Wednesday, May 31, 2006

A partial response to Revolting Librarians Redux

One of the essays in the Roberto and West book caught my attention. I started making small notes here and there, and it turns out the notes got a bit long, so I figured I probably needed to write things out, if nothing else, to sort things out for myself. The essay in question is:

Nevins, Jess. "What Library Schools Still Aten't Teaching Us." Revolting Librarians Redux: Radical Librarians Speak Out. Eds. Katia Roberto and Jessamyn West. Jefferson, NC: McFarland &Co., 2003. 45-53.

A quick glance at the librarian sector of the blogosphere will reveal a few bloggers now and then discussing the shortcomings of library schools. These discussions usually center around L2 with discussions on things like needing to teach more about social software (for a recent example of a class on social software for library school, Sara Houghton, the Librarian in Black, points to an upcoming course at the University of Toronto on social software taught by Amanda Etches-Johnson). Teaching that is necessary, to an extent. Nevins thinks of more basic things. For instance, we never learned in my library school how to fix copiers, printers, remove paper jams, or how to use a multiple line phone. Now, you may say that you are professional, that's the secretary's/student worker's/staffer's job. In reality, you never know when you'll need these and other office skills, so make it a point to gradually learn. Nevins also mentions secondary library skills. These are things like knowing how to use a library system like SIRSI or Innovative. Believe it or not, you can come out of library school not knowing things like these unless you had a library job involving circulation or other technical service. I can attest to this. Since I had a public services job, I was not taught how to use the library system. The thinking was that there was no need for me to learn it. Not even my cataloguing class covered this in the sense we mostly used OCLC's online practice environment for cataloguing exercises. What little I know I have learned at work and in small bits. I can access our library system, but it is slow since I have no reason to use regularly. After all, I don't do circulation, cataloguing, or any other technical service. So I learn as I can and as time allows. So, library schools need to do better in this area of secondary library skills.

Nevins goes on to mention dress and hygiene. This I am not as ready to agree. If you made it to graduate school, you should know about this by now, even if you don't practice it. I don't automatically buy the well-dressed engenders trust line. My workplace is fairly casual, and it has not stopped me from being effective. Overall, I do dress for occasion, a little up for teaching, a little down on Fridays. I think this is common sense. Manners, however, may be another matter. Definitely there should be opportunities to practice things like table manners and dressing for success. Our university career services did this kind of thing: nice dinner events where you dressed professionally, practiced your table manners, and got to converse with practicing professionals in the context of possibly job hunting. While I never attended, given that one of the things my parents did right was teaching good social manners, a lot of kids of all ages may lack these skills. A good librarian should be able to move from jeans and t-shirt to a tuxedo (or dress for the ladies) with minimal effort. While this casual guy can never aspire to be as debonair as this fellow, I know when to break out the cuff links if need be.

Furthermore, Nevis mentions teaching about teaching. Nevins notes that the teaching skills can be taught (47), but this is rarely done in library schools. Unless you take the BI class in your library school, you may never be exposed to this. I came to library school with substantial teaching experience. If I needed reassurance of this, the librarian who taught the BI class in my library school flat out told me she did not want me there. She was not being anti-social; she figured there were other courses I could take. Plus, I had a graduate assistantship iin instruction that allowed me to expand on my teaching experience. So, can teaching be taught?

As a teacher, I would have to say yes and no. You can teach the presentation techniques and such skills. You cannot teach the temperament, patience, creativity, and dynamism that goes with teaching. If you bring those traits, a teacher will show you how to refine and enhance them. If you don't have such traits, you can't learn what is not a part of you. This does not make you a bad person or a lesser person. It just means you probably should do something else. Now, given that public service librarians are called to teach in various forms, a reader considering the public service path in librarianship would be wise to consider this. Needless to say, teaching is integral to an actual instruction position like mine. Now, I am not saying this to alienate people or because I know better. I am still learning about the teaching craft. I am just trying to tell people what they need to know if they are in library school or about to enter library school. There's a difference between a little bit of jitters when it comes to presenting in front of people and the ability to actually teach. The first you can learn to overcome with practice. The second you may or not have. If you don't, there are other paths in librarianship.

Nevins also mentions book purchasing. What we really need to know I think is how to negotiate contracts for databases and online resources. I learned the basics of purchasing in my collection development class, but I could have used more on negotiating with vendors. Professor Michael Stephens brings this up here. While I have no interest in doing acquisitions work, I still think some lessons on this area would have been valuable. If I had my way, I would design my collection development course to have a strong component of this. This does make appreciate the librarian at our workplace who handles the electronic resources and licenses.

In addition, Nevins mentions professional writing. This was a big peeve of mine in library school: that professional writing was minimal other than some papers for classes. This is especially crucial for those going into the academic path, where tenure line positions are common. Tenure line positions require publication for tenure; the "publish or perish" attitude is alive and well in such places. The fact that I was an English major in a previous life reinforced this for me. I had issues with some of the politics at the graduate school where I got my first master's degree, and dropped out of the doctorate, but I have to give them credit for one thing: every graduate class always encouraged writing with a view to conference presentation or eventual journal publication. We should be doing more of this in library schools. We also need more on other types of professional writing from reviews to press releases to memos to grant writing. I did have a class that included a grant writing unit. Whatever remaining advice I got on writing professionally in librarianship I got from the librarian who taught my humanities reference class. She was always giving us ideas and advice. I think we should "bottle" some of that, or at least make a course around it. I know I would make a course on this if I had my way.

There are other things in the essay I found interesting. The author mentions "keeping up" at the end, but it is not less important. I have written some thoughts on the matter, but as I look at previous writings, I see that I learned a lot of this on my own. In library school, some of the professors mentioned the need for this, but unless you asked further, you'd never learn how to do it. And with all the resources available, it is not only a matter of keeping up. It is a matter of selecting what to keep up with, to decide what is necessary and what can be skipped.

Now, if I could run things, I would at least want to design two courses for library school in addition to any small ideas I mentioned earlier. Before I do so, here are the caveats. One, to teach at the university level usually requires a doctorate. The exception is usually for "grunt" courses, things like introductory classes that adjuncts with a master's degree teach. Since I have no intention of completing a doctorate in LIS, odds are slim that this vision of mine can come to pass. I personally think to teach in graduate library school, your MLS should be enough, since it is (allegedly) the terminal degree of the profession, but that is my view. Anyways, I can dream.

First, I would want to design a good, solid instruction class. Not just how to do BI. I want pedagogy, curriculum design, lesson planning, learning theory, and a lot of practice. This should be a class in library school, not some fancy workshop sponsored by one of ALA's branches that costs an arm and a leg to do. This is needed while you are in library school, not after you crash and burn in a couple of BI sessions after you get hired lacking teaching experience. I would not go as far as requiring it for every librarian, but for public services, it probably should be required. This class would draw on experts from education as well as librarianship; way I see it, we should partnering a bit more with the school of education, if there is one, for things like this. Also, it would provide for teaching opportunities in the library. It would include a solid grounding in teaching fundamentals, and it would include integrating technology. However, this would not be a technology intensive class; that would be another class. This is the "how to teach" class.

Second, I would want some class that, for lack of a better label, we might call "Librarianship as a Profession." We are professionals; we should be acting like such, and teaching those with no clue about it. This one would cover a lot of the secondary things Nevins mentions from etiquette to office skills to keeping up. This may work as a short class, one of those that only take about nine weeks in a semester, say for a credit hour. What I observed in library school is that the first, and often only, look at being a professional and at the profession occurs in the first intoductory reference class. It's the class we all take with the scavenger hunts, and if we are lucky, they threw something in about our ethics along with the reference interview. My proposed class would address the ethics and the philosophy as well as the behavior. I want this class to be the "what you need to know to be a librarian, but everyone thinks you already know it, and you are too shy/clueless to ask so let me help you out" class. It would have to be a blend of the theory (values, philosophy of librarianship, etc.), and the practical (interviewing, conferencing, public relations, submitting papers, so on). I know at this point the concept for this one is too broad, but it is something I will likely tinker with over time. It is, for me at least, a work in progress.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

On Improving Your Search Techniques

As an Instruction Librarian, I think it is extremely important that I keep my search skills up to date. I work at this, but there are times when I do feel I need more time to just play around and practice searching. As things are slowing down a bit due to the intercession going into the first summer session, I get a little bit of breathing room to think. I also get to go back and look over things I have wanted to address, but the pace of the school year prevented that. At any rate, I was looking at Steve Cohen's post calling for librarians to improve their search skills. The Red Haired Librarian also had a response to Mr. Cohen's post here, which may prove interesting to look at. So, here is my humble attempt as I go through the list, to, oh, I don't know, maybe make sense of this for myself. Or maybe just reaffirm for me the commitment to keep up. So, here is what Mr. Cohen wrote, with my commentary, if any:

1) Make online searching MANDATORY in library school. Make it a core course. This should probably go without saying. I did not take the formal online retrieval class, in large measure I think because they were still doing Dialog of all things. I got my search techniques exposure through the regular reference class, and the basic computer literacy class they make everyone take, which had an online searching module. My beef if any would be that the class should reflect current thinking and relevancy.

