asks, "are you too busy?" After reassuring her that I was not and I got paid to be interrupted, she handed me a draft she was working on for me to read over. "Could you please read this over and tell me if it sounds ok?"

Usually I don't turn away such requests. Most librarians would probably send them to the local campus writing center, and I can understand the rational for that. In my case, since I used to teach composition, I don't mind doing it now and then. At any rate, I started reading it, and it was an appeal letter to her department. The young lady is requesting to get "incompletes" (I) for her semester coursework due to health reasons, which she explains in detail in her letter. It was probably a bit more information that I needed to know about the young lady, but that is not the point. The point is that I was there, and she needed someone to help her with the letter. I asked her a few questions about the text, "do you want to say this?" or "do you mean that?" I asked questions to help clarify what she wanted to say, and as she clarified I made small marks and notes on her draft. Once we were done, she sat back on her computer, typed the revisions, then headed out to turn it in after thanking me.

After she left, it struck me how often students trust us as librarians and educators. I often learn about their health, or their families or relationships, or any other number of things. In a way, it is not that much different than my composition teaching days where students would at times write very personal things, but that was written for a teacher who was the only audience. In this setting, I often just help someone clarify their ideas or polish something for their intended audience. If nothing else, maybe this is just a reminder of why I do the work I do.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Short notes on graphic novels 8

Another selection of recent graphic novels and comic compilations I have been reading. Most of these, I have borrowed from my local public library branch unless otherwise noted.

Fies, Brian. Mom's Cancer. New York: Abrams Image, 2006. ISBN: 0-8109-5840-6

This is a short but powerful novel. The author looks at how his family and him coped and supported his mother as she fought metastatic lung cancer. We are taken from diagnostic through treatment in a story with moments of humor and hope along the way. The work is an Eisner Award winner. I cannot recommend this one highly enough. This one I borrowed from my workplace.

Trudeau, G.B. The Long Road Home: One Step at a Time. Kansas City: Andrews McMeel, 2005. ISBN: 0-7407-5385-1.

This is a compilation of a Doonesbury series that depicted one of the strip's characters, B.D., as he was wounded while serving in Iraq and embarks on the road to healing and recuperation. We go from the battlefield to the Army hospitals to therapy. The author presents B.D.'s struggle with a blend of humor and compassion that is simply admirable and moving. I have to admit that at times I felt a bit guilty laughing, but the humor is there, and it is there to make you laugh as well as think. The topic of our military's wounded is not something often covered in the media, and this book brings it to life. This is an excellent work. This edition features a foreword by Senator John McCain. There is a sequel, which I will be seeking out. Among the best things I have read this year. This one I also borrowed from my workplace.

Hirano, Kohta. Hellsing, vol. 1. Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse Comics, 2003. ISBN: 159307056X

This is an English translation of the popular Japanese manga. Hellsing is a secret organization of vampire hunters sworn to protect the British Queen and the Protestant Church, and their top agent is a specially bred vampire, Alucard. This is the first volume in the series. It is a fun romp with a good measure of violence and gore, so this is not for children. I have already put in my requests at my local library for other volumes in the series.

Loeb, Jeph and Tim Sale. Superman For All Seasons. New York: DC Comics, 1999. ISBN: 1563895293.

The more I read of Loeb and Sale's work, the more I become a fan of their stories and art. So far, every graphic novel produced by this team has been a pleasant reading experience. I highly recommend anything these two produce, and this one is no exception. This Superman story has, what I can only describe as a "Norman Rockwell" feeling to it. In a way, the art and story is what you would get if Superman was a Rockwell painting. The art has that quality of Americana borrowing from the comics of the 1940s. The novel is a series of four comics, one for each season, with the story told from a different character's point of view from Superman's early days to his present day.

Loeb, Jeph and Tim Sale. Batman: Dark Victory. New York: DC Comics, 2001. ISBN: 1563898683.

This story follows after the events in the graphic novel Batman: The Long Halloween. These are still Batman's early days. By now, James Gordon has been named as Commissioner of Police. There is a new D.A. who dislikes Batman, and a new serial killer known as Hangman is killing police officers. Overall, this is another excellent story from the Loeb and Sale team. Personally, in the DC universe, Batman is one of my favorite heroes, in large part due to his darkness. Loeb and Sale have done great work exploring and expanding Batman's stories. For those interested in trivia and small details, look for the little references to The Godfather.

