Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Webinar notes: On new tech training materials

Webinar provided by WebJunction.
Topic title: New Technology Training Materials (link to archived presentation and materials here).
Event date: December 14, 2010. 

My notes:

What makes an accidental tech trainer? Some features:
  • You teach in a computer lab. 
  • You provide webinars. 
  • You help patrons with things like e-mail or finding articles online. 
  • If you work in a library, odds are good you are already doing technology training. 
Factoid presented: 5,400 public libraries in the U.S. offer free technology classes. 4,000 businesses offer computer training (for a fee). With close to 15,000 people taking free library classes, that is about $629 million dollars in retail value of the courses. 

It is important to have a good attitude as a trainer. This is also helpful to the participants, projecting confidence and being positive.

In teaching, keep in mind that people take in the world in different ways. Three basic styles of learning (this is something that is simple and easy to remember): visual, auditory, kinesthetic. As a trainer, try to incorporate styles as much as possible.
  • To motivate, provide examples of what users could use the new technology/material for. You can have sample products made with the new technology. Do give the audience some "time to play" (hands-on).
  • The times when the technology fails, show what happened (if possible, such as if you opened a wrong window. Obviously, you lose power or the Internet, that is a different issue. Personally, I recommend using some humor at that point). 
Think in terms of creating a learning community with the workshop. Start with simple things, let class members share names and what they wish to learn from the workshop. Again, provide hands-on time. Also, providing some time for reflection is important.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Article note: On graphic novels for instruction and curriculum collections

Citation for the article:

 Downey, Elizabeth M. "Graphic Novels in Curriculum and Instruction Collections." Reference & User Services Quarterly 49.2 (Winter 2009): 181-188.

Read online.

Downey starts by stating that most of the LIS literature related to graphic novels looks at the form as either one for recreational reading, often for college students, or as historical and pop culture artifacts, in other words, stuff for academic courses. Personally, I wonder if the focus on college recreational reading reflects the fact that most of the LIS literature is written by librarians on college tenure lines and/or LIS professors. This is what comes natural in terms of writing topics. While there may be some who are not as familiar with the format, and as a result we often get objections and complaints about the form in terms of violence, sex, etc. (with many of the complaints unfounded and/or just reflective of certain less than enlightened interests), more educators are choosing to use graphic novels in the classroom as part of the curriculum.

Downey argues that "part of the academic library's mission is to provide materials and resources for future educators" (182). Academic libraries should carry graphic novels not only for pleasure reading or for art or for pop culture but also to meet the needs of educators who are likely to use graphic novels in their curriculum. In other words, future teachers and school librarians, if they are going to use them in their classrooms, should have access to them during their teacher training period so they can read them and become familiar with them. Yet some academic institutions, according to a study the author cites from Library Resources and Technical Services, are still found to be lacking. The study revealed "that a considerable number of institutions supporting library science or education programs aren't actually collecting graphic novels for teens" (qtd. in 182).

So what are some of the reasons to use graphic novels as part of an academic curriculum? First, Downey suggests you can use them as standalone text or as part of a unit using the graphic novels to make thematic connections better. Graphic novels can add an element of media literacy to classroom lessons. In addition, graphic novels not only are good for visual learners, but they also work in terms of multiple intelligences. According to Lyga and Lyga, "of the seven multiple intelligences identified by Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner, three of them (linguistic, spatial, and interpersonal) can benefit from the use of graphic novels" ("qtd. in 183). Finally, graphic novels can help present, illustrate, and discuss broad social issues and lessons.

The article goes on to discuss some examples of graphic novels used in school classrooms. It also provides some suggestions for English teachers as well as ideas for college classrooms. Downey also includes and discusses collection development guidelines for librarians. What is helpful in this instance is the focus on collection development for curriculum and instruction support. The references list does include some book titles that may be helpful to some librarians as well.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Webinar Notes: On Training for Online Advocacy

This was an ALA free webinar, and to be honest, I was not particularly impressed since it mostly seemed like an infomercial for the information on the website. If there is anything I dislike about webinars, it is a sequence of PowerPoint slides with information that I could have found on a website on my own. Nevertheless, I took some notes, so I am jotting them down for possible future reference.

The event took place on October 29, 2010. Yes, I am running a little behind on transcribing notes, but then again, given I only have two readers, not much of an incentive, plus there is that other thing called work.

* * * * 

For me, the bottom line of this webinar was to discuss how to make advocates of your frontline staff, which I do think is a good idea, and we should be doing more in our libraries. After all, most if not all of our clients do deal with our frontline staff at some point. According to the presenters, doing this enhances your "traditional" advocacy. 

Two basic concepts: 
  • The value of your respective library. You need to be able to articulate this. 
  • Your value as a library employee. 
The idea is to get the frontliners to advocate at their comfort level. The frontliners are the ones who know the community; they have connections with patrons and users who then become our grassroots advocates. Managers do not have this, so it is important for the frontliners to work with management. So library advocacy is seen as everybody's job.

I found it interesting that in the example given from the Yolo County Library they have staff performance goals that reflect an "ambassador" role in service delivery and outreach. There is something to be said for the concept that the "ambassador" role should not just fall to the outreach librarian, but that it could be shared since we all make an impression of the library at one point or another.

Some questions to create discussion in your library:
  • How do you define advocacy? 
  • Why is it important? 
  • How does it relate to marketing and fundraising? 
  • What is our role versus the role of deans and administrators? 
It is important to realize that we need to demonstrate and communicate our value to the university (in terms of an academic setting, and we need to be doing this consistently). In addition, odds are good a lot of the frontline staff already do some form of advocacy; you should be able to articulate and recognize this. For the staff to be able to do it, they do have to be well-informed. 

Link to ALA's Frontline Advocacy Toolkit.

Link to ALA's Advocacy University.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Booknote: Nuestra historia aun se esta escribiendo (12 Books, 12 Months Challenge, Book 4)

This is my review as I posted it on GoodReads. Overall, I thought this was a neat little book. I also think it is a book that more people should read to expand their horizons a bit more.

Nuestra historia aun se esta escribiendo, La historia de tres generales cubano-chinos en la Revolucion CubanaNuestra historia aun se esta escribiendo, La historia de tres generales cubano-chinos en la Revolucion Cubana by Armando Choy

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A brief but very interesting book. This book consists of a series of interviews with three Cuban generals of Chinese descent. The generals discuss their lives, their upbringing and social struggles, their revolutionary experiences their military experiences, and how they are still active in the revolution. For readers who may not be too familiar with the socialist notion of revolution, the revolution is an ongoing process. A professor once explained it to one of my classes as "there is the big R revolution" (that is the one you usually think of, with guns and armies, so on. Like the American Revolution or in Cuba the revolution to topple Batista) and then there is "the small r revolution" (this is the ongoing process of building and maintaining the society after the big R revolution). When the generals speak of the revolution, they mean that "small r" revolution.

Unlike other history books about Cuba, I liked this one because it takes a unique angle. It looks not only at people who were active participants in history but also at people with a pretty unique ethnicity for the region. Chinese immigrants were brought to Cuba (and a few other Caribbean islands) to do work in the sugar cane fields and other manual labor though sugar was the main work. They came as indentured servants and most usually stayed on the island. They often stayed because they could not afford their passage back to China, but a good number also stayed out of choice. These Chinese immigrants created communities, set up their own small businesses, thrived, and they eventually were mainstreamed into Cuban society. Ok, mainstreamed may not be the best term; some may choose "assimilated," but the point is that they were fairly integrated into Cuban society. If you ask the generals in the book, they see themselves as Cubans first who just so happen to have Chinese descent. This would be very different than a lot of Ethnic-Americans in the U.S. who often still see themselves as being from whatever place they came from first. Anyhow, this does not necessarily mean that the process of assimilation was smooth or easy. Prior to the Revolution, they faced racism and discrimination, and this is part of their story. Personally, their stories of youth were one of the most interesting parts of the book for me. Keep in mind that once Fidel took power, one of the first acts was to institute anti-racism legislation and measures, which benefited not only those of Chinese descent but other minority groups.

The generals played an active role in the Cuban campaign in Angola, so that gets some good coverage in the book. Most American readers may think this was just some Cuban adventurism, but when you read the accounts here you can learn it is not as simple as that. They discuss why they felt it was an obligation to go (requested by the local government of the time; because of an internationalist spirit; as a legacy or to meet the debt of those from other nations who fought for Cuban independence, so on). From there, we move to what is known in Cuba as the Special Period, and the book ends at about 2005 or so. You also get some discussion of Cuba sending medical teams to Venezuela and around the world as well.

