Monday, October 24, 2011

Webinar Notes: Inside Google +

I listened to this webinar (audio archive link) provided by Social Media Today on August 23, 2011. This was shortly after G+ came out, and people were trying to make sense of it. I am catching up on blogging my notes now. Nothing fancy here, just my notes as I listened to the webinar.

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Google + is a combination of Facebook, Twitter, and Linked-In. It is not a replacement for Facebook at this time.
  • The Circles increase privacy. It is the strongest feature of G+, adding a better illusion of privacy. Circles feature allows privacy for people within a circle. Not everyone needs to see everything. 
There is no option at the moment for brands, businesses, etc. on G+.

Some Circles are pre-started. A Circle is a group; you can add other Circles as you see fit.
  • You can people to multiple Circles. 
  • You can post content then to specific circles. 
  • Currently, the people in a Circle do not know you have them in a Circle. Could Google change this later? 
Google is currently (as of this writing) insisting on a "real name" policy. This is a significant privacy concern. Even some real name folks have had their accounts canceled. This may seem to be a double-standard given, for example, celebrities being able to keep a pseudonym/celebrity name (like Lady Gaga).

Google+ is integrating with Google Search. This is significant given the collapse of Google's deal with Twitter for real search.

After the initial traffic boom, it seems G+ traffic may be declining. It does not seem as demographically diverse (a lot of male Caucasian, computer "geeks" was the suggestion made. Note, this may have changed now that G+ is more open). G+ is 65% male, and 7 of the top ten professions for folks in it are in technology.

Note that there is no connection between the G+1 on websites and getting a +1 on your G+. In other words, this does not seem to work like Facebook "likes." There is no integration, which may be an issue. It shows that G+ is not really talking to other networks.
  • However, there is a little war going between Facebook and Google. Facebook makes it easy to import contacts and other information from other places and services. However, Facebook does not reciprocate. Thus, Google closes off to Facebook on this. Facebook even blocked G+ invitation links. 
Google+ does allow marketing at large given that what you post is "findable." With Facebook, you have to build your network first, then post outwards to that network. On Google+, you can post directly, then build the network, which can be good for marketing.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Booknote: Teachers as Cultural Workers

I debated for a while whether I wanted to post this review or not in the blog. I was reading this book during ACRL Immersion this past summer (mostly during the trip back and forth and in the evenings before bed). I have been meaning to write down some of my reflections from that experience here in the blog, but the daily grind at work means that has gotten sent to the back burner. Then again, a lot of my blogging has been sent to the back burner as of late, but let us look past that for now. I am posting my small review as I posted it on my GoodReads profile, and then I will jot down a couple of ideas from the book that I jotted down in my personal journal that are worth sharing (well, to me anyways).

Teachers as Cultural Workers (Edge, Critical Studies in Educational Theory)Teachers as Cultural Workers by Paulo Freire

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I finished this a couple of days ago, but it took me a while to finally get around to reviewing it. I am giving it three stars, but it is not because it is a bad book. The book can be a bit repetitive, especially if you have read some of Freire's other works, and a few passages can be a little dry. Having said that, there is a lot in this book for teachers and educators to reflect upon. I found myself making notes in my personal journal at various times, jotting down passages and quotes I wanted to remember for later. Freire covers a lot of ground in this book from the teaching of reading to the behavior of teachers, from the teaching act to political action and activism. I think a lot of what Freire wrote in this book is very relevant today if educators would take the time to read the book, reflect on it, then take action. I also think that the book has a lot to say to librarians, who are educators as well, and who often do a lot of teaching (especially if you are an instruction librarian, but even at the reference desk some degree of teaching goes on). Some of it also speaks to our profession in terms of the idea of library neutrality, a topic I have considered before (I have a book just on that topic listed in my GoodReads lists if anyone is interested).

I took this book with me when I went to Immersion (ACRL Institute on Information Literacy for those not in librarianship, an intensive institute for instruction librarians) this past summer. In part, I was looking for a bit of inspiration. I think I also longed to read something that is not necessarily present in the Immersion curriculum (or if it is, it is very well hidden or unacknowledged). I think Freire has a lot that can speak to librarians, if we take the time to listen.

View all my reviews

Additional notes from and about the book:

Freire gives a suggestion on writing:

"If we think about the intimate relationship between reading, writing, and thinking and about our need to intensely experience this relationship, we might accept the suggestion that at least three times a week we should devote ourselves to the task of writing something. That writing could be notes about something read, a commentary about some event reported in the media, a letter to an unknown person--it doesn't matter what. It is also a good idea to date and keep these writings and, a few months later, critically analyze them" (45-46). 

This sounded to me like a pretty good argument for keeping and writing in a personal journal, which is something I have been doing for years now, even if not in the most consistent way. This may also be another explanation, for me, of why I keep a journal. I need to experience that intimate relationship between reading, writing and thinking. I have expressed before in some previous writings of mine that writing helps me think and work out ideas. Lately I have been doing more writing in my personal journal than blogging. Part of it has been time constraints. Work has been very busy, and at the end of the day, it is easier to just write in my journal for a while than fire up the computer and open the blogging program. Another reason is that, to be honest, a lot of the drama in the librarian sector of the blogosphere just does not interest me, so I would rather just not blog about certain things. I am still reading a bit of the library literature; I just have not gotten around to blogging some of those notes.

There are a few other things I jotted down, but I am choosing not to blog them here. However this passage on progressive educators moved me, and it made me think about our profession as well. Freire writes:

"Progressive educators need to convince themselves that they are not only teachers--this doesn't exist-- not only only teaching specialists. We are political militants because we are teachers. Our job is not exhausted in the teaching of math, geography, syntax, history. Our job implies that we teach these subjects with sobriety and competence, but it also requires our involvement in and dedication to overcoming social injustice" (103-104). 

That may be a large reason why I became first a teacher and then a librarian. In fact, I think this is very applicable to to librarians, especially those of us in reference and instruction. To me, this takes me back once more to the question of library neutrality. How neutral can we really in a world of social injustice? I know what I would answer, but I also know a lot of my professional brethren choose to ignore the issue, evade it, or in some cases just do not care. And as Forrest Gump would say, "that's all I got to say about that." By the way, if you are interested in the topic of library neutrality, this book may be of interest.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Booknote: The Surrogates, 12 Books, 12 Months Challenge, Book 12

With The Surrogates, I come to the end of the 12 Books, 12 Months Challenge. I did cut it close there at the end. I will admit that was part of the reason I put in a couple of graphic novels into the list. I can read those a bit faster, so I could move along the list a bit quicker as needed. By finishing today (actually, I finished the book last night, but I did not get to write the review until today), I managed to get the challenge done before the September 5 deadline. I will say this was a bit challenging because I tend to read a lot by serendipity. There were moments when I just did not really feel like reading a book on the list when I had other things I was more interested in. The challenge did give me the chance to read some books that had been sitting on my shelves for a while, and that is a good thing. I also got to read a pretty eclectic selection, and that is also a good thing. Now that the challenge is done, I am moving along with other books. My three readers may want to tune back in at the end of this year or early part of next year where I will post my annual reading list and reading reflection.

Here is the review of the book as I posted it on my GoodReads profile:

The SurrogatesThe Surrogates by Robert Venditti

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Only thing I will say upfront not so positive is that I had a bit of mixed feelings at the end, which I will not reveal because I think this book deserves to be read. And to be honest, an ending that does make you think a bit is a good thing. It certainly is something you do not get often when you think of graphic novels and comics. So, that out of the way, let's look at the rest of the book.

The book is a nice blend of a police procedural/mystery and science fiction. In a world where humans now have the option to live their lives via mechanical surrogates, people do not have to leave their homes and worry about anything. But they can still go to work, so on. The authors did excellent work thinking about the implications of such a society, and they really do an excellent work bringing it to life. In this world, there is a terrorist that destroys surrogates in a quest to make the world go back to living a real life. The protagonist is the detective tasked with stopping him. Among the suspects is a cult leader who leads a faction that sees surrogates as aberrations. This all has the makings of a very good story, and the authors do deliver on that front.

The art is not too realistic, but the style matches the gritty, kind of noir setting the authors wish to evoke. It does feel right in relation to the story. In addition, the book has textual materials (news articles, a brochure for surrogates, so on) that add to the authenticity of the story. I will warn that if you are more of a visual reader, taking the time to read some of these extras found at the end of each chapter can slow your reading pace a bit. But I think readers will find some of the materials interesting. Additionally, this particular edition has a series of extras after the story: a deleted scene, author commentary, so on. If you like knowing how a comic is crafted, you may enjoy reading through this part.

This is the comic series that gave basis to the recent The Surrogates film. I have not seen it, but knowing Hollywood, I have a feeling they probably mucked it up. But being curious, I will likely watch it if I get a chance. Overall, this is one of the best graphic novels I have read so far this year. It has a good story, depth, good art, and good science fiction.

View all my reviews

Update Note (9/4/11): Mark Lindner, who was also doing the challenge, has posted his tally and reflection on his challenge. Note he did read quite a challenging list. I went a bit easy on my self by adding the graphic novels. And hey, a list with Borges in it is definitely a plus for me. Go on and have a look.  

