Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Article Note: On Undergraduates and Internet Abuse

Citation for the article:

Castiglione, James. "Internet Abuse and Possible Addiction Among Undergraduates: A Developing Concern for Library and University Administrators." Library Review 57.5 (2008): 358-371.

Read via Emerald.

I have to admit that title may sound a bit provocative, but the article does look at an issue that has potential to become a serious problem. The article looks at the literature of librarianship and of addiction to see if there is a problem with Internet addiction amongst undergraduate students. The answer is not an easy one.

The literature review begins with some basic statistics about Internet use for young people. The definition for young people does cover high school and college levels. The bottom line is that there is some relevant literature, but there is still a lot more to learn. What concerned me was that I often observe in the librarian blogosphere a very high level of cheering for Internet use and online social toys and tools that at times can be seen as inappropriate uses, especially in an academic setting. And this cheering is often done under the rubric of increasing circulation, bringing more people into the library, or just making the library look hip. I don't think some of those cheerleaders stop and think about possible consequences, and I have seen that questioning like I am doing now can lead to the "you just don't get it" syndrome. I think there is a lot of potential for good uses of the Internet and social software in a library setting, and some recreational use is fine. I am not saying some recreation is a bad thing. But when it becomes a significant distraction that can interfere with the academic performance of students, we have to ask questions, and we have to act to help prevent failures and dropouts.

As usual, let's look at some highlights and notes I made:

"According to Kubey (2001), studewnts who are 'internet dependent' and show evidence of 'academic impairment' tend to spend an inappropriate amount of time engaging in a full range of internet activities. It is precisely the time-consuming use of OPRGs. internet-chat, and other internet-enabled entertainment resources that are of growing concern to many university administrators, educators, librarians, and health care professionals" (359).

The article in the literature review does briefly look at how the educational establishment, higher education, has helped to make the students more internet dependent by making a myriad of resources available online. However, the challenge comes when the various distractions are also available in that same online environment via the internet. For purposes of the article, ORPG means online role-playing games. From the looks of it, the term seems just another way of saying MMORPGs. By the way, I have to note that the article does not include the Kubey citation in its bibliography. Clearly a small sloppy moment for the journal editors since the article cites that reference a few times without even a hint of a title. I think it is referring to the following:

Kubey, R.W., "Internet Use and Collegiate Academic Performance Decrements: Early Findings." The Journal of Communication (June 2001): 366-382.

That Kubey article does sound interesting, so I may be taking a look at it in the near future. I did print myself a copy. Moving along. Part of the problem with assessing this issue is that there is not much in terms of current, substantial, empirical evidence. A lot of the hypothesis and speculation draws on old research based on things like television and the concern that too much tv would take away from the educational experience. There is some extrapolation involved from that research to today. However, there is reason for concern, at least according to anecdotal evidence. Castiglione does observe that "anecdotal accounts of addictive and distractive potential of internet-accessible content and services are not new" (361).

The author also notes that the APA does not currently recognize internet addiction as a mental disorder. You may have to wait until the next revision of the DSM in 2012 to see if it makes it into the book. Now, there is concern that certain students can be specially vulnerable: the ones who use emotion-based coping strategies when it comes to stress related to academic problems and/or failure. We are talking the kind of kid here who uses distractions like alcohol, drugs, or the internet to distance himself from the problem. "It is the latter student, who in an attempt to distance themselves from the psychological stress associated with academic failure, may succumb to the temporary psychological distractions of alcohol, substance abuse and possibly, the inappropriate use of internet-accessible content" (363).

Kubey apparently also mentions a case where some university administrators at William Woods University, "noticing that major cultural events on campus were poorly attended, began offering students financial incentives to stay off of their computers and attend the scheduled cultural events" (qtd. in 364). I really have to go read that article now, and I have to look into this because I don't think I could go to my director and say, "hey, can we pay students to attend some of our library events?" I don't think that form of outreach would fly, so I am really curious how they justified it, assuming this is true. Having said that, one of my challenges is increasing attendance at our library events in a campus that has a fairly poor culture of students staying on the campus. We are still a primarily commuter campus, and even though we have residences, students are mostly locals who can and do go home on weekends. Getting student attendance at events is a challenge, but on the positive, I can say that I have gotten some numbers up, albeit with a lot of effort. But that could be a separate post.

