Friday, June 29, 2007

Booknote: Sherlock Holmes in Orbit

Resnick, Mike and Martin H. Greenberg, eds. Sherlock Holmes in Orbit. New York: DAW Books, 1995. ISBN: 0886776368.

Genre: Fiction
Subgenre: Detective fiction, science fiction

This is a collection of short stories about the great detective by various writers. The twist of this anthology is that the stories have some science fiction element to them. Also, the stories are not just set in Holmes's time period, but some are set in the present day and even in the future. One of the stories I found intriguing was "Two Roads, No Choices," where Sherlock Holmes finds himself in the H.M.S. Titanic, only the ship does not sink this time, and he has to find out why. Holmes is then involved in various adventures in his time such as a commission from a vampire to locate a missing object. The anthology moves then from Holmes's Victorian England to the present day (the 1990s). The present section's best story is "Second Fiddle" where Holmes is brought back to the 20th century via a time machine to solve a serial killer case. The anthology then features a set of stories in the future. One of them, "Moriarty by Modem" features the great detective as a computer program. This story may be interesting to some folks given the technology described has been superseded or vastly improved from the time the story was written. Sure, we have modems now, but we also have wireless networks. Robert J. Sawyer gives us an interesting look at puzzles when Holmes is brought to the future to solve the apparent disappearance of trillions in the story "You See But You Do Not Observe."

And even in death, the great detective is not down, as two stories of Holmes in death reveal. Overall, the anthology is a mixed bag. There is a bit of solid science fiction. A bit more of light science fiction. Some humor as well. Readers who enjoy Sherlock Holmes as well as readers who are looking for a good collection of short stories will find a good book here.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Article Note: On what conferences to attend if you are a selector

Citation for the article:

Lyons, Lucy Eleonore. "The Dilemma for Academic Librarians with Collection Development Responsibilities: A Comparison of the Value of Attending Library Conferences versus Academic Conferences." The Journal of Academic Librarianship 33.2 (March 2007): 180-189.

Read via Science Direct.

When I became a librarian, in some ways, I felt like I left a part of me behind in my other subject specialty. I am an English major by training. I was a teacher in high school as well as briefly in college, and I hold an advanced degree in English. The scholarship of English Studies was, and still is, a significant part of my academic interests. However, given my current line of work, there is not as much of an incentive for me to keep up with that part of the world, so to speak. Attending a conference like a regional MLA (the Modern Language Association, not the medical librarians) or NCTE is not seen as a priority here. If I were to ask for permission to go, I would probably raise some eyebrows. In fact, I had memberships in MLA and NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) that I allowed to lapse once I became a librarian, trading them in for ALA and TLA, so to speak. I also had memberships in a couple other smaller scholarly organizations. I have to admit that I miss that, and that I find myself considering whether I should add one or more of those memberships back in. If I am going to be a better selector for Arts and Humanities, it could prove helpful. What I have discovered is that I have not left that part of me behind as I thought I would when I jumped over to librarianship. My liaison work means I have to keep up with the scholarship in those fields as well as a few other new things. It's part of the beauty of librarianship: the chance to learn new things.

The article caught my eye because it has been a while since I have been to an academic conference. It was an experience I used to enjoy back when I used to present in them. I was beginning to specialize in what could be labeled as American ethnic (minorities) theater, presenting on authors such as Luis Valdez and Suzan Lori-Parks. Those were good days. But I am disgressing. I am not in a research university, so I don't have as much a priority as a selector in a large research university, which is the subject of the article. However, and this is just food for thought, getting back to some of those roots may be a good thing. Lord knows I do a lot of work helping students learn the ways of scholarship in various disciplines, and yes, English is one of them.

The article asks what are the benefits and drawbacks for subject specialists to attend library conferences versus academic (subject) conferences. The article is set up as a comparison looking at ALA's Annual and at Annual for American Political Science Association. For selectors, the dilemma is which conference to attend, especially if the budget is tight. Lyons draws in part on an article by Cynthia Tysick on attending conferences outside of librarianship. Lyons then goes on to compare the two types of conferences.

Lyons finds that academic conferences may be more relevant to selectors in terms of the exhibits. This is because small academic conferences tend to emphasize academic publishers as opposed to a broad range of general vendors. In large measure, the classical assumption that something like ALA is mostly geared to public librarians is in play, though the demographics of ALA conferences do not seem to validate the assumption. Lyons notes that, for the 2005 ALA Annual, 42% of attendees were from academic institutions (183). Personally, I just think that the number is simply a reflection of another reality: that academic librarians, especially at large universities, tend to be much better funded to attend conferences than many public librarians and than many more school librarians.

Some advantages of attending the academic conference include:

  • "A short cruise of the exhibition hall at an academic conference, for instance, is equivalent to a long time spent on a literature review" (184).
  • "By skimming titles and examining works on display at the APSA event, it is possible to quickly learn of trends and movements in the field" (184).
  • The exhibitions additionally "provide information specifically designed for students and faculty. For the subject selector who is also liaison to academic departments, such information can be brought back to one's home institution or posted on a subject guide as a service to the department" (184).
  • "In addition to knowing what the scholarship within their field of responsibility has produced, collection development librarians need to know how it was produced--i.e., the methodologies" (185). You get this at academic conferences.
However, library conferences do have the advantage of better peer interactions with other librarians. On the other hand, for a small academic conference, certain things, like preconferences, can be much more affordable than the ones at ALA and more relevant to a subject specialist.

The author seems to suggest that a balance may be ideal. She provides a table with four options for selectors: go to the academic conference, switch conferences every other year, do one of each per year, or have an association of subject selectors to meet more regularly at the academic conference. Some form of those options may work for me. Maybe keep attending the state library conference, but then choose something subject related as well. The article overall does provide some good food for thought.

Note: the Tysick reference above refers to the following:

Cynthia Tysick. "Attending Conferences Outside of Librarianship," College and Undergraduate Libraries 9/2 (2002): 75-81.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Short Booknotes on Graphic Novels 14

Another roundup of recent graphic novels I have read:

Rucka, Greg. Wonder Woman: Land of the Dead. New York: DC Comics, 2006. ISBN: 1-4012-0938-6.