2) Keep up with search engine news and how to use these tools to their maximum capabilities. Again, this is a given. If you have a regime or routine for keeping up, this should be a part of it. I will admit that while I am aware of a lot of what is going on, I can use some additional practice time in the proverbial simulator.

3) Library school professors: Put a glass jar on your desk. Every time you say, "Google it", put a dime in the jar (the same should go for your students) and take out an ad in Yahoo or Ask with the money collected over the course of the semester. Better yet, donate it to LII (although I don't think that they can take private donations - Karen?). On this, I have to go with some of the questions that the Red Haired Librarian raises. If the other tools are not better than Google, then we can't just get rid of Google for the sake of getting rid of Google. Is the remark of "google it" overused? Absolutely. It does not mean I think that Google is the enemy. It's just a tool. There are other tools out there, but some of those tools may not have proven themselves. Lazy or not, there is a reason why patrons will turn to Google, and it's not always laziness. So professors, it's up to you to keep up as well and show your students all the other good alternatives to Google.

4) Reference desk managers: Do the jar thing too, but buy your staff a book on how to search with the money collected. Either that or hire Gary Price to come to your library and teach search. Or, donate it to LII (Again, Karen?). Would I rather be using just the library resources at the desk? Yes, but I know I will turn to Google now and then. I think the idea is to be able to exploit the advanced features of that and every other search engine. You should avoid telling your patrons to google something. Your job is to find them alternatives and options.

5) Do not make Google the default page at your reference workstations. If you are going to do this, at least use the advanced page. Send them to the library homepage.

6) Needs assessment time. What's more important: Working on that library MySpace account, posting pictures of your book collection on Flickr, or brushing up on your searching skills? Prioritize. Mr. Cohen raises an interesting question. All those Mount Ubertech dwellers out there who embrace every social software tool online like the latest bride (and that is my polite way of saying something that starts with "s" and rhymes with "hut"), how well can they search when it comes down to it. I am not saying to not learn about social software, but we should command the search landscape.

7) Understand the invisible web and how it exists. Know about subject-specific engines and directories. Know the best person, home, and e-mail look-up tools. I need more work on this. I know of some tools in my subject areas, but I need more exploring.

8) Use your reference book collection. Not all answers are found in the glorified results of a word or phrase search on ANY engine. Find some of my thoughts on print reference here. You should have a good command of your print reference sources as well.

9) Don't enable. Not only should we teach better searching skills to our colleagues and users, we should practice what we preach. Don't have a Google search box on your library web page or blog. Don't have canned Google searches on your web page or blog that lead to atrocious results. This, I have to plead guilty too. I don't use Google too much in my blog, but I have known to suggest searching Technorati on a topic, usually for the topics that the A-listers of the biblioblogosphere have covered ad nauseam. I don't even like Technorati that much, which at times can be extremely clunky and slow. In fact, doing a link search or other advanced search on one of the mainstream serch engines may do the trick as well. I think I do it for the name recognition of readers knowing what Technorati is, well at least the LIS readers. However, I don't link to any canned searches. I just suggest using the tool and at times list a term or two to try, but not the actual seach. I guess I should get a bit better about leading by example.

10) Don't forget the importance of using the fee-based databases that your library (check that, your patrons) pays for. Remember that "free is as free does." Amen.

Oh well, if nothing else, I am aware that I can use a bit more work and practice.

Booknote: Revolting Librarians Redux

Title: Revolting Librarians Redux: Radical Librarians Speak Out
Editors: Katia Roberto and Jessamyn West
Publication Information: Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2003
Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Librarianship, library science, essay and personal narrative

If nothing else, reading this book has made me question and reflect on my own practice. On a small note, a couple of pieces do seem dated, but the book as a whole remains very relevant. What I am wondering about is the notion of the librarian as an absolutely neutral and apolitical being. I am not saying that I am about to preach what little politics I have at work or to my patrons. It's none of their business, just like their politics are none of mine. For me, it's the old adage of things not spoken of in polite company. I am saying that the more I work as a librarian the more I see that librarians should be active participants in society. Maybe it's the educator in me. Maybe I still cling to the belief that libraries and schools should be shaping the well-informed and active citizens of tomorrow. Does this make me someone with an agenda, or a radical librarian? In a time when "radical" seems a dirty word, I find that I have been embracing the label all along and yet not enough.

The book has various passages worth revisiting. If you are a library student, and the book was a class textbook, you may want to keep it rather than reselling it. If you have not read it, you should. I found myself making notes of pages I wanted to reread; I borrowed the copy I read, so marking was out of the question. There are some things I would like to reply, and I will do so in upcoming posts. In the meantime, this is a book I recommend to any librarian.

On an extra note, apparently responding to the book is a common assignment in some classes at library schools. Well, it was not at mine. Mark Lindner wrote his response, so if you would like to read something a bit more thoughtful, feel free to go take a look over there.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Be a Librarian and Do Cool Things.

"Put simply: Instead of trying to make your library seem cool, be a librarian and do cool things."
--Mr. Brian Matthews, The Ubiquituous Librarian

Those are probably amongst the most liberating words I have read in a while. At times, I cannot help but wonder about what seems to me some kind of confidence crisis in the profession and in libraries. We often see articles and pundits envision the demise of the library, and a bunch of librarians rush to assure their audience that it is not going to happen. This is a radical idea, well, to some at least. I have always been comfortable with leaving the library and exploring other spaces. Mr. Matthews defines the concept of the ubiquituous librarian as one who seeks out opportunities, finds new ways to bring service to others, be at the points of need. For academic librarians, this should be crucial since we should be participating in the academic community that we live and serve in. But I find those words liberating because they say, "I can be me." Instead of having to worry about the library as the building, I can go out and make things happen. No one said it is an easy path. It takes work; there may be a stumble here or there, but the idea is to go out. It's outreach at its best with a blend of just being cool. So, we can just wait, or we can go out and be librarians. I know what I will be doing. I am going to be a librarian.

Quick Booknotes on Some Graphic Novels

I recently read a bunch of graphic novels. These were fast reads, and to be honest, writing up a full booknote on each seems more work than I have time for. However, I do want to point them out to readers, and I will make some brief notes on each. These I borrowed from my local public library:
  • Geoff Johns, Teen Titans: A Kid's Game. DC Comics (2004). ISBN: 1-4012-0308-6. If you are expecting the little kids from the Cartoon Network version, this is the wrong volume. This features the teen titans coming together under the tutelage of older heroes. Former titans Cyborg and Starfire bring together a new group of heroes who must now confront the assassin mercenary Deathstroke and learn to work together. Good art and great story.
  • Christopher Moeller, JLA: A League of One. DC Comics (2000). ISBN: 1-56389-923-X. This is one is similar in art style to the DC Fables series. I wrote a booknote on one of the books in that series here. When Wonder Woman receives a prophecy about an ancient dragon, she decides that the only way to defeat the beast is to confront it on her own. To do so, she will have to betray the rest of the JLA team. It was good, but other JLA volumes are better in my estimation.
  • Frank Miller, et. al. Daredevil: The Man Without Fear. Marvel Comics (2003). ISBN:0-7851-0046-6. This one is part of Marvel's Legends Series. Miller provides an excellent retelling of Daredevil's origins. This is definitely one of the best graphic novels I have read so far. If you enjoy Miller's other works, such as his works on Batman, you have to read this one. Readers can find my note on another Miller graphic novel here. By the way, it is an origin tale. Readers will not just see Daredevil jumping in right away. Overall an engaging and at times moving tale. If the Hollywood powers had done this story instead of the whimpy thing they did do, maybe the box office would have been better. Then again, this story may be too good for Hollywood. I cannot recommend this one enough. Miller's works are definitely among the few in the graphic novel category that I would buy for myself.
  • John Wagner, Boba Fett--Death, Lies and Treachery. Dark Horse Comics (1998). I happen to like Star Wars, mostly the classic stuff, so I knew I had to pick this up. It collects three comic books. When Gorga the Hutt marries the daughter of a rival, trouble is in the air. It's up to Boba Fett, the legendary bounty hunter, to help clean the mess while doing his best to stay alive. The book has humor at times, elements of intrigue, and I found it amusing. If you like Star Wars, you will likely like this one. For casual readers, it is a quick read.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Looking at some more old lesson plans

As I continue digging through old lesson plans, I am wondering if I will need some of the stuff for a little training I will be doing this summer. Thinking about that reminded me of when I was getting ready to participate in the National Writing Project. Back then, I had to prepare teaching demos, so I went through teaching materials to select some good items. I think one my demos was based on creative extensions to research papers.

One of the things that I am finding as I look over quickly scribbled notes in the lesson plans is that I often skip steps in the lesson plans. Now, I always step into a classroom with a written lesson plan. This goes back to my days as a student teacher when my supervising teacher demanded I turn in my lesson plan before she would let me teach in her classroom. It just became ingrained behavior, and it has served me well. However, I am very easy going in the classroom setting, so deviating from a written plan for me is not out of the ordinary. Reasons for me deviating from a plan or skipping steps may range from running out of time to it turned out that I chose a different database to demonstrate on the fly. Much of this is based on class dynamic. At times, it is based on the professor telling me they want something specific that they failed to mention before they met me in the classroom. As for class dynamic, it is something that you measure as you go along.