Then we have the finding that "43 per cent of students appear to have failed [i.e. dropped out of school due to academic dismissal] due to 'excessive patterns of late-evening logins to the university computer system' (Young, 2004, p.408)" Add this also:

"While this finding alone is distressing enough, Schwartz (2003) uncovered growing concern on the part of the university faculty, who describe increasing student use of the internet during class lectures to be rude, distracting, and incompatible with sound pedagogy. For example, Schwartz (2003) interviewed Ian Ayers, a professor at Yale University Law School, who suggested that students who are distracted by the internet during class are not fully involved with the lecture. Thus, according to Ayers, these students lose the opportunity to gain the 'critical thinking skills' that emerge from a deep analysis of the information presented in class" (364-365).

Just don't tell that to the 2.0 cheerleaders. Very often when a point like this is made, the cheerleaders will have one of these answers:

  • Student today learn differently. They are better able to multitask, so it should not be a problem.
  • The professor needs to be using other teaching methods besides a lecture, so the students will find the class more appealing.
  • For all one knows, the students may (or not) be taking notes on their computers and looking up supplementary material for the class as they listen. Of course, they can also be checking their Facebook, their Twitter, and/or their MySpace.
The question of whether the students are actually learning or not is never addressed in those stock answers. And while I am in agreement with concepts like multiple intelligences and teachers using various techniques in a classroom, at the end of the day, students still have to be held accountable if they do not pay attention. At the end of the day, if they choose to goof off too much on the internet (or drink or party too much), they get kicked out of the school.

Now let's look at libraries:

  • Librarians are in a rapid-change environment. Castiglione commends them for being able to adapt and integrate new technologies in libraries. However, our professionals "have not had the time to empirically study the potential impact these changes are having on the individual library stakeholder's propensity to learn and be creative" (365).
  • Assuming we do get some good empirical evidence: "Based on the result of appropriately designed and executed empirical studies, librarians may consider adjusting bibliographic and other types of instruction services they offer in an effort to provide the skills not only to navigate the library, but to avoid and minimize the internet distractions that may have a growing negative impact on academic outcomes" (366). Librarians do have a role in helping students succeed, so I could see this work happening in library instruction and as part of teaching information literacy. "Through traditional bibliographic instruction (Regalado, 2003) librarians continue to play an important professional role in the successful transition of new freshman students to college and university life" (qtd. in 366).
And one more piece:

"Unfortunately, a review of the library literature provides no guidance whatsoever on the development of communication initiatives designed to modify high and inappropriate levels of recreational internet use" (367).

I have to say it depends on what library literature you are looking at. In terms of the many librarian blogs, there is a lot on recreational use of the internet in the library. As I mentioned earlier, much of it is more to encourage use, which can facilitate or enable some of the inappropriate behavior. Of course, that is something that the profession (at least some elements) does not like to talk about. It's cool to use MySpace, Facebook, online games and so on in the library, not so cool to discuss the consequences of overdoing it or when inappropriate behaviors intervene with other library users who do wish to make appropriate use of the library and resources. This may well be one area where the profession at large has dropped the ball so to speak. It is an area that, for one, requires investigation, and two, requires action and better role models of positive behaviors. Again, we are not talking about incidental uses or casual recreation. When said behaviors go into the inappropriate, the disruptive, and just so distracting as to interfere with academics, it is a problem. And while we do not want to be alarmist or hysterical (or heaven forbid come across as luddites), the questions do have to be asked. Why? Well, how about for this reason:

The fact that reports are now emerging suggesting that some students are disrupting the classroom learning environment and are experiencing distractions in the library--based on the inappropriate use of internet-accessible content unrelated to sound pedagogical objectives--appears to be a developing phenomenon that requires rigorous empirical study" (368).