This volume features two stories, and Rucka provides an excellent continuation of the tale from Eyes of the Gorgon. First, Wonder Woman must team up with The Flash when Cheetah frees Zoom. Then, Diana, Cassandra, also known as Wonder Girl, and Ferdinand the minotaur must travel to the Underworld in order to free Hermes. However, not all is at it seems. With Athena in the throne of Olympus, the deposed Zeus and his brothers plot revenge. Is Ares joining them as well, or does he have an agenda of his own? Overall, a fast paced story with a good plot and great art to complement the tale.

Frampton, Otis. Oddly Normal, Volume 1. Irving, TX: Viper Comics, 2006. ISBN: 0-9777883-0-X.

This is the first volume of a series, and I highly recommend it. Though mostly for young readers, I think any reader of graphic novels will enjoy it. Oddly Normal is a young girl of mixed heritage: her mother is a witch, and her father is a human. When on her birthday, she makes a wish common to many kids in a brief disgruntled moment, her parents actually disappear. Her great aunt comes to care for her, taking her to Fignation to live. While there, it seems the challenges of school never change as there are friends to be made and enemies to avoid. In the meantime, Oddly has to find her parents. And why is that teacher giving extra credit to everyone else? Find that out and more in this series. A light and entertaining read.

Hing, Lee Chung and Hui King Sum. Resident Evil Code: Veronica, #1. La Jolla, CA; Wildstorm, 2002. ISBN: 1-56389-899-3.

After the events of Raccoon City, Claire Redfield is captured by the Umbrella Corporation and sent to an isolated prison island facility. However, the prison is attacked, and soon chaos follows as the zombies resulting from Umbrella's experiments are unleashed. Now Claire's only chance of survival rests in finding her brother while having to trust another prisoner with an agenda of his own. This is the first of a series of comics based on the video game. While it is labeled "Suggested for Mature Readers," it is mostly due to some gore (if you have played the video game, it's that level of gore). Fans who have played the video game will likely like this too. Very fast paced story with a lot of violence leaving little room to catch your breath.

Yang, Gene Luen. American Born Chinese. New York: First Second Books, 2006. ISBN: 1-59643-152-0.

This was a book recommended by one of my colleagues, so I knew it would probably be good. It was great. It contains three seemingly unrelated stories: the story of Jin Wang, who just wants to fit in at school when his parents move into a new neighborhood; the story of Danny and his very Chinese cousin Chin Kee; and the story of the Monkey King. At first, the book seems to be a set of separate stories, but as one reads, the connection becomes apparent. The book does have some very funny moments too, and there are some lessons here and there as well. And when you get to the end, you just don't quite want it to end. A pleasure to read, and a fast read as well. I highly recommend this one.

Dick, Philip K. A Scanner Darkly. New York: Pantheon Books, 2006. ISBN: 0-375-42402-4.

This edition is the graphic novel adaptation of the movie A Scanner Darkly, which is based on Dick's novel of the same title. It is a scary and creepy story. Bob Arctor is addicted to Substance D. Fred is the police agent who is chasing him. The problem is Substance D splits the user's mind into separate personalities. So, it turns out that Bob is chasing himself. It is a paranoid tale where no one knows who is watching who. However, Bob may not be the only one who is not what he seems. And watch out for that ending. This is a great classic of science fiction, and it is definitely Philip K. Dick at his best. This edition uses stills from the film version to tell the story. I recommend it, though some readers may want to seek out the book anyways. A great work overall.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Booknote: So Many Books, So Little Time

Nelson, Sara. So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 2003. ISBN: 0-399-15083-8.

Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Books and reading, memoir/personal narrative

I hate to say this, but this was a book that could do without the book selections. While Sara Nelson does provide a good number of observations on readers and their habits, her book selection leaves a lot to be desired in my humble opinion. Then again, to many readers out there, my book selection may leave a lot to be desired (readers can always see what I may be up to by looking at the sidebar when visiting my blogs). Let's say her tastes run somewhere between high brow and what some call "chick lit" and leave it at that. My tastes range from science fiction to some light stuff to a few other things. Here, just look my reading list from last year if you really want to get a sense. The problem with me was one of tone. At times, she is interesting and insightful, and at other times, she is just plain whiny. For example, when she whines because she gets paid to read (she is a professional reviewer):

"I know. I know. You're [the reader] not very sympathetic. Why would you be? I am living out your fantasy: I'm getting paid to read, I have (or have access to) all the books in the world and I have the time to read them. So what's the freakin' problem?"(78; emphasis in original).

That would be my question exactly, so get on with it. The premise of the book is that Sara Nelson will be discussing and writing about what she reads every week for a year. Like many readers, including me, she starts some things. She drops some books, finishes others, and often has a big pile of to-be-read items. Don't we all? Like many book lovers, she has her quirks and her habits, which I think is what makes her appealing to other readers: a sense that she shares our experience. However, at times this gets a bit too extreme, or maybe obsessive would be a better word. I certainly know when to put the book down, so to speak.

An interesting observation she makes is the one about friends passing books to each other. Passing books to just acquaintances or strangers is one thing. Pretty easy to tell someone like that, "hey, I read this, you may like it too." Telling a friend can become a test of that friendship. The recommender takes a risk in mentioning the book since the friend may judge the person by their book choice, "you read that thing?" may be what the friend thinks, resulting in the friend thinking a bit less of the recommender. The story takes place in the chapter for March 15. The book is divided in chapters by weeks. Overall, not exactly the best book about reading I have read. There are others a lot better out there.

So, I would not leave people hanging, so here are some other things I have read that you may want to read instead of Nelson's book (links are to my notes on the books):

Daniel Pennac's Better than Life.
Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone, Warmly Inscribed.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Booknote: Learning to Lead and Manage Information Literacy Instruction

Grassian, Esther S. and Joan R. Kaplowitz. Learning to Lead and Manage Information Literacy Instruction. New York: Neal-Schuman Publishers, 2005. ISBN: 1-55570-515-4.

Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Librarianship, Information Literacy and Instruction

This is possibly the best book I have read on its topic, and it is one that should be a standard textbook in any BI classes in library school. In fact, future IL librarians should simply be issued one of these when they come to their new jobs. The book guides new and experienced librarians through the process of managing and leading an Information Literacy Instruction (ILI) program. From developing your own individual leadership skills to mentoring to research, marketing and technology management, this book really covers the bases. I borrowed the copy I read, but rest assured, I am buying my own copy.

Some points I wanted to remember:

  • From Chapter 1, the chapter on developing your leadership qualities, the one question that I often have was not fully addressed, and that is what happens when the rest of the "team" simply won't budge in terms of resistance to change. We are talking passive resistance, lack of administrative support, and overall neglect. I found this chapter, as other writings on leadership, a bit on the idealistic side. I thought the section on organizational cultures was a bit on the simplistic side due to the assumption that all organizations function in a healthy manner, which is not reflective of reality (see page 22). However, I found the authors address some of this later in the book, in the chapter fostering growth (Chapter 4).
  • Chapter 2 opens with the differences between a manager and a leader, which I found to be a very good reminder. There was some mention of recognition, which I found reminded me of the book The Carrot Principle (see my note on the book here). Remember that an IL manager should be seen as a mentor, not a boss. The IL manager needs to keep track of daily operations without losing track of the big picture, and therein lies the challenge. Also remember to do assessment, and the issue of assessment is addressed very well in this book, especially in terms of assessing the IL instructors.
  • Why collaborate? Because usually IL programs lack resources. However, the heart of collaboration is trust, which unfortunately can be missing at times. I am not sure the authors look at that notion as much.
  • The authors also distinguish between dialogue (what you use to discover meaning and you look at all points of view without judgment) and discussion (what you do to actually reach decisions. The persuading goes in here).
  • Chapter 3 provides various ideas for cooperation. It does look at administrative problems and offers some solutions. Remember not to base decisions based on politics (even though in some places, it may be business as usual to do it that way). I found intriguing the idea of recording the ILI history of an organization/library. I also like the idea of using consciousness-raising questions with faculty to gain their cooperation.
  • Remember the need to do prospecting. This does need some dedicated time in order to accomplish it and harvest fruit from it.
  • Chapter 4 for me was probably the most useful as it looks at the concept of the reflective practitioner. A good teacher needs to reflect, and they need to be willing to engage in assessment and appraisals. The section on peer appraisal and portfolios was excellent.
  • The book also looks at stress and burnout, two things that can very easily take down a good ILI librarian. For me, it was a bit of a painful reminder of advice I was given back in Immersion. In order to avoid the burnout or be ruined by it, it may be time to simply send out that resume and find a different position. It was not something I mentioned in my notes at the time, and to mention it now is not something I am happy about. There's a story there, but I am keeping it under wraps for now. Anyhow, this is what I meant when I said the book addressed some of the questions from Chapter 1. The authors do provide excellent advice and ways to cope with stress and burnout including: constructive conflict management, problem-solving approaches, developing outside interests, and in the extreme, move on. This chapter really came close to home for me.
Some quotes from Chapter 4 I want to remember (warning signs maybe? Anyhow, these are passages that resonated for me):

  • "Although a rampaging elephant or a snarling tiger or a lion rarely threatens the IL instructor, the demands of the day-to-day work environment can create their own pitfalls and perils. Faced with budget cuts, information overload, staff shortages, heavy workloads, and long hours, the IL instructor can begin to exhibit the same symptoms as someone facing a physical threat" (132).
  • "Lack of managerial support, shifting priorities, lack of private workspace, and difficult and demanding clients are all stressors in the library world. Furthermore, a feeling of not being invited to participate in goal setting or decision making, and few opportunities for advancement can also contribute to the problem. The result is a situation in which the IL instructor feels overwhelmed, overloaded, and stressed to exhaustion. He or she is then vulnerable to burnout (Becker 1993; Caputo 1991; Kuppersmith 1998)" (132-133).
  • "Burnout is caused by overdedication, overcommitment, overwork, and the establishment of unrealistic goals. It can result whenever expectation levels are dramatically opposed to reality, making goal achievement impossible (Freudenberger and Richelson 1980)" (133). Keep in mind, this often means the librarian's high expectations and standards clashing with the reality that may be an opposite.
  • "Information professionals choose this type of work because they expect a degree of autonomy. However, many professionals end up working in a highly structured bureaucratic environment. This mismatch between their professional expectations and the practical reality under which they must operate is also a contributing factor to stress and burnout. Administrators who are not involved in direct client service may be perceived as making decisions without realizing how those decisions affect client and professional alike. Bureaucratic red tape, endless meetings, piles of paperwork, lack of positive feedback and administrative support, and communication failures can all create an atmosphere in which burnout thrives (Becker 1993; Cherniss 1995; Grosser 1987)" (135-136).
  • "Burnout comes from frustration, from the perception that we cannot accomplish what we feel is our professional responsibility. However, sometimes we must accept the fact that these self-imposed goals cannot be reached or that the goals imposed upon us by others are unreachable under certain circumstances. The problem is that we feel responsible. We entered the profession to provide service and to hopefully make a difference in people's lives. But if we do not have the authority to actually create a situation where our goals can be realistically accomplished, we must reconsider our options" (137).
The rest of the book looks at research, grants, marketing, and technology management. Research is crucial to the reflective practitioner, and it should be done even if the "publish and perish" situation does not exist. In fact, for me, that is a good reason not to have the tenure: to be able to research without the pressure, and one is likely create a better product. Overall, I cannot recommend this book highly enough. The book does include a CD-Rom with various helpful materials.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Article Note: On Academic Libraries and RA

Citation for the article:

Elliot, Julie. "Academic Libraries and Extracurricular Reading Promotion." Reference and User Services Quarterly 46.3 (Spring 2007): 34-43.

Read via Academic Search Complete.