A strength of this book is that it brings the generals to life; they are not just some mythical figures or just some generals. These were young boys that grew up, joined the revolutionary movement for various reasons (they each had different backgrounds), and then remained active in their society both in the military and after. The conversations are short, and they are fairly easy to read. They do come across as fairly warm individuals.

For American (read U.S.) readers, they may or not like the book. I am thinking an objection right away is that, well, it is a book looking at communists. Yes, they are communists who embrace the socialist movement and ideals. Much of their discussion does integrate socialist ideas and concepts. Much of their argument, when asked, is that the things they accomplished or that Cuba has accomplished (and even those who hate Fidel and Cuba have to give them credit for various accomplishments) would not have been possible had it not been for the revolution. I would say to those readers to read the book anyways. There are a few lessons to learn plus you get a pretty good picture of Cuban society in the 20th and early 21st centuries. Furthermore, you will get a bit of a history lesson (there are some discussions of colonial history for instance, the relationship of the nation to the Soviet Union, which was not always in lockstep, so on).

I read the book in Spanish, but it is available in English. Finally, the book features an appendix with two speech excerpts by Fidel Castro and one by Nelson Mandela highlighting the Angolan mission. Mandela is particularly praising the Cuban forces, who have a special place in the heart of a good number of African nations, in part because their mission did lead to the eventual independence of Namibia.

View all my reviews

Update Note (12/13/10): Here is the round-up of 12 Books, 12 Months Challenge readings for month 3 over at Later Day Bohemian.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Booknote: The Forever War (12 Books, 12 Months Challenge, Book 3)

This is the third book I have read for my 12 Books, 12 Months Challenge. The review is as posted on my GoodReads profile.

The Forever WarThe Forever War by Joe Haldeman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had read this years ago, and after rereading it this year, I remember how good this novel was. Yes, I am aware that Haldeman was writing this in part as a response to the Vietnam War and all that other academic interest. But this is just a very good science fiction novel as well. It is fast paced once it gets going, and it is a very quick and easy read. Haldeman does well in character development, especially looking at Mandela's character who goes from private to major in the space of a few years, or a lot of centuries, depending on who's counting on what calendar. This is thanks to the wonders of time dilation and space travel. There is some science and physics involved, but it is just the right amount to make the novel work and give us the image of a soldier who stays eternal and fights on.

If you have not read it, I will not reveal the ending, which is not only interesting, but it makes a nice twist. The novel also makes some interesting social commentaries including issues such as evolution of the human race and even heterosexuality and homosexuality. If you don't read it for the adventure, you may be interested in those angles of the book. I think the novel, given the current war on terror, gains a new relevancy, and that may be another reason to read (or reread) the novel. It is a classic of science fiction, an award winner, and if you read it, you'll see why.

View all my reviews

Friday, December 03, 2010

Webinar Notes: On Writing a Library Behavior Code

I sat in my office for the Infopeople November 18, 2010 webinar on the topic of "Writing a Library Behavior Code." You can get to the archived webinar as well as handouts at the link. What follows are some of the notes I took as I listened, which I am jotting here mostly for reference purposes. The handout on resources has a good summary of cases with explanations (link to PDF, but the webinar link also has option for a Word Doc).

I make the same disclaimer the presenter made: this is NOT legal advice. We are discussing legal information.

* * * * 

Can a library enforce rules? For behavior, a library may set reasonable rules related to mission (for example, rules on no bathing in the restroom or sleeping). You need to be more cautious about speech restrictions. Analyze your space, how it is set up. Is a limited public forum created? It is best to restrict on the basis of time, place, manner, not content. Reminder that you may need to check with an attorney.

For example, tobacco in the library is a behavior issue, so you can set rules.

A dress code is a more complicated issue; we are looking at patrons now. Rely on legal standards (issues like public indecency laws). Again, you may need to check with an attorney.
  • On the one hand, there is Armstrong v. D.C. Public Library, 154 F. Supp. 2d 67 (D.C. 2001)(library policy: “objectionable -barefooted, bare-chested, body odor, filthy clothing, etc.” overturned by court).
  • On the other hand, there is Kreimer v. Bureau of Police, 958 F.2d 1242 (3d Cir. N.J. 1992)(library policy “shirt or other covering of their upper bodies” upheld by court).
  • Bare feet is seen (usually) as a health/safety issue, so courts often uphold this restriction. 
On breastfeeding. In California at least, it is protected by law. Check for laws in your state

On "smoochy patrons." This is a behavior issue, so the library can make reasonable rules, which need to be enforced evenly.  (overall, a common theme is whether you have a behavior versus an expression issue. Behavior, it seems, can be better regulated. Anything dealing with freedom of expression is trickier, and it should be avoided).

On tees with bad language. This is an expression issue, so you have to let it in. The government cannot make distinctions regarding individual taste and style. However, there can be limits. For instance, this would be different in a school library given that schools can and do set dress codes.

Soliciting. This depends and can vary. Analysis says it is ok to restrict it in the library reading room/main area. Basically that is because the purpose for the space is not for a soapbox.
  • What about the grounds (outside)? It is ok to ban all types of solicitation, but not on the basis of viewpoint (pro-life versus pro-choice for instance) if the grounds are just a path (as opposed to a gathering place. To be honest, I think this may be applicable to the new garden space my library has, where it is clearly a gathering place. While this has not been an issue yet, it may be something to keep in mind if say, for example, some itinerant preacher shows up). 
  • But if you have an area (again, I am thinking our gardens for example). Consider the time, place, manner principles. You may have a strong legal justification to restrict monetary solicitations versus just someone distributing literature. Again, do not restrict based on content.
Sex offenders in the library:
  • Easy: if you have something like looking up skirts (exhibiting the behavior), you call the cops. 
  • If not exhibiting an offensive behavior (for instance, someone just points it out to you), you need to be a bit more careful. In addition, due to First Amendment issues, you can't just ban someone from the library on the basis of offender status; however, you could limit their access to certain hours (for example, not during children story time hours). 
On civility:
  • Try to focus on behavior and loudness. Don't base on what someone may be saying but rather on the fact they are disturbing others and creating a disruption. See the Kreimer case ("intent to annoy" would be the applicable principle). The protection of speech is crucial, but there are exceptions, such as threats. 
Reminder: FEND= Free speech (tread carefully), Equal protection, Notice, Due Process (appeals). 

Another note, new ADA rules go in effect on March 15, 2011. You may want to visit the ADA website now. In terms of disabilities, you can't discriminate based on a disability unless you can show there would be a fundamental program alteration (this is in the context of questions of a special needs adult in a children's story hour or in a children's table areas).

A final question for now: Is a permanent prohibition ever possible? You need to be cautious, consult an attorney due to many First Amendment issues.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Article Note: On barriers to promoting extracurricular reading in academic libraries

Citation for the article:

Elliot, Julie, "Barriers to Extracurricular Reading Promotion in Libraries." Reference and User Services Quarterly 48.4 (2009): 340-346.

Read in print.

Julie Elliot's article now is a follow-up to her 2007 article, which I read as well. If you are interested in the topic of RA and academic libraries, you may also want to read this other 2009 article from JAL. The article looks now at specific barriers that prevent academic libraries from promoting extracurricular reading and RA.

For starters, Elliot does go back to her previous article where she noted that "many colleges are finding ways to promote reading to their students, [but] many students are not taking advantage of these services" (340). She cites the work of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in regards to college freshmen spending less time on leisure reading (find a list of NEA research reports here. The one in question is #47. The direct link is a PDF). She argues that colleges should be concerned with the signs of declining literacy, but she also points out that colleges do face barriers as well in promoting reading. Those barriers are the central issues of her article.

The article draws on a small survey of library deans and directors that the author conducted using SurveyMonkey. In the end, she got 38 people to answer the survey, and even for that, not all questions were answered fully. A limitation is that this makes a pretty small sample. So, what are some of the issues?

