Thursday, July 31, 2008

Booknote: The Teaching Library

The Teaching Library: Approaches to Assessing Information Literacy Instruction is a collection of essays on assessment of library instruction and information literacy programs. It is basically a collection of case studies, which have been published as well in the journal Public Services Quarterly. The main idea is to promote ways of building and making the case for the teaching library and to do so with solid assessment. According to the book's introduction, a teaching library is "characterized by its commitment to instruction as a core library service and by a robust instructional service program that reflects not only the teaching and learning that goes on in the classroom, but also that which goes on in the co-curriculum, the extra-curriculum, and the surrounding community" (2). That for me is an ideal definition of the type of place I would like to work in. It was something I strived for in my previous job, and it is something I think we should aspire where I work at now. In fact, I think given the growth that my current campus is undergoing, we just may be at a crossing where we could seize an opportunity to position the library as a teaching library. It is just a thought as I am not the instructional leader, and my ability to promote such a move is fairly low. But one can always dream. But I am digressing; let us get back to the book.

Assessment is basically the evidence, the ammunition you would use to make your case for the teaching library. As the editor of the book writes, "assessment is the tool by which the story of the teaching library is assembled and the process through which we demonstrate our direct contribution to student learning, faculty development, and the instructional mission of the college campus" (3). The book then goes on to present how other campuses have implemented assessment of their programs. Experienced instruction and information literacy librarians will likely recognize a lot of the material here. The literature reviews for each article pretty much go over similar terrain; certain names just keep coming up over and over. So the book is more of a review for the experienced. However, for readers still striving to learn about assessment, and for those interested in finding ways to build a teaching library and to better assess their programs, this book can serve as blueprint.

I did photocopy the essay Schroeder and Mashek. I particularly found interesting their school's mission statement, which clearly emphasizes the teaching role of the library in relation to the campus. The library's mission statement is then tied to their information literacy initiative and even to the mission of the library's reference service. This was the essay I found particularly useful. Most of the others ones you can scan and find what you need.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Article Note: On Information Literacy as a Sociopolitical Skill

Citation for the article:

Andersen, Jack. "The Public Sphere and Discursive Activities: Information Literacy as Sociopolitical Skills." Journal of Documentation 62.2 (2006): 213-228.

Read via ABI/Inform

The article provides a theoretical look at the concept of information literacy, drawing on the work of Habermas as well as looking at some composition scholars like Bizzell. What I found myself thinking about as I read it is how some of the ideas of public space might be applicable to social software and the spaces created in such online settings.

Some notes from the article:

  • "We cannot proceed and claiming to be devising information literacy frameworks if we do not have adequate analytical understandings of information literacy. Analytical understandings provide the means to reflection and seeing and interpreting information literacy issues in light of cultural, historical, political, and social perspectives" (215).
  • Standards only go so far: "Becoming an information literate person is not a matter of following a standard or to be evaluated by one but to be able to discursively act upon a society configured and mediated by discourse" (215). It's not just the basic outline of knowing you have an information need, knowing how to set up the search, finding the right tool and using it, and then evaluating the information and using it ethically. You have to be able to use your information literacy skills to participate broadly in society and its discussions. This is something that is sorely missing these days.
  • Definition of genre knowledge: ". . .knowledge about how to communicate strategically within a discourse community. That is, what the norms are concerning vocabulary, writing style, epistemology, ideology, text composition, etc., and what legitimize these norms" (218). This is leading to application of information literacy. Made sense to me. I've always speculated on how close composition and rhetoric theory could be to information literacy as we define it in our profession.
  • This may be part of the reason why good instruction librarians tailor their lessons to specific classes: "This [referring to Habermas's theory of the public] implies that knowledge about information sources and seeking and using them is predetermined by an insight into how knowledge is socially organized in society" (218).
  • "Consequently, the theory of public sphere can also be looked upon as a theory of the social organization of documents and knowledge in society" (219). Now, what if we looked at 2.0 spaces as a public sphere with its social organizations, genres, etc.? I am sure this has been explained better, or explored better by others such as Stutzman and boyd.
  • "This public sphere is constituted by private persons and characterized by different means and modes of public communication, this in particular being the press, periodicals, literature, coffee houses, reading societies, and the clubs" (220). Today this would be blogs, Facebook, and similar things.
  • Danger of removing context or teaching information literacy as something isolated: "Treating informational genres as mainly technical devices with no history, no context or no authorship stands in danger of removing attention away from technology as a human construction and from the kinds of labour put into informational genres (Warner, 2002)" (qtd. in 221).
  • Significance: "Information seeking in this respect is therefore involved in the discursive struggles taking place in society because of its social and ideological organization. This turns the information seeking activity into a sociopolitical activity as to search for information is to search in various spheres that are made up of a variety of historical origins, each giving birth to the way spheres are discursively constituted. Hence, information literacy covers the degree to which an information seeker is able to look through who produces and tries to naturalize and make transparent information and documents in society and for what purpose and with what means" (222). There is the key, in the last part of that line: asking when it comes to information for what purpose and with what means.
  • Solution: "The solution to these is not primarily databases with better user interfaces and the like. Information seeking skills are not solely a technical matter. Basically, information literacy must be grounded in an understanding of how the documents stored in the information system one uses are produced as a result of some generic communicative activities in society" (225).