I have always believed that we should be promoting recreational reading as well as the usual academic fare for our students and the rest of the academic community. It is not an idea that is always reinforced by others, but I try to do my part anyhow. One area in which I am doing it is with the Spanish selections I acquire as part of my collection development duties. Do I get the occasional frown or grumble from the faculty when they see something non-academic in the new Spanish books list? Sure. I go ahead and buy the recreational stuff anyhow. For one, it is something I think is needed given our demographic. And two, for those learning to read in Spanish, having something recreational may actually be a bonus. I was encouraged when I came across this article.

Here is the question that the author was exploring:

"It is also unclear what academic librarians were doing in addition to reading programs to promote extracurricular reading, and if they weren't promoting extracurricular reading, why not?"(34)

Here is then what the author found out initially:

"What I found was that it was not only elitism among past librarians that hampered the concept (or that could impede its future) but rather the same three culprits that hamper just about every project in our profession: budget, staff time, and space" (35).

Some of this is familiar. The usual trio of obstacles are pretty much a fact of daily life around here, but one just copes and moves along anyways with what can be done. As for the elitism, I am thinking it is not just the old timers, so to speak. I am thinking there is a new form of elitism in many of the L2 rhetoric where it seems traditional reading is allowed to wither or alienated because it does not fit within the cool toys schemes. I will add a bit more to this later on.

The author begins with a short section on the history of extracurricular reading and academic libraries. We see different options used over time, all with the idea of educating a whole student. Creating a well-rounded individual seems to be part of those efforts. Then comes the decline of the promotional efforts. However, the author's survey reveals that this is not hopeless. In many cases, RA is alive and well in academic campuses, and in other cases, efforts are getting underway.

Some ideas and efforts then:

  • "Displays and browsing areas are common methods for promoting extracurricular activities" (37). Recently, at the suggestion of some colleagues, our library put in place a small browsing area for leisure reading. The recent stats reveal it is getting use, which provides encouragement for this to continue. You see, give the students some good casual reading, and they will find it.
  • "Librarians at Gwynedd-Mercy College have created a rotating display called 'What College Students Are Reading!' The librarians choose the titles from the monthly survey in the Chronicle of Higher Education" (37). I love this idea. Given our crunch for space, I am not as sure we could spare the space. However, we could probably take this concept to a virtual space and provide the list in the library blog. It certainly sounds like something nice to add to my student resources blog.
  • In fact, the article also mentions that some libraries do review books on the library blogs. My concern is the usual one of staff commitment. It does not work if there is not some degree of commitment on the part of other librarians to do this in any consistent fashion. "Blogging titles in the popular reading collection have played a role in increased circulation at their library, noted Moore. 'It's common to have people ask for books that have been reviewed on the blog . . . I do believe that the Web site, and the staff's commitment to reading and blogging, and the time and dollars invested in the small collection, all played a part in getting those [circulation] numbers turned around'" (38).
  • "Book lists are another economical way to promote reading on campus, although more than (55.7 percent) of those surveyed do not use them" (38). I say make the lists anyways. Make them available in print and online. And distribute them to faculty, staff, students.
  • New books areas are always popular. I know our New Books Shelf is a popular stop in our library.
  • Eastern Illinois University has a graphic novel collection. We have bought some titles, but I think it is time we buy a lot more and seriously build a collection, both for academic interest as well as for recreational reading.
  • Another possibility: go where the students are at. Use tools like MySpace and Facebook. For instance, ". . .'it would be cool to have a library page on MySpace for students to post what they are currently reading,' wrote Hartman" (40).
However, there are always complications and problems, which the author addresses as well.

  • "'People are concerned about it being perceived that money being spent on nonacademic pursuits could leave the library open to budget cuts,' wrote Moritz" (39). In my case, since the budget is tight and getting tighter, I say let's do it anyways. No, I am not saying be irresponsible about collection development, but if this important, and I happen to think it is, we should then make any effort we can to promote it, even if it means buying little things here and there to gradually build up. As the saying goes, Rome was not built in a day.
  • "Another argument for why academic librarians do not promote extracurricular reading is that it might detract from the image of the librarian as information specialist and might ally academic librarians too closely to their public library counterparts" (39). I hate that notion that somehow public librarians are beneath us academics (something that, unfortunately, seems alive and well in any references to state conferences, for instance). We should be collaborating a lot more, and RA is one area for that. After all, public librarians do have vast experience in the area. Why not tap into that? In my view, why should the public librarians have all the fun? I happen to like leisure reading, read extensively, and love telling others about it. What rule is there I have to keep that out of my academic practice? None.
Ms. Elliot quotes a commentary by Barbara Fister on the recent OCLC Perceptions report. I am going to post the entire comment here, as I think it is important, then throw my humble two pennies in. Ms. Fister says:

"The authors of the study didn't seem to allow for the idea that this was a good thing [the idea of libraries being associated with books], except that perhaps we could convert those warm, fuzzy feelings into a more correct understanding that libraries are about information in many formats. All of which gave the feeling that, in fact, many librarians have contempt for books and reading. And ordinary readers. I do think we need to help people understand what riches we have available, but it seems as if we're embarrassed about the number of books we have and would prefer to be in some other 'business' rather than books. Most likely competing with Google to be the authoritative mass aggregator of information" (qtd. in 39).

As I was reading that, I thought of a recent item I saw in the blog Library Stuff. There, Steven points to an article out of the Charlotte Observer (for June 10th, 2007) where "Quiet? Libraries Shelve Old Image." While the notion of redefining the library and bringing in new users is certainly a good thing, doing it at the expense of regular or traditional users who may wish to have some quiet to actually read is not the way to do it. And yet, I constantly see this seeming disdain for anyone who may be asking for some peace and quiet in the name of modernization and being hip. It really is as if somehow the librarians were suddenly embarrassed to have something called books in their buildings. And while we are on the issue of manners and technology, here is another piece I saw a while back on the Los Angeles Times (for April 10, 2007) on "Shhh--the one thing you won't hear in the library." I found it via the Librarian's Rant blog. It's stuff like that which makes me wonder at times about our profession and where exactly they have their priorities and values.