I noticed I taught for two science classes: organic chemistry and biology. I also provided instruction for a medical writing class that required me to polish my skills using Medline.

Another "fun" moment I recalled in my review was teaching when the Internet went down. In my place, when it goes down, it really goes down, making sure that nothing other than minimal reference work can be done. It does illustrate how dependent we can be on online resources if we don't take the time to know our print sources. Every time someone says they want to eliminate the print reference collection, all I have to do is point out to the times when the Internet goes down. Now, I had a class to teach on one of these days. While the situation threw my original plan out the window, it did not mean we could not have class. I managed to find an old PowerPoint presentation that featured screenshots of the databases we were to cover. I added some additional discussion of search strategies, use of Booleans, and I was able to get students to suggest some of their topics so I could then suggest search terms. So, while the session was a bit shorter, we did manage to make good use of the time. At least they got a good headstart. Situations like that at times make me wonder about the more technolusty in my profession. The situations remind me why I have no interest in dwelling in Mount Ubertech. L2 (the technolust part, not the philosophy) can be stopped in its tracks with a few Internet downtime moments. Luckily, some of us can still use print and improvise.

And then there was the instructor who stayed outside of the classroom while I was doing my lesson. What was she doing? Grading her papers. Now, times like these I have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, I think it is important for the instructor to be present and reinforce the library's lesson. And I must note that I have some professors who do just that and more. On the other hand, very often I am fine if they stay to the side and let me take care of their students. Since I have taught at the college level, I have a sense of what the students need to know, so I can often seize on that to reinforce why a particular BI session is important to them. That I can be entertaining at times I am sure helps. I am sure other librarians feel differently about this.

For small groups or ten or less, I usually go to a "consultation" mode rather than teaching a formal lesson. Groups that small are a good size for me to ask questions and for them to reply and tell me their specific needs. Often, these smaller classes tend to be classes like the ESL classes or graduate level classes. In both cases, the students tend to be very pleasant to work with, and they usually have specific topics and research needs. At times, I wish more of my classes were like these.

The Department Store Analogy

Stephen Abrams, of Stephen's Lighthouse, had this post about department stores. He asks, if like the department stores of old, libraries may be trying to be too much for too many people. I thought it was an interesting analogy. This probably dates me, but I actually do remember department stores that had just about everything in them, before they became mostly fashion places. Actually, one of my childhood memories was going to Penney's (before it became J.C. Penney's) to eat at the diner inside the store. Part of the reason that memory is so vivid for me is that they used to serve a corned beef and cabbage plate that my father enjoyed quite a bit. You walked through the department store, went up the escalator, and the diner was off to one side. It has long been closed (the diner, not the Penney's. The Penney's is still there). Are there any true department stores left? I don't really think so, at least I can't recall any. They seem to have gone the way of the dinosaur.

So, a question to ask is are libraries headed that way? I don't think so, but I think we should take the time to think what it is we are trying to do. What is our brand? Sometimes I think it is librarians, certain librarians, who have a serious confidence problem. At any rate, we should be asking these and other questions now and then. I am thinking, for public libraries at least, the brand is somewhere in the notion of a community space and books. Sure, you can have the computers and the access, but it's the space where the brand is. For academia, the library should be a campus space, but the brand should be that we are the information and resources center. We should "own" when it comes to helping students with their research as well as providing them with space and resources to succeed. Just some barebones ideas. Oh, and we should also be confident in what we do.

Some commencement speeches

It's that time of the year when college students graduate. One of the big rituals in any college graduation is the commencement speaker. The folks at have put together a selective list of commencement speeches. You can go to the site and read the text of various commencement speeches by figures such as Madelaine Albright, Steve Jobs, and Toni Morrison. If you need a reason, here is one from the site:

"Though some of these wonderful remarks were given decades ago, we believe they are as relevant and important, perhaps increasingly so, as the more current speeches. Thus we encourage you to read them all, recognizing and celebrating your own constant commencement into tomorrow, finding ways to place it firmly within the context of progress for all humankind."

Via The Kept-Up Librarian.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Using Google Notebook? Seems interesting

I just saw this post by Rick Roche in his blog ricklibrarian on using Google Notebook. I was aware of the tool, but to be honest, I had not given it much thought. However, his little post on using for nonfiction RA seems like an interesting idea. I think it has potential for a couple of other things such as keeping track of items, making annotations, and small lists and guides. Anyhow, definitely something I will explore, and it should be easy for me since I do have a Google account as well.

Found via The Carnival of the Infosciences, as hosted at The Library Garden.

So, what is a blog? Here's a nice simple explanation

No, I am not going to pretend to tell people what a blog is. Instead, I would like to point out this simple and well-written post by Andy Carvin at, who today writes to answer what is a blog? The post gives a nice explanation, and it points out how blogs can be used for educational purposes. I am always on the lookout for people who are good at explaining things, in part to learn a little myself but also to share with others. By the way, if you have not discovered Mr. Carvin's blog, go take a look. He writes on topics of education and the Internet. I have found it interesting as well as timely.

Article Note: On SFX and Academic Libraries

Citation for the article:

Wakimoto, Jina Choi, et. al. "The Myths and Realities of SFX in Academic Libraries." The Journal of Academic Librarianship 32.2 (March 2006): 127-136.

Read the article via ScienceDirect.

I picked it up this article to see what insights it would provide. Dealing with tools like SFX and other resolvers seems to be something that builds expectations, only to bring those expectations crashing down when the system does not work. The result, at least what I have seen in reference and instruction work, is often more frustration and confusion. I often get the beleaguered student come to the reference desk asking a variant of this question: "The computer said you had it [the article they want]. I clicked on the link, and I got nothing [or some confusing screen, which to them may as well be nothing given there is no meaning to them]." This is one of the eternal battles I face, and trying to teach about finding an article with the resolver tool, well, let's just say luck is not that much better. This article, in many ways, confirms some of what I know already. The systems, no matter the vendor, are mostly frustrating, not really designed for the student used to a tool like Google, and I can't sit with a straight face and tell the student it will all be ok. Don't get me wrong, when it works, it works like a charm. The problem is when it does not work, which seems often.

The article examines user expectations and actual experiences. The authors used a survey as well as interviews with librarians in a focus group. They also ran test searches. In the background section, the authors describe how they had done customization to the SFX system at their institutions. On my campus, as I understand it from the Web Librarian, we do have a good amount of customization, yet what we do customize can still be confusing to students. This is definitely not something that I can just create a guide for. The resolver may work well with EBSCO for instance and then do a bad job with ProQuest. This is not the library's fault, and it may not be the fault of the database providers, but students will not make these subtle distinctions. By the way, I just picked those two vendor names because they popped in my head and not because they may or not work well with a resolver.

Overall, the expectation numbers were not terribly good. The tone of the comments was not better either. "In terms of the tone of comments, 26 percent were deemed positive, 34 percent were mixed, and 40 percent were negative" (129). Now, I know I am being selective here, but I do not think this bodes well for SFX.

In terms of instruction, the authors mention that some librarians will use canned searches in their demonstrations where they know the SFX works. Other librarians just take their chances, and use the experience of SFX not working, when it does not work, as a teaching moment. I will say that I have done it both ways, and I am very comfortable with both ways. However, teaching spontaneously about finding that article when SFX does not quite cooperate can be a bit more challenging. A bit of humor can be very helpful in such situations with a dose of reassurance that they can always ask the librarian for help. That last bit of advice may not be as good for distance students, but that is where we hope they will use distance reference tools to get help. One common frustration students face:

"Others thought that the SFX menus were not intuitive, particularly when they only linked to the target database's search screen" (130).

Yes, very often students do not know to go back and check the citation details. However, what happens at this point is that students get the database screen, and they simply say "now what?" The search screen becomes another hurdle. No wonder they prefer to Google their information. As an advocate of using the best information possible, I can't necessarily say I blame them. Here is what one of the librarians in the focus group reported:

"Another reported that when SFX does not deliver the full-text article to the students, instead of requiring some detective work to find it, they tend to give up" (131).

Here is where convenience comes into play. If an item is to hard to get, they go find something else. You lost your chance at that point. Now, I can teach a student how to do the detective work, but very often there is more than one database involved, and each one with its own interface. What I often do in classes is to tell them to choose the Lexis-Nexis link when the resolver offers it. I don't do it because I think Lexis-Nexis is better. I do it because I usually show them how to use Lexis-Nexis in class. What often happens is that I am using Academic Search Premier, an article citation comes up that requires using the resolver, and it often suggests Lexis-Nexis as a source. So, I am just trying to make the best of the situation. This can eat up some time in a session, but it is necessary. It is not only necessary so they see how to find an article but for reassurance that it is a possible feat.