Update Note (10/2/11): Latter Day Bohemian has posted the final roundup for the challenge. Have a look. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Booknote: Killer Stuff and Tons of Money, 12 Books, 12 Months Challenge, Book 11

I am almost done. I am currently reading the last book for the challenge, and I should have it done by the weekend.

(Disclosure note to keep the FCC happy. I received this book from the publisher as a prize from a GoodReads book giveaway).

Before I go on with the review itself, I am adding for my reference a small list of books that I think have similar reader appeal factors. I have read the books I am listing below:

  • Bruce Littlefield, Garage Sale America.
  • Alton Brown, Feasting on Asphalt: The River Run
  • Kyle Jarrard, Cognac
  • Josh Peter, Fried Twinkies, Buckle Bunnies, and Bull Riders.
And now, the review itself as I posted it on my GoodReads page:

Killer Stuff and Tons of Money: Seeking History and Hidden Gems in Flea-Market AmericaKiller Stuff and Tons of Money: Seeking History and Hidden Gems in Flea-Market America by Maureen Stanton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I finally finished the book. I finished it about a week ago, but it took me a while to find the time to write the review. And I am glad I finally got to it because this is a book worth sharing with others.

Stanton spends time with and "shadows" Curt Avery (a pseudonym), a mid-range antiques dealer (you learn from reading this book that there is a hierarchy when it comes to antiques and those who deal in them). Curt may well be one of the few remaining passionate, knowledgeable, and honest dealers in a business that seems to be declining and under siege by fakes, reproductions, and less than scrupulous folks. Why does he continue? Some of it may be just habit, but a lot of it is that the man has found his passion in life. Stanton does an excellent job in presenting a portrait of Avery as wll as giving us an excellent look at the world of antiques trading.

Much of the book concentrates on following Avery from one antiques show to the next. This is often a cutthroat business where mistakes (buying something you thought was real but turns ou to be a fake, for instance) can be costly, and in rare times you just might find that one items out of nowhere that makes you a fortune. Between those two extremes, you have the middle of the road trading. In this middle path, you buy something, hope to resell it for a modest profit, then repeat the process again. This is a cycle that requires knowledge (often hard won knowledge), patience, a very good eye, and sometimes luck.

Traveling with Avery already makes for a pretty good book. Stanton gives us more. In between visits with Avery, the author has written good informative chapters on the trade and the history of collecting and antiques. For example, there is a chapter on the human habit of collecting things. Think about that for a moment. Odds are good you have a small collection of something in your home now. Whether it's comic books, pens, match books, stamps, or any other object, many people collect something. Most people collect things just for the fun of it with no intention to sell or make money.

Stanton does visit a comic book convention and takes a look at the comic book trade, by the way. Additionally, her chapter on the show Antiques Roadshow (AR from here on) gives an excellent discussion and a good look behind the scenes of the show. Stanton points out how AR, along with shows it has spawned, has created false expectations in viewers from thinking anything old is valuable (it is not) to just a matter of finding something in the attic. The reality is very different than what we see on television. The books goes a long way to dispel myths about antiques and collectibles and about those who trade and collect them. This is definitely a strength in the book.

Stanton covers a lot of ground, but she provides an accessible book that is a pleasure to read. There were a couple of passages, mostly in Chapter 8--the chapter on thieves and fakers--that were a little too technical and dry, but do not let that deter you. This is a book to read at a leisurely pace with your favorite relaxing beverage. You will be entertained, and you will learn a lot as well.

(In keeping disclosure rules, to keep the FCC happy, I am revealing I received this book from the publisher as part of a GoodReads giveaway).

View all my reviews

Monday, August 29, 2011

Booknote: The Lost World and Other Stories, 12 Books, 12 Months Challenge, Book 10

I am moving along with the challenge. I did finish another book, which will be #11, but I have yet to write the review. I will likely post that review later in the week. And I am in the middle of reading the last one. So, I am basically on the final stretch. It looks like I am going to cut it close, but I will get done on time if all goes well.

Here is the review as I posted it on my GoodReads page:

The Lost World and Other StoriesThe Lost World and Other Stories by Arthur Conan Doyle

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I went between giving this two and three stars. I settled for three, for in the end I like the concept. It turns out I had read this before years ago; I was probably a teenager when I did it, so remembering back to those days was interesting.

This particular edition collects the Professor Challenger stories written by Conan Doyle. The Lost World is likely the most well-known, and it has been the basis (loosely or otherwise) of other works from Indiana Jones to Crichton's Jurassic Park. If you enjoy those works, you will likely enjoy this book. However, I will say this book is closer in feel and appeal to the works of writes like Jules Verne (for instance, Journey to the Center of the Earth), H.G. Wells, and H. Rider Haggard (King Solomon's Mines). If you enjoy those writers, you will like this book.

The novel is kind of slow in the beginning, so it took me a while to get into it. Once you get into the adventure itself, it moves along like any other adventure yarn. Professor Challenger is quite the obnoxious genius. Brilliant, but not like Sherlock Holmes in terms of personality. This may irritate some readers, but overall, Challenger is a strong character readers will enjoy. I know I did, and I even had a small smile of amusement or two as I read. More irritating to me was the idea of Malone, the reporter, who goes on the expedition with Challenger to impress a woman (and I will not say more of that woman to avoid potential spoilers). I suppose it does show a certain Victorian ideal, of the man going into the wilderness to conquer something and put his name on it, but Conan Doyle could have left her out and the story would have been fine.

So, this is a pretty good book, but it is not a great one. I personally prefer H. Rider Haggard's works for this kind of tale, but this is a good example of the science fiction, or science romance, genre, and thus it is worth reading.

View all my reviews

Monday, August 22, 2011

Booknote: Conan, Volume 4: The Halls of the Dead and Other Stories, 12 Books, 12 Months Challenge, Book 9

We are getting down to the final stretch on the 12 Books, 12 Months Challenge. This week I am tackling the graphic novel selections in my list. I saved some of the easier stuff for the end in the hopes it would make things easier. However, I still have two full books to read to complete the challenge. I am in the middle of what may end up being number ten or eleven, Killer Stuff and Tons of Money. Anyhow, here is my short review as posted on my GoodReads profile.

Conan Volume 4: The Halls of the Dead and Other StoriesConan Volume 4: The Halls of the Dead and Other Stories by Kurt Busiek

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I continue to enjoy this series put out by Dark Horse. However, this particular volume marks a transition as the series changes authors and artists. There is some work from the initial authors of the series, and then work from new writers, including Mike Mignola, of Hellboy fame. Conan is still a young thief, and he is quite brash, often reckless; he is that youthful stage where you think you are invincible and nothing can touch you. When he beds the wife of a local magistrate, the hunt for him is on. Also, since he has been basically showing off to the other thieves in the local area, they resent him and are trying to bring him down a peg or two. Add to this his adventure in the Hall of the Dead, where he goes in search of some mythical treasure, and you have quite a good set of tales.

The nice thing about this series is that it brings to life the stories of Robert E. Howard as well as adds new tales to the legend. The art continues to be very good, and it is very suited to this type of fantasy tale. We'll have to see if the authors can keep the quality down the road, but so far, it is an entertaining series.

If you are getting ready to watch the new Conan movie in theaters, this series may be a good place to look and get a feel for the real character. The other option is to read Howard's books. But if you want a visual tale, this series is very good.

View all my reviews

Friday, July 15, 2011

Booknote: The Compleat Boucher: 12 Books, 12 Months, Book 8

I am very slowly catching up on my reading. I still have until September to finish up, so I have faith I will get there. I just finished this (ok, finished it last night). It was, like the 7th book I read for the challenge, a big anthology, so it took me some time. However, this is very different than the previous book I read for the challenge. The Ultramarines Omnibus was pretty much a fun, light read for the most part. This book is a bit more serious. I mean that as in "this is a serious book" tone (not that light or serious are necessarily bad things. I enjoy both kinds of books, but I think using the labels may help some readers out there). But I will say that if you want to read good, classic science fiction, with some fantasy and even some sprinklings of other genres, then you want to pick up this volume. As I mentioned in my short review for GoodReads, I felt like I was reading science fiction as it was written when it was in the heyday of the mid-20th century. I really think readers who enjoy classic science fiction, yes, going back to the pulps, will definitely enjoy this. However, do not let the "pulp" label deceive you. There are some very good, well thought-out and substantial stories in this collection. I had no idea before reading this that Boucher could be as versatile as he was. Very cool book I will likely be revisiting.