Ms. Elliot also points out that another concern is that academic librarians usually lack training in RA (40). Well, let me reassure her. I am very well trained as I took at least two courses in RA when I was in library school. I do have to point out that this was something I had to seek out. The academic track does not really encourage such courses, but I went and did it anyhow. For one, the courses were fun; they featured some of the best teachers in library school, which, incidentally, were adjuncts. Two, I had to cover my bases; I could have been hired in a public library. Three, I do use what I learned in those courses in my work now. And I do keep up with RA via reading and various online resources. It is a skill one does have to continue refining like any other. It is a small part of the reason I post about the books I read in my blogs too.

So, why should we persevere and keep doing RA, or start doing it if we are not?

"A conviction of its importance in the overall education of college students, and a sense of personal fulfillment is why many of the librarians interviewed continue to promote extracurricular reading." (40).

However, as usual, to make things work you do need some support to build something that will last:

"Having a supportive director and colleagues is key to the success of academic library reading promotion" (40).

The article includes two appendixes: one listing the URL's for various academic programs, and the other has the survey instrument. So, go out there and promote some reading. And do keep reading yourselves as well.

"You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them." --Ray Bradbury

Update note (6/18/2007): I had seen this post earlier, but forgot about it briefly. It seemed appropriate as an addition to the idea that somehow libraries being associated with books is not as evident. So, they ask "Where are the books?" Found via the Libraries and Librarians Rock blog.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Short Booknotes on Graphic Novels 13

Busiek, Kurt and Stuart Immonen. Superman: Secret Identity. New York: DC Comics, 2004. ISBN: 1-4012-0451-1.

In one of the other alternate Earths, superheroes only exist in comic books. Superman is nothing more than a comic book character. But what if a young boy one day wakes up to discover he really does have the powers of Superman? To make matters complicated, his parents named him Clark, and his family name is Kent; they had a quirky sense of humor. The author and artist have created here a moving and beautiful story of a boy coming to age, becoming a man, and living a full life as he discovers a path to be a hero while trying to keep the government at bay. Clark just wants to live a normal life, but it is not as easy as that. This is one of the nicest stories I have read in graphic novels recently. It combines elements of conspiracy shows like The X-Files with elements of a family story with some adventure. It is a fine example of what writers and authors can do in graphic novels. This is one graphic novel that I would highly recommend with art that complements the story very well.

Morrison, Grant. New X-Men, vol. 6: Planet X. New York: Marvel Comics, 2004. ISBN: 0785112014.

In this installment of the series, Magneto, who was presumed dead, appears once again. It turns out he has been hatching a plot to carry out his plans for mutant rule. To make things worse, there is an infiltrator at Xavier's Academy, and he turns many students to Magneto's cause. Meanwhile, the X-Men are facing various missions and challenges, weakening their efforts against Magneto. While the action was good in this one, it did not seem as good to me as other X-Men titles. Maybe for it was the portrayal of Magneto as a bit too maniacal and obsessed. However, fans will likely enjoy this and continue reading the rest of the series.

Claremont, Chris and Jim Lee. X-Men Legends Vol. 1: Mutant Genesis. New York; Marvel Comics, 2003. ISBN: 0-7851-0895-5.

A series of tales from the late 90s are collected in this volume. First, Magneto makes his return. His cause is to bring all mutants under his banner and bringing mutants to their rightful superior place. He is helped by a group of acolytes, mutants sworn to Magneto's cause, but in this case, the acolytes may prove more dangerous than the master of magnetism himself. It is up to the X-Men to stop him. Next, a group of conspirators, including twins striving to bring a Fourth Reich to life, resurrect an old Soviet superweapon: the mutant Omega Red. However, Omega Red's death factor, which can kill with a touch, is not stable. Now, X-Men, the Upstarts as they are known, and others race to find a device that will stabilize Omega Red's powers and put the Upstarts in a new dominant position. This is classic comic book action.

Rucka, Greg. Wonder Woman: Eyes of the Gorgon. New York: DC Comics, 2005. ISBN: 1-4012-0797-9.

As the story begins, Diana has faced many challenges and obstacles. However, there is no rest in store as the Gorgon sisters manage to bring their deadly sibbling Medusa back to life. Now the creature with the power to turn others to stone is out after Wonder Woman for revenge. I admit that I have not read Wonder Woman comics lately. It is one of those I pick up if there is nothing else at hand (I tend to like my heroes a bit darker, so I am more of a Batman as opposed to Superman reader, for instance), but reading this one has proven to be interesting. Rucka has written a compelling storyline; the art is very good. And for me, it is interesting to see that the Olympian and mythological creatures have adapted to modern times. As in old times, the gods continue to plot against each other, and they continue their petty battles. In the end, Wonder Woman makes a very costly sacrifice. I think I will be picking up other issues a bit more frequently. I will certainly look forward to the next part of the story.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Article Note: On working with underprepared transfer students

Citation for the article:

Tipton, Roberta L. and Patricia Bender. "From Failure to Success: Working with Under-prepared transfer students." Reference Services Review 34.3 (2006): 389-404.

Read via Emerald.

After reading the article, my initial impression was that it was an excellent piece. It gave a good summary of learning models and the student profile. There are also a few of the references at the end that I may have to read later. It is very relevant to our setting where a significant number of students are unprepared for college level work. The article discusses a collaboration between librarians and writing center personnel.

  • What we often see: "The librarian sees the need for better writing and writing organization skills in students doing research; the writing center director sees the need for better research skills in student writers confronting term papers and other research-based topics" (389).
The approach was to invite a librarian to participate in a section of the school's ENG 122. According to the authors, this helps students learn about high level research as well as helps them with becoming better writers.

The authors go over the characteristics of writing and under-prepared students. This includes looking over concepts such as Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development and Kuhlthau's Information Search Process. Some of our notions as instruction librarians on intervention points would draw from these theories.
  • What the instructor does under ZPD: "The instructor's job is to help the student reach realistic goals with support structures where necessary (scaffolding) and then remove the supports when they are no longer needed (fading) (Dabbagh, 2003)" (392).

The Dabbagh reference refers to:

Dabbagh, N. (2003), "Scaffolding: an important teacher competency in online learning", TechTrends, Vol. 47 No.2, pp. 39-44.