The article also looks at usage, and it discusses the test searches the authors did, which I think is an interesting discussion. Overall, the article found that there were high expectations, but that only half of the users said it met their expectations (133). Also, the authors note the following, which I hinted at earlier in terms of distinctions users may or not make:

"Of course, the availability of online full text in SFX has almost nothing to do with SFX itself, instead being largely dependent on the library's collection. However, it is clear that library end-users do not make this distinction when appraising whether or not SFX met their expectations."

All the student knows is he/she clicked on something, and it was not where it "was supposed" to be. There is some food for thought in here. The researchers did well in trying to cover their bases by looking at users, librarians, and then trying searches themselves. The authors ask an interesting question: "have library users simply forgotten how cumbersome that process was before SFX?" (133). No, I don't think they have forgotten. They simply gave up on the item, or nowadays they just google something they can actually find, with all the risks that can involve in terms of information quality. With any luck, they may go ask a librarian for help. Actually, for our younger users, they can't forget because what we have now is what they have known. Now, if I sound a bit snarky, keep in mind that I deal with this regularly when classes are in session on campus. At any rate, the article is worth a read.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Looking over old lesson plans and the end of the semester

This is probably the type of thing I would just put in my personal journal, but I figured that typing it in here might allow me to connect it to other pieces I have written in the hopes I can learn something. At any rate, the end of an academic semester is a good time of reckoning for an instruction librarian. Classes are done. The students are taking their finals and going through the last panics of having procrastinated on a paper. As this passes, the library's pace slows down, and now that we are on intersession, I have some time to reflect. So, I find myself during this period planning and sorting out some things. For one, I managed to make a preliminary outline for the Summer 2006 edition of Library News and Notes, our library's newsletter. I also managed to make the library's contribution to the student packet for orientation later in the summer. It just needs to be photocopied, and I will take care of that later. Another thing I am doing is tidying up. I am going through my lesson plans from last Spring, looking them over, seeing what I need to keep and what I can toss. I will be doing the same for previous semesters. Since I create my lesson plans in Word, I have electronic copies, which can serve as templates over time. However, I often make notes and adjustments on my printed copies, and it can be interesting to see some of those notes now, notes that I often made "on the fly." Notes that range from "showed them X database instead of Y" to "make sure to use X search term, that other one did not work."

For instance, last Spring was the first semester that I used IM. I've used IM before personally, but this was the first time I advertised that IM was an option for students to communicate with me. I only turned it on during my hours at work, a small start. I did not have any takers this time around, but I still like the idea of offering another option. I will likely continue it. Besides, keeping a messenger turned on in the background is not really a bother. I do have to say I have not been terribly happy with Yahoo!'s messenger, which lately seems slow at times, often displaying difficulty to log someone in. It seems every time they "upgrade it," it seems to get worse. I wish they would just stop adding "eye candy" and actually got it to work. Yet, when it works, it is alright. I had a Yahoo! account already, so using this was a logical first step. For AIM, I downloaded it. Believe it or not, I had an old Netscape name that actually worked for it, so there it went. Overall, I do like the concept. My marketing to students was strictly word of mouth in BI sessions. My IM information is not public knowledge anywhere on the library's official documents. If I ever get a webpage hosted on campus (assuming I can ever cut through the red tape), maybe that information would be there. Anyhow, that along with virtual reference at my place is a rant better left unwritten for now. For me, it was easy to add the IM usernames to the little note I place on the whiteboard with my contact information when I teach. Reactions from students were mixed. Some thought it was cool. Others had no clue what IM was, and a couple asked me if I also had MSN. I need to consider that. The ones that had no clue, I am thinking that a few in that subset are not totally "illiterate" about IM. Odds are very good they already use tools like MySpace and Facebook. This may lead me to experiment with some of those tools at some point. Brian Matthews, of AltRef blog, has done some work in this area that I find helpful as a reference point. Here is Mr. Matthews's post that I had in mind, and some of my notes on it are over here. I may try to market myself a bit more, so to speak. At any rate, I do have a big part of the summer to think it over.

Having said this, IM business may have been slow, but business overall for me was good. I have not checked my numbers, but I believe my consultations with students increased this past semester; e-mail reference questions directly to me, as opposed to the library's e-mail reference service, seem to be up as well. These are all good signs. I think it also means I can still work a bit more at promoting our services. There's always room for improvement.
  • By the way, this reminds me I have to begin creating the document for the instructional unit's statistics.
And how did I get to thinking about IM? On checking the lesson places, I have a small note on a January lesson plan with the IM handles handwritten to remind me that I needed to tell students about it.

Furthermore, as I look over some of the lesson plans and notes, I do see a broad range of topics I have I have dealt with. If this is not a good case for librarians being generalists, I am not sure what is. Here are some sample student topics from lesson plans, student consultations, and professors' requests:
  • Animal art: is it possible?
  • mimimum wage.
  • video games: addiction to them, violence.
  • why we go to war? Both in terms of the current war in Iraq as well as a more philosophical question.
  • campus parking (we get this one every year. It's almost as bad as the kid who wants to write on "abortion" and has no clue of how broad and polarizing the topic can be).
  • gasoline prices.
  • terrorism/homeland security.
  • career information.
  • various business reference questions.
Given the trends, I am expecting the papers on MySpace and the hysteria over it to be rolling out any time soon. In one second semester composition class, the students had the following writing prompt at the opening of class:
  • "Based on what you have read about globalization, do you believe it is good or bad? Why?"
This was one of the classes that I actually went out of the library to teach. I was there as they wrote it, and I was able to use some of their answers as prompts to guide my research demonstrations, showing them how to find things they were interested in. It also got them to tell me more about their reading.

Another note is that I have been using Librarians' Internet Index more in my classes as a supplemental resource.

To an extent, what I am doing in looking over the lesson plans and the related materials is cannibalizing stuff. Keep the artifacts, such as handouts, sample syllabi, etc. Other reminders:
  • For that Spanish class, the one on oral communication, I provided instruction, I need to create a basic handout in Spanish listing library resources.
  • I need to check the links and possibly update/revise the handout we provide for that Organic Chemistry class.
  • On the upside, I did create a new pathfinder on Women's Studies (warning: PDF file). The topic was a class topic, but I expanded to make it a general subject guide. I still have others to make. One of the topics that pops up now is on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. There is a class that discusses this. One thing I would love is if some of these guides could be put on wikis. I often create materials that cross disciplines, so placing them on a wiki would allow the other librarians, including the ones who have a subject interest, to add to the guides and overall make updating easier. However, since we have the limitation that we do not have our own servers, pretty much implementing something like that is next to impossible. Yet, I am wondering if I should explore tools like Squidoo. Right now I am more in a frame of using anything that gets around the bureaucracies and obstacles. If it is unofficial, but it gets the job done, I can live with that.
This is probably a "part one" kind of post, so I may likely make other notes as the intersession moves along.

Booknote: Ultimate X-Men, Vol.8: New Mutants

Title: Ultimate X-Men, Vol. 8: New Mutants
Author: Brian Michael Bendis
Publication Information: New York: Marvel Comics, 2004
ISBN: 0-7851-1161-1
Genre: Fiction
Subgenre: Graphic novels and comics, adventure, science fiction

For readers who keep track, this volume compiles issues #40-45 of the series. By now, the X-Men have come under the supervision of the federal government. This is a sort of compromise to keep the school running. However, things are not as easy as that when the government finds that being associated with mutants is not terribly good for the image. The government decides then to break ties with Professor Xavier and handpicks a group of mutants they think they can manipulate to their ends in order to make the break while appearing to be in favor of mutants. A figure from the Professor's past becomes involved, and readers get to meet a new group of characters. There is also a tragic death; I personally was not too happy the character in question died, but I won't reveal who for those who may want to read the series. All in all, this is a good continuation of the series with intrigue and action. As I have read through this series, I have enjoyed the dark conspiracy element, which to an extent I find slightly similar to The X-Files or even Chris Carter's other show Millenium. As always, the commentary on contemporary society and events is interesting as well, to me at least. Even though there is a new author for this volume, Bendis manages to continue the tradition. For readers, this has an excellent story and art with a good amount of action. I cannot recommend this series highly enough.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

A Good Summary on Libraries and Social Networking

While I have some thoughts on DOPA, social networking, and libraries, I figure that others will say what needs to be said much more eloquently and swiftly. Meredith Farkas, of Information Wants To Be Free, recently wrote on "Libraries in Social Networking Software." The post provides a good summary of the discussion, and it contains a good webliography of posts and resources. For the most part, I am just listening, learning, and staying informed. So, go take a look.

Do libraries have to always promote the bestsellers?

I came across this at Stephen Abrams' Stephen's Lighthouse blog, where he writes about "Bestsellers, Best Borrowed, Most Collected." He is referring to a talk he listened to given by Ms. Beth Jefferson of Bibliocommons. I found interesting this observation:

"She made an interesting point. Many libraries have lists of bestsellers on their homepage or upfront. She went through dozens of library sites and showed how libraries were promoting bestsellers. She then showed the real end-user experience. This was of course finding out that most, maybe all, bestsellers in the library inventory have hundreds of holds on them and the wait is months long. Now, is this a great user experience? Clearly not."

