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.