Monday, March 23, 2009

Article Note: On Infoseeking behaviors of education majors

Citation for the article:

Martin, Jason. "The Information Seeking Behavior of Undergraduate Education Majors: Does Library Instruction Play a Role?" Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, 3.4 (2008): 4-17.

Read online. This journal is open access. Main page here.

The article reports on a small survey of 200 undergraduates from University of Central Florida's College of Education. The author does admit the limitations of the small convenience sample, but the findings are still not encouraging overall for library instruction and information literacy at large. We have our work cut out for us. This is especially so if the example of judges citing Wikipedia in their legal decisions is any indication. When I read that in the article, I had to wonder. Most articles on information literacy that I've read usually state or assume that professors always are skilled in research and will always favor the best sources. I think we may need to question that assumption. Could we ask if there are instances when some scholar fall for the Internet's trap of convenience just as their students do? Or would this idea be too scandalous to even consider? Just a side thought for me, in part because I have seen my fair share of incompetent teachers in my lifetime both as a teacher myself and as a librarian.

Some things to consider from the article's introduction and literature review:

  • Here is the problem of relying only on Internet sources: "Students relying only on Internet sources will not only be deficient in their knowledge of a subject, but also in how to find more information on that subject" (5).
  • "Those individuals who are deficient in information seeking skills have difficulty in knowing when information is needed, the value of libraries in finding information, and how to evaluate the sources they do find (Gross 155)" (qtd. in 5). In other words, we are seeing a lack of information literacy skills. By the way, the Gross citation is to this article, which I read.
  • I found this particularly important: "The problems, however, extend beyond the classroom. These same skills are needed when graduate seek home or small business loans, research options for their retirement plans, or seek to make informed decisions in local or national elections. Research and evaluation skills learned in the classroom are needed throughout life" (5). I think we should probably enlarge that statement and put in every library, then show it to every professor who asks, "why should I give time up in my classroom for library instruction." We should also show it to every college administrator who does not see the value of the library, and to every student who thinks "everything is on the Internet." All we have to do is look at the current economic debacle in the United States. To a large measure, it is due to a serious lack of information literacy skills ranging from people being ripped off in bad loans to electing poor government officials. But that could be another whole post.
  • "The preference for the Internet over the library is not limited to inexperienced researchers. One study found no real difference in library usage among freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior college students (Van Scoyoc and Cason 51)" (qtd. in 6). The Van Scoyoc and Carson piece is found in portal:Libraries and the Academy 6.1 (January 2006): 47-58. I have not read it, but based on other readings I have done, that finding seems just about right. By the way, though I am keeping a copy of this article, I am trying to make adding citations coming from the article, if mentioned in the article, part of my notes, in case I want to look something up later.
The literature review also reveals that a lot of what is published in this area is not terribly substantial, and it is mostly based on satisfaction surveys. Given all I read in information literacy and instruction literature, I could have told them that for free, so to speak. And no, I am not being light when I say that. I am speculating that a lot of that has to do with ease and convenience as well, plus the need of some of my academic librarian brethren to publish in order to meet tenure requirements. Anyhow, putting together a substantial assessment instrument with clear outcomes and objectives takes much more work than just administering a survey.

And here is one more point from the introduction:

  • "The students' choice of resources was most influenced by the instructors' directions to the students; when the instructors enforced penalties related to student grades, the students cited more scholarly sources (Robinson and Schlegl 280)" (qtd. in 7). Consider the notion of actual BI making a minimal difference given this statement. Professor influence is more significant, but it is only because they wield a grade over the students. The article cited also comes from portal: Libraries and the Academy, but this time it is 4.2 (April 2004): 275-290.
So let's look at the results:

  • "Even though these students realized that library resources were more credible than Internet sources, they still chose to use Internet sources instead of academic library sources for both personal and class work" (9; emphasis added). This does not speak very well for the students.
  • And this is not greatly encouraging either: "Students who had attended a library instruction session were proportionally just as likely to use academic and non-academic sources as those students who had not attended a library instruction session" (10).
The study found that, although students did not find the library difficult to use, they still found more comfort using stuff freely available on the Internet (11). This seems contradictory, and my experience makes me question if the admission that the library is easy to use is all that accurate. I am thinking in terms of databases, which can be a bit difficult to access, especially when used off-campus and authentication becomes a serious access issue. This post from ACRLog on "5 Things I Didn't Realize I'd Be Working On," which mentions the issue of authentication, made me think of that just a little more. Just don't get me started on the whole issue of multiple passwords and log-ins in this campus; it could turn into a very ugly rant. However, that detail does make me wonder about the idea of students saying the library is easy to use. One would think I would like to hear that, but instead, since I have met enough students who say the opposite, I find myself being sceptical. Anyhow, if this is the case, going to Google is certainly more comfortable and convenient. I am just wondering if this little idea of mine was taken into account.

More from the discussion"

  • And here is the problem of students who follow their syllabi too literally; it may also raise the issue of some faculty who, to put it mildly, are not very good at writing out syllabi or instructions for class tasks. My two readers probably have no idea how often I have to interpret syllabi and reassure students doing research because they are too afraid of "breaking some small rule" when they need some research material. But do also note the reversal problem the article describes: "This raises a crucial question as to how much students are learning about research from simply following the rules written in their class syllabi. If students are not citing Internet sources simply because they are told to use more academic sources, it is possible that they will revert to using the Internet when they are not specifically instructed to do so, and they would not have gained a deeper understanding of the critical importance of using academic sources. This is important, since almost 90% of the students in this study said they use the Internet as a primary tool for personal research" (12).
  • "Academic libraries might be better served to invest their limited resources in for-credit library classes, mandatory multiple library instruction sessions, or in integrating librarians into the class curriculum. These changes in practice will not be easy" (12). The author is concerned this may devalue the concept of the one-shot, but I disagree since I think the one-shot may still serve some purposes. I do agree with some investment as described above, but I see there is an institutional problem the library always faces when it decides to embark on ideas like these: the school's and the faculty resistance. The library can work on promoting some of the concepts described, but we all know that without faculty support or buy-in and institutional support, those things will never happen. One option, which could be seen as a middle ground, is libraries creating online tutorials and literacy modules for the course management systems. The fear, of course, is the possible devaluing of our work if the professors feel they can just "plug in" the module and then think their students are set. But the tutorials and similar tools can be most effective when balanced with effective classroom instruction or with embedded librarians.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Article Note: On asking the right question for research

Citation for the article:

Kloda, Lorie. "Asking the Right Question." Evidence Based Library and Information Practice 3.4 (2008): 79-81. (Available online).

This is a short piece that teaches the reader how to ask the right question for evidence based librarianship research. It is based on using the SPICE structure (setting, perspective, intervention, comparison, and evaluation). It is a pretty good tool to help those librarians out there who need or want to do some research and writing about that research. Certainly something I could use to help me shape some research ideas better.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Article Note: On reference collections and law libraries,with some thoughts

Citation for the article:

Hellyer, Paul. "Reference 2.0" AALL Spectrum March 2009: 24-27. (Available online as a PDF)

This is a short little article on reference collections and how electronic resources are overtaking print materials. For most academic librarians, this is not news. I got the impression this was still news to law librarians, or at least to the readers of AALL Spectrum. Having said that, there are some basic tips to consider when weeding your reference collection mentioned in the article. I just hope the collection, especially the print, does not get weeded out of existence. Contrary to popular belief, there are still many things you can find faster in a print reference book.

The suggestion given in the article on creating space was certainly a sore point for me. Where I work now, we already have a severe space constraint as it is. Oh, and by the way, I just found yesterday we are losing yet another classroom space so some administrative honcho (not library related) can get an office. Let's try not to go there. The point I was getting to is that some people on the campus would love nothing better than to completely eliminate the print holdings (and I don't mean just reference in this case) and use the space for computers and/or lounge spaces. This is in spite of some (old timer) professors who still make use of the collections as well as students.