As a library user as well as a librarian, I have to wonder as well about this. Now, I don't work at a public library, so having anywhere from a dozen to forty copies of the latest Harry Potter is not an issue for me. I am one of the librarians who would question the expense and effort to put out forty or so copies of a transient book (even if they are leased), but let's not go there now. I will note that I do use my public library, and I have been to libraries that have all those copies of a bestseller, and you still have to wait in line. No wonder a lot of people would just not bother and go to Borders. Here is what Mr. Abrams asks, in the context of discussing poor retail practices and comparing them to library practices:

"Why am I mentioning poor retail practices? Are we doing the same thing? Is it bait and switch to advertise bestseller and have few really available?"
There is probably the reason that the library loses users. When they go to their large bookstore, they know they will be able to get their copy of the latest Dan Brown. If for some strange reason, the bookstore is out, ordering it usually takes a few days rather than some obscene waiting time. A lot of this is a matter of expectations, for good or bad. So, I do like the idea that maybe the library should be promoting a few other things that are good, but not as well known instead.

I should say that I personally do not read bestsellers. I sure keep myself aware of them, but I am more of a long tail reader, so to speak. Mr. Abrams asks if bestsellers need more promotion from us. I would venture to say they probably do not. I am not saying public libraries stop displaying the NYT Bestseller list or similar lists, but I am saying they probably should be doing more in terms of promoting other cool books in their collections. If they did that, they would probably find better circulation figures for certain items. The bestsellers are always going to move. I think we should help a few other items move along as well. Mr. Abrams' post does provide some food to have an interesting conversation about what libraries collect and promote.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Article Note: On Outreach Job Ads

Citation for the article:

Boff, Colleen, Carol Singer, and Beverly Stearns. "Reaching Out to the Underserved: More than Thirty Years of Outreach Job Ads" The Journal of Academic Librarianship 32.5 (March 2006): 137-147.

Read via ScienceDirect.

When I was in library school, I worked at the campus's Information Commons. I was a graduate assistant for instruction, but I also did reference work and a few other things. I was surrounded by a good group of supportive librarians. The Information Commons' staff included a Multicultural Outreach Librarian. She still works there last I heard. Included in her tasks are outreach to various campus ethnic groups and implementing as well as coordinating a variety of cultural initiatives for the library. It is important work, and she probably deserves more recognition. She certainly could use a raise. I know; she mentioned it casually to me at one point while talking about library careers. At one point she asked me if I had considered applying for jobs with outreach components. I think my answer was uncertain back then. At the time, I was trying to keep my options open. For instance, at one point I was flirting with the idea of going into GovDocs librarianship. The idea of making the government and its intricacies accessible held a lot of appeal to a guy who believes in empowering others. Little did I know that my current job would include a significant outreach component. I should clarify that I don't do all the outreach. For distance education, our intrepid ILL Librarian is also our Distance Education Librarian. I deal mostly with the campus, something I am working on continually. At the risk of beating myself a bit, I will say that a hazard of me reading some of these academic articles is that I get neat ideas and reminders of things I want to do or implement. Then I torture myself a bit because my "to do" list gets a little bigger. I do remind myself that I can live to fight another day. In other words, the idea is to make progress gradually. But I am disgressing, so back to the article.

The article reports on a study of job ads for outreach positions as posted in College and Research Libraries News from 1970 to 2004. The authors distinguished between distance education, multicultural outreach/services, and specialized positions. The study looked at number of positions, position titles, skills and knowledge required, duties and responsibilities, and salaries. For context, the authors use the definition of the term outreach given by Wendi Arant and Pixey Anne Mosley in an article from Research Librarian: "They defined outreach as 'the act of extending services, benefits, etc., to a wider section of the population" (qtd. in 138). The authors of the article I read also note that they "did not consider position descriptions emphasizing fund raising, development, access services activities, or bibliographic/instruction liaison programs" (138). C&RL News was chosen as a source due to its wide readership and because it "provided a representative sample of positions advertised nationally over a long enough period of time to conduct a longitudinal analysis" (139). So, what did they find? I will just note a few items. I do think people will want to read the rest.
  • There were no outreach positions from January 1970 through December 1974 (139).
  • "The first outreach position to require computer skills appeared in an advertisement for a multicultural services librarian in 1982. It requested, 'Experience with either online searching or bibliographic instruction, especially the latter.' Experience with CD-ROMS was first required in 1988. Skill in using the Internet was first preferred in 1994, and in using the Web in 1995. The first position announcement to specify knowledge of HTML and the ability to construct Web pages appeared in 1996" (139). I think it would be interesting to look at things like these and compare to some of the latest job ads that can be classified as L2 ads. Professor Michael Stephens has highlighted some of these in his blog. Find an example here. Times are changing.
Findings from the article for distance education librarians include:
  • "The most commonly identified knowledge, skill, or experience for distance education librarian positions was use of computers (72 percent)" (140).
  • However, "responsibility for the use or design of Internet resources did not appear in position advertisements until November 1996" (140).
Findings, and observations, for Multicultural Librarians include:
  • "Universities have made significant improvements in their ability to attract a minority population, but retention has lagged" (141).
  • "Multicultural services librarians also have the potential to play a dual role. In addition to helping make a diverse student body feel more comfortable using library services and collections, they may serve as role models to attract minorities to become librarians" (141).
That last statement does not quite catch it all, so to speak. Very often librarians, and educators in general, who serve in positions like this may end up doing a significant amount of mentoring, advising, etc., as part of being a role model. These are important activities that often go unrecognized (not to mention uncompensated) in academic settings.
  • "Other libraries may have also filled their need for a librarian to serve an increasingly diverse user population first by recruiting a minority intern and successfully retaining the services of that intern in a full-time, permanent position" (141).
Findings for specialized outreach:
  • "The emphasis for many of the specialized outreach positions was to promote or market the library or perform other public relations functions" (142).
A First-Year Experience Librarian could be an example of this type of position. In essence, positions like these are usually program or project managers. These positions often specify a need for administrative skills. From my experience, during my job search, I interviewed for a position that fell within this type. Though advertised as an "instruction" position, it was really a PR and project manager with not as much librarianship in it. It sounded exciting, but not as much direct work with students it seemed. Anyhow, readers can tell I did not get it since I am where I am at now. What I am illustrating is that these specialized outreach jobs can have various labels. The lesson may be to read the advertisements carefully and to ask questions during the interview if clarification is needed.

Other findings and notes:
  • The authors found that ads for distance ed. positions have increased. However, ads for multicultural services have decreased. Reasons for the decrease may include recruitment difficulties and the hire of a successful intern into the full-time role.
  • Also, distance ed. positions often require supervisory skills and/or experience. Just ask our intrepid Distance Ed. Librarian, who supervises a staff of two library assistants and a student worker. In contrast, multicultural librarian positions were often entry level. This may be good for a new librarian who is outgoing, enterprising, and interested in outreach work. However, the authors point out that "the lack of supervisory or administrative responsibilities seems most problematic with these position descriptions. Without those responsibilities, it may be difficult for the multicultural services librarian to move into a higher level administration position" (145). Not to mention that without administrative power, a multicultural specialist may find some obstacles to implement some ideas and initiatives. Salaries tended to be lower for multicultural librarians too according to the study. The authors suggest it is due to the supervisory duties the distance ed. people often have that they earn more. I wonder if there may also be a glamour factor: distance ed., and nowadays things like "special projects," are way cooler than multicultural services. Just wondering at this point.
The authors conclude by providing some questions for further research. Some deal with issues of retention for these positions. There are some references in their list of notes I will likely check out, and others I have read already. Overall, an interesting article. On an aside note, I have to check if something like this has been done for my line of work.

On a final note, the following citations come from the article. They are items I am interested in reading at some point, but I don't have the time now. I will probably have to use ILL to get them:

  1. Schneider, Tina. "Outreach: Why, How, and Who? Academic Libraries and their Involvement in the Community." Reference Librarian 82 (2003): 204-
  2. Arant, Wendi and Pixey Anne Mosley. "Library Outreach, Partnerships, and Distance Education." Reference Librarian 67/68 (1999). (Special issue). This special issue also has an article on multicultural centers.

Booknote: Ultimate X-Men, Vol.2: Return to Weapon X

Title: Ultimate X-Men, Vol. 2: Return to Weapon X
Author: Mark Millar
Publisher Information: New York: Marvel Comics, 2003
ISBN: 0-7851-0868-8
Genre: Fiction
Subgenre: Graphic novels and comics, adventure, science fiction

This volume compiles the series #7-12. Even though I have been reading some of these out of sequence, due to the fact I am borrowing them from my local public library, they are a pleasure to read. In this installment, our heroes are captured by the Weapon X program, a super dark ops organization with the goal of using the mutants as weapons. These were the people that trained and enhanced Wolverine, and now he has to face them again in order to rescue the rest of the X-Men. There is a lot action in this one, enemies join forces against a common foe, and there are elements of conspiracy. Fans will not be disappointed in this installment to the series.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Book Business in Puerto Rico

This may be a sort of follow up to my post yesterday about the NYT article on books and scanning. It caught my eye mostly because it was about books and the book trade. It was published in El Nuevo Dia for Friday May 12, 2006, and I read it online on my Newsgator feeds. While I do not follow Puerto Rican news as much now that I live in the States, I still scan the headlines from El Nuevo Dia and a few other Spanish language newspapers. For one, much of the cultural coverage tends to be better than American papers, and I often find interesting things like this. The article's title is "La ley del libro: sus condiciones y efectos," and it was written by Carmen Dolores Hernandez. The original is in Spanish, so I will provide a little summary for readers.