The review, as I posted it on my GoodReads profile:

The Compleat Boucher: The Complete Short Science Fiction & Fantasy of Anthony BoucherThe Compleat Boucher: The Complete Short Science Fiction & Fantasy of Anthony Boucher by Anthony Boucher

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is another case of a big collection that took me a while to get through. I have been reading it on and off for a few months, which is something I often do with long anthologies like this. Having said that, this is a fine example of a science fiction classic. This volume collects the science fiction and fantasy short fiction of Anthony Boucher, who was not only a writer but also a prominent editor of Fantasy and Science Fiction magazine. The collection contains very short stories (two or three pages) and longer pieces that range from light humor fantasy to science fiction to even a little noir and pulp. This is a book to enjoy nice and slow (I rushed through it a bit at the end to catch up on the 12 Books, 12 Months Challenge I am doing. I do not recommend this. This book really deserves to be savored). One of the stories I liked was "The Compleat Werewolf," which is about a professor with a bit of a lycanthropy problem and a femme fatale more than willing to exploit that little problem. I think a strength of this book, as well as other books that NESFA has published, is that it will take you back to the golden days of science fiction. In a way, when folks say "they don't write them like this anymore," this is what they mean. And for me, I know there are some stories I will want to revisit at some point.

View all my reviews

On a final note,Latter Day Bohemian has posted an update of the challenge for Months 9 and 10. My, where has the time gone? I did not get featured in that post, since I ran behind, but I hope to make my last hurrah in the next update. In the meantime, go see what other participants have read.

Booknote: The Ultramarines Omnibus : 12 Books, 12 Months, Book 7

I am falling a bit behind on the challenge. It is not necessarily that I am not reading books. I have been reading a few things out of the list; I tend to read a lot by serendipity. In the case of this book,  The Ultramarines Omnibus, I spent a long time getting through it. Not because the book was bad. Far from it. It was very good, as my review will reflect. But it did take me some time to get through with it; this was basically my bedtime reading for some months. What can I say, I can be a bit of a slow reader when it comes to big volumes, but I do enjoy them. Also, this year is turning out to be a bit of a rough one, so I am getting the feeling that my end of year reading list may be a lot smaller than previous years. In the end, we persevere and move on.

On an update note, I am going to take the liberty and switch out one book out of the original list. The book in question I am switching out is Loung Ung's First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers. For one, as I said, the year is shaping to be a bit rough. Not as rough as 2008, but I feel a need to read something a bit more upbeat. I don't think Ung's book will do much for my mood at this point. Two, I recently received a copy of Killer Stuff and Tons of Money: Seeking History and Hidden Gems in Flea-Market America.Yes, I know, the topic is not as serious, but I need something light. Plus, since I won the book in a GoodReads giveaway, I do feel a bit of an obligation to read it sooner. Adding into the list will allow me to review it for sure since I am reviewing every book I read for the challenge. I will make an update note on the original post to reflect this.

And now, on with the review for this post, which I posted previously on my GoodReads page:

The Ultramarines Omnibus (Warhammer 40,000) (Ultramarines, #1-3)The Ultramarines Omnibus (Warhammer 40,000) by Graham McNeill

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I finally finished this big omnibus. This volume collects the first three novels chronicling the adventures and battles of Space Marine Captain Uriel Ventris and his 4th Company of the Ultramarines. This is all out escapist military science fiction but do not let that label fool you. There is some very good writing in these novels, and at least once I found myself really sympathizing with Captain Ventris. That particular instance for me came in the novel where the inquisitor lied about the fate of a certain planet that Uriel and his Space Marines struggled to save from the tyrannid invasion. There is an excellent passage where Uriel and a Space Marines admiral meditate on idealism and pragmatism that I found excellent. So the novels do have their noble moments, so to speak. And in the good tradition of Black Library WH40K novels, these novels have plenty of action and a fast pace to keep you moving along. Of the three novels in the book, I will note that the third one takes a much darker tone. I will not spoil the ending other than to say that it does set up for the next novel in the series. I liked all the novels, but I think my personal favorite for this volume was the first novel in the series. The connecting short story where Uriel inherits command of the 4th Company is a nice piece as well, and it sets the novels nicely. This is definitely good entertainment, and I will certainly continue seeking out the rest of this series.

The only reason I did not give it the 5th star is that, while I enjoyed it, I still like the Ciaphas Cain and Eisenhorn series better. Also, while I did like the darkness in the third novel (I do like some dark tones now and then), it did not seem as strong as the previous two. Still, do not let that deter you from reading this. If you are a Warhammer 40K fan, you should be reading this. If you are not a WH40K fan, but you enjoy military science fiction, I think you will enjoy this collection as well.

Finally, the only reason it took me as long to read as it did is that I had various interruptions and a very busy schedule in this time period. However, in that time, this was my go to book for my bedtime reading.

View all my reviews

Friday, July 01, 2011

Article Note: On Using Blogs to Teach Students About Scholarly Work

A brief note (if you just want my article note, skip ahead). I noticed that I went on a bit of an unintentional hiatus for the blog.  I am still reading the literature, and I am still keeping up with the profession. Work for one has been a bit rough in terms of keeping me busy (among other things, and I will speak no further on MPOW). Also, I have been writing, but I have been doing a bit more of it in my personal journal (and some random things plus some things that are a bit of fun over in the scratch pad. If you are really curious, the link to Alchemical Thoughts is on the sidebar). In terms of this blog, let me just say I am being very selective about what I may blog about here for various reasons (that I may or not blog about as part of my reflective practice. Some things are better left unsaid). At any rate, if any of my three readers missed me, I am humbled that you did and let this be my small explanation for my absence. I will warn you three that given how things are going lately, the blogging here may get a bit sporadic for a while. If you bear with me, thank you.

* * * * *

Citation for the article: 

Deitering, Anne-Marie and Kate Gronemyer, "Beyond Peer-Reviewed Articles: Using Blogs to Enrich Students' Understanding of Scholarly Work." portal: Libraries and the Academy 11.1 (2011): 489-503. 

Read via Project Muse.

I am keeping a copy of this article for my files. Deitering and Gronemyer offer some good ideas, and their article lists some things I would like to try out in instruction. After reading it, I was asking myself how to apply some of the ideas presented. Maybe the answer to that will be material for another post.

The authors report on work at Oregon State University. They discuss their library instruction work with the university's 200-level composition class (WR 222 is their designation). They are teaching students "new ways to use the participatory Web, browsing through scholarly blogs to find conversations about their topics" (489). The idea of using scholarly blogs caught my eye. It was not surprising as I've had to answer a question or two about blogs and how to evaluate them as information resources. The authors clearly go further, and they have collaboration with their writing faculty.

The usual, typical research paper involves students looking ant citing some magical number of peer-reviewed journal articles. The requirements is almost exclusively peer-reviewed journal articles; "scholarly articles" is another commonly used term, but the typical goal is pretty much the same for the students: go into a database (print indexes are pretty much seen as fossils at this point, even though in some subject areas, most if not all indexed data is in print. But that is another comment for another day), find the magical number of peer-reviewed articles the professor asked for, and make them fit somehow in order to complete the assignment. I've taught composition, so I can say that many low-level students have that mentality. So, how can you deal with that?

Some more questions. This is one I have pondered once or twice when I've actually had some time to reflect. From the ACRL standards and documents to the testimonials and actions of instruction and information literacy librarians in the field, a common point of agreement is that information literacy knowledge and skills form the basis of lifelong learning. However, if a lot of what our library instruction sessions teach is based around how to find what you need in an expensive online proprietary database, what happens when the students graduate, and they no longer have access to those expensive databases if they come to need them? Do we teach alternatives? Do we teach them to think critically? Do we illustrate connections, say promoting the possibility of visiting your public library for access? More importantly, to me at least, do we answer what one of my professors called the "so what?" question? These are some questions I have attempted to address in my practice, and yet there are more challenges. This article discusses these questions and offers some answers.One way they do so is by going back to the idea of the academic conversation.

We need to teach our students not only about the concept of academic conversations. We also need to teach them how the process works and how to located it, research it, and join in. On this, the authors write,

"The conversations scholars have always had about their scholarly work still happen at conferences and along faculty hallways, but today they are also happening online in publicly available forums. In these public spaces, the dialogs become searchable, browsable resources that students can use to see the debates, the arguments, and the intellectual energy beneath the surface of polished, published, scholarly work" (490). 

The authors seek to illustrate how to help students learn about and take advantage of these academic conversations. Learning this skill can help students not only write better papers, but it will help them in creating and exploring their own questions as well. The article then goes on to discuss application with tools such as blogs, academic portals, and other public conversations.