More importantly, and this is part of my philosophy as a librarian, you lose something of what a library ought to be when you fail to update its collections. This includes reference. While there are some fine reference e-books and some very good online reference tools out there, they do not cover everything nor do they completely replace the print. I am just saying this as one of the guys in the reference trenches who works with our university patrons regularly. There is also the issue of older reference source standards that do not have an online counterpart. In a worst case scenario, for the sake of making more space or making a collection attractive, those items get weeded or discarded. This is a great loss in my humble estimation. While overall a reference collection has to be managed, it does not have to be managed out of existence or simply turned into an exclusive online domain, which by the way can raise all sorts of additional access issues. The failure lies in not updating while heavily weeding and discarding with the effect of providing less access to information sources. Such a reduction seems to me a disservice. But then again, my this part of my librarianship philosophy could very well be a minority view.

Monday, March 16, 2009

How many books I read at once

George at Bookninja points to a post asking "how many books do you read at once?"(from the Los Angeles Times). I don't read it them all at once, but I do read more than one book at the same time, so to speak. Now this debate is an old one. Some people say you should just concentrate on one thing at a time. Others say you should read as your mood moves you. I fall more into the latter camp. The author of the LA Times article reads a lot because that is her job; she is a reviewer. I am not. I read for professional reasons, and I read for personal reasons. Let's look at the personal stuff. For this, I have a bit of an informal "rule," or maybe labeling it as a "routine" is more like it since it is not strict. Anyhow, at any given time I am reading the following for pleasure: a piece of nonfiction, a piece of fiction, and a graphic novel or manga. The graphic novel or manga can be fiction or it can be nonfiction, such a memoir (for example, Alison Bechdel's Fun Home). I added the graphic novel or manga option recently as I have been reading more in that area.

Now, the variant for the routine is when I am borrowing books, usually from the library (mostly via ILL (Interlibrary Loan for my non-librarian readers, and I will let readers ponder that one). When I am borrowing, I can go up to four to six books at a time if I am borrowing one from each of my categories. The reason is that anything I borrow usually has a deadline to be returned. A lot of ILL books often do not allow a renewal. It means I have to pick these books and start on them right away to get them back by the deadline. So, I can't let them sit. As a result, anything from my own shelves I was reading at the time is put aside briefly while I get through borrowed items. After all, if I bought it, it is not going anywhere, so it can wait. What often happens is that I find a book that sounds interesting which I want to read. However, it is not the type of book I want to keep, which means it is a book I want to read once and move on. So, I put in the ILL request. Since the delivery time can vary, I often put in more than one request. Sometimes they get staggered, and sometimes they all arrive at the same time. When that happens, I get more books added to the reading pile. My record may be up to 8 at a time when I got four requested graphic novels come in at about the same time. On the positive side, I often read graphic novels and manga faster, so I was able to get everything back in on time.

Oh, by the way, if I get to pick up an LIS book, that often is one over the nonfiction quota. So, I could be reading two nonfiction items, although LIS books count as professional reading for me like LIS articles do. We barely collect LIS books at my workplace, so these are often ILL requests for me, thus they add to the reading pile.

Anyhow, that is the somewhat complex answer to how many books I am reading at any one time. Usually, it is three, but it can go up depending on my mood or if I borrowed something. At the end of the day, it's what works for me in terms of reading. I am willing to bet that a lot of librarians like me probably read more than one item at a time. For me, it is a matter of mood. Sometimes I feel like reading something in nonfiction, like history, and sometimes I need some escapism via fiction. The other factor can be length. If one book is very lengthy, the others may be short things. So there you have it in a big nutshell: how many books am I reading at the same time.