Waid Mark, JLA: Tower of Babel. New York: DC Comics, 2001. ISBN:1563898683.

Mark Waid is another good writer when it comes to comics and graphic novels. His work can also been seen in works like Ultimate X-Men. In this JLA series, Ra's Al Ghul, Batman's nemesis, manages to get a hold of Batman's countermeasures for the other JLA members and implements them in order to carry out his extreme enviromental plan. Batman is not the most trusting of souls, and the fact he had taken precautions against the other members of the Justice League makes the others feel betrayed. A good story overall that may make readers wonder about the value of friendship and trust. Was Batman right in keeping tabs on his allies in case he had to fight them later? Was it really betrayal? It's up to readers to decide.

Englehart, Steve. Batman: Dark Detective. New York: DC Comics, 2002. ISBN: 1401208983

Steve Englehart, with artist Marshall Rogers, worked on Batman during the 1970s. This team returns to Batman in a story where the Joker is running for governor of the state. The Joker's slogan: "Vote for Me, or I'll Kill You." Meanwhile, a girlfriend from Bruce Wayne's past returns, but where do her allegiances lie. The comic is drawn in the 1970s style, but the setting is modern; readers can look for a little reference to certain electoral debacle in Florida. The Scarecrow and Two-Face also make appearances.

Loeb, Jeph and Tim Sale. Batman: Haunted Knight. New York: DC Comics, 1995. ISBN: 1563892731.

I was hoping to read this one close to Halloween, but the request for it from another branch took a while to get here. Still, it was a very good read. This volume collects three Halloween specials. The first story features The Scarecrow. The second story, inspired by Alice in Wonderland, features the Mad Hatter. The third story is inspired by A Christmas Carol, with the Joker making what I shall describe as an interesting appearance in the role of one of the spirits. Another good work.

Johns, Geoff. Teen Titans: Family Lost. DC Comics, 2004. ISBN: 1401202381.

This story comes after the volume Teen Titans: A Kid's Game. Raven makes her return after a long absence, but she is pursued by a cult that worships her demon father. The cult leader is hoping to unleash Raven's powers for his world conquest. Meanwhile, Deathstroke the mercenary assassin also returns, and this time, he brings his daughter along as the new Ravager. They want Raven dead. A a fast paced story, with an ending that may be disturbing to some, which I particularly liked. The story does give a few angles on what it means to be a family, and maybe even on the influence of fathers on their children.

Lane, Mills. Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (graphic novel). Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse Comics, 2005. ISBN: 1593073097.

This is the graphic novel adaptation of the film by the same title. Considering that the movie is so expansive in visual terms, the graphic novel does pretty well in adapting the story to this format.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Article Note: On the value of scholarly book reviews

Citation for the article:

Dilevko, Juris,, "Investigating the Value of Scholarly Book Reviews for the Work of Scholarly Book Reviews for the Work of Academic Reference Librarians." The Journal of Academic Librarianship 32.5 (September 2006): 452-466.

I read this via ScienceDirect.

This blog's readers probably know that I read a good number of academic articles (along with a lot of other things). I also read and/or scan a lot of book reviews. Much of is for collection development, but I also like reading some of the review essays where they discuss four to six books on a topic. I often find such review essays helpful in getting a better sense of scholarship in a particular field. For me then, this article provided a little validation for that.

  • The authors cite Lynn Westbrook on what faculty members expect of librarians. I liked the statement, so here it goes: "'I need a librarians to ask questions to get me to see my research focus in a different light' or a librarian who can help find 'a way to conceptualize my problem. . .[by] talking through the idea and getting her response and knowledge.' In short, faculty members want librarians who can make significant intellectual contributions to their projects, not just undertake print or electronic searches--whether simple or complex-- for needed materials" (452).
The article considers whether reading and analyzing scholarly book reviews can help librarians acquire better subject knowledge. The study began with an assignment for LIS Humanities and Social Science students to find a number of substantive scholarly book reviews. They would then make notes of any trends and scholarly issues learned from the reviews to write overviews on their particular field of interest. Their overviews on popular music and southern literature, two of their various topics, were then sent to experts for evaluation.

So, what did the authors find?