The article also looks at the concept of self-efficacy, the idea of judgments related to personal capability. This reminds me of an article on competency theory I read a while back.

A reminder: "In order to become a successful academic writer, one has to be able to practice writing first" (395). I think that pretty much speaks for itself. The authors discuss the advantages of using two instructors in a class. The idea here is that instructors model different examples of writing as well as their own writing experiences. This is consistent with my own philosophy of teaching by example where I would actually write with my students and share my experience with them as well as provide feedback in a workshop setting where they learn from their peers as well. It is a risky approach for instructors who are not too comfortable with self-disclosure, but for those of us who love to embrace the chaos, it works fine. This also leads to reflective practice on the part of the teachers.

The authors provide a good explanation of how the library sessions are integrated with the course. I think in time this could be a possible model we could replicate here. The idea of the one minute writing piece is certainly a possibility. I think I may try to talk to a couple of professors who are amenable to me experimenting to see if they would let me try something like that when they bring their classes for instruction.

A question I had for myself: The concept of the librarian's writing/research notebook, could I be moving close to this with the Vox blog? I am thinking with a few small modifications in terms of how I approach it, I could make it work. Here is how the authors describe it:

  • "The librarian's notebook segment is a demonstration and discussion of how the librarian, who is neither a professional writer nor a writing instructor, use free writing and more structured methods to carve out a writing practice as a part of her job and her life. . . . The notebook session makes manifest the writing practice hidden behind finished pieces and demonstrates to students that they, too, can use writing in their work" (398).
In the interest of disclosure, I will point out that I was a writing teacher in a previous life. Anyhow, some of what is described above is similar to things I tried out back in the day.

And here is something I do most the time in my sessions, the part about using student prompts. For me at least, nice to see some validation now and then:

  • "This session [the second library session described] is the equivalent of a traditional one-shot class. Using the students' own research projects as in-class examples impose higher risk than showing a prepared search, but the rewards can also be higher. Talking a student through a process in front of peers is a time-honored way to model behavior and make implicit moves explicit" (398).
I usually "sell it" to students as "I will get your research started for you if you give me your topic." That usually gets one or two hands up for volunteers. When I can, I do e-mail some of the results to the volunteer.

And while there is no ironclad proof, "there is evidence to believe this combination of approaches [the methods outlined in the article] to instruction can make a difference in the academic lives of many under-prepared students" (399). This is something I have been thinking about and saying for a while now. If I could only convince some people up the chain of command that ideas like this would be worth exploring. For evidence, the authors look at passing rates for their classes when compared to other sections as well as research and writing behaviors.

Some final thoughts, or a few other concepts I want to remember:

  • "Students are learning how to use information sources meaningfully and independently in this class, which bodes well for transfer of learning to other courses" (400).
  • A constant challenge. Well, at least I can feel a bit like it is not just me who faces this: "One continuing issue is whether and how to institutionalize this kind and this depth of collaboration so that it can spread to other departments and continue with other individuals" (401).
  • "As Jacobson (2004) has written, individual collaborations in the research university often flourish for a time and then fade. In addition, scalability is desirable for an institution with large numbers of students; we could be accused of preparing a gourmet meal for a few students when we should be feeding armies" (401). This line stuck with me. I think we should be getting accused more of feeding armies.
  • "Students entering the research university environment for the first time are joining a scholarly community, and they need to understand that community's rules and expectations in order to participate fully. Interaction with the instructors promotes this social learning" (401).
The Jacobson reference above refers to the following:

Jacobson, T.E. (2004), "Meeting information literacy needs in the research setting", in Rockman, I.F. and associates (Eds), Integrating Information Literacy into the Higher Education Curriculum: Practical Models for Transformation, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA, pp.133-64.

I read Rockman's book, and my note is here.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Article Note: On librarians and extracurricular activities

Citation for the article:

Kasperek, Sheila, et. al. "Do a Little Dance: The Impact on Students when Librarians Get Involved in Extracurricular Activities." The Journal of Academic Librarianship 33.1 (January 2007): 118-126.

I read this via ScienceDirect.

What I wanted to know as I read this article was if the study's concept could be expanded to look at instruction librarians. I would be interested in librarians that do extensive work for undergraduates, especially in the first two years of the college experience. While I do liaison work, my primary duty is still teaching undergraduates, and I meet pretty much a wide range of majors in that task. I also wondered how much of a difference it would make if it was a commuter campus, like ours, where student involvement in extracurricular activities may not be as high as in a residential campus. These were some of the questions that hovered over me as I was reading the article. I suppose in time they would form the basis of a study I would not mind undertaking as they are answers I would like to find out. Additionally, in some places, those engaged in instruction also do some range of activities that fall under the rubric of outreach, this my questions.

The article surveyed students from theater and music majors (orchestra students to be specific) to see if involvement by the liaison librarians in those areas made a difference in how the students perceived the librarians. At Mansfield University, where the study takes place, the liaisons participate in theater productions as well as in music. These are very specific forms of involvement, and the librarians clearly have the qualifications to do so. That was one of my questions, if this could work for other forms of involvement as well.

In the literature review, the authors confirm what many of us know: that we are pretty much small blips in the students' radar, if at all. I am a believer that it is important for a librarian to get to know his students. I am in a setting where I can do that, but at about to 10,000 students, it is a bit big. I can envision myself moving to a smaller campus just to get an even smaller experience, but that is way off in the future. Here, I have the advantage that I am very visible in my role, which allows me to get to know the students. But the library as a whole is still a small blip in the radar overall. As I read, I also wondered about how to get other librarians to find time and take a chance on being involved in extracurricular activities. The argument of having to add yet another thing to a loaded plate will always loom large here, and I am sure we are not the only library where the librarians would feel that way.

I noticed that, in responsibilities at least, the librarians at Mansfield are very similar to the librarians here:

"At the time of the study, the North Hall Library employed six-full time librarians. Each librarian had a variety of responsibilities in the library, and four served as liaison librarians. Each liaison works between six and fifteen disciplines, and liaison responsibilities include collection development, library instruction, and providing research assistance to students and faculty in the department" (119).