  • First, we have the big issue, that is, the budget. Although this is certainly important, and I can testify to this given that we have a pretty tight collection development budget ("tight" being the polite word), there can also be some attitude issues. For instance, one of the responders pretty much says that he would not buy materials that could be available in a public library (341). I wonder if that is a common academic librarian attitude. So, that librarian's answer is to just send them to the public library? While I am not saying we should open the floodgates and just go with a "give them what they want, get 20 copies of Harry Potter books" initiative, there are certainly many excellent books that can find a place in an academic library that a public library would have and that could work to better promote reading in our students as well as our academic community (yes, the staff read too). 
  • There are still some library deans and directors who just simply do not believe in extracurricular reading promotion (342). Yes, we apparently have some of those anti-reading freaks leading some of our libraries. Sorry, but I have to say it: a good librarian is a librarian who reads and promotes reading. I do not think it is a badge of honor to take pride in not reading as an academic librarian. It should be a badge of shame as far as I am concerned (you can see my previous thoughts on this here). However, there is hope since the author does say that "most respondents were more positive about leisure reading promotion, even if they do not have the resources to pursue it" (342). 
Elliot suggests ways that a public library could help a college in this regard, which I think opens some nice opportunities for outreach. A couple of things on this:
  • "By helping local colleges promote leisure reading, public librarians not only assist their academic library colleagues, but also lay the foundation for the next generation of readers at the public library" (342). In plain English, we can help each other out. 
  • Your public library can allow college students to check out books from them, and I would say this is specially important in the case where the college library simply does not have enough recreational or leisure reading materials. Elliot also suggests seeing if the college library would allow the public library to send over some of its booklists for students to see and use. 
Other notes:

  • "Perhaps the most obvious is to go directly to the students themselves and find out what would encourage them to read more for pleasure, or to determine whether there is any desire for them to do leisure reading at all" (343). This is certainly a study that I would not mind doing on my campus, but sadly, it is something that probably would not get much encouragement from my superiors. And yet, in terms of outreach, we probably could get quite a bit of information not only on reading habits but also on possible interests for planning library programming. 
  • A question, which I think I already know the answer the twopointopians, to borrow the Annoyed Librarian's term, might give: "Do the Internet, instant messaging, reading blogs, games, and other electronic media, which many claim have replaced reading, have a detrimental effect, or is that exaggerated?" (343). I think the answer is more complicated than the usual cheerleader answer of anything goes, the Internet and its content are all cool, and books are going the way of the dinosaur. You can achieve a lot of reading with online resources and tools, but there is also something to say for prose and print. This leads to the other question posed in the article. 
  • The question: "If the prose literacy skills of our college graduates are eroding, are they being replaced with other skills, and do those new skills make up for what is being lost in the critical thinking abilities that come from, for example, being able to read and compare two newspaper editorials?" (343). Even if we replace "newspaper editorials" for "blog postings," I would say the answer is still "no." There is enough literature out there that does show we have to be concerned over lack of critical thinking skills in our college graduates, and a decline in reading, substantial reading that is, probably does not help things either. 
  • Something to consider: when do students lose interest in reading for pleasure. Elliot argues it does not necessarily happen when they get to college. Does it happen in K-12? Could the lack of school librarians have something to do with it? I'd say probably. Those are questions Elliot raises, and she asks how all libraries can work together to bring students to reading. But in the end, this is the key question: "we should decide if leisure reading is a skill worth preserving for future generations" (343). If we look at today's situation where many shortsighted people would like nothing better than to close public libraries, along with school libraries and more often than not academic libraries, then I guess the decision has been made. On the other hand, I don't think we as a society should give up the fight to preserve reading for future generations. Maybe that is another reason why I became a librarian. 
Note that the article does include the survey instrument.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Booknote: The Planets (12 Books, 12 Months Challenge, Book 2)

My small review as posted in GoodReads. This is part of my 12 Books, 12 Months Challenge.

The PlanetsThe Planets by Dava Sobel

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a nice pleasant book to read, but I don't think it is the author's best. I found Longitude and Galileo's Daughter to be better books overall. Part of the reason that I did not think as much of the book is the chapter on Uranus and Neptune where she uses a long letter as the way to carry the chapter narrative. The conceit went on for way too long to the point that I just skimmed it. Compared to the other chapters, the narrative on that chapter slowed the book down. For example, the chapter using the point of view of a small meteorite fragment to illuminate a planet's history was pretty creative, but it was also concise. However, in spite of some shortcomings, the book overall is worth reading. You will learn about the planets and the solar system in terms of the science, the history, and the popular culture. You get a nice journey through time from the ancients' view of the planets and stars to today's astronomers using the latest and best telescopes; you also get to learn about the various unmanned probes we have sent into space and what they have accomplished. And you get it all in a nice, small, easy to read book.

If you like Sobel's previous works, you will probably enjoy this book as well. If you enjoy microhistory books in general, then you will enjoy this one as well.

View all my reviews

For those interested (I know I am), here is the October roundup of those participating in the challenge as collected by latter day bohemian. And here is her September roundup (I did not read anything in September, thus no booknote that month).

Monday, November 15, 2010

Article Note: On how informationally poor are the information poor

Citation for the article:

Yu, Liangzhi, "How Poor Informationally are the Information Poor: Evidence from an Empirical Study of Daily and Regular Information Practices of Individuals." Journal of Documentation 66.6 (2010): 906-933.

Read via Interlibrary Loan.

The article deals with the question of how poor informationally are the information poor. This is not just referring to the socioeconomic poor that most studies consider when it comes to the question of being information poor. In other words, this goes a bit deeper than the usual information have's and have-nots. Most previous studies have looked at the economically poor and their disadvantages, and we certainly need to be looking at that as well as working to solve it. This study is different. According to the author, "this study is an attempt to begin the journey of investigation of the information poor on the basis of their experience as information creators, disseminators, seekers, receivers and users, that is, as information agents rather than social or economic agents" (907-908).

Yu points out that it is usually seen as a given that the economic poor are information poor as well. The author goes on to list different elements in the definition of information poor over time in the literature such as ethnic minorities, poor whites, the elderly, single mothers, etc. (908). This made me think a bit of public libraries where you have a lot of low income folks coming it to get computer access. They may be poor economically, but they certainly are not information. And these days, they may not even be "poor" economically as much as just tight (tight as in the money is tight, not tightwads) middle class folks who choose to not have internet service at home and use the library instead.

The author looks more at information behaviors. For example, in citing E.A. Chatman, Yu points that some poor communities may have information behaviors where secrecy, deception, avoidance of having their problems exposed, so on can lead to an increase in information poverty due to suspicion and distrust of outsiders (qtd. in 910). I wrote on the margin as I was reading the article that this made me think of many teabaggers and other misinformed folks; they distrust outside sources, or pretty much any source that opposes their limiter worldview, so over time, they do develop information poverty. I wonder if anyone has done research in that regard or made a similar connection.

A simple definition of information poverty comes from Barja and Gigler, cited by Yu, where information poverty is defined as "a lack of the basic capabilities needed to participate in the information society" (911).

Though insightful, we are looking at a pretty small and limited sample. This study is based on interview surveys done in north China. The study lasted for five years, and the author with assistants interviewed 340 people. They then selected 73 for in-depth analysis. Subjects came from various areas of society (urban, rural, migrant workers).

Some notes from the article:

  • "The usefulness of the information resource base concept hinges on the fact that while information society abounds in information resources, the vast majority of these resources are actually irrelevant from the individual's perspective. Some are prohibited by law, some are withheld by their owners, others are either physically or intellectually inaccessible" (916). The information base is defined as "categories and ranges of material and non-material resources that an individual uses for the purpose of getting himself/herself informed (i.e. to obtain information utilities) in daily and regular activities" (915). For example, my information base would include, but is not necessarily limited to, the Internet, television, and books.
  • Just because you have physical access to a resource, it does not mean you are a user of said resource. For example, someone in your household may buy a newspaper, but it does not make you a newspaper reader just because that newspaper is in the house. 
  • Key concept: information horizon. This is "the composition of a variety of information resources an individual consults in a given context and situation" (Sonnenwald qtd. in 916). 
  • Key concept: information assets. This is defined as a person's "accumulated informational outcomes resulting from his/her utilisation of resources from within and without his/her information base" (918). This includes then skills, experiences, and outlook as well as sources used. For instance, the books I have read become an information asset for me. 
  • "In summary, when examined from the perspective of information practices, the information poor seem to be disadvantaged in a number of ways: they tend to engage in low order and limited variety of information practices in local, confined social settings, which involve limited literacy, numeracy, information and analytical skills. It can be argued that these characteristics impose serious constraint on the abilities of the information poor to claim society's information resources as their own and to obtain information utilities from their information resource bases" (925). 

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Booknote: GLBTQ: The Survival Guide for Queers and Questioning Teens

My review as I posted in on my GoodReads profile.

GLBTQ: The Survival Guide for Queer and Questioning TeensGLBTQ: The Survival Guide for Queer and Questioning Teens by Kelly Huegel

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is an excellent overview and guide for GLBTQ teens. At a time when the nation is suffering an epidemic of LGBTQ youth suicides due to bullying, this is a book that could likely be helpful for many kids feeling that it can't get better. But it is a book not only for teens, but for the adults as well who need to get a sense of what it is these kids go through for in addition to the usual pressures and changes of becoming a teen, LGBTQ youths also face the challenge of coming to terms with their sexual orientation. This is something adults need to understand as well.