Some notes from the article with some brief thoughts:

  • Reflective thinking goes along with information literacy. In fact, when we teach information literacy effectively, we are exemplifying reflective thinking. "An essential characteristic of reflective thinking is the ability to manage uncertainty, to evaluate potentially contradictory claims, and to evaluate the evidence one uses to construct meaning out of new information" (491). 
  • Students need to be taught about the concept of shared standards used in building knowledge and meaning. This is the process that scholars use, and yet many professors fail to teach this; they take for granted that students either know it already when they get to a specific class or that they'll pick it up along the way. "When we require students to read and analyze these sources without explicitly addressing the intellectual assumptions that govern what and how material comes to be published in this literature, we are asking them to grapple with multiple and often implied intellectual standards that they do not understand and may not know exist" (491). 
  • "A student can find and use peer-reviewed sources without learning that those sources represent a different way of thinking about knowledge. That student can still write a passable research paper and receive a perfectly satisfactory grade, but he or she will not learn as much from the experience as a student who is pushed to question his or her held beliefs about knowledge and learning" (491-492). That passable paper may have working in some other class. When I taught composition, I had student hate me precisely because I forced them to push themselves and raise questions. We need more of that, and we need to illustrate it at all levels of the educational experience. This is another way in which librarians do teach, even if it is just at the reference desk. 
  • Furthermore, "it is important that librarians and faculty both recognize that they need to make some of those unstated assumptions visible to their students if students are to understand what academics really mean when they decide an article is worthy of publication" (493). 
  • "The overarching point to remember is this: informal channels of scholarly communication can enhance information literacy instruction, whether it is delivered by a librarian or a classroom instructor. Instruction librarians should be aware of the ways that scholars in the disciplines they work with are using the Web to communicate. Helping disciplinary faculty to see that there are new ways to connect to students with scholarly research other than the peer-reviewed journal is an important role for librarians to play" (494).
  • Why librarians, as generalists, may have an advantage in teaching information literacy and reflective thinking to students: "Librarians usually teach in disciplines in which they do not do research and can potentially understand where the practice of discipline is confusing to students more easily than their partners among the disciplinary faculty can. It is important that librarians advocate for their students' needs, pointing out gaps that might prevent the students from being successful" (499). One of the most important roles and duties of an instruction librarian is to be an advocate for his or her students. Personally, advocating for my students is part of my teaching and librarianship philosophy, and I am proud to say our current instruction librarian here shares and practices that as well. It can be a challenging path at times, but our students deserve our best effort. 
  • The article makes the point that students need to learn more than just how to use proprietary databases. My colleague and I were just talking about this recently: what happens when students graduate, have information needs, and no longer have access to EBSCO products, so on? This could lead to another post, but for now the point is that we have to teach good information literacy skills and include exposure as well as practice with publicly available tools and resources. For faculty, telling your students that they can't use the Web does not pass muster. For librarians, this also means keeping up with those diverse resources and tools. 

Friday, April 29, 2011

Article Note: On getting that full-text article

Citation for the article:

Dixon, Lydia,, "Finding Articles and Journals via Google Scholar, Journal Portals, and Link Resolvers: Usability Study Results." Reference & User Services Quarterly 50.2 (Winter 2010): 170-181.

Read online.

I have been thinking about this topic for a few reasons. One, I've had to work at teaching students during library instruction sessions just how to find articles when they are not full-text in a database. Locally, the fact we have LinkSource means that I have to teach students how to get around it and go directly to the A to Z list on our website. The steps the instruction librarian and I follow to teach this:

  • From the citation in question, copy the title of the journal that contains your article. 
  • Open a new tab on your browser (or new window). Open the library's homepage here. 
  • Click on "Find a Journal or Periodical." 
  • On the search box there, paste the title you copied. Run the search. 
  • If we have it, you see the holdings. Pick a link that has dates of coverage for the article you want. 
  • Depending on how savvy the student is, we may have to walk them through a specific journal interface's page to find their article. If the article is available in print or microfilm/fiche (a very rare occurrence these days), we send them to the appropriate location.
  • If we do not have the journal, or we do not have the date in question, the student is told to do an Interlibrary Loan request using the ILLiad system. 
What happens if we go through these steps, and the item is not available? Depends. If the students actually has time, odds are good they will use the ILLiad system. If the student is in a rush (as in they procrastinated, and now the paper is due in less than a week), they likely give up, and we try to find alternate sources. Why do we have to do all that ritual? Because to be blunt LinkSource does not really work as advertised. More often than not links it provides are not accurate, or results overall are inconsistent. Now, the fact that the instruction librarian and I do this may displease the ERM librarian and the director because it means that a tool we pay for is not getting used. I will be blunt once more: we simply do it anyhow because we believe in getting the resources to the students who need them in the most efficient way possible. I could go on a further rant here about folks who fail to listen to the librarians in the front lines, but all I will say is that she and I will do whatever it takes to help our students.

Moving along, in two graduate courses I taught recently students specifically raised the question of "how do I get it if it is not full-text?" In addition, I get the question on a regular basis at the reference desk. This tells me that database interfaces, and our websites (speaking here of ours as well as collectively of libraries overall) still have issues when it comes to letting students know what is available or not. What I have learned from experience is that finding journal articles, as in knowing when they are full-text or not and how to get them, is a significant challenge to users. I have also learned that the solutions available online leave a lot to be desired. Furthermore, I have learned that teaching the skills and savvy to find the items does take some time, and we have to keep on doing it.

I also thought a bit about Google Scholar, which is something that students are noticing as well. It is also something I am mentioning as part of my classes. However, I will ponder on Google Scholar later so I don't make this much longer. At any rate, I did find this article to be timely for me.

The article looks at the challenges of finding a known article if you have a citation or finding a specific journal. The authors consider the issues by doing usability studies on a journal portal, a link resolver, and Google Scholar. According to the authors, "this study focused on how effective interfaces were at helping users complete the tasks" (171). By the way, the Google Scholar thing reminds me that as students use it, when they can find it, we get to teach them how to get articles listed on Google Scholar from the library to avoid having to whip out the credit card. I guess our work as instruction librarians is never done.

As usual, here go some of my notes and highlights from the article:

  • The process can be challenging to new and experienced users. "Even experienced students and faculty struggle with potential complications such as embargoed holdings, platform changes, or subscription lapses" (170). Embargoes certainly a hated bane. 
  • Issue with Google Scholar: Callicot and Vaughn "found that, although Google Scholar guarantees results, constructing complicated queries or limiting results retrieved is difficult" (qtd. in 172). In library instruction, we usually teach students to do Google last, after they have used the library databases. However, we do go over it briefly if there are questions and compare it to databases as well as discuss the pros and cons. Keep in mind this is limited by the time factor of a library session. 
  • However, the authors had a different suggestion based on their findings, but do note it is in terms of having a known citation already (not starting your research from scratch): "The observations regarding the question of which interface most effectively allows searching for articles by citation would suggest that librarians should direct users to GS [Google Scholar] as a first choice and that it should be featured most prominently for finding articles by citation" (177). I will say that very often, when a student comes to the reference desk with what looks like a somewhat vague citation, I will use Google Scholar to locate it sooner than trying to use the journal portal. More often than not GS will give me the complete citation, and then I can use the A to Z list to find it. 
  • A bit from the conclusion: "Finally librarians need to remember that many users do not begin their search on the library website. If the top tools offered on the library website are user-friendly and effective rather than frustrating and time-consuming, users will have a reason to begin their search there" (180). 

Monday, April 18, 2011

CBS News raises questions about Mortenson and CAI

Last year, Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea (link to my GoodReads review; I had a good impression at the time, though I was not particularly thrilled about the book. Not the best written thing I have ever read), came to the UT Tyler campus. I suppose like many folks who listened to the guy, who seems a lot better as a speaker than a writer, I did find the story inspiring. So I find it disappointing to say the least that he is being exposed for lies in the book as well as financial issues, such as money from the book and his book touring not really going to the CAI charity like he claims. That I find particularly egregious since a big part of his speech was promoting how the book helps the organization so they can build schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Jon Krakauer, an early supporter, probably summarizes this pretty well (maybe a bit more charitable than others may be willing to be) when he says,

"Krakauer: He's not Bernie Madoff. I mean, let's be clear. He has done a lot of good. He has helped thousands of school kids in Pakistan and Afghanistan....He has become perhaps the world's most effective spokesperson for girls' education in developing countries. And he deserves credit for that...Nevertheless, he is now threatening to bring it all down, to destroy all of it by this fraud and by these lies."

Sadly, this is not just about some good guy with a few character flaws. These are serious issues, and what seemed like good acts are now going to be tainted. Worse, from the report, it seems the acts were not that great anyhow (schools claimed to be build but not built, or built poorly, for instance). 

You can read the expose from CBS news here.

Update note (same day): Galley Cat has a summary. It also includes links to statements by Mortenson and CAI that they sent to CBS regarding the 60 Minutes segment. 

Friday, March 18, 2011

Article Note: On becoming "Librarian 2.0" according to some librarians

Citation for the article:

Partridge, Helen, Julie Lee, and Carrie Munro, "Becoming 'Librarian 2.0': The Skills, Knowledge, and Attributes Required by Library and Information Professionals in a Web 2.0 World (and Beyond)." Library Trends 59.1-2 (2010): 315-335.

Read via Project Muse.

The article has some good points, but there is nothing really new here given all that has been written extensively about "librarian 2.0" in the Librarian Blogsville. In fact, I am starting to get the impression that the term "librarian 2.0" may be on the way out in favor of some other new term. I do not know what the new term may be, but if job ads could be an indication, probably something to do with "emerging technologies" or something like that. But I am digressing.

