Monday, April 20, 2009

Booknote: Defining Relevancy

This is a very minimalist review on the book that I wrote for my GoodReads list. As I mention in the review, I did take some notes as I was reading of parts that made me think. To an extent, I wish I could really jot down here some of the thoughts I had as I was reading it, but I will be the first to admit that this choice is basically a case of self-censorship. There are some realities I deal with regularly in my workplace that do not match what is described in the book, which I find frustrating (to put it politely). Anyways, here is the review:

Defining Relevancy: Managing the New Academic Library (Libraries Unlimited Library Management Collection) Defining Relevancy: Managing the New Academic Library by Janet McNeil Hurlbert

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is another one of those I would label a "must read" that will likely not be read by the people who should actually be reading it (namely library managers and higher education administrators). Like many library science books, the essays vary from very relevant to things I already knew already. Personally, this is a small occupational hazard for me: I read so many different things in the library literature that often they repeat, or I have seen them before. At any rate, there are some good thinking points in this book. I ended up jotting a few ideas I wanted to remember in my personal journal, taking notes as I read. For one of these books, when I find myself taking notes, that is a good sign of engagement. I am not sharing some of those notes because, well, let's be honest, let's just say the at times idealistic descriptions in the book do not match the harsh reality I have to work with and leave it at that. I will say the essay on keeping academic reference service is a good one and worth reading. So, I do recommend it, and I am sure a few library managers will likely pick it up. Whether their bosses pick it up, and more importantly, choose to act on some of the recommendations in the book, that is a separate story.

View all my reviews.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Article Note: On College students and internet abuse

Citation for the article:

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

Read via Emerald.

I heard of this article from this other article, and I was curious enough to take a look. The Kubey article is again quite a bit considering it is looking at technologies online prior to things like Facebook, which have amplified the ability of many college students to procrastinate and spend way more time online than they probably should. Having said that, let's look at some highlights.

  • "However, although use of the Internet by students is on the rise, so are concerns that for some students, heavier use of the Internet might interfere with academic achievement, conventional social interaction, and exposure to desirable cultural activities" (366). Some might consider this to be a little on the alarmist side, but like everything done in excess, if you overdo your Internet use as a college student, you can run the risk of failing your courses. I don't think this is being alarmist, but it is pointing out something fairly obvious.
  • As in the later article that cites Kubey (see my link above), there are problems with defining terms. Also, the fact that the survey being studied is self-selecting in terms of the sample can be problematic and raise more questions.
  • Much of the evidence in studies is anecdotal. For example, "at Alfred University, 50% of students interviewed after dismissla for academic failure listed excessive Internet usage as a reason for their problems" (369).
  • Much of the research is relying on the DSM criteria for dependency. "Few, if any of these studies offer alternative theoretical explanations as to why the Internet might have such a considerable hold on some individuals. . .(369).
  • The survey sample in this article's report is of 576 Rutgers University students taking a 43 item survey. Two surveys were excluded, leading to a sample of 574.
  • From the discussion: "The new nature of collegiate life for some young persons could result in developmental retreat, as the Internet does offer a ready and convenient haven that then young college student, often living away from home for the first time and perhaps unable to control little elsewhere, can control when at the keyboard" (379).
  • From the conclusion, which finds consistency with some prior studies, but there are still caveats: "There is strong evidence that students' excessive Internet use is sometimes associated with academic problems, but it is not entirely clear whether these students might have experienced similare or related problems without the Internet if the problems result--as the data suggest-- from the attempt to control loneliness rather than from properties of the Internet itself. The Internet does enable opportunities for social contact that did not exist before its invention and wide use, and thus we are inclined to conclude that the Internet does play a role in some students' academic difficulties" (380; added emphasis).

Friday, April 03, 2009

Article Note: On social software implementation in public libraries

Citation for the article:

Rutherford, Louise L. "Implementing Social Software in Public Libraries." Library Hi Tech 26.2 (2008): 184-200.

Read via Emerald.

This article does not tell me a whole lot that I did not know already. The main flaw with the article is the extremely small sample in the survey (7 people were given e-mail interviews; the author started with 12, but the sample weeded itself to 7). Given all the evidence out in the blogs and in various libraries, I think expanding the sample should not have been difficult; then again, the author claims she was focusing on early adopters (185), but still, the sample seems awfully small. The article is meant to report on kinds of social software that public libraries are using and issues related to that use. As an academic librarian, I read it so see if we some of their issues were my issues as well, and yes, it turns out I have some of the same issues and challenges. Anyways, there were some points I wanted to remember.