The book is very easily organized into chapters from basics in "GLBTQ 101" to "Work, College, and Beyond." Though you can read it cover to cover, the book certainly lends itself to reading the chapters you need. Is the reader dealing with the issue of coming out? There is a chapter on the topic that provides questions with answers as well as lists of information and support resources. The decision to come out is not an easy one, and the book gives information and facts to help make an informed decision regardless of whether the LGBTQ reader decides to come out or not; there is no tone of pressure for either view. Chapters are divided in short, easy to read sections. There are also information boxes with various lists of resources and places to find support and information. Additionally, the book integrates short stories of youths to let readers know that they are not alone, that others have faced the same questions.

This is a book that should be in every library, especially school libraries. And it needs to be visible so teens can find it. When I ordered it for our academic library, I was asked "who the hell is going to come read or check out that book?" Though I was tempted to give a pretty snarky answer, in the end I said two reasons. One, because we may have young people, including some of our young students, who may need such a book. Two, because we do have a School of Education, and future teachers should be reading this book to get some awareness; very often, young people will come out or at least confide in a teacher they feel comfortable with. This book is also for them. So, I went ahead and ordered it anyways. In the end, this is an excellent tool for any LGBTQ youth, but it is also an excellent tool to educate others. I highly recommend it.

View all my reviews

Friday, November 12, 2010

Article note: On being a renaissance librarian in academia

Citation for the article:

Smith, Debbi A., and Victor T. Oliva, "Becoming a Renaissance Reference Librarian in Academe: Attitudes Toward Generalist and Subject Specific Reference and Related Profession Development." Reference Services Review 38.1 (2010): 125-151.

Read via Emerald.

I mean renaissance in the sense of being a good generalist, not a Renaissance specialist. The main issue of the article is looking at how librarians may handle reference queries outside their specialized areas of expertise. A good reference librarian is pretty much a generalist, so how do these generalists deal with something a bit more specialized than the usual? And how do they train for such situations? That is what the article tries to answer.

Larger libraries usually have subject specialist librarians. Smaller libraries however have reference librarians who have to answer a broad range of questions, and they usually cannot just refer someone to a specialist. On these generalists, the authors of the article write, "reference librarians who can handle a vast range of reference questions become veritable renaissance librarians" (125). On a small side note, I wonder if we may be having a small dearth of good generalist librarians who can handle things like a solid reference interview due to the trends of "everything is online" and "let's all do librarianship via social media." No, I am not being facetious or cynical; it is not the first time I have pondered the question, and at least one of my colleagues has asked the same question as well. Maybe something to ponder for a future post.

The article seeks to learn about the attitudes of reference librarians when it comes to the service that generalists and specialists provide in terms of reference. This includes how they feel about any training options and opportunities. Thus the authors hope to provide some guidance in terms of prioritizing professional development opportunities related to reference services. Given extreme budget cuts, a lot of the training is likely to be on the cheap. The study reported in the article is based out of Adelphi University, where they have 12 full time library faculty members (librarians). They are described as follows:

". . . they are accustomed to broadening their intellectual horizons by cross training informally with each other and obtaining formal training from their colleagues and from outside sources. They attend conferences, obtain additional graduate degrees, take professional training classes, read professional literature, and engage in other formal and informal training practices" (126). 

According to the authors, they used that experience as the basis for their investigation of other academic librarians in other places. There is a good amount of stuff from that list that I do-- the cross-training, the occasional training class (if you can count some of the basic webinars I can get when I can as a training class), reading the professional literature, and a couple other informal things. But conferences? All I have to say is it must be nice if you have the funding for it. For those interested, this previous post does have a description about how my bosses see professional development to give an idea. Overall, the article looks at how the academic librarians perform when called upon to be generalists, how they improve their skill set, something I consider extremely important, and their attitudes about it.The investigation then was done via a survey; the authors obtained 491 valid responses. They asked about self-directed education, informal training, formal training outside and inside their institutions (129).

Some notes from the article:

The authors cite K.C. Hill, author of an article in The Reference Librarian, in arguing that reference librarians (as far as I am concerned, it should be all librarians) should have a broad cultural literacy. They write:

"Hill (2001) states that reference librarians should be able to field questions in all areas of scholarly endeavor through broadened cultural literacy: knowledge of current events, watching educational television programs, visiting museums, browsing core research journals, book prefaces and the reference collection, as well as meeting with teaching faculty and attending classes and seminars" (127). 

I have to wonder how realistic the last option is, the one about attending classes. If it means auditing a class, I can see it, but if it means actually enrolling in a class, I can see some obstacles from cost to time. Most of the other stuff I mostly do already. The challenge is avoiding information overload. We should not just give lip service to having broad knowledge; we should be doing it. We owe to our patrons when they come to our reference desks to be knowledgeable. Way I see it, you either know where to find the information and answers needed, or you know where to refer someone to find said information and answers. This is why we need to keep up professionally in terms of librarian skills as well as in terms of general knowledge.

Findings and some comments:

  • "Virtually all of those surveyed (97 percent) provide reference service at a central desk: 76 percent just at a central desk and 21 percent at both a central and a divisional location" (130). If nothing else, the reference desk is not going away anytime soon in spite of some prognosticators in library land.
  • "Most [respondents] are likely to 'strongly agree' or 'agree' that 'a reference librarian should be a generalist able to answer questions in all disciplines' (92 percent). . . . In contrast, a significantly lower level (47 percent) agrees that 'a generalist reference librarian may be unable to provide specialized reference service'" (131). So overall, we are confident as generalist in our ability to tackle most reference questions that come our way. 
  • From the survey, we learn that academic librarians perceive that an advanced degree may not be such a big deal. The exact statement is that there is "a perception that an advanced degree may not be necessary to successfully assist with a reference question in a particular subject" (131). Hey, for instance, I answer questions for nursing students all the time, and I do not have an advanced degree in the area. The liaison librarian for nursing we have here does not have an advanced degree on the subject either. But we are both librarians, which means we can and do learn what we need in order to help our students. I don't have to be a nurse or health professional to help these students. I do have to have a basic understanding how their field works and have a good degree of subject literacy to help them get what they need. My nursing liaison colleague has gone further in terms of training himself; he can talk the talk and walk the walk as the saying goes. The authors found that "most comments about advanced subject degrees tend to question the need or use for one. This suggests a belief that an advanced subject degree is not necessary to learn the reference tools in a particular field" (140). As I have said, librarians know how to learn, and thus they can gain the knowledge they need to do reference for a particular subject area. I would go so far as to say that unless you really think you will end up in a big, prestigious, very well-heeled campus where they require a second advanced degree, then don't get the advanced degree. It does not make sense economically given the current market in our profession. Now, you want to do it anyways for your professional development or edification, and you can afford it, as in not borrowing money for it, but you have the funds or someone will pay you go get it, then don't let me stop you. Use common sense is my bottom line advice.
  • This was kind of a statement of the obvious to me: "Librarians appear more likely to collaborate with a colleague already at the reference desk rather than refer to a colleague who is not physically with them" (132). However, I will add that if your office happens to be near the reference area, then your phone will often ring when your colleague at the desk needs help. If you happen to be the subject specialist needed to meet a student's need, even more so. Heck, if you are a really good generalist, just count on your phone ringing quite a bit. 
  • Now this is definitely a statement of the obvious that makes me go "duh." The authors state that respondents from larger campuses have higher levels of participation in professional development activities due to factors that include larger budgets (133). Really? 
  • Some validation for keeping up: "Those who frequently read professional library journals, work informally with subject librarians, or attend classes at their institutions are more likely to feel comfortable answering most reference questions" (134). I should not have to say this, but if your institution gives you some good "break" for attending classes, find something you like or can use, and do it.
  • "Librarians who work in institutions with a student enrollment of less than 5,000 also exhibit a higher level of confidence in their ability to answer reference questions in areas of non-subject expertise than do librarians from institutions with a larger student population" (137). This is basically by necessity, and as someone who works in a 6K approx. enrollment campus, I can say this is pretty accurate too. You have to be able to be a jack of all trades at the reference desk. 
  • This seemed pretty evident too, but there is the Catch-22 of, if the institution does not offer support, how much engaged can you really be? One really has to have a lot of intrinsic motivation as a librarian it would seem. The authors suggest "that a librarian must be professionally engaged both within their own institution and with the profession in order to be motivated to continually update their skills" (143). I am not commenting further since I think the quote says a lot on its own. 
In addition, I thought this cite the authors present is both relevant and crucial to what we do. Two usual barriers or problems to this vision tend to lack of funding and administrative indifference or unwillingness to support training and development. The quote then:

"Austen and Chan (2004) point out the importance of an organizational environment that supports and rewards both formal and informal updating activities. In this context, a supportive management that encourages and rewards updating activities and an absence of barriers to participation enhance a librarian's ability and desire to maintain their professional competencies. Such competencies extend beyond subject knowledge. They can include constant re-skilling needed to adapt to the rapid, ongoing technological changes in the internet and electronic resources as well as the implementation of altered work processes and practices. They note that previous studies indicate that the time and effort devoted to professional updating are positively related to an already existing degree of professional competence" (142-143). 