The article starts with the usual literature review. This gives an overview of how the term emerged and where it is as of the article's writing. A lot of the literature conveys that the debate or definition discussion goes back and forth between how much interpersonal skills such a librarian needs and how much technological/technical focus said librarian needs. In theory, both sides should not be mutually exclusive. In practice, they can be very much separate. At least in recent conversations with our instruction librarian, part of the conversation has been about how newer librarians seem to be too focused on the technology and not enough on basic interpersonal skills including things as simple as how to do an adequate reference interview. Basically, the problem we have observed is librarians with a high degree of technolust who want to sit behind a desk, do all their reference online (be it via a social network or a virtual service) and never have to deal with a patron in person; after all, most of the resources are online anyhow (or will soon be there). As I said, this is strictly observation by two librarians who have been in the field for a while observing the folks coming out now of library school. Thus take it as the anecdotal commentary that it is.

The study used 81 Australian individuals in focus groups in order to "identify the current and anticipated skills and knowledge required by successful library and information science (LIS) professionals in the age of Web 2.0 (and beyond)" (319). The method and justification for using focus groups is explained in the article as well. Participant profile is described as well. A series of open-ended questions, listed in the article, were used to stimulate discussion in the focus groups.

Some notes and thoughts from the analysis of the focus groups:

  • On technology. There was consensus that while technology (i.e. IT) is important, it is not the dominant issue or skill set. "Successful librarians in the Web 2.0 world (and beyond) need to be aware of, and have some fundamental understanding of, the emerging technology-- what is available and what it can do and how to make it do what is needed-- but they do not need to be IT professionals per se" (326-- emphasis added). The article emphasizes that there is a difference between "IT skills" and "IT appreciation skills." 
  • On continuing learning for the librarians. "The need for librarian 2.0 to be interested in, and willing to engage in, lifelong learning was highlighted by all focus groups" (326). You need to know how to keep up, be inquisitive, enjoy experimenting and learning. I think these are just traits any librarian should have. In other words, I do not think they are new nor the exclusive purview of librarian 2.0. The part about exploring after the workday is something I do have mixed feelings about. To an extent, when it comes to work, I follow the Winget line of "you pay me to work, and I do the work." My after hours are exactly that: mine. Sure, I may experiment online and try out new tools, but I do that for myself. If it happens to be useful at work, all good. But I do not do unpaid work after I leave because I happen to like things like spending time with the family and just relaxing. You have to learn  how to unplug, and I honestly wish our profession did not spread so much the illusion that we are plugged 24-7 and toying around with every widget, site, and online gizmo out there.
  • On focusing on the users. See my comment above for some of my thinking. I will add what the authors write on this: "Librarian 2.0 loves working with people, values the diverse experiences of users, looks at things from the users' perspective and seeks to actively use the emerging technologies to provide their users a voice" (328). I know that is a lot of the reason I became a librarian. I do love working with people, students in my case as an academic librarian. Diversity is a big thing I value, and it was something that I experienced quite extensively when I used to work in Houston. A lot of the reason I experiment and try to learn new things is so I know what my students may go through at some point in time. Then again, that is not a revolutionary concept. When I went through the National Writing Project, the idea of writing with your students not only to lead by example, but to see what the students experienced as writers, was a bit lesson that stays with me to this day. 
  • Other attributes discussed and mentioned include: Evidence Based Practice and Research Skills, Communication, Collaboration and teamwork, and Business savvy. 
  • And yes, a lot of LIS professionals do need to get over themselves (329). And while I am certainly to experiment and try new things, I often do find the "just do it" mantra to be a bit problematic in the sense that it seems to be "do it, don't ask, just do it, don't worry about the consequences." At times, the result can be a failure that often someone else has to clean up. Some ambiguity and risk taking are fine. Taking the risk for the sake of taking the risk without at least taking some thought is just irresponsible. 
  • A magnificent question asked by the participants of the study, which is one I may have asked once or twice: "How do you free people up to have the time and the necessary support to actually be able to stay current with everything that's going on and the ability to get out of the day to day detail?" I am still waiting to hear answers that are not wishful thinking, platitudes, or as I heard it once, "tough, suck it up." 
  • I would consider this a statement of the obvious. However, given all that gets written on "Librarian 2.0," it may not be as obvious. The statement: "Not surprisingly, the study highlighted that librarian 2.0 is less to do with technology and more about the quality transferable skills and interpersonal abilities." 

Monday, March 07, 2011

Booknote: Los cuadernos de Don Rigoberto: 12 Books, 12 Months Book 6

This is the review for the book as I posted it on GoodReads. Finishing this one puts me at the halfway point. Also, it is the last of the books in Spanish I had selected for the challenge. In essence I found Don Rigoberto's notes a hell of a lot more interesting than the plot itself.

Cuadernos de Don Rigoberto, LosCuadernos de Don Rigoberto, Los by Mario Vargas Llosa

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I wanted to like this book a lot more, but in the end I was only lukewarm at best about it. I have some mixed feelings about it, and I hope I can convey that as I write this note. On the one hand, Vargas Llosa is indeed a master writer who can craft a sentence. The erotic and love scenes in the novel are simply beautifully described. The language and imagery are great. The use of literary and artistic references is also very good, and I tend to like books that make use of references and allusions as this book does. I tend to like reading erotica (and some porn as well), so you would think this book would have been perfect given the positive attributes I have described so far. So, what was the problem?

The problem was that the passages in between the nice stuff were boring and dry as hell. And to be perfectly honest, I found the character of Fonchito, Don Rigoberto's son, to be annoying and irritating. I just wanted to smack the kid and tell him to get lost. Mind you, the taboo angle did not bother me. For those not in the know, the basic plot of the novel is that Don Rigoberto and Lucrecia got separated after she had an affair/liaison with the precocious Fonchito. Fonchito is Lucrecia's stepson. Rigoberto still misses Lucrecia dearly, so he writes to her and about her in his notebooks, which make quite an exploration of sensuality in various facets. Ok, that all I can handle just fine, and I would think it would make a good tale. Problem was that, aside from the sensual parts, the rest of the novel was, well, pretty boring and the reading experience was pretty slow. A pity because, as I said, this book does have things to like.

As a final note, keep in mind this book is a sequel to the novel Elogio de la madrastra (available in translation as In Praise of the Stepmother ). I have not read the previous novel, and I don't think you have to have read it to appreciate this one. However, those who have read it may likely get more out of this novel.

My mother used to say that even great writers put out a dud once in a while. I am taking this as just being a novel that was so-so. If you want to truly sample Vargas Llosa, especially now that he won the Nobel Prize for Literature, he has much better works (some of which I have read). This is more for those fans of the author that want to say they have read it all. Who knows, I may give it a second chance down the road, or skim the passages I like (some of those make for good bedtime reading), but not anytime soon.

View all my reviews

Friday, February 25, 2011

Article Note: If all libraries became teaching libraries

Citation for the article: 

Palmer, Catherine,  "This I Believe. . . All Libraries Should Be Teaching Libraries." portal: Libraries and the Academy 11.1 (January 2011): 575-582.

Read via Project Muse. 

The title grabbed me right away, and I have to say it is a neat idea. Much like Palmer said, if Elmhurst College (the place the article discusses) had an opening, and they needed an instruction librarian, I would love to apply. Because I love the idea of making our libraries teaching libraries. You would think in academic libraries (the setting I work in), this would be a given, but at times the idea of a teaching library is only given lip service. This may be because academic libraries do reflect their institutions, say a teaching college (where teaching undergraduates is the core of the work) versus a big research campus (where research is the core, and undergraduates are sort of an afterthought, often taught by TA's so the professors can do the "real" work). Given my experience in academia, I can say I have seen both ends. At any rate, I found some of the ideas in the article intriguing, and I think for some libraries, those ideas could at least serve as conversation starters.

Palmer says that it may not be obvious initially why making teaching a central mission of a library is significant. She discusses sample statistics comparing reference transactions versus library instruction sessions, and she finds that the number of patrons reached by library instruction is very low. This is a conversation I have had with our instruction librarian here a few times who struggles with getting into more classrooms to help integrate information literacy into the curriculum. In some cases, the best she can do is promote her services and have the professors send their students. So she often ends up doing a lot of individual research consultations, teaching students one on one. Nothing wrong with that; back in my days as instruction librarian I did a lot of one-on-one teaching as well (best part of my job back then, and it is something I wish I could do more these days). But the point is that we would be able to reach more students proactively if we could offer more library instruction and get integrated into more classes.

However, what came to mind right away when Palmer made that observation was that we indeed do need to be teaching libraries. My argument is simple: just look around at the large amounts of misinformation, ignorance, and just plain lack of critical thinking in society these days. If there is a time when we need libraries where teaching is the central mission, this is it. I would add that to any argument on why we need to keep our libraries open. It goes with that whole safeguarding of democracy thing.

Palmer goes on to discuss something I have considered before, though I probably have not expressed it as eloquently as she has: considering instruction as a marketing tool of the library. She writes:

"We need to embrace instruction, whether provided in-person or online, as the most effective marketing tool we have at our disposal. The best way to ensure that the patrons (the majority of whom are undergraduates) who come into our buildings in the thousands, based on gate counts, have some idea of what libraries can offer-- besides a safe, clean, quiet place to study-- is to have an engaged, enthusiastic, knowledgeable librarian teach them" (576). 

