Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Article Note: On wikis for library instruction, plus a bit more.

Citation for the article:

Allan, Charles, "Using a Wiki to Manage a Library Instruction Program." C&RL News April 2007: 242-244.

Read via WilsonWeb (Library Lit. and Information Science)

This is a very short piece that is basically a "call for action" article. It was written in 2007, which in Internet time can be an eternity. For example, it mentions Jotspot as one of the options for a free wiki, and since then Google acquired Jotspot, then proceeding to shut it down; if you look for Jotspot online, here is what you find, which goes to point you to Google Sites. You tend to notice little things like that when you read the library science literature. When it comes to online resources, the traditional journal literature simply is not swift enough. But I have other things in mind at this point.

One of the things I would like to develop at my library, or rather an idea I am toying with, is making a reference wiki. One of the uses for that wiki would be to keep track of rare and unique reference questions (you know the ones) as well as some of the assignments that students bring in. While I could later on expand on the idea and use the wiki to keep reference procedures and policies as well, the reference service angle, i.e. tracking questions and sources, is what really interests me. As precedent, when I was instruction librarian at former MPOW, I had a small reference/instruction blog. Basically, I used it to keep track of classes I taught, provided resources and research tips for students, and used it as a tool for me as well as the students. Shortly after I changed jobs, since I was not updating it (not to mention that my duties have changed, and I do very little instruction), and it was an experiment, I shut that blog down. I did back it up, so the content still exists on a disk. I was using Vox for that, the same platform I use for my scratch pad blog, Alchemical Thoughts. I did learn a few things from that experience including the value of having a tool to keep track of resources and specific reference and instruction questions. Using the tags, I was able to label posts for later reference. Only feature I dislike about Vox, and I do so even with the blog I do keep there now, is that it requires commenters to register. There is no way out of it. Sure, they can e-mail me, and some people have done that, but no outside comments. It's a remnant of the walled garden approach basically, and one not conducive to good online conversations.

The article made me think about some of these things. Some notes, with my remarks:

  • "Contributors to a library instruction wiki can edit and store insightful comments into class needs, work together in the creation of subject resource guides, and update outdated material" (242).
We could edit and store comments on specific reference transactions in a reference wiki, which would then be searchable. Subject guides we do not have to worry as much since we bought and implemented LibGuides (see our LibGuides here). Although there are certain library and reference handouts that could more efficiently go into a wiki. Something to think about. In terms of instruction, that is the domain of our instruction librarian, who keeps the necessary handouts updated as needed. When we teach in our subject areas, she gives us the basic handout package we hand to every class regardless of subject or level. It's just the way things are done here; she handles the freshman classes; any advanced (by that I mean subject area) is handled by the subject liaisons with minimal input from the instruction librarian. That is a bit of a complicated tale for another time. Could we put some of the information from specific subject classes on some kind of instruction wiki in order to compare notes, for example? Probably, but given other more urgent needs, not as likely to happen. Reference service is the area I have some control over, thus I find myself bouncing around the wiki idea.

  • "Wikis are used by librarians to manage public services information, collaborate on and keep track of reference questions, and assess databases" (242-243).
I have to admit that the part about databases did not occur to me, but given that we do get database trials once in a while, keeping notes on assessments of those trials in a central and accessible location would be helpful. The rest of the stuff outlined in the quote above is what I had in mind. As the article points out, there is a lot of uncoordinated information out there, and in my case, I would like to bring that uncoordinated information closer to home. In the longer term, such a wiki could serve as a tool in case we get around to doing an information audit. That is another idea I am bouncing around for reference to see if I can get a bigger picture of how things operate. It could provide some solid evidence instead of having to go with just anecdotes and gut reactions. But that is another post for another time.

Anyhow, if you need a quick article to learn about what a wiki can do for your library instruction program, this is pretty good.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Small display on the books that inspired Obama

In the fine librarian tradition of borrowing ideas liberally from other place, I have replicated the McNally Jackson list of Books that Obama has read. I pulled the books from our shelves, and I put a small shelf in our reading room with the books for patrons to peruse, and hopefully, check out. I also made a small brochure with the complete list. I like the idea that we have a president who seems to have done some reading and gotten something out of it. Plus, I think the display works nicely for Presidents' Day, though I did not plan it on that basis at the time. I wish some of the books were not so worn, but one works with what one gets. Maybe we can get them to circulate some more and get some more requests in the process.

My two readers can find the official write up in the library's blog.

Anyhow, just one of the little things that keeps this Outreach Librarian off the streets.

A hat tip to LIS News.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Celebrating Darwin Day 2009

Last night we had our celebration of Darwin Day. It featured a showing of the PBS NOVA documentary Judgment Day: Intelligent Design on Trial. We were fortunate to have two of our scholars come and speak to put the film in context and answer questions from the audience. This was definitely a treat as both professors were knowledgeable, insightful, and engaging. I opened the event with some short remarks about Darwin Day and the purpose of our event: to recognize the achievements and legacy of Charles Darwin and to promote public understanding of evolutionary sciences. With almost 30 people, we had a pretty good audience, and I feel encouraged that we can do more events like this one here.