In addition, we do need to remember that these days reference is more than the desk. We do instruction; we work with academic departments; we provide reference virtually in synchronous and asynchronous ways. But we still need the interpersonal skills, knowing how to deal with people. This reminds me of a recent conversation I had with a colleague of mine who is a firm believer in people skills for librarians (at least for the librarians who work the front lines); we both agree these are not being taught in library school. The authors of the article go on to write,  "a good reference librarian must possess or develop personal skills that transcend specific subject knowledge, and that these skills would specially come into play when there might be a lack of specific knowledge about the subject of a patron's query" (143).

Note that the article does include the survey instrument.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Article Note: On Questions to Help You Choose the Best Assessment for Information Literacy

Citation for the article:

Oakleaf, Megan and Neal Kaske, "Guiding Questions for Assessing Information Literacy in Higher Education." portal: Libraries and the Academy 9.2 (2009): 273-286.

Read via Project Muse. 

The article is exactly what the title suggests: a set of basic questions for and about the assessment of information literacy in higher education. In other words, these are questions to consider as you embark on an assessment program and to help you decide on one program over another. There are no actual references to specific information literacy assessment programs and tools; you will need to read someplace else for that.

The article opens by giving readers a reminder of the three main reasons to do assessment: to increase student learning, to provide what the accrediting agencies want, and to improve our library instructional services. Tempted as I may be, I am not commenting on one or the other. My question at this point was more basic: is there still an institution out there not doing an assessment of some kind for their instructional program? Given the fairly consistent presence of some mention of information literacy in accreditor requirements, can any place afford not to assessment? You may have to change the way of doing the assessment or look for ways to improve it, but actually not doing it? Not that I expect anyone out there to suddenly comment and fess up to not doing it, but that was my curious question anyways for what little it may be worth.

The authors then suggest that if librarians and stakeholders respond to the guiding questions, then they can make the assessment process selection easier. The basic questions are:

  1. Are we ready to conduct an assessment of information literacy? 
  2. Why are we conducting this assessment? 
  3. What are the needs of assessment stakeholders? 
  4. Will the assessment tell us what we want to know? 
  5. What are the costs of the assessment? 
  6. What are the institutional implications of the assessment? 
The authors do add additional questions to some of the main questions above, which readers can see in the article. The above list includes the basics. The rest of the article is devoted then to discussing the questions, what they mean, and their significance in some detail.

Some notes:

  • "As Donald Barclay states, 'Unless evaluation will somehow improve the thing being evaluated, it is not worth doing'" (qtd. in 276). I just thought it was a good line. 
  • I found that there was a bit of contrast in attitude in terms of assessment as to improve student learning versus assessment for accountability. I saw this when the authors cited Popham on page and Pausch and Popp on the next page who favor each view respectively. I guess I wonder what is the reality in the field. Are we really doing assessments for the more altruistic reason of improving student learning, which as far as I am concerned is why we should be doing it, or are we doing it because we need to cover our collective rear ends when the accreditation agency comes along? I am trying not get cynical about it. 
  • Another reason assessment is useful: "Assessment can also support requests to continue or increase funding. This purpose is important for information literacy instruction programs, especially those that must justify their existence or risk losing financial support" (278). 
  • The old rule of you must adapt to your audience when making a presentation, in this case presenting the results of your assessment: "To ensure that audiences understand assessment results, librarians should consider who will see the final results and use their knowledge of stakeholders to determine how precise or detailed the results need to be and how quickly the results must be communicated" (278). 
  • Kind of a statement of the obvious: "Because assessment requires considerable effort to plan, collect, analyze, and report, librarians should avoid methods that will not result in new understanding of student learning or instructional programs" (279). 

Monday, November 01, 2010

If libraries closed, would they be missed? My thoughts

I had a nicely written draft on the topic that Blogger for some unknown reason refuses to publish. Probably one of its technical glitch moments; I went through the HTML, checked the format, etc, so it's on their frakking end. Anyhow, if my two readers will indulge me, you can go read the post in its entirety over at my scratch pad blog, Alchemical Thoughts. You can leave any comments here or there.

The post: "Thoughts regarding the question: if the library closed tomorrow, would anyone miss it?"

And one of these days, I just have to migrate this blog to some platform with a bit more reliability.

Oh well, there is something to be said for redundancies.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Making my stand

"We've made too many compromises already, too many retreats. They invade our space and we fall back. They assimilate entire worlds and we fall back. Not again. The line must be drawn here! This far, no farther!" --Capt. Jean-Luc Picard, from the film Star Trek: First Contact.

I have been attentive to what has been going on with the recent suicides of gay youths due to bullying up to and including the incident of the bigoted school board member in Arkansas. I have written some things in response, but so far, I kept them in my personal journal. The more I listen and watch and ponder, the more difficult I find it to stay silent, to not stand up, to not say anything. So my three readers can consider this post the one where I draw the line because bullies and bigots come and think they can get away with their crimes and uncivilized behavior. Well, no more. Not if this librarian has anything to say about it, and I do have a thing or two to say. What follows are two small items I wrote earlier that I am ready to share.

* * * * 

From my personal journal, October 6, 2010:

I've been wanting to blog about the recent bullying and suicide stories, but I am not sure what approach to take. Jeff Jarvis, in discussing the tragedy at Rutgers University, summarized it well: "It is a story of human tragedy." What we have here is not just an individual failure. We have a community failure from the parents of those bullies who very likely failed to instill good values like common decency to a society that pretty much is willing to accept bullying. That we had more than one suicide due to bullies in less than a month was probably enough for the media to cover it. But if it had been just one suicide in some small town, no one else would have heard about it, and people in that small town, with the exception of the victim's relatives, would have likely chalked it up to "boys will be boys" or some similar line. A line such as "kids in school will always be kids" should never be an acceptable cover or excuse for bullying, hazing, harassment, or other kind of anti-social behavior. That adults consistently use that excuse reflects a serious lack of character and compassion.

But there is another reason I find it difficult to blog about it. It means making my views more public in a fairly hostile environment. But if I don't stand up and speak, then who will? For me, this is the right thing to do, and yet I have my fears. As a librarian, I struggle with the illusion many in the profession hold of neutrality against the belief that we should help educate, that we should not only provide information but use our best professional judgment in providing good, accurate, and reliable information. Taking a stand breaks that illusion. It raises a flag stating that this is what I stand for and what I will defend or oppose. Yet, if I remain silent, it would not be right. I don't think anyone said this profession would be without some risk. Then again, every time I blog, or even post a shared link online, there is the risk of offending somebody, somewhere, maybe even a future potential employer. A lot of librarianship is about image, and it is a pretty small profession where the wrong blog post can get you shunned. I try not to let it bother me. I try not to self-censor more than is necessary. But I am finding it harder and harder to stay silent. The truth needs to be spoken. We have to take a stand for what is right. In my case, writing and blogging are my ways to do so.

* * * * 

From my personal journal, October 11, 2010 (National Coming Out Day)

Today is National Coming Out Day. I think it has a special significance this year given the series of LGBT youth suicides due to bullying. As Jeff Jarvis said in a post I read a few days back, those deaths are a human tragedy. 

What I am thinking about today is the bravery of those LGBT folks who do choose to come out, whether today or any other day. Maybe that is just what moves me to be an ally. Maybe it's that I think everybody should be able to love whomever they like and not be discriminated against on that basis. That civil rights should be rights for all, not just for some. That if you choose to live in a committed relationship of marriage, the gender of those involved should not be an issue for receiving the rights and responsibilities of marriage. 