This is applicable to encounters at the reference desk, instruction sessions in a classroom, and even online interactions.

A few other notes from the article:

  • "We cannot possibly address each individual student's information need during a class session in the way that we can during a reference transaction. We can ensure that students have a baseline knowledge of the resources and services available to them, however; and, perhaps most important, we can give them a vocabulary that will help them ask better questions when they do need individual help" (577). Given things like the limitations of a one-shot session, emphasis on getting students to know our services, and more important for us, for them to know that a librarian is always there to help, is a big part of any instruction session. For me, it is not uncommon to use a bit of humor and tell my students, "you may forget half of what I taught you here today, but you do have my contact information. Feel free to use it." 
  • Why the research model for universities and teaching students as if they are all going to be grad students and researchers (replication) is not exactly the best idea. Having said that, I am not saying we end research, or just go vocational all the way at the expense of things like humanities (like some people do). But higher education does need to understand that not all students are going to be clones of their professors. Palmer writes, "the fact is that most undergraduates go into the workforce, not on to graduate school. If we expect our society outside the academy to understand what it is that its tax dollars allow research institutions to do and to make informed decisions on how to support those institutions, then it is undergraduates who are most in need of understanding how universities 'make knowledge'" (578). This also made me think back to a piece Rory Litwin of Library Juice wrote a while back on "Get Out the Books, Not the Vote." I am also thinking this goes back to how we market the library, or how we make an impression of the library for our undergrads. After all, they will graduate someday and be making the big decisions. Planting the seed of good experiences, teaching them solid lessons in critical thinking, how information works, is accessed, and used, will pay off in the long run. 
  • "Without our collections, we would have little to teach; but without teaching others how to find, evaluate, think about, and use those collections, there would be little need for the collections we have and little support for allocating scarce resources to acquire more" (578). I am thinking that a teaching mission can go to the idea of how does the library add value to its campus. 
Palmer goes on to discuss what a "teaching library" would look like and what kind of things would need to happen for it to become a reality. Some things would not change, or they would change very little; things like good collection development would certainly continue. But other crucial changes would take place. For one, and this is something I find intriguing in terms of library marketing and outreach as well as instruction, is that we would have to develop new stories and narratives about what we do; we would also have to look at ourselves differently. Palmer provides a list of other important changes that is worth a look. We must keep in mind that the transformation may not be an easy one. Just because you relabel some things, it does not follow that the changes will be embraced or adopted. Buy-in and serious commitment are needed.

The master teacher idea also intrigued me. However, I wondered how Palmer's idea of librarians who are master teachers teaching others would work in a smaller setting where every librarian has multiple tasks; Palmer suggests having a designated instructional services department for this work (by the way, working in such department would be a dream job for me. Heading one might actually make me reconsider my negative view of wanting to manage anything). Also I wonder what about if you have only one or two librarians committed to the teaching mission, but the rest of the librarians do not really care, or just do not want to change, or worse, simply don't think anyone should be telling them how to teach. I think this is where administrative support and commitment is going to be crucial; if the library administration does not provide direction and vision on this to get others on board, it likely may flounder. Having asked that, I still think the idea of a "mini immersion" experience created locally has a lot of value, and it should be replicated. In fact, as I understood things when I went to ACRL Immersion on the teaching track, teaching others what I have learned was part of the model and mission (by the way, that idea of teaching others is a core tenet of the National Writing Project, another program I was honored to have attended).

A few more notes from the article:

  • "But, by acting programmatically, the libraries could slowly inculcate the expectation that all students, regardless of their major, would graduate with a sense of how knowledge in their chosen discipline is created, shared, evaluated, and archived for use by future scholars" (581). 
  • "Finally, it would help to develop an institutional memory for instruction and allow the library to develop new leadership for this important function" (581). 
  • "It is no longer enough for librarians to simply respond when asked for information; they must continuously promote library resources and services in a manner that engages and addresses the needs of the appropriate audience and reinforces the role of the library and librarians in the intellectual life of the campus" (582). 

Friday, February 18, 2011

Article Note: On subject encyclopedias in an age of Wikipedia

Citation for the article:

East, John W., "'The Rolls Royce of the Library Reference Collection" The Subject Encyclopedia in the Age of Wikipedia." Reference and User Services Quarterly 50.2 (2010): 162-169.

Read online.

This small article basically gives a small overview of the subject encyclopedia's place in the academic library and how it is losing that place to tools like Wikipedia. The author, John W. East, also looks at online subject encyclopedias and considers how libraries are (or not) promoting and facilitating their use. The article begins with a brief historical overview of the subject encyclopedia. He suggests that by the 1970s, the subject encyclopedia was well-established in libraries for reference work (163). East goes on to say that the heyday of the subject encyclopedia was around 1986; this is the year when American Reference Books Annual (know as ARBA by most librarians; odds are good many libraries still have ARBA volumes) published the first edition of Guide to Subject Encyclopedias and Dictionaries.

I found it interesting when the author points out how some back in 1986 or so predicted that computers would not replace encyclopedias anytime soon. We have a come a long way, and the computers have done quite a bit of replacing (for good or ill, that is for another debate another day). The point is that subject encyclopedias were slow to move into electronic formats. Then the web came, and pretty much everything changed from how students seek out information to our roles as librarians and educators. Students began to see Wikipedia as an easy and convenient source of information while libraries began to cut back on their reference collections; whether due to economics, lack of use due to more online resources, due to Wikipedia displacing the reference collection, so on  is another debate. The point is it is happening. Many libraries are shifting from print to online versions for their subject encyclopedias, if they still purchase subject reference works at all. That is the approach we are pursuing at my library where online is favored whenever possible (and while I have some strong opinions about this, they are not here and now). East does observe that "the attitude that 'if it's not online, it doesn't exist' is becoming more prevalent with every passing year" (165). I will note that in many cases, it is also an attitude that is becoming more common among librarians as well. That is something I disagree with, but over time, I may find myself in the minority position. But let's not digress.

Some notes from the article:

  • A good number of subject encyclopedias are available in electronic format via a few vendors (SAGE, Gale, etc.). "It is encouraging that so many of the titles are available online, but their dispersal across multiple platforms puts them at a disadvantage when compared with the 'one-stop-shop' that is Wikipedia" (165). This is a big issue overall. Different reference works are on different platforms, and each platform has its own idiosyncrasies and restrictions that patrons often do not understand (assuming they even bother to access one of these electronic reference works). Then there is the licensing, the authentication issues to get to the reference work in question, etc. All this make using a particular electronic encyclopedia a challenge for students. Thus it is even more of a challenge for us librarian to promote use of these works when they are not exactly user friendly. I don't foresee this problem going away anytime soon since it is not necessarily in the interest of the vendors to get their products to play nice with each other.
  • "Clearly many of our online subject encyclopedias are not earning their keep" (165). I am sure a lot of this has to do with what I just mentioned above. They can't earn their keep if the students cannot get to them. East expands on this when he writes, "it is now a cliche of librarianship that our clients are more interested in convenience than quality and that our high-quality resources will only be used if our clients can identify and access them easily" (166). 
  • On promoting the online resources: "When liaison librarians have access to sites that students in a particular course will use frequently-- such as electronic course reserves or course management systems like Blackboard-- they have the opportunity to insert links to relevant electronic encyclopedias. If the links are prominently situated, students might notice and use them" (167). We had to fight a bit of a battle to get access to Blackboard in the first place. Then another to get a library presence in it where we wanted a library tab on the interface that would be prominent for students to see while the BB administrators wanted to toss a link to the library under "other campus organizations." So you may find yourself fighting a bit just to get into the CMS in the first place. However, once you manage to get in, you may be able to accomplish some things. 
  • Other ways of promotion mentioned in the article are listing individual electronic reference sources in your library catalog, on your subject guides, and on lists of books and databases. I do put some of the online reference works relevant to my subject areas in my LibGuides. I probably could do a bit better about promoting some specific e-book encyclopedias in class, but I will admit that some of the obstacles already mentioned are a big turn off. In other words, I have a hard time recommending something to students that I know will be difficult for them to use. This may be a partial answer to the question the author raises: "If we think that our students still understand and value the encyclopedia as an information resource (and this is a question that probably merits further research), then why are we not promoting our encyclopedias more prominently on our websites?" (168).  I think students do understand, or can learn to understand, the value of a good subject encyclopedia as an information resource. And I do promote print encyclopedias that may be relevant to a specific need when we have them. However, for electronic, as I said above, if it is a difficult source to use, I have a hard time promoting it to students. 

    Friday, February 11, 2011

    Article Note: On reference service preferences

    Citation for the article:

    Granfield, Diane, and Mark Robertson, "Preference for Reference: New Options and Choices for Academic Library Users." Reference & User Services Quarterly 48.1 (Fall 2008): 44-53.

    Read online.