  • "Discussion [in the library literature] of implementation issues tended to be brief, possibly because the literature in this area concentrated on relating successes" (186). This is certainly true. Even the librarian bloggers usually focus on successes when they implement something. I have yet to find a few bloggers who would dare blog about some serious implementation failure. Someone who actually failed, and who actually wrote it up in a thoughtful and honest way so the rest of us can learn from the mistakes would be welcome. I don't foresee that happening anytime soon. The only exception I can think off the top of my head is Walt Crawford, who does write about his work and publishing, especially publishing books electronically giving us the ups and downs. But it is important to share the difficulties too: ". . .so that future implementers are able to learn from the challenges faced by others, and to take action to mitigate against these potential problems when possible" (186).
  • The article reports that blogs were the most widely use tool (189). The study also found that commenting on these blogs was generally low (190). Neither of these findings came as a surprise. A blog is a very tool to set up, especially when using a free web-based tool like Blogger, which I am using now.
  • The article mentions that innovation often will not work if if something in the work culture inhibits innovation. "Issues mentioned included staff hesitations, staff unwillingness to undertake new learning and the relationship with the local government body responsible for funding and governance" (192).
  • "Although surprisingly few papers in the literature mentioned the importance of staff training and acceptance for the successful implementation of social software, this point came across through strongly in an analysis of responses from participants in this research" (194).
  • And these two points are actually challenges that I face in my work. One: ". . .time for on-going monitoring and maintenance" (195). Two: ". . .to remain dynamic and interactive, staff members needed to commit to updating information on a regular basis" (195). We have not gotten to the point of implementing and forgetting, but it is a consistent challenge for me to maintain, monitor, and keep adding and updating content to the blog. Ideas of things to blog about is not an issue. I have a pretty big stash of ideas. Finding the time to review them, write them up, and post them with all the other duties I have is the actual challenge. That some segments of my workplace see blogging as low level work certainly does not help either. But at the moment, it is what it is, and I just deal with it the best I can with what I have.
  • "Respondents felt that good marketing was an important element of the successful implementation of social software. A successful marketing operation involves elements such as identifying a target audience, advertising the service and providing information, assistance, and support for users" (197). This is another continuing challenge for me. Then again, it is part of my work to do the marketing. We have made some strides, but there is still much to do.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Campus talk on evolution

The campus Phi Sigma Tau (the Honor Society in Philosophy; national link, campus information) had a meeting on Friday, March 27th, and they hosted Dr. Killebrew to give a talk about evolution and intelligent design. My two readers may remember that Dr. Don Killebrew was one of our speakers for the library's celebration of Darwin Day back in February. So, when I saw the announcement for the March talk, I took some time to go. Besides, part of being an Outreach Librarian is being visible in campus. Keep in mind, for audience purposes, this is a scientist speaking to a philosophy group.

* * * *

So these are my notes from the event:

  • Biologists seek to understand biological diversity. Some examples of ways to study life include, but are not limited to, physiology, genetics, conservation, cell and molecular biology.
  • Life abounds. There are far more species that have gone extinct than are alive today. And there are still many more needing description.
  • Science cannot look at nature in terms of intelligent design. The wish for some for a benevolent intelligent designer can be there, but this is not compatible with science. Science uses empirical evidence. An intelligent designer cannot be questioned. To say things happen just because does not lead us far into understanding. Scientists look at how things happen.
  • By using the methods of science, we get objective, unemotional, detached empirical causes.
On what science is:
  • a human endeavor
  • tentative: it can change. Science is not absolute. It always seeks answers based on evidence.
  • a way of knowing
  • based on observation
  • structured to be falsified: this is to mean it raises questions to gather support for an explanation.
  • open to challenge and change.
  • replicating experiments is important
  • in the end, science is about explaining the natural world.
On what science is not:
  • absolute
  • the only way to know
  • based on hopes or wishes
  • good or bad. The "bad" is in how it is used.
  • under the control of a select few. It is probably one of the most free enterprises.
  • a process that rejects the possibility of God. Science is not about discrediting the existence of God. God is left out of science.
  • able to deal with the supernatural.
  • predetermined to go in a particular direction.
The best scientific concept to explain biological diversity is evolution.

Components of evolution:
  • Natural selection
  • genetic drift
  • differential migration
  • differential mutation
  • linkage disequilibrium
  • random mating
The point is that science has come a long way since Darwin, and it has added much to his idea of natural selection. Evolution is not one theory but a multitude of theories.

The Darwinian notion of descent with modification remains consistent with the empirical evidence from the natural world as the cause of biological diversity.

* * * *

There was a Q&A after the talk. These are some notes from the questions asked:

  • On the influence of technology on evolution, or rather, on our evolution? Technology has not quite been around long enough to have an influence. What would be the "fitness" issue for humans to evolve? Faster fingers to type better? Medicine has been helpful in improving life quality, but in terms of evolutionary change, technology has not been around long enough. Now, with a high selection pressure, a very successful trait happening and passing, evolution could accelerate a bit.
  • On there being one source for evolution? Biologists ask how the diversity occured in life. Current thinking is for one common (or a few) ancestors. And yes, evolution happens simultaneously in various places (some else asked that).
  • What could falsify evolution? For instance, finding an intact human skeleton in strata of 2.5 billion years given we've been around for 5 million or so. This would have to be verifiable (i.e. not a hoax).
  • On taking God out of science? If you were to include God, you'd need a controlled experiment, which is impossible. Science does not allow for ignoring something because it is not understood.
  • On what is a theory? On the use of the word "theory." Science does not see a theory as a guess. It is based on work and evidence that supports evolution. Evolution as a fact means it has not been falsified. There is a big data set of evidence to support the theory. Intelligent design is an idea, not a theory as it lacks evidence.