  • "Despite the many and varied ways in which each student chose his or her 20 scholarly book reviews, all groups produced work that demonstrated that a careful reading of scholarly book reviews within a selected field can provide a thorough understanding of the parameters of and current issues in that particular academic field" (454).
  • Note that the proof-of-concept questionnaire they refer to is the tool given to the professors evaluating the overviews. "The results of the proof-of-concept questionnaire demonstrate that systematic and careful reading of scholarly book reviews can result in a detailed knowledge of the contours of a given academic subject area, allowing librarians to grasp important issues in a subject area, giving them insights into new ways of thinking about that subject area, and providing them with material with which they can generate new ideas and concepts that may ultimately be useful to researchers" (460).
  • There is a catch: "To be sure, the depth of knowledge that can result from reading scholarly book reviews depends on the degree of commitment and seriousness with which academic librarians approach the reading of these reviews" (460).
  • However, there is also the quality of the review. Keep in mind that for most professors, book reviewing is pretty much a low priority endeavor. It lacks the prestige of a well placed peer reviewed article or publishing a book in terms of reputation and tenure. Therefore, the authors are able to say the following: "The quality of the review also depends on the seriousness with which the scholar approaches the writing of the review, and the amount of time that the scholar devotes to crafting the review" (461). The authors also mention that often these reviews come out months and years long after the book is out and circulating. Again, it is a low priority for professors, so getting them to review, let alone do it in a timely fashion can be challenge.
So, which academic librarians would get the most benefit from reading scholarly reviews? Well, it turns out it is librarians like me.

  • "This activity would be especially helpful to librarians in small and mid-size colleges and universities where there are typically few professional librarians, each of whom has a wide array of diverse responsibilities, including collection development, liaison, and reference work, for many areas and fields" (461).
Finally, the article does include the list of the examined book reviews and the questionnaire tool.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Article Note: On advice for new liaison librarians

Citation for the article:

Stoddard, Richard A. et. al. "Going Boldly Beyond the Reference Desk: Practical Advice for New Reference Librarians Performing Liaison Work." The Journal of Academic Librarianship 32.4 (July 2006): 419-427.

Read via ScienceDirect.

Liaison work is one of those things they really don't teach in library school. Even if you take coursework for specialists, those courses often teach you the resources in a particular area. They don't really teach about the human element. By that I mean communicating with faculty and communicating faculty and cultivating collaborative endeavors. This article provides some advice in the human element department for new librarians who get a liaison assignment. The authors are (or were at the time) new librarians, so readers are getting the advice from authors sharing what they learned as they went along. I personally found that to be valuable. This article is definitely for new librarians, but I think some veterans looking for new ideas may find it useful as well. As usual, I will take down some notes and add some comments here and there.

  • "Increasingly, librarians must find creative ways to reach out to faculty through library instruction, customized class Web pages, and other types of specialized library services. In this age where Internet search engines compete heavily with libraries as prime information providers, liaison librarians must continually remind their clientèle about the advantages of the library and the services they offer" (420).

It is important to remember that liaison work is not just collection development. It also involves things like instruction and specialized research consultations.

  • "'Learn by doing' is a philosophy you should employ not only as a library liaison but also in librarianship in general" (421).

I know that is part of my teaching philosophy as well.

  • "In addition to these techniques, find a reason to e-mail your liaison faculty at least once every two weeks if not more. Tell them about a new service or remind them about an old service. Each time you contact them, you not only inform them about library services, but you also remind them that you are there and that you can help them" (421-422).

I like the e-mail idea in principle, but I wonder if the suggested frequency might be viewed as intrusive by some faculty. I wonder also if a well-marketed subject blog could serve some of this role. In a campus where a lot of faculty range from indifferent to downright hostile regarding the library, I wonder about this idea. However, it is something I would be interested in exploring.

  • "In some ways, a liaison librarian is an inventor: you must envision possibilities, rethink services, and seize upon opportunities. Do not be afraid to use technology if it will enhance your services to your department" (422).

The corollary to that is not to start using technology simply because it is cool, and you want to be hip. For instance, it makes no sense to create a blog if you are not able to maintain it well.

  • "The sooner you acquaint yourself with your academic discipline and its organization on your campus, the sooner you will know how the library can meet faculty needs. If you lack an academic background in your liaison area, do all you can to learn about that subject"(423).