Monday, July 28, 2008

Learning about (re)inventing archives

Last Friday, I had a good opportunity to hear one of my colleagues, our archivist, practice a presentation that she is working on. Her topic is on "(Re)inventing special collections through outreach and reference." I think what she does, in essence, is to bring what seem to be diverse worlds together. Our archivist, in addition to running the archive, also works as a reference librarian as well as a subject liaison, so she wears various hats. As I have mentioned before, a common trait of smaller libraries is that librarians wear multiple hats. She opened by describing herself and her position. In her role, she is a "lone arranger," in other words, the only archivist in the area.

What I learned from her. . .what I gained was a different perspective on the role of outreach for an archive (as well as for a library). She argued for the need to (re)invent the archives because if we do not, then it is easy to become complacent and fall into casual patterns, into a routine. We need to think in inventive ways; materials and the users change over time. The materials change as new materials come into the archive, are processed, and made available to researchers and the community served by the archive. The users change over time as well as different people come to the archive with diverse needs. These are the elements that make necessary thinking in inventive ways.

So, where do outreach and reference come in? The archivist says that outreach can be seen as based on materials. We do outreach via our materials, and we lure users to the archives through the materials we have and promote. Reference then is based on the users and how we assist them to access and utilize the materials. Some of these activities are part of the routine of an archives; the challenge then is to be careful they don't become "just routine."

She then went on to discuss some of our recent exhibits here at UT Tyler. The exhibits make up the majority of the outreach efforts for the University Archives and Special Collections. The archivist and her dynamic assistants have created offsite exhibits (which serve to promote the archives outside of the basement), institutional exhibits (which educate the users by bringing them to the archives, for example our archives unit presented an excellent exhibit for Archives Week last fall), and publicity campaigns. By the way, you can read a little more about what happened for Archives Week in our Fall 2007 newsletter here (PDF file).

The goals of outreach from archives are to provide a good impression (we want people to see us and to see us as worthy of holding their papers, etc.) and to tell a good story. Personally, I thought that the idea of telling the story of the archives is where the core of the presentation is found. This is an important point, and it personally reminded me of some readings I have done regarding storytelling in the context of promoting the library, the idea of telling the library's story. Our archivist is telling her archives' story in order to show that outreach and reference services are the ways to reinvent archives. If I understand correctly, we are looking at a symbiotic relationship.

To end the presentation, our archivist took a bit of a look at the future. This included some ideas on how to use Web 2.0 tools like blogs and photo sharing. In part this was to acknowledge that there is a trend to move toward more digital initiatives (something we are still a bit far from) but also to ponder some of the possibilities.