The bottom line of the article is a recent law that was passed in the island to provide economic incentives to the local book industry. Anyone living in the States knows that getting Puerto Rican literature outside of a few ethnic enclaves is next to impossible. It is not because we do not have good writers. Our literature can stand up to any other in the world; the problem is that the editorial houses often do not make an effort to distribute their works outside of the island. As a result, authors like Ana Lydia Vega are often not as known as they could be outside of Puerto Rico. The law in question is Law # 516, which was passed in September 2004. Another issue that comes across seems to be that although the law was passed, not many people in the industry were aware of it.

The article provides a brief overview of the publishing process, and it explains the importance of good distribution for a book. In the article, Andrew Hurley, a translator of authors such as Jorge Luis Borges and Ana Lydia Vega, is cited stating that editorial houses on the island have miserable sales given their lack of effort in distributing their authors outside of Puerto Rico. Yet, the book industry in Puerto Rico is worth millions of dollars annually. The law is for authors, book designers, translators, editors, and booksellers, and it provides for a variety of tax incentives. There has been some controversy in the way the law defines a "Puerto Rican author." The law's definition is one born in Puerto Rico or one of Puerto Rican ancestry up to the fourth generation. The definition then leaves out authors of other nationalities who may reside in Puerto Rico and actually do all of their work in the island, for example, it would exclude Mayra Montero, (link in Spanish to brief bio and list of works) who was born in Cuba but writes in Puerto Rico, even serving as a journalist and columnist for local newspapers. While the law is not perfect, it is hoped by those in the trade that it will spark some debate and thought about books and local authors.

Monday, May 15, 2006

On scanning books

The New York Times Magazine for May 14, 2006 has an article by Kevin Kelly entitled "Scan This Book!" I have seen references to it around the biblioblogosphere, so initially I figured I would not post or comment on it since the big guns would take care of that for me. However, when my Systems Librarian asked me if I had seen the article and sent me a link to it, I figured I should take a look at it. Please note I give the citation information since I have no idea how long the link will last. For readers wanting more of the discussion, a technorati search may be helpful. Here is one.

The article makes for a good summary of the book scanning efforts going on, of what Google is doing, and it does a pretty good job of explaining it to the general readers. What struck me, and this is my one question, is the issue of access. The utopian vision that Mr. Kelly evokes of everyone having a universal library in an I-Pod assumes that everyone will have an I-Pod, let alone access to computers. For instance, Mr. Kelly writes, "And unlike libraries of old, which were restricted to the elite, this [universal] library would be truly democractic, offering every book to every person." And I read that, and my initial thought was, "not so fast, bucko." This really means just every person with access to a computer, and the computer having access to the Internet. This is nowhere near a reality now, and given how the digital divide is shaping, it is not about to happen anytime soon. Until you solve for truly providing access to the Internet and the World Wide Web for everyone, this little vision is not going to happen. Add to this various corporate initiatives to restrict access from the issue of Net Neutrality to recent legislation to prohibit use of social software (also known as the MySpace Hysteria bill, also known as DOPA, which by the way sounds like "dope," but I will avoid name-calling towards those in hysterics). My question, as it often is when someone proposes the latest utopia, is what about those who lack access now? What about those who may be at a disadvantage? And then there are copyright restrictions. Sure, we can get all sorts of music online, but the issue is whether we can actually listen to it or not. Do we have access to it? What kind of access?

On another passage, Mr. Kelly writes, "It is the underbooked--students in Mali, scientists in Kazakhstan, elderly people in Peru--whose lives will be transformed when even the simplest unadorned version of the universal library is placed in their hands." While I am not saying places like these are technological wastelands, again, who is asking about access? If we can't even serve them with books, what makes it so easy to say we can just provide a universal library by waving a wand?

I guess my overall question is will we really be serving everyone down the road, or just the technological elite? Is this something that can truly be universal, or is it something for the dwellers of Mount Ubertech?

The article does a very good job of outlining the issues around copyright, including the seemingly shortsighted decision by Congress to extend copyright 70 years past the life of a creator where it clearly has no use to that creator. I personally don't think copyright should be something to provide for large corporations and the great grandchildren of a creator. However, maybe readers should read the article, read more on the topic and decide for themselves. Overall, an interesting piece.

Update note (5/16/06): T. Scott also responded to the NYT piece by reminding us that books are more than containers. Worth a look.

On how to teach about RSS

I am always interested in how to teach new things. I recently saw this post by Marshall Kirkpatrick, where he provides a discussion of teaching rss. What caught my eye was that he not only gives techniques, but he also describes the thinking behind why he teaches one element or another. I found it interesting that he set up a demo feed reader account with Newsgator, which any user can look at (find access details in his post).

A hat tip to the Social Software Weblog.

Booknote: Ultimate X-Men, Vol.6: Return of the King

Title: Ultimate X-Men, Vol. 6: Return of the King
Author: Mark Millar, et. al.
Publication Information: New York: Marvel Comics, 2004
ISBN: 0-7851-1091-7
Genre: Fiction
Subgenre: Graphic novels and comics, science fiction, adventure

After the war with the Ultimates, the government's team of superhumans led by Captain America, readers would think the X-Men may need a break. However, that break is not coming as Magneto, leader of the Brotherhood of Mutants and Professor Xavier's nemesis makes his return. The government begins rounding up mutants and sending them to detention camps, Guantanamo being one of these detention locations. In the meantime, Magneto sets forth his plan to rid the world of humans so that mutants can claim their rightful place in the world. With Professor Xavier imprisoned, it is up to his students to save the day. Can the teens deal with their issues (and what teen does not have some issues? it goes with the territory) and save the world? I will recommend that readers grab this issue and continue following the saga of the young heroes. While I will not reveal the ending, I think the ending may raise some questions for some readers. The art is very good on this one; I have not seen anything like what I saw back on volume 4, and this has been a positive. This series holds appeal on many levels: good artwork overall, a great story, a good way for casual readers to enter the world of comics, and for teens, stories that speak to them and may even get them to think a little as they enjoy the tales. I am greatly enjoying these works, and I am looking forward to reading the next issues in the series.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Booknote: Ultimate X-Men, Vol.4: Hellfire and Brimstone

Title: Ultimate X-Men, Vol. 4: Hellfire and Brimstone
Author: Mark Millar
Publication Information: New York: Marvel Comics, 2003
ISBN: 0785110895
144 pages
Genre: Fiction
Subgenre: Graphic novels and comics, science fiction, adventure

This volume compiles issues 21-25 of the Ultimate X-Men series, and it comes right after the events from volume 3 World Tour. Marvel Girl begins experiencing strange visions of an entity, known as Phoenix, threatening to take over her. The X-Men have to deal with a tragic death from the previous episode as Professor Xavier reopens the school. Towards the end, a villain that seemed to be vanquished is poised to return. The irony is that the villain's return is due to one of the X-Men teens unwittingly revealing a secret online (nice take on the risks of online chats). This volume introduces a new character, Kitty Pride. The art seems a bit spotty when compared to previous volumes. I can't quite describe it other than to say that some of it seems too close to that style some of the cartoons in Cartoon Network use, which is not quite anime and a bit on the cute side (the Teen Titans on Cartoon Network would be a close example of what I mean). This seems to throw off the rest of the otherwise good art from previous volumes , but it is still a good issue overall. The story is still solid and engaging. The volume sets things up nicely for later issues.

Article Note: On Citation Generators

Citation for the article:

Kessler, Jane and Mary K. Van Ullen. "Citation Generators: Generating Bibliographies for the Next Generation." The Journal of Academic Librarianship 31.4 (July 2005): 310-316.

I read the article via OmniFile.