If you are not familiar with your new assignment, remember that you are a librarian. You know how to find information and how to learn (or you should. It's part of what you were supposed to learn in library school). Use that knowledge and training to identify key sources (electronic and print). Learn about discussion lists, listservs, and anything you can put on your rss reader. If you don't know what an rss reader is, it's time to learn. Now, I am guessing that large prestigious universities can afford to hire a subject specialist, maybe one with a doctorate. We can leave aside the issue of whether a doctor needs the MLS too for a librarian position. In the interest of disclosure, I think they do. The point is more for librarians in smaller settings where wearing multiple hats is more likely. At Big Research U., you may have art librarians, music librarians, and librarians for various foreign languages. In my setting and line of work, all those areas fall under Arts & Humanities, which is my liaison assignment. Again, a good librarian uses his or her ability to learn and adapt as needed, especially when given a liaison area outside their comfort zone. As the saying goes, "you adapt, you improvise, you overcome."

  • "Having the ability to recognize the key figures, theories, and publishers will help you hone in on the best sources. In terms of reference interviewing, remember that each discipline has its own jargon and you will need to 'talk their talk' in order to understand the questions that people ask you. Also, faculty will have greater confidence in your guidance if you converse with them in their language" (423).

The article also features good advice on effective communication with faculty. The authors look at things such as collection development, library instruction, and research assistance. They also include various tables that serve as good checklists.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Article Note: A bibliography of influential books for instruction librarians

Citation for the article:

Brier, David J. and Vickery Kaye Lebbin, "Ike Loa: a List of Influential Books Shaping the Instruction Librarian's Teaching and Learning Philosophy." Reference Services Review 34.4 (2006): 607-643.

Read via Emerald. By the way, this particular issue, covering the LOEX-of-the West 2006 had a good number of articles I found interesting, so I will likely be posting notes on those articles over time.

This note will be a little different. The article is basically an annotated bibliography that contains 192 books that instruction librarians consider influential to their teaching and learning philosophies. The teaching philosophy, and I suppose my learning philosophy as well since I think both would be linked, is a topic that I have been giving some thought as of late. So, for me at least, this list comes at a good time. While the list does contain some basics of library instruction, in reality it is a collaborative list. The list was produced for the LOEX-of-the-West 2006 where the conference organizers solicited titles from the attendees, and the attendees also provided brief annotations. The list ranges from classical works of fiction and nonfiction to items related to librarianship. And even though it was supposed to be a list of books, they did include some articles as well. I will admit that a part of me felt that I have a lot to read. Based on the evidence of this blog, I read quite a bit in my professional area, and a few things in other areas, and yet, I found myself saying that I need to read such and such a title. While I am not aspiring to read the entire list, there are various books that I will try to pick up as soon as I can. There were a few items that I have read already, and I would like to simply take a moment to write down some of my thoughts, in a way, duplicate what the participants did.

The authors of the article describe their goal as:

"Our goal here is to help instruction librarians reflect on and articulate their educational, learning, and teaching philosophy. An important step in that process is understanding where their philosophy came from, including major books that prompted, shaped, and changed their ideas. We are hopeful that by comparing and contrasting the titles and descriptions of influential works listed here that each conference participant can solidify and broaden their own thoughts and values on who they are as an instructor" (609).

I can only hope that doing this will help spark some ideas for revisions and reflection down the road. So, here are a few things I have read from the list:

  • Ray Bradbury. Fahrenheit 451. This is a book I have mixed feelings about. I always wondered what living book I would become if it came down to such a totalitarian vision. I usually answer that I would memorize One Hundred Years of Solitude. These days, The Alchemist might be another option. The mixed feelings come because I had to teach the book during my high school days, and I got tired of it.
  • Miguel de Cervantes, Don Quixote. I read this in high school, in the original. I still remember the paper I had to write on it, which inspired me to read another novel about knights errant so I could understand what it was that Quixote read that drove him to madness. I read the Amadis de Gaula. If nothing else, Don Quixote brings out the dreamer and visionary in us.
  • Geoffrey Chaucer, The Canterbury Tales. I read this in college. I had a medievalist teaching it, and it was a rollicking romp as he had fun pointing out every single sexual pun and double entendre in the works. To this day, I enjoy anything that is basically a good romp. I learned from that professor that you could have fun with literature, even if once in a while you made a student or two uncomfortable.
  • Paulo Coehlo, The Alchemist. I posted about this book here on a post about books that have been important to me. From Coehlo, I was reminded of the importance of pursuing your dream and destiny. This remains one of my favorite books.
  • Confucius, The Analects. I have to admit that this is a book I need to revisit. I read it a while ago. He was the one who said, "I hear and I forget. I see and remember. I do and I understand." It does not get any more significant than that for teachers.
  • Michael Shaara, The Killer Angels. I found it curious that this was a choice. However, the book does have insights on leadership, and I did find its narrative quite moving.
  • T.E. Jacobson and L. Xu, Motivating Students in Information Literacy Classes. Find my booknote on it here.
  • E.L. Boyer, Scholarship Reconsidered. This is what administrators in higher education need to be reading when it comes to modeling and nurturing scholarship in all forms. It is not just about how many articles someone publishes. Personally, I think if all a professor does is publish articles on obscure theories in even more obscure journals and is a lousy teacher, he or she is not worth much. I would rather have the professor who is a good teacher, reflects on his or her practice, writes about it, and shares it with others. A lot of what I do is influenced by the teacher-scholar model, which I actually learned during my time at the National Writing Project.
  • Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed. This is one of the best works on teaching I have read. My first exposure to Freire's work was for an adult literacy course I took during my undergraduate days, and it was around the time I was volunteering at a literacy center as well. A lot of my ideas about education being a tool of liberation, that there is some political element to education even if we don't want to admit it, and the belief in empowering the learner come from this book. I recently read a collection of his writings, and readers can find that booknote here.
  • I.F. Rockman, ed., Integrating Information Literacy Into The Higher Education Curriculum. Find my booknote on it here. As I recall, this was a book that I wished more administrators would read, but that odds were good they would not. I read it shortly after returning from Immersion, and it helped to further define some ideas for me.
There are a few others on the list I have read, but these I wanted to remember. I did notice there were titles that I wished had made it on the list. For instance, I wanted to see some of Jonathan Kozol's works. I may have added also Sun Tzu's The Art of War. At any rate, the list is definitely worth a look, and it would be interesting to see what other titles not listed people might have added.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Article Note: On Information Literacy for Lifelong Meaning

Citation for the article:

Ward, Dane. "Revisioning Information Literacy for Lifelong Meaning." The Journal of Academic Librarianship 32.4 (July 2006): 396-402.

I read it via ScienceDirect.

This is probably one of the best articles on information literacy I have read this year. I found myself making a lot of little notes and underlining various passages. The author states that "information literacy consists of a broader array of competencies than our instructional practices and competency standards would suggest" (396). The author argues for looking at information literacy in broader terms, and in the process discusses ways to revision learning. As I often do, I will make some notes from the article I found interesting or that invited reflection. I will add some thoughts here and there.

  • "Critical thinking is not always sufficient in itself as a strategy for navigating through the information universe" (396). Ward argues that information literacy is not just about critical thinking. We need to know how to manage and make meaning of the information we find. This also includes having opportunities to engage in reflection.
  • "This conceptualization would dictate that as librarians and faculty, we devote as much attention to helping students make a personal connection to a topic as we do to the analytical aspects of conducting research and generating a paper or presentation" (396-397).
  • "Teaching students to think critically about information is a fundamental goal of information literacy instruction, as it should be. Without a well-developed capacity to evaluate and use information from books, library databases, or the Internet, students make questionable decisions, and sometimes about very important matters. The lack of adequately developed information skills among a nation's citizens hinders the successful functioning of democracy and decision-making for the common good" (397).
For openers, that statement on teaching to think critically reminded me of the Carlson article on undergrad citation behavior that I recently read mostly because it looked at choices in citations made by students. However, why they made those choices was still an open question. Next, I wondered because there may be some librarians out there who would only look at information literacy as a mere tool to find the information. Teaching about critical thinking and making good decisions when it comes to information and its use should be a part of what we do, part of promoting good citizenship. It carries a political element in the sense of promoting that successful functioning of democracy that Ward mentions. I am thinking about this in light of things I learned during JCLC and Immersion, but that may be a future post. On a final thought on this, the idea of teaching students to think critically should be a collaborative effort. Faculty and academic librarians, and I would include in this staff of support units like writing centers, should work on this as a common goal.