By the way, the publicity campaign for the current exhibit on "The Power of Books" is a good example of outreach as it involved a postcard mailing and an exhibition catalog, among other things. The exhibit was created by one of her assistants, which shows also how an archivist shares responsibilities with her team members, who bring a variety of talents. I am hoping to see the write-up of the event so we can feature it in our upcoming newsletter. The epiphany moment, and for me as an educator I tend to believe in epiphanies, came when she said that, in creating an archives unit out of nothing (she was hired to set up the archives for the university), she learned various lessons and discovered new ways of seeing things. And here is the key: ways of seeing things that someone in a more mature archive could miss, often because those folks may take things for granted or simply have fallen into the routine. I think for her that is the selling point, that she can offer new visions of how to run and promote archives not only as places but as educational tools. There is a sense of wonder there, and as part of her practice audience tonight, I had a chance to see that sense of wonder. In her presentation, she proved her point about using the talents you have, about using the local resources. Overall, a very good form of in-house learning. And some food for thought.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Article note: On alternatives to ERIC, and a few extra thoughts

Citation for the article:

Strayer, Jean-Jacques. "ERIC Database Alternatives and Strategies for Education Researchers." Reference Services Review 36.1 (2008): 86-96.

Read via Emerald.

I am in the middle of a weeding project for the library's reference section. I will spare my two readers the details, but I will say it has been a bit of a learning experience. Anyhow, my director had sent me a printout of the ERIC list of changes since 2004. Of course there was an ulterior motive for this, which was to ask if we could get rid of the ERIC fiche collection (the collection does take an awful lot of space). Based on the list document, if I am reading it right, we can probably weed out anything from 1993 to 2004, with the caveat that there may be the rare document missing from the online system due to copyright reversals (i.e. those people who for some reason decide they do not wish to have their work made available online. And no, I am not even touching that).

Anyways, that's the background to go with the article I am featuring in this post, which deals with research alternatives to ERIC. Strayer looks at journal indexing coverage in ERIC (the old and the new) as well as in alternative databases. What I found really useful in this article was the discussion of suggestions and research strategies for librarians and education researchers. I am going on faith that a good number of education librarians have read this or have it on their pile of stuff to read. This is probably the kind of article that education faculty should look at as well.

Some highlights from the article:

  • What's the big deal? The Department of Education announced in 2003 that it would close down the clearinghouse system (87). In essence, ERIC had a decentralized system of clearinghouses that provided the information and materials for ERIC; the clearinghouses each collected information and materials on specialized areas of education. In my view, this was probably not of the brightest ideas for the DE.
  • Strayer on the "new" ERIC: "The 'new' ERIC started in September 2004, is improving in some ways: its website is more user-friendly; more and more ERIC documents are digitized and available in full-text; its search engine features and functions have been improved. Generally, however, it is not indexing and keeping up to date with the same number of important education journals that the "old" ERIC covered before December 2003 when the US Department of Education closed down the ERIC clearinghouses, stopped the indexing of education journals and ERIC documents and hired a private company (Computer Sciences Corporation) to create a new database" (87).
    • The more user-friendly aspect of the site and the improvement of the search engine are a bit questionable at best. There is a reason that EBSCO does pretty well selling us ERIC, a freely available resource online, on their interface (full disclosure: we get that EBSCO option here).
    • I will keep to myself my views on when the government privatizes something like ERIC in the interests of "streamlining" and "improving."
  • The results: "The 'new' ERIC is not indexing and keeping up to date with the same number of major education journals as the 'old' ERIC used to. In each study, in all three categories of journals, the 'new' ERIC provides current indexing (indexing for journal issues published within the last 12 months) to substantially fewer titles than the 'old' ERIC (i.e. before December 19, 2003)" (88).
    • You can look at the tables in the article for specifics. The checking was done using two recent issues of ISI (Institute of Scientific Information) Journal Citation Reports.
After the numbers, Strayer moves on the discussion, which as I mentioned, is the real useful part for those of us who do reference and teach students how to do research. His three basic suggestions are: "know your databases and research objectives," "know your vocabulary," and "use multiple strategies in multiple databases." Some notes from the discussion:
  • At times, Academic Search Premier may work well, especially for quick searches of up-to-date and relevant material. ASP can fare better than the new ERIC and even Wilson's Education Full Text. If the librarian teaches education graduate students, then its time to introduce the students to Web of Science. However, you should also be using EBSCO's Education Research Complete.
    • Disclosure note: We do not have WoS. We do have Education Research Complete, which I do teach to the couple of education classes that come in for instruction. Since EBSCO is pretty good about combining databases in a search, one can run a search combining ERC and ERIC. I also show them how to use PsycInfo. A lot of what Strayer writes in this section is stuff I know from experience, but it is nice to see someone validating it.
  • Why use PsycInfo? For its coverage of interest in areas of special ed., ed. psych., and counseling. This is APA's database by the way. Strayer notes that "it is supported by a thesaurus of psychology terms that are specific to learning theory, teaching methods, cognitive and language development, verbal communication, reading comprehension and more that can be applied to education research. PsycInfo is a good source for empirical studies published in peer review journals" (90).
    • When the students come in asking for an empirical study, PsycInfo is pretty my ace.
  • If your students are doing in-depth research, teach them how to identify and find the specialized journals in their field. Also tell them which databases index the journals and teach them how set up alerts for the tables of contents for the journals as the journals get published (different from waiting for the database to index it) (91).
    • If the journal has RSS, so much better. Show them if need be how to use a feed reader. I am thinking this could lead to a post on the library blog on setting alerts.
  • Teach them how to use a database's thesaurus. Also teach them about acquiring "a thorough knowledge of the current vocabulary in the field of education--standard terms and also those that are coming into popular use and those that appear in author-supplied keyword" (91). This is then how students can create better search strings as part of their research strategies. How the heck do you learn the vocabulary? You read in the field of study, and you discuss with your professors and peers. That's one way I do it, and it works, not just for education (which is my subject specialty), but for LIS as well. In my case, I also blog and make notes like this post, but that may or not work for everyone. Find what works for you.
  • If you are using the multiple database technique: ". . .it is very important for librarians to emphasize that each discipline has its own thesaurus and its own set of specialized vocabulary and definitions. PsycInfo will, therefore, have its own thesaurus. Its terminology can be different than ERIC's, even when it is describing educational, learning, and cognitive development topics. The education researcher will be well served if s/he is acquainted with the PsycInfo thesaurus as well as the ERIC thesaurus and if s/he proceeds to devise keyword strategies that incorporate both of these vocabularies. As educators, these vocabularies combined comprise a core working vocabulary" (92).
    • In plain English, learn how to use the tools that have the lingo of your field of study. Learn that lingo and how to incorporate it into your search strategies.
Strayer also points out some implications:
  • For openers, ". . .we can no longer count on ERIC as the one, comprehensive and reliable source for all aspects of educational studies. . ." (92).
  • If you are a good instruction or subject specialist librarian, or reference for that matter, you should not just be teaching the database. Instead we should be teaching "a strategic approach to research that can be applied to and used as a means of evaluating a growing number and variety of information sources in various forms and formats and media" (93).
    • When some snobbish or resistant professor asks what is it we do in library instruction, give him or her that answer. That is where our skills lie. It's not just teaching to use an interface or a tool but what you do with the tools in the box.
  • What else should librarians be doing? Well, according to Strayer, database analysis work like this article is a good example. Why? Well, Strayer says it better than I ever could, so I will let him say it: "The analytical pursuit of information and rigorous evaluation of information sources, research strategies and information technologies are at the very heart of information literacy. As academic librarians, our role and responsibility is to integrate these critical thinking and informed decision making principles into the curriculum at all levels and across all disciplines. As academic planners and administrators, we bring to this process a knowledge of current and emerging information and instructional technologies (their scope, balance and potential to increase or limit access and usability of information sources) that cannot be matched by the narrow disciplinary, scholarly and administrative concerns of our colleagues in most college and university communities" (93).
    • When some person wants to denigrate the MLS or MIS degrees, saying that they are not needed to be a librarian (especially an academic librarian), or faculty that think we are glorified clerks taking up space, point them to Strayer's paragraph above. This kind of skills is why people go to library school. If your library school is not providing those skills, then demand better or go to a different L-School. And then work on proving your worth and educating the faculty and administration on your campus about what it is exactly you do.
Overall, if you are an academic librarian who works with education students, you have to read this article.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Article Note: On collaborative partnerships

Citation for the article:

Jackson, Lydia and Julia Hansen. "Creating Collaborative Partnerships: Building the Framework." Reference Services Review 34.4 (2006): 575-588.