Upfront, I will admit that I am not a fan of citation generators. I know a lot of people out there swear by them, but personally I prefer to do citations manually for my papers. However, I do get the question about these tools about once or twice a semester from students. I usually tell them my personal preference, but I do encourage them to experiment with the tools and see how they like them in the hopes they will judge them for themselves. Additionally, our library links to some of the online versions as part of our pages on how to cite sources. I do note that our campus does not own any of the software that can be purchased for this purpose. Overall, my I got interested when I saw this article. I am going to jot down some quotes and ideas from the article with a bit of my thoughts on the matter.
  • "Use of these tools might relieve some of the tedium from information literacy assignments and allow students to focus on understanding why and when to cite. However, some librarians question whether students will learn to cite properly if they do not learn to do it manually first" (310-311).
I don't think students need to become experts at citing, but they do need to know enough to do it well. Back in the day when I was teaching composition in high school, one of my colleagues used the fictitious research paper to teach citation skills. Readers can find a version of this assignment here. In essence, students could write any b.s. they wanted; the idea was to go for correct citation format. It seemed to work. Overall, I think that students need a sense of how to cite, and they need to know how and when to reach for the appropriate handbook. In this context, I say they need a sense because of the citation machines. If you have no idea how to cite, how do you know if you got a good result from the software or online tool?
  • What the study aimed to do: "The focus of this study was to examine two of the new Web-based programs and one PC-based program and compare them for accuracy, ease of use, and suitability for an undergraduate environment. The study also attempted to determine the extent to which academic libraries are recommending or supporting these products" (311). They looked at NoodleBib, EasyBib, and EndNote 6.0.
The study found that support from libraries varied. For instance:
  • "Although EndNote is widely supported, libraries vary widely in the extent of support. Some libraries limit support to linking to the tip sheets, interactive tutorial, and technical support available at the EndNote site. Other libraries provide guides to choosing bibliographic management software, including product comparison charts and information about special academic pricing. Many libraries offer detailed information about using EndNote with the library's databases and catalog, including the necessary import filters and connection files. There were also detailed online tutorials developed by the libraries and specifically tailored to the library" (312).
In terms of problems and errors, formatting items found through databases was often problematic; this is something I have noticed and a reason why I prefer to do things manually. Overall, the study found that "none of the programs were flawless in this regard" (314). Additionally, the authors note that for the study librarians familiar with citation formats did the data entry into the citation tools. They note that "undergraduate students, many of whom lack any experience creating bibliographies, would be expected to generate significantly more user errors than appeared here" (315). This may not sound very encouraging, but there may be hope.

From the conclusions then:
  • "Personal bibliographic citation managers such as EndNote are widely used by faculty and graduate students and are being supported by librarians. For undergraduates, these programs have several drawbacks: they are expensive, have an extensive learning curve, and perform unnecessary functions for undergraduate assignments. Recently developed Web-based citation generators such as NoodleBib and EasyBib offer an alternative. They are inexpensive, portable, easy to use, and perform the functions undergraduates need" (315).
  • "Should these new citation generators be recommended to students and supported by libraries? If used properly, these programs can produce accurate citations and bibliographies" (315).
Notice the three keywords in that last quote: "if used properly." So, why does this matter to librarians? It matters because of our role as educators.
  • "As new citation generators are developed, students and faculty will look to librarians for guidance on which product to select and support in using the product. Librarians should be proactive in regard to these programs and take the role of educator and consultant, as described by Strube, by becoming familiar with the products available and guiding users to the best ones" (315).
And finally, a couple of caveats about these tools:
  • "However, these products are not a substitute for learning how to prepare a citation manually. They are not 100 percent accurate. Students need an understanding of proper citation format in order to detect errors in automatically generated citations" (315).
  • "Therefore, instruction on citation generators by librarians should include a sense of the limitations of these programs as well as the fact that the ultimate responsibility for accurate citations rests with the user" (316).
The authors suggest that further research is needed. For example, comparative studies of bibliographies generated by machine versus those written by hand.

Booknote: Ultimate X-Men, Vol.3: World Tour

Title: Ultimate X-Men, Vol. 3: World Tour
Author: Mark Millar and Chuck Austen
Publication Information: New York: Marvel Comics, 2002
ISBN: 0785109617
192 pages
Genre: Fiction
Subgenre: Graphic novels and comics, science fiction, adventure

I have gone on to borrow the other volumes in this series from my local public library branch, and so far, I have enjoyed every one. This one is no exception. This volume is a compilation of Ultimate X-Men issues 13-18. In this volume, Professor Xavier has written a book about his peaceful philosophy for coexistence between humans and mutants, and he goes on a world tour to promote it. He takes his students along. However, things don't go as plan as elements from his own past come back to haunt him. One of his students abandons the school over a disagreement, and it seems the professor may decide to disband the school after all when he questions if his principles are truly worthy. The art is excellent, and the story is, as I often say, engaging. I could not put this volume down, and I am looking forward to the rest. Overall, the stories combine a good plot, elements of humor, and very interesting parallels to certain contemporary events (this is yet another reason I find this series so appealing, but I think most readers will enjoy the stories). As a bonus, this volume also includes a short series about the character of Gambit, a street hustler mutant who finds himself using his powers to save a young girl from danger.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Booknote: A History of the World in 6 Glasses

Title: A History of the World in 6 Glasses
Author: Tom Standage
Publisher Information: New York: Walker & Co., 2005
ISBN: 0-8027-1447-1
Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: History, popular culture
311 pages (including a sources list and an index)

Reading Tom Standage's books is always a pleasure for me. I've read The Victorian Internet, and I was captivated by The Turk. In this book, Mr. Standage looks at the history of the world through our beverages. The six glasses are beer, wine, spirits (whiskey, rum), coffee, tea, and Coca-Cola. Each beverage illustrates a particular time in history from antiquity (beer) to the British Empire (tea) to today's globalization (Coke). The book is engaging as well as entertaining. For instance, we learn how the custom of toasting before a drink goes back to ancient rituals. We see that the coffeehouses of the Enlightenment helped fuel that intellectual movement; there's a reason why activities such as reading and study go so well with a cup of coffee. In a way, some of that survives in the small, independent coffeehouses of today. No, Starbucks does not quite count; its corporate ambiance is not quite right to things as intimate as reading or writing in a journal or even a poetry reading. Standage does a good job of weaving the narratives of these six beverages into a story that's well worth reading, a true adventure. I'll definitely be a little more aware the next time I raise one of those glasses. And for the record, I do partake of all of them at one time or another (coffee more than tea, and wine more than beer or spirits, and I do like Coke). I do recommend the book for history readers as well as for nonfiction readers seeking an interesting tale.

Article note: On low-level skills and information seeking

Citation for the article:

Gross, Melissa. "The Impact of Low-Level Skills on Information-Seeking Behavior." Reference and User Services Quarterly 45.2 (Winter 2005): 155-162.

I read the article in print.

My director suggested that I read this article, and she was enthusiastic when she made the suggestion. Upon reading it, I found very relevant to our setting and our work with students. The article's discussion is framed by the concept of competency theory; I may need to read a bit more of that at some point. According to Professor Gross,
"this article reviews competency theory and outlines how this theoretical perspective may allow for a new approach to research and practice in support of information-seeking behavior" (155).
The author begins by pointing out that, according to psychological research, low-skilled individuals, if they feel they have some ability in an area, tend to overestimate their ability. In addition, these individuals, given their low skills, are unable to assess their own, or someone else's, performance. The problem is compounded because these individuals are not likely to seek any assistance or training to fill their skills gap. So, the individuals can't remedy their incompetence because they do not know of their incompetence. The article suggests that this is applicable to information-seeking behaviors.

Gross provides a small overview of competency theory. I have to say that this article gave me a lot to think about. So, as I often do in these notes, I'd like to pull some quotes and ideas, adding my responses.

Gross discusses the commonly asked question of why the incompetent don't know they are incompetent. One reason is that they are unable to compare themselves to their peers. Additionally, Gross writes,
"Another explanation these authors offer for why low performers do not recognize their lack of skill is the observation that negative feedback is rare in everyday life and that while it is easy for people to take credit for their succcesses, failure can often be attributed to multiple causes outside the self" (156).
Initially, I saw that as a lack of personal responsibility, no accountability, which is fairly common these days. This seems common: take credit when you do well and blame others when you foul up. But for the truly incompetent, if they really can't assess themselves, then they may not see why they are at fault. In addition, it seems society is reluctant to give people negative feedback, often trying to be diplomatic or making sure egos are not hurt. So maybe I am looking in broader terms., But there's more to this. According to the literature, incompetent folks can't assess themselves or correct their incompetence because they lack metacognitive skills. Gross uses this definition:
"They [Kruger and Dunning] define metacognition as the ability to know how well you are performing and operationalize the term as being able to tell the difference between right and wrong answers and the ability to recognize competence in others" (qtd. in 157).
I found the definition useful, so I wanted to make a note of it. What I found most useful in the article were the implications for information literacy and instruction.
  • "Research has shown that students enter institutions of higher learning with a wide range of information-literacy skills and that low-level information-literacy skills are most common among entering freshman and low-performing students" (158).
This can describe a significant number of the students I work with, and I don't say it to be mean or derogatory. Part of the reason I work where I am at is because I want to work with such students, to empower them and improve their odds. It can be challenging work, but let's not disgress. Gross also writes,
  • "If these skills are not achieved as part of higher or professional education, they may not be attained at all. In addition, current methods of information-literacy instruction are not informed by an understanding of the student's perspective. In particular, little is known about the information-seeking behaviors of students with low-level skills and thus little is know about to successfully intervene and promote the acquisition of the information-literacy skills they lack" (158).
What struck me about that passage was the sense of urgency. It made me ask where are we failing to address these students' needs. To be honest, for a moment, I felt--well, all I have learned about teaching, learning theories, so on, and yet, there's so much I wish I knew. I would love to know more about the information-seeking behaviors of the low-skilled. I can make some educated guesses. At any rate, I think much of that research will be done in the field (rather than in some ivory tower). In our line of work, we often refer to intervention points. So the question is how to intervene to better help these particular learners. I think there are some options, but they may not be easy. This is definitely something worth investigating.