And for the curious, here is what I am reading as of this writing:

  • Don Miguel Ruiz, The Mastery of Love.
  • Marc Gascoigne and Christian Dunn, eds., Let the Galaxy Burn (short fiction collection, Warhammer 40,000 series). Since this is short fiction, I can easily pick it up or put it aside if something else more pressing comes along. I am not a fast reader, and this book is 0ver 700 pages long. So it is taking me a while, but it is a good entertaining ride so far.
  • Bill Willingham, Robin: Days of Fire and Madness. This is my current graphic novel selection. I will probably get it done in a day or two once I get to it.
  • Roméo Dallaire, Shake Hands with the Devil. This is my current library book, which I borrowed via ILL. I have been wanting to read this one for a while, and I finally got around to requesting it.
By the way, I am registered in GoodReads, and I have their widget on this blog's right side column. That way, readers here can hop over and see what I am reading or what I have recently read. How about others out there? Do you read more than one book at once? Or is it just one at a time?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

You should listen to the non-techies too

Michael Stephens presented a small but interesting post today by Mick Jacobsen on "Love thy luddite" that makes some simple and good points. It resonated with me because one of the problems I have with the whole L2 phenomena is that they often do not listen and that they tend to push way too hard to get people to use whatever the toy du jour happens to be. This point was particularly interesting to me:

"Don’t push too hard (if you can avoid it). Sometimes all it takes is talking to them at the right time. Understand their schedule. Some people are ready to play at the start of the day, some after lunch, some while eating lunch, etc."

Very often it is a simple as it is just not the right time for some people to try X or Y. If you push too hard, not only will they be turned off, they may as well be turned off from other things because of that one experience. The schedule thing was interesting. I tend to be fairly productive in the morning and then a bit more right after lunch (since I tend to take short lunches anyways). For personal things like my own blogging, evening at home tends to work too. It just depends on what it is I am doing or need to get done.

But it also depends on the tool or social software site. For instance, Twitter is something I personally do not get. Well, I see the appeal for some people. But in my case, if I want to mini-blog, I can do that, to an extent on Facebook. In fact, I have been doing just that when I post links I find of interest that I am sharing with others since I usually add a small comment to the link. The comments I make are short, probably about the length that Twitter allows. So, if it is just for something like that, I don't see the use of opening yet another account on yet another online service. I can barely keep up with the ones I have as it is on some days. What makes you think I want to add another one, with another password to remember, so on, just to try it out? I like experimenting as much as the next guy, but sometimes having to sign up for yet another thing of dubious usefulness (to me) may not be worth. Give me some time later on, I may reconsider it. Push me, and I will tell you to (insert four letter word here) off.

Sometimes it may be something else. Library Thing is another example. In my case, my issue is simple: if I want to record more than what the basic free account allows, I have to pay. For me, that is a big deal since I do not like using a credit card online. You know, that whole phishing/identity theft thing going around for one. But two, for just keeping track of my personal reading and doing a little of social sharing of that reading, Good Reads works for me, and it is free. I already have over 300 books tracked there. And while Library Thing is not pricey per se, the fact I have to pay for something online that I can get free, for what I do, just does not seem worth the effort. And notice that as I talk about what I do, I do emphasize the concept of "what I do" or for what I need it. What I am saying is that some things work for me and others do not. If they work for you, more power to you, but please don't get all pushy about it and try to convert me. That just puts you in the same bracket as religious fundamentalists who want to convert everyone and hold the view of "I am right; I have the truth, and you do not," and I hate those people with a passion. If you are a promoter of 2.0 technologies, do you really want to be in the same category as fundamentalist bullies? My guess is probably not.

So please, I would appreciate it if certain people chill a bit. I am not a luddite by any means; I am blogging, aren't I? And if you look on the right side column of my blogs, you find the links to my other online tools. But I can certainly see the point of some non-techie people that they may just not be ready or that they do not find a particular tool useful. Maybe like me, they just prefer a different tool, or they prefer not to use something at all. That is not a bad thing.

And yes, I also agree you probably should not label those people as "luddites."