  • "Personal, interior experiences of information are fundamental to a vital information literacy that can make a difference in our lives and in the world" (397). This sounded a bit idealistic to me, but it's something to strive for nonetheless.
  • A couple of challenging questions: "Can we be information literate if we possess the technical ability to find and evaluate information, but not the human capacity to experience and value it? Can we be committed to an issue if it fails to resonate with anything within us?" (397).

On those two questions, personally, I would answer probably not to the first question. Information literacy is more than just the technical prowess. Unfortunately, I have heard people on my campus assuming that if students can use Google, then they are information literate. It makes my blood boil when some administrator embraces that limited line of thinking. As for the second question, that's a question I would have asked some of my students back in my days of teaching composition. I still ask that question at times during some research consultations. Maybe it's more proof that faculty and librarians share common goals regarding students' education if we are asking the same questions.

  • "Relevant information skills are those that permit us to navigate the Web and to understand more fully how our lives are shaped by the information and information choices we are given" (398).
  • "It is not enough for students to learn how to think critically about information for a research paper. They must learn how to be engaged and why to care" (398).
  • Ward ventures a prediction: "I predict that the future of information literacy instruction will increasingly emphasize other ways of understanding information, and that this will include teaching students about personal engagement and self-knowledge" (398). It should make for an interesting time in information literacy if we could work towards it.
  • Ward considers the problem of student engagement during library sessions. He has a different take: "I would argue that it is a problem of information literacy, a failure on our part to address a fundamental information issue--the necessity of addressing both sides of our interaction with a complex information universe" (398).

Ward tells us that we get information from the outside and the inside. As I think about it, I recall that in teaching writing, you would ask students to first write from the inside, from what they know, and then to go outwards, do research, so on. But we used to talk about being engaged with the topic and making it meaningful to the writer. Maybe some things don't change. Maybe librarianship is starting to discover (or rediscover) some of these things. Or maybe I am seeing this as a teacher would. Not many librarians have pedagogical training, though programs like Immersion work to fill that gap. It's not something in an LIS curriculum, other than the occasional BI class. I think if instruction is your path in librarianship, either a degree in teaching or extensive training in teaching help a lot in my humble opinion. I was fortunate. I came to librarianship with a teaching degree and experience. But I can ponder on that some other time.

  • "To teach students about personally meaningful information and non-analytic information processes means first and foremost to create a space where the inner life can be nurtured, where creativity can emerge, where students can love the questions. Librarians and teachers must design information literacy instruction that permits this possibility" (398-399).
  • "Being information literate means having the capacity to apply different systems of evaluation for different information needs" (400).
  • "This broad view forces us to recognize once and for all that information literacy is not a synonym for library instruction" (401).
  • A question: "Do libraries have anything to offer to the process of teaching the other side of information?" (401).
That question refers to the internal side of learning. We should be able to give an affirmative answer followed by descriptions of how we do it. If we can't give that positive answer, it's time to take a serious look at our information literacy programs.

  • On talking to the faculty: "When we talk to faculty about the library's curricular participation, we must emphasize the possibilities inherent in this broad information domain, and the repertoire of learning that far exceeds critical thinking alone. We must talk to faculty about supporting student engagement by bringing additional information into the classroom that elicits a personally meaningful response, and that permits students to understand themselves better through the content of the course" (401).
When I was starting out as a teacher, I had to write one of those philosophy of teaching documents. I had to revisit the idea when I was in the job market to become a librarian because at least one place asked for it. If you are hiring for an instruction/information literacy librarian, you should be asking the candidates about their philosophy of teaching. If the candidates have no clue, hire someone else. Anyways, when I rewrite my philosophy of teaching, and by the way, that is a document that should change and grow as you grow in your teaching, I want the following statement in it somehow:

  • "In order to help students become lifelong learners, we must not only help them understand themselves better. We must understand them as well, understand that their lives are more complicated than we can often appreciate. They do not turn off their lives when they step into our library session or class. We need to open the doors of communication, to be co-learners with them, to grow with them. We must live the reality that life is a relationship, not about separation by goal or department" (401).

I am reminded constantly of how complex some student lives can be. A lot of the work I do is getting to know the students; it is a never-ending task, but if I did not believe in its importance nor enjoyed relating to them, I would be doing something else entirely. Maybe some of the L2 movement is grasping at this when librarians open MySpace accounts and implement IM for reference. But as long as the tone and attitude is formal and distant, L2 will remain clueless. You have to blend yourself with the masses. You learn with them and from them. It's another part of life. Good educators have known this long before L2 or any other movements came around. I have come to learn it along the way.