That pretty much describes what I do. I handle Arts and Humanities, which would include 10 disciplines that in other big places might each get a liaison. I do collection development, instruction, and research assistance for that area. Then, there are the other things I do, but that is another story.

On a note of validation for me, the authors also had a finding regarding library instruction:

"Students who received library instruction in the 2003-2004 academic year indicated that they came to the library more frequently (see Table 5) and asked for more help (see Table 6)" (123).

In my case, I know that, gradually, I am getting more requests for assistance as a result of library instruction. Something must be working. That may be something for me to add as a question or two in the next library survey when the time comes.

The authors' conclusion:

"This study confirms that students are more comfortable with librarians once they have the opportunity to get to know them. More importantly, it demonstrates that along with increased comfort there is increased recognition of the librarian for their major and the ability to contact that person. Additionally, students are more likely to the see the librarians as an important part of the university experience" (124).

And some significance, and not just for those of my professional brethren in the tenure track. Actually, this is something that is hinted at in our newer evaluations. If nothing else, the type of involvement described in the article is something that definitely should be counted when it comes to evaluation and recognition:

"As faculty members, the librarians at Mansfield University are evaluated, in part, on their service to the library and university. This study shows that librarian involvement with student activities outside the library improves student comfort in the library, and should therefore be considered a service to the library and university. The results of this study should encourage librarians, administrators, and managers to value librarian participation in student activities" (124).

It gives further meaning to the idea of going where the users are. But if nothing else, it allows the students to get to know their librarians, and that is always a good thing in my humble opinion.

Note that the article includes the survey instrument in an appendix.

From the notes, I think I want to read this article too:

Ruediger, Claudia and Sally Neal. "Tapping into Student Networks." College & Research Libraries 65 (2004): 79+ (?)

Friday, June 08, 2007

Article Note: On using paraphrasing to teach information literacy

Citation for the article:

Bronshteyn, Karen and Rita Baladad. "Librarians as Writing Instructors: Using Paraphrasing Exercises to Teach Beginning Information Literacy Students." The Journal of Academic Librarianship 32.5 (September 2006): 533-536.

Read in print.

This short article describes how to integrate paraphrasing exercises into information literacy classes. The authors present an exercise that can be implemented in fifteen minutes; it is something to add to library instruction sessions. The idea is to allow students to learn and practice how to paraphrase, a skill that will serve them well when it comes to evaluating information as well as citing it.

Some notes to remember:

  • "A research project that does not contain any immediately recognizable elements of plagiarism is not necessarily an expression of the effective use of information nor is the correct answer on a multiple-choice quiz, since it does not prove that the student can replicate the technique" (534).
  • "However, when paraphrasing exercises are used as a vehicle for teaching information literacy, it is important that the learning objectives are broadened beyond just finding and citing resources. Understanding and mastering the basic concepts of paraphrasing is key to evaluating and effectively using resources, two key tenets of information literacy" (534).
Now, some librarians out there may be saying, "hey, I am not an English teacher." I know a couple of my colleagues might say that. In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that my other graduate degree is in English, and that I had a previous life as a high school teacher teaching English. Having said that, the authors answer that objection.
  • First, they point out that the library literature contains many examples of librarians learning from and partnering with English instructors. Also, colleges now see information literacy as an objective for the whole campus. (535). In my case, getting to that point is still a dream, but I digress.
  • Librarians can be on a preemptive role instead of remedial. We already do quite a bit of intervention in terms of reference and computer technicalities. Also, librarians that are involved in programs like First-Year seminars have a further incentive to do this.
The rest of the article provides the outline of the exercise, followed by explanations on how to assess it. This is definitely something that I would love to try out in time.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Article Note: On collaborating with the gov docs specialists

Citation for the article:

Downie, Judith A. "Instruction Design Collaborations with Government Information Specialists: Opening the Conversation." Reference Services Review 35.1 (2007): 123-136.

I read this via Emerald.

The article is mostly a call to action, but it does make a good argument. It also provides a good summary of the obstacles and incentives to the collaboration between instructional design and government documents. Much of this has to do with the fact that so much government information is becoming accessible online, so more librarians are becoming exposed to it as well as their patrons. Personally, I have to admit that if I had not become an instruction librarian, I would have loved to become a government documents librarian. It is an area of librarianship that I find fascinating, and all the gov docs librarians I have met are people with great passion for what they do. To be honest, there are days when I wonder if it would not be too late to switch over. I found my govdocs class to be one of my favorites in library school, and I have tried to follow some of the lessons I have learned in my practice, promoting govdocs when I can during presentations and classes, so this article caught my eye right away.

  • "An essential component of instruction preparation is to review the literature or discuss with colleagues ideas for additional successful teaching strategies, lesson plans, active learning techniques or resources" (124).
    • The author goes on to observe that this often means the librarian limits himself to stuff within his field. We need more exposure to ideas outside of our fields. In essence, we need to be reading more and work towards being more well-rounded. This makes sense to me as an instruction librarian where I feel like I have to know a bit of everything, be a good generalist.
  • A caveat: "The literature discussing librarian-librarian collaboration in instruction is not plentiful and the collaboration must be deduced through content analysis of the literature and authorial partnerships rather than found in direct discussion within a text" (127).
    • At the risk of oversimplifying, it sounds like the author basically took an educated guess of what must be happening. To be honest, I would think someone would be writing about how librarians collaborate when it comes to teaching and instruction. I have had some experience with good teaching teams. Then again, I have also seen lacks of collaboration.
The author then looks at reasons why librarians should be concerned with the inclusion of government information in their teaching. She argues that some of this is found in the government documents journals, and that it then becomes a matter of preaching to the choir (only the specialists read it. Personally, this is now one reason I get mixed feelings about not renewing ALA. I miss the GODORT publications). This idea is the first barrier according to the author. The second barrier is the SuDocs classification and how it is dealt with. Then, "knowledge of a resource's existence does not mean the user automatically knows how to use it properly and constitutes the third barrier" (128). And the fourth barrier to inclusion is isolation. The subject specialist is often isolated from the other librarians, and this hinders collaboration.