But what does it have to do with me? I am a straight male (at least I was last time I looked, haha!), so one would think I have nothing to gain or lose. In fact, I may have more to lose--from folks suddenly thinking I may be gay to workplace concerns; East Texas is not a particularly friendly place if you do not fall within its norms and parameters. I do it because it is the right thing to do. I do it because I look forward to the day where coming out won't matter because it will not be an issue. Just like I hope for a day when no one is judged by race, handicap, so on, I look to the day no one is judged by their sexual orientation. I don't think I will live to see that day given how much work and education this nation needs before it truly embraces diversity. But I hope that some day, maybe in the days of my daughter's grandchildren, they will look back at our society and say things like "what the fuck were they thinking?" or "discriminating because someone is gay? How quaint." Maybe some day, and I hope that day arrives sooner rather than later. 

In the meantime, coming out (as an ally) is the small part I can do to bring about better days. It is my small way of saying to those in the LGBT community and the rest of the allies that they are not alone. It is my way of saying that as a librarian my skills and knowledge are at the community's disposal, and if I can't find a resource, I know someone who does know. I am here for those who may need a supportive person. 

Do I want to be "that" librarian? I sure do. It's the decent thing to do, and I cannot do anything less. And if certain coworkers don't like it, then let them stew in their bigotry. They will either see the error of their ways and do the right thing, or history will simply pass them over. 

I thought I could remain silent, but I can't. Not anymore. I am coming out, and I am letting others know.

* * * *

Other readings I had in mind at the time I was writing: 

(Crossposted to The Itinerant Librarian and Alchemical Thoughts)

Update Note: (11/1/10): Wayne Bivens-Tatum, the Academic Librarian, picked up on this post, and he wrote a very detailed, thoughtful, and reasoned response on librarians and our neutral (or not) stances. It is worth reading it in its entirety. 

    Tuesday, October 26, 2010

    Booknote: Ensayo sobre la ceguera (12 Books, 12 Months Challenge, Book 1)

    My review as posted to my GoodReads profile:

    Ensayo Sobre la Ceguera (Spanish Edition)Ensayo Sobre la Ceguera by José Saramago

    My rating: 1 of 5 stars

    This is a book that people will either like or hate (or at least dislike). I don't hate it, but I do dislike it, which is why I gave it just one star in spite of the fairly smart premise. I am even willing to admit that I skimmed parts of it since this is one of those books that, once you get to a certain point, you can pretty much predict with accuracy what will happen in the end. For me, that detail came when it was revealed the doctor's wife had a pair of scissors shortly after the thugs in Room 3 take over the food. From that point, I knew a war would break out, and that she would end up killing at least one person (she kills more than one. I happen to think they more than deserved it, but more sensitive people can debate that elsewhere). That the asylum was burnt to the ground did not surprise me either. Given the poor and extreme conditions, it had to happen pretty much.

    This was not an easy book to read, and it may well be the hardest one in my list for the "12 Books, 12 Months" challenge I recently began. I am glad I got it out of the way early. This is by no means a "light" book. It is very depressing; it gives a view of society at its worst, and it shows how easily society can degrade and fall apart. All it takes is some catastrophe or apocalyptic event, and all hell will break loose. If you remember events like Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, or just know some history of failed nations, you know that we are pretty much a step away from the hellish chaos. In the novel, compassion and kindness end on the losing end for most of the book as the doctor and his ward eventually have to use violence to get the food that was stolen from them by the Room 3 thugs. As much as it pains the doctor, it's either that or starve. While there is some credit, so to speak, given to good deeds and kindness at the end, overall, the message is you may well need to be ruthless even to do the right thing. If you already have a negative view of humanity, this book will only serve to affirm it.

    Saramago's novel is also difficult due to its style. There are no number chapters. It uses long sentences in long paragraphs and lots of commas. Conversation lines are often not separated. Chapters are separated by blank spaces. Thus the book goes on without allowing much pause. This might work better on other books. Other Latin American authors I like, for instance, use the same or close to the same style, but their works are better. This is specially so when it comes to pacing. Saramago's novel is extremely slow in its pace, especially in the parts taking place in the asylum. While the blindness plague strikes suddenly (and ends just as suddenly), much of the time in the novel and the narrative slows down after the outbreak. In addition, characters are not named; they are identified by some trait or profession such as the Doctor, the Doctor's Wife, and the Woman with Dark Glasses. Once you get used to it, the technique of not using names works, but it can be a bit disorienting at first. On doing a little bit of reading about the author after finishing the novel, I learned that this nameless technique is very common in his books.

    I've wanted to read a novel by Saramago for a while. For one, he is a Nobel literature laureate. However, now that my curiosity has been satisfied, I will probably not read another of his books any time soon. The book does have a smart premise, and it does raise some dark questions that may be uncomfortable to many, but it is not an easy nor flowing reading experience. Still, I am glad that I did try out one of his books. To paraphrase one of the library laws, this book is not really for this reader. But, and this is made clear by many positive reviews on GR, I am sure the book is for some other readers out there, and other readers are for this book.

    View all my reviews

    Monday, October 25, 2010

    If you don't like Facebook or other social media, go find another career

    "I am going to say a few things and I am going to say some bad words, and you're just going to have to deal with it." --Tony Soprano, from the series The Sopranos.

    I struggled for a while about putting this post on the blog after writing about it in my journal. I was hoping I could let it drop, but I find that I cannot because I am honestly getting a little sick and tired of the attitude some people have in our profession that, if you "don't get it" or "play with the latest shiny toy," then you have to be swept out of the way so someone more perky can come in. We can file this under things that bother me. To borrow the term from the Annoyed Librarian, this is about another example of twopointopians using the "us vs. them," the "we get it, you don't," and the "if you don't adapt and use it, you're not welcome here."

    Michael Stephens has a new column in Library Journal, the lightweight library news magazine. In his first column,  he wrote the following, which I did find somewhat arrogant and condescending not to mention alienating. The quote in question is:

    If the online world is not for you, then neither may be a career in librarianship. The most prevalent LIS jobs in the next few years will probably be ones where you’re not tied to your desk and you communicate well beyond the physical walls of the building.

    It’s not just students who should participate in this online world. Librarians must find their niche as well. Five years ago the conversation went on in blogs. Now it flows vibrantly across media platforms, enabling a stronger connection with library users through marketing, outreach, and the human touch. (emphasis in the original).

    Where do I even start? You have to be online but not tied down to a desk. It may sound a bit contradictory at first; that was what the colleague I showed the article to said. But on reading the column, we see that it refers to being constantly plugged in to the mobile device of your choice. Then there is the thing about the human touch. Being constantly online and connected  is not exactly conducive to the human touch. Sooner or later you may have to deal with a real person.

    As I mentioned, I showed a colleague the column, and she had a thing or two to say about it too. One thing she said that stuck with me is the following: in all the rush to teach new technologies and fads, library schools are not teaching how to deal with people like basics such as how to do a proper reference interview. I added during our conversation that no one really teaches how to do good liaison work to future academic librarians, a topic I have written about before in this blog.

    And then I thought about another colleague of mine who wins awards for her scholarship in history as well as provides excellent service to the library and its patrons. She's definitely found her niche, and it does not involve the twopointopian vision of the online world. No Facebook or Twitter for her. Should she give up her career in librarianship because the online world is not for her? If she was entering library school now, would she be told she does not fit in? And before some apologist chimes in, allow me to point out that my colleague is not a Luddite. She avails herself of electronic tools that meet her needs, keeps up as needed, and maintains an excellent local and civil war history website that has received state and national praise. By her admission though, she does not care about Twitter and really has no use for Facebook nor a lot of online social media. Should we have kept her out of librarianship because the online world, as narrowly defined by some people, is not for her?

    I write and raise these questions as someone who has found places in the online world. I also use social media (feel free to check the right side column in this blog for links to my various profiles). I use online social media tools in my work as well as for my professional development. I am still figuring out my niche, but that is part of the learning process for me. But I do know that my niche does not include the attitude of "you either get it or you don't, and if you don't, we don't want you here." That attitude has bothered me since the earliest days when the term Library 2.0 was emerging (some of my earlier thoughts on L2 here, here, here, and here).And it bothers me now. When people ask if I am sorry that I became a librarian or have any regrets, I can usually that I like what I do. But statements like the one by Stephens make me wonder because I do not want to be associated with such attitudes.

    "Oh, oh, Anthony. He's a big boy, he knows what he said." --Tommy DeVito, from the film Goodfellas.

    And no, I am not going to "try to look at it in a charitable light." That is a cop-out. He wrote it, with the backing of his reputation, and he clearly stands by it in making it public. Now, he can choose to dig in his heels, expand the statement or try to clarify it, but the statement is out there, and it seems pretty clear.