Gross observes that skill level is usually not a variable in studies of information seeking behavior. Gross argues that scholars should be looking at skill level because it is relevant to all stages of information-seeking behavior. She writes that skill level "may affect the realization that information is needed, the choice of resource sought, the assessment of information encountered, and the application of information to the situation or problem of interest" (158). I think I am seeing this in some of the questions my students ask. While I can address this individually, how to do so collectively is something I think about, especially in other ways besides one-shot BI sessions. Furthermore,
  • "Competency theory indicates that it is unlikely that individuals with low-level information-literacy skills have the cognitive ability to self-identify as needing training or assistance and are therefore unlikely to take advantage of opportunities to attain the skills they lack" (158).
How do I reach these folks? The research does not seem to help:
  • "The current research and professional perspectives are uninformed about how students who do not have the benefit of library instruction approach information seeking and what, if any, consquences they experience as a result of this skill deficit" (158).
Fortunately the author provides some ideas towards answering my questions. This is what needs to be done in terms of research:
  • "Understanding how students see their own skill sets and actually engage in information seeking will inform general education and the development of information services and programs in academic libraries. Collecting such data will allow for determinations such as assessing the need for intervention, methods for bringing interventions to people who will not see them as relevant, and identifying the types of intervention and training that are most likely to be successful with low-performing individuals" (158-159).
The article goes on to discuss library anxiety and reviews some of the literature in that subject. The article also provides a list of key research questions, and it ends by discussing implications of competence theory. Some notes:
  • "Because low-level skills may result in inflated self-assessments, one of the greatest challenges for information professionals may be in developing outreach efforts that can get the attention of individuals who think they are performing well, but who are not" (160).
  • "Because technological competence is increasingly an assumed prerequisite to participation in the digital realm, information literacy skills may be less likely to be addressed in the general curriculum. Faculty may assume that, because information-literacy skills overlap with information-technology skills, a student who is able to participate in distance education can be expected to be information literate" (161).
I think some of the more rabid dwellers of Mount Ubertech may want to think about this. In more practical terms, I see a need to continue reaching out and educating faculty. Just because a student can log on to WebCT or other tool, it does not follow they can address their information needs or other learning issues. Overall, I highly recommend this article.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Booknote: Perspectives, Insights & Priorities

Title: Perspectives, Insights, & Priorities: 17 Leaders Speak Freely of Librarianship
Editor: Norman Horrocks
Publisher Information: Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2005
ISBN: 0-8108-5355-8
Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Library science, librarianship, leadership
130 pages

This is probably one of the best books on the topic I have read so far. Professor Horrocks brings together 17 leaders of our profession to speak about librarianship. The list of names is pretty much a "who's who" of the profession with folks like John Berry III, Kathleen De La Peña McCook, Mary K. Chelton, and even Michael Gorman. Horrocks allow these professionals to write about any topic they wished. The result is a book full of ideas that reflect the diversity of our profession. I think this represents a good way for a librarian like me to hear these people speak about what they do best, for instance, Mary K. Chelton on youth services. The essays range from lectures to personal reminiscences to advice. The book is easy to read, and I think some readers may want to revisit an essay here and there for there is much food for thought here. In a way, it's like sitting and letting the sages speak. This is a book I recommend to any librarian.

Article Note: On How Faculty See Students' Use of the World Wide Web

Citation for the article:

Tomaiuolo, Nicholas G., "Faculty Views of Open Web Resource Use by College Students." The Journal of Academic Librarianship 31.6 (November 2005): 559-566.

I read the article via OmniFile.

This article studies faculty observations about student use of open Web resources. In my position, I often the requests from faculty for instruction that either avoids the open Web or includes strict ways to evaluate anything off the Web. So learning a bit about faculty views is of interest to me. In the introduction, the author states why this research is important for librarians:
" By understanding professors' observations concerning students' Web use, as well as what resources faculty find acceptable, librarians can more accurately recognize student information acquisition habits, and determine whether a gap exists" (559).
The literature review begins by discussing the well documented student preference for the World Wide Web and its resources. For us librarians, this is pretty much common knowledge. The author then adds in descriptions of library expenses for research databases and similar materials. Some of the notes from the literature review:
"Through citation analysis and interviews with two community college English composition classes Grimes also discovered that students evaluated the Web information only superficially, and cited information from a range of unauthoritative sites including pages created by junior high school students and sites that were publicity oriented" (560).
It seems those of us involved in teaching information literacy have our work cut out for us. For one, teaching how to find authoritative stuff is a big part of what I do. Even then, I still get indications that more needs to be done. Let me throw in a small anecdote.

I'd say about a month ago, a student came in with a paper/article he printed off the Internet. He needed to know how to cite it. The document gave no hint or indication of its provenance, but the printout included the URL in a corner, so I used that. It led to a PDF file, so I reduced the URL to get to the original site. Once there, finding the document again was not easy; I eventually got to what turned out to be a listing of graduate student papers, a sort of paper bank. I was already getting suspicious, and adding to my scepticism was the fact that the paper lacked references. It mentioned a study, but no reference to it anywhere. To make the story short, the paper in question could not be verified, and it showed evidence of plagiarism. I had to break my student's heart in telling him as much, so to speak. I did manage to get him some alternative sources. But as I reflect on that experience, I wonder how many students are finding similar things that look good but are neither authoritative nor reliable. That student knew enough to come ask me (I did a session for his class). How many more may be out there in a similar bind? As a teacher, I know that I can't reach all students; you aim for all, but you soon learn to be realistic, yet I wonder.

Back to the article, let me make some more notes from the results and discussion parts of the article:
  • "Overall, faculty agree that subscription databases are the preferred research paper resources" (561). Nothing new here.
  • Here is an interesting prediction: "Another community college professor posited that although students used the Web extensively because of ease of use, 'Now that subscription databases are available off campus by remote access, this reliance on open Web resources should go down" (563). I would say this is a bit optimistic on the professor's part. Remote access is not exactly a seamless thing. I get enough students complain about problems with it to know. And even when it works, it is not always seamless given different database providers, issues with the URL resolver, etc. This probably gives ammunition to those who advocate making library systems more like Google. I don't agree with that, but I can certainly see a serious need for improvements.
I think this next statement gives some food for thought in collection development as well as for instruction:
  • "That many faculty are neutral concerning whether they prefer their students use subscriptions resources over open Web information has a number of implications for teaching critical evaluation of Web information as well as budget allocations for subscription databases. If faculty do not strongly articulate their preference for use of subscription resources, then their students must know how to evaluate the unfiltered Web content. If subscription database information is not mandated, perhaps budget allocations for databases may be reduced" (565).
Given the exorbitant costs of subscription databases, could this be given thought? If faculty are not really demanding use of such resources, and the students mostly use the open Web anyhow, can we really justify a lot of the expense? Mind you that I believe a library should provide the best resources possible for its students, but I think such findings at least beg the question. This is definitely something that deserves further discussion and thought. On the other hand, there are the professors that do articulate quite loudly what databases they want and why. Problem for them is often the fact that the campus does not fund the library enough to provide them, so we get the brunt of the heat when it is really the campus not putting their money where their mouth is. This is where you get situations where to add a new subscription something else has to be cut. But, I am disgressing since this touches a bit close.

Finally, some notes from the conclusion of the article:
  • ". . . open Web resources are often relied on even though faculty report that most of the information located is not authoritative or credible, but acceptable" (566). Are students then settling for less? It would seem so in the name of convenience, and it seems I have some more work to do on the education front.
  • "Additionally, while libraries with limited budgets spend considerable sums to offer databases, the results of this survey show that these resources are underused" (566).
  • ". . .these findings illustrate that, despite efforts of librarians and faculty to inculcate techniques for scrutinizing and evaluating material and to suggest the use of subscription resources due to their intrinsic quality screening, use of open Web resources has not abated" (566).
  • "Possible mitigating measures that librarians wish to accentuate include intense promotion of subscription resources while integrating examples of appropriate open Web use as a complement to subscription resource use during library instruction, and finally reducing the number of subscription database offerings to the bare essentials" (566).
As I finished reading the article, I wondered if libraries would actually dare to go to the bare essentials on the basis of findings like this. Yes, I know some are already at the bare minimums, but how many keep certain resources out of a feeling of "we ought to have it"? I don't think they would dare. For one, faculty (the ones who know what a database is) take access to subscription resources for granted. Cutting back dramatically would likely create an uproar on their part. Two, libraries are about providing access to the best resources possible, and bare essentials are simply not enough. Such extreme cuts would likely be a disservice. And yet, these are questions to consider.