    This article looks at library users' help-seeking preferences. Do they prefer to go to the reference desk? Do they prefer using virtual reference? It is looking at that type of question. The study reported is based on an in-person survey and an online survey. Four focus groups were conducted after the surveys. Note that the authors found it easier to do the online survey, which was implemented with a pop-up after VR sessions, than to do the in-person surveys after reference transactions. As I was reading the article, I thought that it would be a good idea for us to conduct a similar survey here. However, with issues like survey fatigue (campus administration here surveys students on just about anything to the point of oversaturation) and logistics (time, staff, the usual), I do not see it happening for now. Yet I think we could learn a few useful things, so I may just have to table the idea for the moment.

    The article opens with the usual picture of the 1990s as a time of transition for reference services, the rise of the Web and digital content, and the new digital natives generation. The authors go on to state that virtual reference (VR) is one of the significant recent developments. However, in spite of VR's popularity, questions about its cost effectiveness persist as well as other questions. I have looked at some of those questions before. In fact, I have expressed some questions and concerns in regards to the consortial VR service that we participate in, and those concerns, such as staffing models and librarian engagement, still persist. The project is an administrative darling, so we may be stuck with a service that is not really serving our own students locally and overall has low usage for a while. Thus this article interested me as it addressed service preferences, plus it could be useful for some evidence down the road.

    This item from the literature review caught my eye. It is from a small survey (340 users) done by Ruppel and Fagan that the authors cite:

    "An astounding 29 percent thought staff did not look helpful at the physical reference desk and 17 percent did not want to go to the library building to do their research. In spite of these negative perceptions,  the physical reference desk had a clear advantage for most users because of the 'personal touch'" (qtd. in 46). 

    Other notes I found interesting:

    • This may also have to do with how accessible and/or user-friendly we make our library websites. This is on other self-help options that users might employ for their research needs that the authors included in their survey. "Among the response options, consulting information on the library website was included as wll as searching Google or another Internet search engine. These options were included because it was felt that our users may increasingly seek answers to what would reference questions by employing self-help strategies and consulting sources on the Internet (whether they are sites we have constructed ourselves or popular external sites" (48). 
    • The survey confirmed that graduate students prefer to work outside the library. Thus they rate VR higher (50). What I wonder is how many of these grad students are distance learners versus on campus. For instance, here, our nursing doctorate program is all online, so the students would use phone and VR to get a hold of librarians for reference help in addition to what they get via the website, which includes our Research Guides (powered by LibGuides) and use of tools like Elluminate; the campus recently paid for Elluminate and is actively promoting it. Our nursing liaison librarian makes use of it. I suppose this would fall under a form of VR since it can be interactive. 
    • On VR staffing, for us, we do staff our VR away from the reference desk for the most part. However, at the reference desk we also tend to the reference e-mail and naturally the phone. I wonder if scenarios like this, which I am sure are not unique for us, have an effect on the unfavorable rating that e-mail and phone service got in the survey (50). 
    • The article's conclusion seems a bit of a draw: "The reference desk continues to be the most popular method of getting help in the library, but our findings confirm that VR satisfies a niche for some users, quite likely those who prefer to work outside the library" (51). This seems kind of a statement of the obvious: if you like to work out of the library and use VR, you will rate that higher than the reference desk. However, overall, the reference desk is still the preferred method of getting help in the library. 

      Friday, January 21, 2011

      Webinar notes: On E-gov and libraries

      Again, I am running somewhat behind on my notes for recent webinars I have listened to. Anyhow, here goes. 

      Webinar provided by ALA.
      Topic title: E-gov: Make it work @ your library
      Event date: December 9, 2010.

      You can find some notes and additional resource links at the ALA's PLFTA site (click under "Presentations."). Presenter ppt. slides and additional resource links available. 

      My notes:

      On public libraries and e-gov.:
      • 63% of libraries report providing e-gov access. 
      • For 2010, 53% of libraries reported their staff did not have skills to meet patron needs in regards to e-gov. 
      E-gov in public libraries. Some best practices (and even though this is mostly for public libraries, I think us in academia can learn a thing or two as well. Besides, we are librarians, we should not be part of that 53%).
      • Having dedicated computers for e-gov with extended time limits (this is just for e-gov. Often, for the public libraries who get laptops for this, the laptops are funded by a grant). 
      • It is necessary to develop an e-gov policy (and do have it reviewed by a lawyer). The policy is to say what the library can or cannot do in terms of e-gov (levels of service-- i.e. things like we just point to the sites versus help them navigate the site).
      • Other legal stuff: Provide verbal and written disclaimers. Do refrain from helping users fill out forms. Do not select forms for users (show them how to use an index of forms, but let them select the form they need). Refrain from typing any personal information for patrons. 
      • ALA's E-gov toolkit.
      • It is helpful to keep statistics of types of e-gov questions received. This can help with advocacy for the library later. 
      • It is important to promote and market these services. For example, have lists of commonly  used websites, what to bring when filling out forms. Some libraries may have an e-gov blog. (In terms of the blog, I thought we could incorporate more e-gov information into our library blog's content rather than creating a whole new blog)
      • Sample: Pasco County Libraries E-gov page.
      Evaluating e-gov sites, with some examples:
      • Some qualities: 
        • quantity and quality of the information. 
        • website presentation and accessibility. 
        • level of information on the site. 
        • services available to the public. 
        • level of accessibility to the disabled or others using alternative technologies. 
        • does the site save time? Are the services intuitive? Does it provide good helping aids for first time users? 
      • Some good site examples: 
      Libraries and e-gov: collaboration and education.
      • Some context for the increase in public library use for computers: unemployment benefits, social services, job seekers, other government needs. 
      • Note there are people who cancel the Internet at home to save money (it is a tight economy folks), so libraries see more usage of computers for communication and leisure needs (the whole leisure thing certainly a debate for another day). 
      • From a technology access survey of  public libraries (cited in the presentation): 
        • 66.6% of library branches report being the only provider of free public access computers and free Internet access. 
        • Overall, public library branches report an average of 14 computers for public access plus they often provide wifi. 82.2% of public library branches offer wifi, up from 76.4% in 2008-2009. Overall, library usage is up across the board.
        • 88.8% of public library branches help people understand and use government websites. 

      Wednesday, January 12, 2011

      Article Note: On Readers' Advisory and Social Networking Sites

      Citation for the article:

      Stover, Kaite Mediatore, "Stalking the Wild Appeal Factor: Reader's Advisory and Social Networking Sites." Reference & User Services Quarterly 48.3 (2009): 243-246, 269.

      Read online.

      This is a brief article that mentions three social networking sites focused on books and reading. The sites in question are Shelfari, Library Thing, and GoodReads. The article is a call for readers' advisors to embrace these technologies, and it offers some commentary on the sites.

      Some brief notes:

      • Food for thought: "Readers' advisory (RA) is one of the most social services libraries offer" (244). It certainly is a reason I was drawn to librarianship, and it is an interest and professional area that I try to keep up with even as I do very little of it as an academic librarian. Personally, I think it is an important skill for us to have, and I think we should be promoting recreational reading a bit more on our campuses. I have had a thing or two to say on the matter if anyone is interested.
      • The author argues that expanding RA online will create larger communities and that the library's space should include the virtual space as well. That sounds good to me. 
      • A big benefit of using these online services for library staff: "Not only are library staff reaching new and different patrons, but they are improving their own knowledge of books read, heard of, and glanced at, and it is all in one place. Library staff are equipped with easy-to-use tools that help them organize their own reading and evaluate their strengths and weaknesses in reading areas" (244). Personally, that is a benefit of using these kinds of tools: I can keep track of what I read and get a sense of what I read and tend to favor. Looking at it over time, combined with my annual book list exercise, gives a sense also of where my reading preferences change. Maybe more of us should be doing these things and taking the time to reflect on what we read. 
      • The author goes over briefly over descriptions and features of the three services I mentioned above. In terms of preferences, it seems those who prefer GR do so due to the fact you can add an unlimited number of books to your lists: Library Thing was praised for its tagging features (245).
      • Conclusion: "Try out all of the Web toys out there. It's the responsibility of a good readers' advisor to at least be familiar with the numerous Internet playthings. But once they've all been taken for a test run, commit to one and politely show the others the door. It will be enough of a time commitment to keep one account current on a reading network, and it will be very important to keep that account up to date" (246). This is consistent with my personal philosophy of keeping up and "try it out, use it if it works, discard it if it does not."

      Disclosure note: I am a GoodReads user, which in my case, includes "librarian" privileges (I can edit records among other things). You can find a link to my profile there in the right side bar of the blog. If anything, consistent with the article, a reason I liked it better was that I could add all the books I wanted. However, Library Thing does seem to be the librarians' favored service overall (conclusion based on informal observation).

      Saturday, January 08, 2011

      Booknote: Dune (12 Months, 12 Books Challenge, Book 5)

      This is my review of the book as I posted it on my GoodReads list. I am definitely glad I reread this as I had forgotten just how much depth this novel has. This may be a book I may reread in the near future.