For incentives of use, the author looks at how the use of government documents can be linked to the Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education. In brief, government information comes in various formats, which addresses the students' need for knowledge in various formats. It addresses a need for primary sources, and government sources can also be used in lessons on how to evaluate information in terms of bias, currency, etc. Other things to remember in terms of incentives:
  • "Through commercial acquisitions, the increase of access to government information through the internet, and the support of the Standards for information literacy, every librarian is becoming a government information librarian" (130).
    • Now, the issue of commercial interests taking information that should be freely available and repackaging it to sell to libraries is a separate issue. Fact is that libraries are constantly getting government information through a variety of databases, so librarians need to have some knowledge of government information.
  • Again, on the need to keep up: "Librarians realize the value of constant learning as part of their professional development and find education a necessity in the face of ever-changing technologies and new information" (131).
  • One way to keep up and keep learning about government information: "This training can be through formal or informal venues such as a reference log, where difficult questions using document resources can be recorded with their answers (Darby, 2003)" (131).
    • In the resource blog I created for students, I find that I make extensive use of government documents, mostly linking to them with a brief annotation and maybe a mention of why the students may be interested in such a resource. I try, as much as possible, to connect the items I choose to assignments or topics they may be working on. One of the things I am thinking about adding, and I may have mentioned this before or not, is to add some notes on why a researcher may want to use government information. Something on how to read this information may be useful as well. It is one of the concerns I have, do the students find some of the items too difficult to deal with? Something worth exploring in my humble opinion.
And here is the call to action:

"The incentives to include government information through collaboration with a government specialist while designing instruction outweigh the barriers. The barriers do argue against adding more to an individual's workload and the perception of loss of decision autonomy, but librarians can either lead the way to information literacy by learning about and incorporating government resources or be forced to follow by the increasing access which will generate user questions and needs for help and instruction" (132).

And you don't have to do it all at once:

"Librarians can collaborate with government information specialists in user instruction as well as professional training to gain expertise that can be added in small increments as needed, rather than attempting to learn all aspects of a new body of information" (132-133).

Monday, June 04, 2007

A little teaching on the fly

I just finished teaching an introductory psych class. For a brief summary of what I covered, readers can go here. This was an example of teaching on the fly. I did not get the assignment before hand. In fact, I found out about the assignment when I got there by talking to the teacher as well as asking the students. In the case of asking the students, I was talking to them as I was teaching the lesson to fine tune it as I went along. I could have formalized the structure a bit more if I had known about the assignment beforehand, but it was certainly not the end of the world. Once I realized that they needed to find academic articles, and that they needed to write abstracts on those articles following a certain format, I was able to plug that knowledge into the lesson. I think what worked best was the moment when I opened one of the academic articles, and I pretty much dissected it for them. You see, the students have to identify the following elements from the article for their abstracts:

  • The problem the article addresses or considers. As I told the students, this is the part of the article where they say "this article will analyze. . . . "
  • The instrument: What the researchers used to conduct the research. The sample I pulled up actually had a couple of survey instruments identified. While it was not typical, I did reassure them researchers do reveal any instruments they use.
  • The population. I told them this is who they did the experiment on. For instance, if the article says, "we did a survey of 100 pregnant women to determine. . . ."
  • Procedure: I told them this is what they did and how they did it. "We tracked those 1oo pregnant women over their pregnancy, and we used a self-assessment to . . . ."
  • Analysis and conclusion. This is what they found and the conclusions they reached.
Notice that above I made up the language a little, but the idea was to convey that the elements can be identified in the articles. No matter what article you pick, they will be there in some form.

By the way, as I was typing this little note at the reference desk (I have the night shift tonight), a young lady from the class came asking for some help. We reviewed how to search, and she gave me the topic of "dreams." As we looked through the list of citations, she chose this one:

Bulkeley, Kelly. "Sleep and Dream Patterns of Political Liberals and Conservatives." Dreaming 16.3 (September 2006): 223-235.

If that does not sound interesting enough, here is the abstract as provided by the database:

In this study the author examined the dreams of American liberals and conservatives to highlight patterns that might correlate with their opposing political views. A total of 234 participants (134 self-described liberals and 100 self-described conservatives) completed a lengthy sleep and dream survey, and their answers revealed several notable patterns. People of both political persuasions shared a common substrate of basic human sleep and dream experience. Conservatives slept somewhat more soundly, with fewer remembered dreams. Liberals were more restless in their sleep and had a more active and varied dream life. In contrast to a previous study, liberals reported a somewhat greater proportion of bad dreams and nightmares. Consistent with earlier research, the dreams of conservatives were more mundane, whereas the dreams of liberals were more bizarre. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2006 APA, all rights reserved)(from the journal abstract)

Heck, I am thinking I may have to read that. And no, I am not interpreting the results here, though if I read the article, I may make a note of it over at The Itinerant Librarian. Anyways, there is always something interesting going on.

The point for me of writing this now is that I am thinking a bit about what I did tonight in my teaching. I am very comfortable with switching gears and acting on the fly as need be. However, as I reflect, I know that not every librarian is comfortable doing that. Yet I have the faith that, in a pinch, any librarian can quickly think on their feet and change things a little along the way. Some of it may be an issue of developing the confidence to do so. Some of it may be need for practice. Some of it may be doing some team teaching. At any rate, the session overall went well. I got some positive feedback from the instructor after the session. We'll see how it goes.

Gypsy Librarian took vacation, comes back

I took one of those things people keep talking about, a whatchamacallit? Oh yea, a vacation. Well, more like a few days to do some travel. Anyhow, saw a few wonderful sites, and I actually took some pictures. As soon as I finish writing about it, I may post a few lines about it here (or maybe over at the unruly cousin's blog, since he handles the personal stuff).

Anyways, I am back, and it is the beginning of the summer sessions, so we are back in business. I will be teaching a class early this evening. It's a Freshman Composition I. I already had a student from another class come looking for me this morning. The professor told her, "you can ask him about this stuff." The stuff refers to the research materials she will need for her assignments. It's a literature class. I went ahead and made a copy of the assignment and the syllabus for reference purposes, but I think I may send the professor a gentle e-mail and see if she would like to bring her class for a session.