  • "Librarians with a broad understanding of the two sides of information literacy will become partnered with classroom faculty, technologists, student affairs personnel, and students in a seamlessly integrated curriculum" (402).
That is exactly what the role of an instruction librarian should be: actively engaged in the academic community. This is what I try to work for, even if there are days when the limitations seem overwhelming. Sometimes you have to do it a step at a time, an idea that I often have to remind myself when I wish things would move faster.

  • And finally: "I believe that such a revisioning of information literacy would give birth to the future academic library--a place thoroughly integrated into the flow of campus learning where librarians, possessing diverse knowledge and expertise, would assist patrons in a multiplicity of information-related processes. These would include finding quality information, exploring the personal significance of a topic, framing an aesthetic experience of music, and facilitating personal awareness. Our area of expertise would be the entire field of information process, now taught in piecemeal fashion on our campuses" (402).

As I wrapped up my reading of the article, I wondered about that last statement above. I wanted to ask how does this challenge our "basic" notions of what we can and can't do in reference? I am talking about what we often learn in library school regarding borders of answers, interpreting, so on. And then there are the challenges to instruction. Overall, this is more than just showing students how to find the stuff. But this is a challenging proposition. How many librarians out there would be willing or able to embrace this?

Update note (12/4/06, 6:11p): With apologies to readers as I forgot to put the citation information as I usually do at the top. It has been posted now.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Article Note: Brief one on libraries using MySpace

Citation for the article:

Evans, Beth. "Your Space or MySpace?" netConnect (Fall 2006): 8-12.

Read via EBSCO alert.

Reading this article seems a little bit of "too little too late" given the recent pronouncements by Facebook about shutting down institutional profiles and articles, as the one from the Washington Post that has been making some rounds in blogs, mentioning that teens see MySpace as "so last year." However, for librarians who may wondering what's the deal with librarians using MySpace and similar services, this makes for a nice overview. It did have some ideas to think about, so here go my notes.

  • "We went ahead in mid-March 2006 with the launch and employed two interns and one part-time student worker to click through a pool of nearly 4000 Brooklyn College students associated with the MySpace site. By mid-May, we had over 1700 new 'friends,' all ready to receive invitations, announcements, unsolicited library instruction, and answers to their questions" (8). I wondered when I read this if using interns and student workers to find the students was really good use of that resource. Must be nice, but I am not sure I could go to my supervisor and ask for a couple of interns so they can go around clicking on MySpace looking for our local students in there. I guess I would not mind knowing the justification. However, I do find intriguing the idea of developing a friends' list, though I wonder if the students may see it as intrusive. For me, the "unsolicited" in that statement sounded a little like spam, and we know how much we hate that already. It may boil down to an issue of balance. Are they looking at it as another form of the popular but dreaded distribution list?
  • "Given the popularity and reach of this powerful social network, libraries have a chance to be leaders on their college campuses and in their large community by realizing the possibilities of using social networking sites like MySpace to bring their services to the public" (8).
  • "Students in MySpace, on the other hand, are in quite the virtual playground. It takes a special kind of sophistication to assess their information needs in an environment that, while ideal for information exchange, is designed for casual interaction" (9). Therein may lie the challenge for some libraries and/or librarians. If they can't break out of the formal tone of most library communications, using MySpace will not make that much of a difference.
  • "When your library lives part of its life in MySpace, you must decide from the outset how you will handle student comments posted on your profile. Will you let each comment go by without a countercomment? Will you take this new and intriguing opportunity to comment back to students willing to engage you in playful conversations" (9). Sounds to me like fair questions to ask.
  • "To realize the potential of MySpace, however, we must be proactive in reaching out to students. For example, at BCL, we take the initiative in commenting to students who have asked nothing more of us than to add them as one of our friends. We also put out flyers advertising our profile at the physical reference desk. When we get requests from students to add them as friends, we are curious about them and take the time to read their profiles" (10). I like the proactive attitude, but my usual question for things like this is how much time does this take? I like the idea of taking the time to know patrons, but again, online in MySpace, how much time can be too little or too much?