Friday, March 06, 2009

Booknote: Questioning Library Neutrality

This is one I have been meaning to read for a while: Questioning Library Neutrality edited by Alison Lewis. It is a collection of essays from Progressive Librarian that raise the question about the idea of library neutrality. Are we really neutral as librarians? Is it in our interest and in the interest of society that we keep the illusion of neutrality as librarians? Should we not, as members of society, be engaged in that society and thus have positions as well? In my personal situation, this is the question I often struggle with: do I simply let someone get bad information because I am neutral, or do I try to educate them towards better information? I am thinking of Kevin Trudeau's various books on miracle cures and so on, which have been pretty much discredited (not to mention having been banned from the airwaves by the FTC). but people who don't know better keep seeking them out in public libraries. The neutral librarian would simply buy the book and offer it without question. The engaged librarian would probably try to educate the patron and offer alternatives, and I lean towards the educational mission. That takes work by the way; for the neutral librarian, they can just sit there, so to speak, which I do not find acceptable. That's the kind of question, and others in this book, that I often ponder in my professional practice.

I did make some notes in my personal journal as I was reading this book. Except for Doherty's essay, which I had read before, all the works here were new to me. Let me jot down some of the things that caught my attention or made me think.

From the introduction:

"But creationism and Holocaust denial have been discredited by the vast majority of the scientists and historians, respectively. They don't hold equal weight in the marketplace of ideas, and they are not deserving of an equal share of limited library resources" (2).

One would think that is apparent, but I know certain librarians would rather not think about things like that in order to preserve the idea they are neutral and that all viewpoints are equal and deserve equal space. I will admit that I often fell for the giving everyone their space, but let's be honest, some ideas are not worthy of being given space or expression. And this is specially so in a library with limited resources as it is.

And here is something else I tend to struggle with. While the Rosenzweig essay lays out some very good history of politics and librarianship, it still does not quite answer, for me at least, the common issue or objection of too much politics in certain sections of the ALA. Because as important as certain international issues are, and I do find some things reprehensible and needing someone to stop them, we do have a ton of problems closer to home that the so-called professional organization for librarians is simply not addressing on behalf of librarians. I can't worry about Darfur or Rwanda when I have to worry about deprofessionalization, poor funding our our libraries not to mention the poor pay librarians and library workers get, and a host of other issues closer to home. The Rwanda thing comes to mind because I am about to start Dallaire's book. As librarians, we can't be neutral, but I think that at times we need to be a bit more selective on the battles we pick. It is something I personally struggle with, but I should point out that I did drop my ALA membership years ago; the organization was just too far away for me, fairly irrelevant to what I need, and to be honest, a bit too much on the elitist for me.

Now here is something I can relate to:

"Both in my training and in my work I have often felt ambivalent about librarianship and been at odds with the 'library establishment'" (Iverson essay, 25).

I wish it was so easy, or seemingly easy, to understand my own ambivalence about a profession I love, one where "the establishment" seems more concerned about perpetuating itself, about certain images, than about really educating and serving.

"If we accept that information is connected to knowledge and knowledge to power, we must examine the connections between power and information in our postmodern society. What are the implications for increased access to information by the dominant segment of society? Librarians are trained in the expert manipulation of information by mastering the technology connected to the production, dissemination, and retrieval of information. However, what are the implications for society in not questioning what kinds of information are accessible and what kinds are not, and who has easy access?" (Iverson, 29).

Maybe part of the answer to my earlier question is here. My training and experience tell me to question and to show others how to do it. I am surrounded by significant restraints and many who prefer to accept the status quo--some for convenience, others out of laziness, and a few out of evil to keep their their elite positions.

Something I found curious, or interesting at least, is how a lot seems to stay the same. Joyce's essay on the social responsibilities debates of the 60s and 70s could have been written today with everything (or almost everything) practically intact: from tales of the ALA's lack of flexibility and out of touch old guard to some younger librarians calling for boycotting the ALA and encouraging others not to renew. In a way, it's like nothing has really changed, and it certainly does not encourage me to renew my membership any time soon.