Read via Emerald.

This is another article on collaboration. I once had to do a presentation for a job interview on faculty collaboration, and ever since I have had a bit of an interest in articles covering the broad topic of collaboration. In addition, I have an interest in collaboration possibilities between college and high school librarians, and this is where this article fits in. For now, I am just adding it to my notes in the hopes I can give this more thought later. Some highlights from the article then:

  • "Benefits of the collaboration include: enhanced information literacy skills of students, librarians and teachers in the middle and high schools; assimilation of information literacy skills into the school curriculum; enhanced visibility of the academic library in the community and a restatement of its role" (575) . The setting for the article's review is in Southern Illinois University, which is described as a Metropolitan University, close to St. Louis (576). In some ways, the place is very similar to UHD, where I used to work, which is also a Metro campus with about 10,000 students give or take. Of course, that setting is very different from the more rural one I have here in East Texas.
  • A common situation: "More often, the problem facing librarians is teaching students what to do with the volume of information their searches may produce" (577).
  • One of the things they did was host a workshop on campus for local school librarians.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Article Note: On Non-use of the academic library

Citation for the article:

Toner, Lisa. "Non-use of Library Services by Students in a UK Academic Library." Evidence Based Library and Information Practice 3.2 (2008): 18-31.

Read online (this is an open-access journal. Journal link here).

This article serves to confirm a lot of what we know already when it comes to our academic libraries and the patrons that do not use the library. We know the reasons, but we don't always have the evidence. This is where this article comes in. Although it is a British study, it will still resonate with librarians on this side of the pond. And I would suggest that it may be desirable to replicate this study. I am willing to speculate that, in some cases, having this information would not only be useful for marketing and outreach purposes, but it would also be useful in terms of accreditation to show that you are surveying as many of your campus populations as possible. I would think in our case that it might not be too difficult to replicate the study here, assuming one could overcome some of the administrative red tape. But I digress. Let us look at the article.

The study looked at the non-use of the library at St. Martin's College in the United Kingdom. Survey was done via a mail (postal) survey and an additional survey done in some specific classes. After the literature review and the methodology section, the article goes on to discuss the results. The article does feature an appendix with the survey instrument, which I found helpful in order to see what questions were asked. Though not mentioned in the article, the survey form does mention a prize drawing for participation. When we conducted our usability testing, we did a prize drawing as well. For us, it was fairly clear we needed to "bribe" the students somehow to get them to come in. However, we were conducting more than just a questionnaire, so some compensation for the additional time was in order.

Some highlights then:

  • How they defined low use: "Low use was defined following a discussion amongst the management team as students who had borrowed three items or less in the previous twelve-month period" (22). For them, it represented a 21% of the student total number.
  • They found that mode of study (i.e. part time versus full time) and age could predict use of library services (23).
  • "The results highlighted that non-users not only made no use of traditional library services but only made limited use of the electronic resources provided by the library" (24). Note that not only did they not use the library, but they are not using the electronic resources that we invest so much to provide. This again seems pretty consistent. In our case, one way to validate this would be to keep track of the panicky and/or cranky phone calls we get about how to log onto the proxy for off campus access around the end of academic terms. Those kids never came to the library or used the library website (where the directions for logging in are available) until the very last moment, and under protest because their professor said, "you better not be using just Google." We can imagine then the ones that don't even call us.
  • Reinforcing the above: "Students who do not borrow books are on the whole not using other library services either" (27).
  • In the article, "induction to library service" is what we would call library instruction. In their case, a third of their respondents reported not getting any form of library induction, but on closer look, these were mostly distance students (24). What they learned was that "the library must creatively develop more alternative induction packages for those not taught on a main campus" (24). This is where things like embedding librarians into places like Blackboard and use of tutorials can help.
  • Awareness is still a key issue: "The responses indicated that many students are not aware of all library services offered. This highlights the need to do much more in terms of marketing, publicity, and promotion" (26).
  • Expanding the research: ". . .further data could have been usefully gathered from this group by follow-up telephone interviews with a sample of respondents" (28).
The article does include tables to illustrate the results. Overall it provides a good discussion and offers a way to consider replication.