Monday, February 26, 2007

On Vox and Experiments

One of the purposes, if I can use such a lofty word, of the Gypsy Librarian on Vox is to point out for my students information sources they might not usually see. I have been using it to aggregate a lot lately, but it is for things that fall under the rubric of "this might be helpful for a student writing a paper on [insert topic here]." Obviously, I can't do everything, so I usually go based on popular and common topics as I see them through my classes, reference interactions, and research consultations.

For some topics, students will often use the same search terms and will replicate the same results. So maybe part of doing this is that it will give at least one student something different to consider as they do their research. As a teacher, I wonder at times about what happens when students working on the same topics use a common set of articles or books. For example, if they all do a search on Academic Search Premier for the same topic. Teaching students how to narrow a topic and how to take ownership of their topic is part of what I do. It is also something their teachers should work on as well. There is probably some room for collaboration with faculty in that regard.

As I manage to squeeze in some time to look at the little experiment, I see some concerns and things I have learned.

  • I am concerned, as I look over some of the materials I have linked, over the reading level for some students. A significant number of our students have difficulties with reading. I am talking everything from their textbooks to academic articles. In fact, one of the items on the perpetual to-do list is to write some basic guidelines or tips on how to read a scholarly article. At the moment, it is something lacking from our Writing and Reading Center, and we don't have it, yet I often spend time simply going over with students about how to read an academic article. It is not an everyday occurrence, but it happens often enough that I probably should put it in writing.
  • On evaluating the sources I link to on the blog. I do some of this when I select them. However, there is the question that the students have to decide for themselves: do I use this on my paper or not? I fear some may decide to add or use something because "the librarian suggested it." Not that I see myself wielding that much power, if any power, but I think at times the notion that we may endorse something, well, it makes me think.
  • There are other posts I would like to write and develop for the blog. For instance, a post to define what is a think thank, what is an NGO, and the concept of a working paper. I would want something along the lines of: what is it? what it does? It may be useful because. . . . Now, I would need to watch out for or at least mention along the way the concept of bias. By this I mean, for instance, think tanks may work for a liberal or conservative interest.
And while I am talking about biases, I am learning a bit more about my own. I ask myself how much of my opinion should I put in or leave out? While the blog, as this one, is my space, I do shoot for being as neutral as possible. I want students and other visitors to feel welcome without having to worry about my views. Yet, I am also human, and some of that will likely show. I am sure it shows in my teaching. So, at this point, I am feeling a bit self-conscious over that.

So, the early experiment is moving along. It gets promotion in my BI sessions, but it is not linked to the library pages anywhere. That may be a disadvantage, but I felt at the time that in order to do what I felt needed to be done, I had to go outside the usual channels. I won't go into the reasons here. At this point, it's working in a gradual way.

Back to the reading question for a moment. What I notice is that for a significant number of students, a blog is not a common concept. Sure, they may use MySpace or Facebook, but otherwise, blogs and the tools used to create them are not well known, if at all in some cases. I am making the distinction because for many I am sure it is just a matter of terminology. I mean they use the notes feature on Facebook or the blog for their MySpace; they just don't know that you can call that a "blog." Which is fine. However, the concept of feed readers, that is pretty much an unknown even amongst the more savvy ones. When I look at other librarians in other campuses, I see they often take these pieces of knowledge for granted in their students, and they can probably afford to do so. I don't get that luxury, so to speak. When I promote the blog and give the url, I know most of them will simply type the url to visit and have a look; they won't be subscribing to it. A fact of life. It may represent an opportunity for further education and outreach, but that is for another day. At the end of the day, if they get to the blog, click on the tags, and maybe find something they can use, then I am happy to have accomplished most of the purpose I started out with. Anything else is extra.

On a side note, I like the idea that I can tag items on Vox. The Blogger upgrade has a tag option now, but I am leery of starting to label posts after living without it so long. Do I have to go back and label the old stuff? Just the thought of that makes me cringe. And just labeling new stuff seems incomplete. We'll see.


Gypsy said...

Hello Angel. I am in my first year of my Library Science Masters and I stumbled upon your blog while searching for practicing Librarians blogs to read for my own enrichment. The Gypsy Librarian caught my eye mostly because of the title. My parents being a bit odd [and as far as I am concerned stoned out of thier minds] decided to name my Gypsy when I was born [they really put it on my birth certificate!] Since Gypsy isn't a run of the mill name, I often read whatever it is in when I see it in print. I want to thank you for blogging, you have mentioned many resources that I am going to add to my Professional reading. I also think it is very open minded and professional of you to show both sides of many topics you blog about. I was going to wait until I had finished all of your archives before leaving a message, but my husband encouraged me to do it now. He wishes that everyone that came to his blog would leave a note so that he would know what people thought. Btw if you are intrested he does a little online comic strip about Academic Research Libraries called Search and Research. Blessings! Gypsy Moody

Angel, librarian and educator said...

Greetings, and welcome to the blog and to library school. Best of luck on your studies. Thanks for the kind words. I will have to stop by the strip and blog. Best, and keep on blogging.