Ann Sparnese discussing Michael Baldwin's argument from his October 2002 Library Journal essay was something I wanted to note too:

"He argues that in order to be institutions of democracy, libraries must promote democracy and an informed citizenry as its main, most important mission. And I would hope that the public would value this inherent purpose and demand it of their public libraries-- not just providing folks the latest novels" (80).

Two things. One, replace the "latest novels" with "video games" or whatever the latest craze may be, and that statement remains as relevant as ever. And two, in my humble estimation, we should be demanding the same out of our academic libraries.

Overall, for a thoughtful and reflective librarian, this is a book that will make you ask a lot of questions and take a look at your own professional practice. The book also provides a pretty good history of the profession in the last 50 years or so. And for some, this may be the book that shakes them out of their complacency. This is definitely one I highly recommend.

Booknote: A Perfect Red

I just finished reading Amy Butler Greenfield's book A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage, and the Color of Desire. This book had been on my "to be read" (TBR) list for a while. I added it to the list when I was in Houston, but it was one of those things I never quite had the time. Not that I have that much time now, but when I opened my ILLiad account here, I decided to start ordering some of those books on the TBR list. Yes, there are a good number of books on the TBR list that my library does not carry, but thanks to InterLibrary Loan I can order them from other places. Anyhow, let's go on and talk about the book.

For those who like microhistories, this will be a good book. In a nutshell, this is a history of red color dyes. Most of the book deals with cochineal, a little insect which is used to get the dye. We go from the Renaissance and the conquest of the Americas to the modern day where synthetic dyes emerge, relegating cochineal as a dye to almost extinction. It is a story that involves spies, colonial adventure and enterprise, and learning about how dyes are made. This is the kind of topic that we often take for granted; we know we can buy clothes in colors or get food coloring, but how often do we think about where those colors come from? Then there is all the symbolism behind the color red.

The prose is a bit slow. Unlike other microhistories, this is more of a straight historical narrative, but there are some interesting moments, usually involving the spies trying to learn the secrets of the dyes from the nations owning them. What I mean is this is not a book like, for example, Kyle Jarrard's Cognac: the Seductive Saga of the World's Most Coveted Spirit. Jarrard has a much more personal style in the prose, which draws the reader in. Here is my blog post on Jarrard's book if anyone is interested. I am not saying the difference is a bad thing, just that the books have a different style. I also found interesting the little details about the cochineal, and how over time many different people speculated about its nature: was it an insect? was it a plant? was it something else entirely?

Overall, I think readers of the microhistory genre will enjoy this, but I also think any history reader in general will find it interesting as well. For me, having read and studied the history of Latin America and its relation to Spain, this book provided a different perspective. I mean, for example, I did not know that after silver, cochineal was actually the second biggest and most valuable product shipped from the Americas to Spain during the colonial time. No one ever mentioned this to me in classes I took, nor did I see it in other history books. So this book fills a significant gap in the history, which makes it a valuable one to read.

Other books with similar appeal (that I have read and can recall quickly now):

Tom Standage, The Victorian Internet, The Turk, and A History of the World in Six Glasses (Note on this one here).
Maureen Ogle, Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer. My blog post on this one here.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

March is National Women's History Month: Some links

One of my tasks as Outreach Librarian is to put up various displays and exhibits throughout the year. I have already put up some things for National Women's History Month, which is celebrated in March, and I am still gathering items for a book list and to complete a display. Below are some links to various resources of interest. I may use some of them for my library, but I am putting them here so I can keep track of them. Also, if anyone out there finds them useful, feel free to use and pass them around. This post is a work in progress, and I may add more links as I find them.

And by the way, as of this writing, Obama has not signed any presidential proclamation for the month. Hey, you are running behind dude.

The links:

Update Note (3/4/09):

Some Organizations with resources:
Various virtual exhibits on Women's History:

Update note (3/7/09):