    Personally, for what little my opinion is worth, the statement seems divisive. I see plenty of excellent librarians who work hard, provide excellent service to their patrons, and the online world is not really for them. I don't think they should be deprived of a career because they are not interested in Facebook or lack a Flickr fetish.

    Is there dead weight in librarianship, including some coming out of library school even as we speak? Yes, ther is, and that needs to be weeded out. But exclusion on the basis of not being interested in doing reference via an iPad or laptop in some cafe should not be part of the exclusion criteria. Many talented librarians who do cataloging, reader's advisory, acquisitions and other technical services, and yes, even front line reference do great work and don't need nor have an interest in the online world.

    Monday, October 18, 2010

    Or you can use your local library and save some more

    I was intrigued by Chris Guillebeau's post for the Powell's blog entitled "Skip Graduate School, Save $32,000, Do This Instead." Don't get me wrong. I do like a lot of the advice in it, and I understand he is working for a bookstore after all. But these are tight times, and for some of the book suggestions he gives you really are better off borrowing the items from your local public library (or academic library if you happen to already be in school).Your library will probably have a lot of the basics and classics Mr. Guillebeau suggests, and they won't cost you a thing (well, you already paid for them either with your taxes or tuition depending on your situation, so you may as well use them). So allow me to highlight some items from the post and tell you how to get them. By the way, another useful tool is WorldCat, the OCLC's world catalog, which now has a nice free version. Type in your book title, and it can locate a library nearby that has your book. Heck, I even have it loaded on my smartphone.

    And yes, this is a basic promo post for libraries. 

    So, here we go. I will present the author's suggestions, then my humble observations:

    • "Subscribe to The Economist and read every issue religiously. Cost: $97 + 60 minutes each week." Read it at your local public library, which is likely to subscribe to it already. Cost then would be free. And if you need additional information about something you read in the magazine, you can always ask the reference librarian. 
    • "Read the basic texts of the major world religions: the Torah, the New Testament, the Koran, and the teachings of Buddha. Visit a church, a mosque, a synagogue, and a temple. Cost: Materials can be obtained free online or in the mail — or for less than $50 + 20 hours." If you go to the library, these will pretty much be free. Libraries usually keep a copy of major world religion texts both for reference as well as for readers. He does make a good point: you can often get materials free from the religious organizations (this does vary from group to group). The idea of visiting places of worship I think is a good one, and it is one I think more people should do. It certainly is one I should try out some more; besides Catholic church, I've only been inside some Protestant churches, usually because someone I knew had some function I was invited to. In terms of reading the texts, I think I have a good track record, but there are still a few more out there to read. 
    • " Read at least 30 nonfiction books and 20 classic novels. Cost: approximately $750 (be sure to support Powell's!)" Again, go to your local library. However, I will say this with a bit of a grain of salt. If the books you want to read are things you will only read once, definitely borrow them. If you think you will reread them or need them later, then do buy them. For classics, you can read a lot of them online via things like Project Gutenberg, which also has option for downloading e-books of classics to your reading device. The cost is pretty much free, unless you sprung for a reading device. Also, I would try to be a bit selective about what books to read. There are a lot of "classics" which are, to be blunt, a waste of time (or to be charitable, may not be the best for you as a reader).As for nonfiction, if all you read is Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter, Bill O'Reilly, or Keith Olbermann (what, you thought I was just going to only mention right wing people?), you won't get very far in your education. Need help deciding what to read? Many public libraries have librarians who specialize in reader's advisory. Ask them what may be good to read. And yes, I do reader's advisory too, so you can ask me as well.
    • "Instead of reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, read The Know-It-All by A. J. Jacobs, a good summary. Cost: $10 or less." If Jacobs' other book is any indication, this one is one to borrow, not buy. The book is not bad, just not a keeper. 
    Do read the rest of the original post, since there are some good ideas there, but for a lot of the books, you can borrow them as needed.  However, if you decide to support your favorite bookstore, I am not stopping you.

      Friday, October 15, 2010

      Some idle thoughts on handwriting

      I was recently reading a story out of The Wall Street Journal entitled "How Handwriting Boosts the Brain." The author reports that researchers say there are good cognitive benefits to handwriting. It turns out that kids in general are losing those benefits because they are not learning how to write by hand in school or at home. You can thank the ubiquity of keyboards and texting devices for that. Even adults who may have learned handwriting and penmanship in school seem to be losing out on the benefits as they give up handwriting for keyboards. However, not all is lost. According to the article, "but in an interesting twist, new software for touch-screen devices, such as the iPad, is starting to reinvigorate the practice." It seems the old is new again. Plus, it also seems that adults learning to write by hand later in life can gain some benefit. In fact, according to P. Murali Doraiswamy, a neuroscientist at Duke University, "as more people lose writing skills and migrate to the computer, retraining people in handwriting skills could be a useful cognitive exercise."

      Reading the article took me back to 7th grade Catholic school. Yes, I am a Catholic school survivor (no, not that kind of survivor though, thank the deity of your choice). Back then, I had to practice penmanship in religion class. Penmanship was a big part of the grade. We kept a separate notebook where we took dictation from the Catechism-- questions and answers that had to be neatly and carefully written out. I had some very elegant script back then. Now some may view that as old fashioned rote memorization, but as I wrote the original draft for this post in my journal I could not help but think that the Brothers were on to something.

      Even though I am a heathen now, you can ask me any question today about Roman Catholic practice and doctrine, and odds are very good I will know the answer even if I have to pause for a moment to translate it into English if needed since the lessons were in Spanish. In addition, the practice of penmanship made me very comfortable with writing by hand. In addition to keeping a personal journal, which I have done for years now, I still write out a lot of my drafts by hand before I type them out. This post started out in my journal. I don't always move things out of my journal to the blog, but I have often explored ideas on paper before taking them online. And some things do remain in the privacy of my journal. Overall, I do feel that I can think better, more freely when I write by hand. Don't get me wrong; I can draft very well on a keyboard but given a choice I still prefer to write by hand. My handwriting is not as elegant as it was in 7th grade. This is mostly because I tend to write faster now, but it is still neat and legible (enough so that people who notice do praise it now and then). Cursive writing and penmanship overall have served me well for writing and expressing my ideas. I may have evolved into a blogger, but keeping a journal in paper is still my passion and outlet. And I would not be able to keep a journal without good handwriting. So, who knew? It turns out those lessons and drills were good for my brain too.

      Wednesday, October 06, 2010

      Article note: On methods of academic librarian liaisons

      Citation for the article:

      Thull, James and Mary Anne Hansen, "Academic Library Liaison Programs in US Libraries: Methods and Benefits." New Library World 110.11/12 (2009): 529-540.

      Read via Emerald.

      This is another article discussing academic librarians and liaison work. This one looks a bit more at some of the theoretical foundations rather than just giving tips on technology use by liaisons like the previous article I read. As I stated in that previous article, the topic of liaison work for academic librarians is not one that is taught well in library schools, so reading in this area should be of interest to academic librarians. The Thull and Hansen article I read for this post provides a definition of liaison work and looks at some activities and practices for liaisons. I found this article particularly valuable because it includes a survey instrument for faculty; the tool is something I can modify and add to the survey I am currently working on for my liaison activities here.

      The authors start with their literature review, where they look at the RUSA definitions for liaison work. They state that our clientele are faculty and students and that serving their needs is our primary goal. This is consistent with what we practice here, and I am sure other librarians will agree. The authors go on to mention that library users expect to find their information wherever they may be. Now, regardless of how unrealistic that expectation is or ill-informed like this guy who clearly does not understand how access to electronic scholarly sources really works. (and we could go into that topic some other time. And in the case of the guy, that he was a researcher and still does not get it is shameful), that expectation is there, and we have to address it. Folks think that everything is on Google and online. It does not matter that we know better. The fact is we have to educate others about the reality-- no, Google does not have everything. No, everything is not online. No, everything online is not free. In the end, we compete with Google and the Internet, and as the authors argue, our personal relationships with our departments may well be the best way to counter those unrealistic expectations while adding some value.

      Some more notes from the article:

      "Where libraries excel over Google is in providing reliable and authoritative sources of information" (531).
       Yes, we excel in providing added value, to borrow the business term. Anyone can run a Google search. Finding the good, reliable stuff is the real issue, and we are the ones who are masters at finding that good, reliable stuff (and we'll be happy to show you how to do it too).