      Dune (Dune Chronicles, #1)Dune by Frank Herbert

      My rating: 5 of 5 stars

      This is the second time I read this novel, and it reminded me of just how good it is. Herbert does an excellent job with the planet building in creating Arrakis, the planet known as Dune. He also sets in motion a story of intrigue and politics in an Empire where a religious sect strive to control certain genetic lines while a guild controls a monopoly on space travel. In the midst of this, the House of Atreides is betrayed leaving the young heir to the Duke, Paul, as survivor who is left in the desert. There he is taken in by the Fremen who come to see him as the prophet they have waited for. The novel is definitely a classic of science fiction on many levels. From the setting to the epic story, this is an excellent novel that is hard to put down. It is also a novel that immerses the reader; you want to take your time reading it even as you speed through it.

      There are so many things I could say about this book. The writing can be very poetic at times. The descriptions of the setting are just amazing. There is a bit of a spiritual element within the science fiction that makes the story work very well. There is suspense in the machinations of the various factions seeking power within the Empire. It has political intrigue, adventure, coming of age, all in an epic science fiction tale. The novel clearly has earned its place in the classics.

      I will add that I have not read the sequels that Herbert wrote for it. I may pick them up at one point just for the sake of being complete. But this novel pretty much does stand by itself, and you can certainly stop here. As for the extensions by Kevin Anderson and Brian Herbert, I am not as sure if I want to read them. I tend to think less of other people making sequels and prequels to works by other authors, especially someone as good as Frank Herbert was with Dune. I usually figure that for good novels, one should leave well enough alone. Anyhow, that's my disclosure note. Now, if you consider yourself a science fiction reader, and you have not read Dune, go read it.

      View all my reviews

      Update note (1/13/11): Here is the December round-up of 12 Books, 12 Months at Latter Day Bohemian. Feel free to go over and see what other participants are reading. There are some interesting things there.

      Update note (2/17/11): Here is the January round-up at Latter Day Bohemian. Again, feel free to go over and see what others are reading. I am posting it now rather than in February since odds are good I won't have a challenge book finished by the end of February; I picked up a couple of hefty items from the list. So sharing this now.

      Thursday, January 06, 2011

      Can we please stop the "library is dying" hysteria already?

      This is going to be a bit long, so my four readers are warned. I tend to stay away from this type of topic, but to be honest, I am getting a little tired of the constant "the library is dying" hysterical meme going in and out of Librarian Blogsville and the less-than-well informed media. I read the piece in question, and I spent some time writing some thoughts. So here it goes. This is mostly a writing exercise as well as just letting some stuff out.

      * * * *

      "I'm sorry, did I break your concentration? I didn't mean to do that. Please, continue, you were saying something about best intentions. What's the matter? Oh, you were finished! Well, allow me to retort" --Jules, from the film Pulp Fiction.

      Brian T. Sullivan's column in The Chronicle of Higher Education, "Death by Irony" (which just got the title changed when I rechecked the link to  ""Academic Autopsy Report 2050" because one reader too many could not tell the piece was meant to be satire or irony) about how academic libraries will be dead by 2050 pretty much begs for a rebuttal. I've heard the piece is supposed to be satire, and that would not worry me were it not for the fact that our campus president would likely view it seriously and use it as evidence to close the library down. That the author is an instructional librarian does not help the matter either since people will always need a librarian to show them how to use information effectively. It's one area where we add value. That he is so dismissive, even in jest (assuming it is jest) just makes me wonder what kind of librarian is he.

      I have refuted the column, in a slightly different form previously, in a small piece I tossed over in my scratch pad blog back in November of last year. Some of the arguments I wrote back then would be very applicable now.

      Let me take Sullivan's points one at a time:

      1. "Book collections became obsolete." The old canard that e-books and online texts will take over the world. First, I wonder what kind of students Sullivan works with because here our students still have a very strong preference for printed books or what they call "real books." Sure, more distance students are embracing e-books, but on campus at least, print still rules the day. Second, the digital book interfaces still leave a lot to be desired in terms of usability. Honestly, I don't see that getting better by 2050. In fact, a lot of the phone calls we get when it comes to e-books are variants of the "how do I get the book/make this work?" questions. And let's not even go into the whole licensing versus ownership and how to access and/or authenticate certain users questions though those questions do add to the pain and can show why print books are not going to die any time soon in spite of some folks' wishful thinking. Third, as for campus IT managing e-book collections, I don't think they can or are willing to actually manage e-book collections. Such management does require more than just pushing some buttons, applying some code, and making sure the Internet works so users can get to the e-book platform. What I am trying to say is that e-book management is a lot more than just the technology. Guess who negotiates the contracts and then organizes the information, metadata, so on to make it accessible. Not the IT people. That would be a librarian. 
      2. "Library instruction was no longer necessary." Really? There are so many ways to refute this, but I will try to be concise. To start, see my retort to #1 above. I will say: guess who teaches students and faculty to use those e-books. We do, and we do so for individuals as well as groups. Do you honestly think the IT Department will do such work? Nope. Faculty will probably not do it either for the following reasons: 
        1. They may not want to give up their class time. 
        2. They may not know how the systems work. After all, who on campus makes it their job to keep up with e-book, databases, so on, then teach it to others? We do. Heck, were are the ones who often have to drag the faculty into the 21st century. 
      3. "Information literacy was fully integrated into the curriculum." To this I say, "that will be the day." See my #2 above. This also assumes that faculty will actually commit to information literacy with more than lip service to how good it is or a few small measures to pass accreditation. Yes, librarians will play a role in designing the new curricula that integrates information literacy, but I think the partnership will continue beyond the design. For the answer, I would look to models of embedded librarianship or even campus writing labs, which will survive as long as faculty prefer to just send the kids over there to get help with their basic writing or their research skills. We already see it when we get students at the reference desk who say, "my professor sent me here to get research on X." This also means that the reference service will not disappear. And as I am typing I am wondering, if we do achieve integrated information literacy in the curriculum, is that not a good thing? Especially if it works as I envision it, being a collaborative effort? I thought that was the holy grail for many academic librarians.
      4. "Libraries and librarians were subsumed by information-technology departments." I will grant that some librarians who are more technologically inclined will seek and find jobs in IT. Now, IT subsuming everything in terms of the library? See #1 above in terms of collection management. Also see #3 above in terms of teaching information literacy and reference services (don't worry, I am getting to Sullivans' 5th point). It's not all about technology. There are significant elements of people skills (here is another post waiting to happen, but I digress), pedagogy, information organization and management among others that IT pretty much lacks. As for cataloguing being done by vendors, even when they hire former librarians to do it, I can refer you to our cataloguer so she can tell you about time and labor going into fixing what the vendors provide as well as making sure it works locally. Your local IT department is just not going to have that level of care or quality control or customer service (yes, cataloguing IS a public service). Librarians do, and no, the librarians who jump over to IT won't be doing it either since they will be focused on actual IT work. Again, the library and its librarians are not going anywhere. 
      5. "Reference services disappeared." I've already considered much of this in the above. Reference services may and will take new forms, but they will not disappear. As for tiered services, what Sullivan did not mention is that tiered models usually work on a triage model where the nonlibrarian knows when to refer a question up to a professional librarian. While a well-trained paraprofessional or student worker can be very capable and knowledgeable (and we are assuming good training, which is quite a variable), they certainly cannot do everything and usually have a librarian for back-up to fall upon. This is an important detail missing from Sullivan's column. He also mentions that low-wage paraprofessionals cost less. I would suggest he look at companies who prided themselves on sending operations to India that are suddenly bringing their call centers back to the U.S. Or that credit card company that now brags that you can get a REAL person on the first call attempt rather than the cheaper phone tree. Yes, they actually use that as a selling point: talk to a REAL person. Just because something is cheaper, it does not follow it is the best thing to do.Your campus librarians are information and education assets. Or you can let economics trump your quality, which leads us to #6. 
      6. "Economics trumped quality." We don't have to wait for Sullivan's dead library future for this. I may have to grant Sullivan this one. Economics is trumping quality in higher education, and we are seeing the consequences in a less skilled workforce, less educated college students, social promotion and grade inflation, etc.If the powers that be use "economics trump quality" as their excuse to kill the library, they ought to be ashamed of themselves, and they ought to be fired because it means they will be willing to cut corners elsewhere to save a few bucks. And if you think Wikipedia and Google Scholar will replace the library more cheaply,  you may as well admit defeat now and just let Asians, Europeans, and others who already beat the U.S. in every educational measure to just flat out take over while our students clean their toilets and make their Big Macs. I say that about the U.S. because when you look at stories of libraries dying, you don't see as many overseas (except for the British, where The Guardian has one every so often); more often than not, you hear of countries struggling to open libraries. Now I am not being extreme. I am just running with the "economics trumps quality" and the libraries and librarians as expendable luxuries and taking them to logical conclusions. Because if academic libraries are the heart of the campus, and we let economics trump quality, what else in higher education are we willing to amputate/remove/kill in order to save a few bucks? Is that really the future? I hope not, and as long as we have our academic librarians and libraries, probably not. 
      For more on the "economics trumping quality" line of thinking, I would recommend taking a look at The Five-Year Party, which I recently read