I did not take great notes on the professors' remarks as I was just really caught into listening. But I did manage to catch a few lines:

From Dr. Don Killebrew's remarks (Professor and Head of Biology Department):
  • took some time to explain how science works using rational processes. He used examples of how we make decisions to illustrate the point, showing how we do research and test choices before making a big decision, like buying a hybrid car.
  • On the idea that evolution is "just a theory," he explained that in science, a theory is a powerful thing, more so than the mere facts. This is so because a theory is a powerful documented explanation of a process.
  • In science, God is not part of the process because his presence cannot be tested. It does not mean God or miracles do not exist; it means they are not testable.
  • Dr. Killebrew also pointed out that most scientists are actually religious; he mentioned there are surveys and polls that show that (I may need to look some up for linking).
  • Science deals with natural phenomena. A theory is tentative precisely because it is testable. The theory of evolution continues to explain biological processes today.
  • Biology classes have become the ground zero as creationists try to discredit science teachers or science itself. A second tactic creationists use against science is their push for intelligent design.
  • After the film, he told us of one student who chose to drop his class. The reason the student gave was: "I cannot learn something I don't believe in." Personally, I find that to be a very sad answer, refusing to learn something and close yourself to other ideas because you yourself may not believe in it.
  • Intelligent design may try to poke holes into evolutionary theory. However, evolutionary biologists constantly try to poke holes in their own theories as well, including evolution. They are trying to learn what they don't know.
  • Science is not a democratic process; it is evidence-based.
From Dr. Wesley Hickey's remarks (Assistant Professor and Coordinator of the Superintendent Program):
  • Told us that the documentary will look at the Kitzmiller case, which was decided in 2005.
  • He began his remarks with some context and case history, starting with the Scopes Trial.
  • Noted that Texas is a strong anti-evolution state, which can be seen in some of the recent actions of the State Board of Education.
  • ID is invoking the supernatural, which is meaningless to science.
  • The Constitution does require that our public institutions stay out of religion. Therefore, Americans need to be proud of two things: science and the Constitution (as in these are two great American achievements).
  • The Kitzmiller case is likely to go to the Supreme Court some day in some form given the persistence of the ID groups.
  • After the film, Dr. Hickey mentioned that science is about looking for a natural explanation. Religion deals with the supernatural, seeking to make the supernatural legitimate.
About the film, I have to say that it was excellent. After the showing, audience members expressed that they liked it as well and found it to be well made. I will say that it does provide a very good overview of the case but also of the issues surrounding the debate between evolution and intelligent design. PBS NOVA clearly tried to make a very balanced presentation, and it shows. I highly recommend this film, and for our locals, the library does own it, so feel free to go check it out. And I would like to take a moment to thank our professors who gave of their time to give us a great educational experience. And I would like to thank those who came as well for participating and for their questions.

Finally, I would like to provide some additional links in honor of Darwin Day for my two readers:

  • Learn more about Darwin Day at their official website.
  • 2009 is the Year of Science, from the Coalition on the Public Understanding of Science.
  • Professor P.Z. Myers's blog, Pharyngula, is very popular. He is an assistant professor of biology at U. of Minnesota-Morris. When not writing about biology and evolution, he does blog about ID and other issues of science and society.
  • Panda's Thumb is another excellent blog on evolution and biology.
  • Nature has some podcasts on Darwin today. After today, you can probably find the podcasts on the site's archive.
  • The National Center for Science Education was mentioned in the film. They are a great resource for science education and the defense of science.
  • The Humanist Community sponsors the event. Here is their observance site.
  • And though it pains me personally to link to it, in the interest of showing the ID side, this is the link to the ID think tank Discovery Institute. For a quick overview of the think tank, here is their Wikipedia entry.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Can I or should I blog that?

I have not blogged here for a while. Life has trumped my blogging, as the saying goes. We have had a lot of things going on, some which I can blog about here, and others which I have to pretty much keep in my private journal. One of the things going on is the hiring of two (maybe three) reference librarians (entry level). This is not because my campus is suddenly flush with money. It has to do with accreditation issues, and I will leave it at that for the moment; it's one of those "it's a long story" moments, and I honestly don't feel like going over it now. Having said that, I have been learning some things both from the process and from the candidates that visited us so far.

The point for now is that I am having one of those moments where a blogger wonders what is safe to blog or not. On the one hand, I have been learning some valuable lessons in the last two weeks or so. On the other hand, some of those lessons are closely tied to certain local campus politics, some of which I do find distasteful (to put it politely), and therefore would probably not be safe topics to share. Oh, catch me at some bar with some drinks, and I will be happy to tell. But in this more formal space, I don't think so. I am still reflecting and digesting a lot of what I have learned. Sometimes you have to do that: stop and actually just give yourself some time to think and catch your breath, then write about it to finally lay out the thoughts and thus put in place the learning foundation. I have been writing a bit more privately, so it's not that I have not written. It's just that I am struggling a bit with the boundary line for blogging given that blogging is a more public act.

In the meantime, what else am I pondering?
  • Well, I do have some articles I have read. I just need to find the time.
  • I have been mostly keeping my notes about books read over in the GoodReads website (link on the right column of blog). While I like the site, and I will continue, I would like to get back to writing a bit more extensively about some books in the blogs, which in addition to allow me to reflect a bit more, would likely make what I write about those books easier to share with others. After all, the blogs are really my central location, so to speak.
  • I am working on a Facebook page for our library. It is mostly done, but I need to add some photos and tweak it a bit more. This is just one of the many projects I am working on. I will tell folks this much: I have decent work security because the work never ends.
  • I have a few items "starred" in my Google Reader for responses or reflections. If the time appears, or rather, I force myself to make some time, I should have some things to blog about in time.
By the way, the above would be stuff for my professional blog here. The personal one at The Itinerant Librarian is more of a free for all (but still within reason). So this post is sort of a "I am still here" and a sort of trying to figure out how much I can blog about certain topics. For the second part of that, I guess every blogger once in a while has to revisit that question and then find his comfort level again, or recalibrate it. Yea, I like that. I am doing a little recalibration on my blogging's comfort level. I will let my two readers know when we are back on track.