      A lot of the basic message in the article is for liaisons to be proactive. This includes being a marketer for the libraries. However, I tend to have a small problem with the idea given that it seems to let faculty off the hook. You see, if they don't hear from us, or rather choose to ignore us, then it must be our fault. While I certainly do believe in marketing, after all I work in outreach, there does come a moment when the faculty have to choose to get off their collective behinds and go to the library, or at the very least use the online resources effectively. And another thing articles like this often fail to mention in the rush to be optimistic is that there can be such a thing as too much marketing. As anyone who hates spam can attest, after a while, people will tune the messages out. The authors argue for being a library ambassador, which I certainly agree with since I do it every single day both as a liaison as the outreach librarian. Yes, we can and should be involved in things like faculty meetings, accreditation events, and other departmental events.

      And sometimes you should go to some of those departmental events just for the fun of it. Our music librarian is a perfect example. The lady goes to every student concert and recital she can manage. It shows support for her students and faculty; it shows that the library, or at least some people in the library, have an interest in what the students do, and it shows that we can be interested in a way other than "pushing" what the library can do for you. I have always told her she should write a paper on some of her liaison work because she combines the actual marketing that many of these folks do with basic common sense. While a lot of these articles are big on using social software or technology, she still uses the personal touch, something I have advocated for before, and it works. She has strong departmental relationships with a combination of proactivity and genuine interest. Would that work for everybody? Maybe, maybe not, but I think that social angle is one to explore further. Or as she tells me when we get a small break to talk about what we do, "all that socializing we do is actually work. If only the powers that be would understand that."

      Yet, not all the techniques you try to market the library work. As I mentioned, at times, the faculty do have to choose to show up for things. For instance, we have attempted the open house approach for faculty at the beginning of the academic year. We put a lot of effort into the publicity of the event and making sure our librarians are present. Faculty just consistently chose to attend. They clearly conveyed their lack of interest by their absence, so we decided to discontinue the event in favor of seeing if we can catch faculty, especially the new ones, in their offices. I mention this because a lot of the literature on the topic of liaison work fails to state the obvious-- it is a two-way street (or at least it should be a two-way street). No one ever addresses when the faculty choose to ignore you outright on the basis of "as long as I can get my research done in my office online, what do I need the library for?" Yes, that does happen even if a lot of librarians do not talk about it. I am talking about the faculty that you only hear about when they call the reference desk furious because their favorite database suddenly went down (hey, technical hiccups happen). I am talking about the faculty who complain that their students cannot do research (uh, you did see the information I have sent you in various forms on library instruction? Did you get my e-mails or other marketing on research consultations? Oh, you say you don't read the library's e-mails--yes, I have actually gotten that reply once or twice). Like I often tell my students, the tools are there, you do have to choose to use them. The authors discuss the issue of not all patrons being swayed, or rather they sort of mention it in passing:

      "That being said, it should be acknowledged that some potential patrons will not swayed. Academic librarians should strive to educate all potential library users about the array of services and resources offered while recognizing that not everyone will be convinced to tap into library resources" (535).
      Was it really that hard to say that? This reminds me of the days when I was in teacher training to become a school teacher where I had to eventually learn the lesson that you teach as if you were reaching every student, but you have to know that you will not reach all of them; you will lose some of them; a good number of them will fail and drop. It is a given. This is not that much different. We can work with idealism but being aware of the reality.

      A couple of quotes from the article that are good and I want to jot down:
      • "Being a marketer for the library essentially means selling the libraries resources and services to patrons and demonstrating why the libraries (sic) resources are better, showing them how librarians can help them and their students become better researchers through the reference and instruction services libraries offer" (532). Yes, and we have our work cut out for us. We have to show where we add that value. 
      • "Libraries can have the greatest available services and resources but if their patrons are not using them then they are for naught" (532). 
      The authors also bring up the all-time faculty excuse for not having library instruction-- we can't give up class time for it. I will be blunt: that is male bovine excrement. If you as a faculty member think that your students learning information literacy and learning how to do good research for your class is important, then you can make the time to provide instruction for it. It's called good planning. I honestly don't think faculty should get a free pass on this one under the "I have no time" rubric. Make the time, or otherwise you have no standing to complain when your students turn "research" based on Wikipedia, especially if we offered you options for library instruction and/or research consultations. The authors do list some compromises in lieu of this situation, and I suppose that in the end some solution is better than no solution. But we all know what really should be done. In the meantime, we will continue as liaisons to be creative and try to get our students the services they need.

      Another quote that caught my attention: "Perseverance is necessary; it takes time, patience, and tenacity to cultivate effective liaison relationships" (535). That is something I have always said, and it is something I wish certain library directors who want quick results and stuff for "statistical reports" would understand. You have to cultivate those relationships. That process can and does take time, especially if you have a brand new liaison librarian trying to learn their way around an academic community (and if it is a small school with small town mentalities, the time factor may well take longer--that could well be someone's article too).

      The authors additionally offer some suggestions and tips for getting to know a liaison area better. This is specially useful for those who get an area they themselves may not know well. It should not be an issue for a good librarian to learn what it takes to serve a liaison area. After all, we are good generalists and more importantly, we know how to learn and how to find the information we need. A good librarian is always keeping up and seeking to increase their knowledge.

      I thought this was a statement of the obvious: "Institutional support that facilitates training opportunities in outreach and instruction for librarians is one key component of the liaison program" (536). Your library administration as well as your campus administration has to support your liaison work. Information and knowledge grow and change over time, and one has to keep up. Just because you got your MLS, it does not mean you stop learning or that you have no need for further training. For the institutions, I say this is a form of putting your money where you mouth is. You want good liaisons, provide support and continuing education for them. Otherwise, you reap what you sow, or rather fail to sow.

      The final part of the article discusses the survey the authors conducted, and there are some insights in that part of the article worth looking at. As I mentioned, the survey instrument itself is useful as well. In the end, you can't just go by anecdotal evidence. You have to investigate to find out what are the actual campus needs in relation to the library, then act accordingly.

      Monday, October 04, 2010

      Following up on the academic librarian bloggership survey

      Just for kicks, I decided to answer the list of questions provided in the Hendricks article I recently read. The survey was looking into whether academic libraries or their universities view blogging as an academic endeavor good enough for tenure and promotion.

      I will include the questions, then provide my answers (in italics) to the best of my ability. If nothing else, this is mostly a reflection exercise.

      • What is your title? My current title is Reference/Outreach Librarian
      • Is this a staff, faculty, or administrative position? This is a staff position. However, in my campus, librarians have this odd position. We are not seen as faculty (because we are staff), but we do have a voting seat in the faculty senate. I do not know all the history behind getting that concession (it happened before my time), but I do know the faculty gave it reluctantly. I am ready to admit asking me about this may not be the best idea. I personally do not think librarians should be faculty, but there are a couple of colleagues here who think differently, and one who at least views this as a way to springboard into getting a scale (Librarian I, II, III or similar) implemented. Not something I necessarily like, but it is what it is. On the other hand, the rest of the staff do not see us necessarily as one of them because we are academics. Officially, this is a staff position
      • If you are faculty or administrative, what is your rank? N/A.
      • Is this a tenure-track position? No
      • What is your age? Generation X. If this was the anonymous survey with the confidentiality, I'd give the age. But I don't think I need to give that out publicly
      • How many years have you held this position? Three years (entering my 4th year now)
      • How many years have you been at your current institution? The same three years as the previous question
      • Does your institution expect you to publish scholarly articles and/or engage in scholarly activities? No expectation to publish scholarly articles. To be honest, I don't think the administration cares one way or the other. As for scholarly activities, encouragement of that is lukewarm at best. It falls under "it is nice if you do it, but it is not required." Besides, given the pretty bad budget cuts we've had, which include hefty travel restrictions, the administration really cannot expect us to do much of anything in terms of things like conferences, and they pretty much know it. And while the administration says they would consider paying for something if it is directly relevant to your work (so, attending say a conference that is not LIS stuff to present, which I have done for my subject areas, would be totally out of the question), the guilt trip they put you through for asking may well not be worth the hassle of asking. So overall, no expectation in regards to publishing scholarly articles or engaging in scholarly activities. If it were not for my personal efforts to keep up, write and reflect as I do now, I probably would not do much of anything scholarly.
      • Please list which library or (library-related) blogs you regularly read. I have a big list of library and library-related blogs in my feed reader. Some I regularly read include the following: The Society for Librarians Who Say Mofo, Off the Mark, Shelf-Check, Zenformation Professional, Annoyed Librarian, Academic Librarian, Walt at Random (plus the "usual suspects" most academic librarians usually mention like Free Range Librarian, Information Wants to be Free, Tame the Web, Librarian in Black, Librarian.net, ACRLog, Kept-Up Librarian) and a bunch of others I am too tired to type out now.
      • Of those blogs, do you consider any of them to be scholarly? I would say Academic Librarian by