Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Article Note: Brief one on "Making the Most of Twitter"

Citation for the article:

Sump-Crethar, A. Nicole, "Making the Most of Twitter." The Reference Librarian 53 (2012): 349-354.

Read online.

Like most LIS articles dealing with some social media or technology, this one may be starting to show age already. That is a common hazard for this type of article. A reason I say that is the suggestion on using RSS readers for monitoring things given that, unfortunately, RSS readers seem to be diminishing. Google pretty much has the monopoly on that, and if they remain as flaky as they have been with other things, like iGoogle, I wonder how long before it goes out too. That would be a pity given that, in my case, at least, I do like to get my feeds nice and organized rather than relying on random feeds from friends and others in social media. Point is I just wondered how accurate the suggestion from the article was.

The other thing I wondered about, which is something I often wonder about as a librarian, is the issue of the digital gap. As a profession, we tend to make the assumption that everyone, somehow, magically, can get on the Internet pretty much at any time and do so with speed and reliability. There is also the assumption that almost everyone has a mobile device, and they can, again, access the Internet with speed and reliability, never mind things such as cell phone companies putting caps on data plans (you know, the so-called "shared" plans out there; exception at the moment seem to be Spring and T-Mobile, for now). While I do think libraries need to adapt as much as possible to new technologies, for one, I don't think we should do it at the expense of those who may not have newer shinier toys. I could go on, but that is not what this article was really about. This is just some stuff I was thinking about as I read it.

So, the article itself does have a few good points that I think are worth remembering, so I am jotting them down. In addition, I am considering whether our library should jump and get a Twitter account or not. So far, the consensus seems to be we do not need it. I see some potential for it, but I may wait to bring it up. In part because we just launched a blog for our library, so I may see how the blog is received before I try something else. Plus, we do have a Facebook page, so I can see why the urgency to jump on another social media tool is not there. This looks like something for me to reflect upon a bit more before I make a move, which would be supported (I am fortunate in that regard).

So, what are some ideas from the article I want to remember?

  • "A library's Twitter feed needs to build relationships, grab people's attention, fit the user's needs, and generate a conversation between users and the library" (350). We do some of the above already on our Facebook page, and we hope to do a bit more on our blog now. The need for Twitter may not be there yet, and if it is not, then I don't think we should create a solution looking for a problem (at least not yet). 
  • The article mentions management tools Tweetdeck (has been bought by Twitter), Hootsuite (which has free and paid models), and Echofon. 
  • This next point does intrigue me because I do believe a library should be visible and play a central role in its community. The author writes, "libraries can increase their visibility and centrality as a community service by using Twitter to share important news" (352).  Sharing news and being a hub for people to find local information, whether by sharing content or creating it, seems to be a logical thing a library can do.
  • If you do choose to use Twitter, don't just link it on the library website. Use a widget (and there are various options for this) to display the actual Twitter feed on the library website. Twitter does have an option to create something you can embed. As for some of the suggestions in the article, such as Widgetbox, they either cost something (when I checked Widgetbox it did not seem to have any free options and apparently the company was acquired by someone else) or they are just no longer out there. That is another hazard with a lot of 2.0 tools; they are often here today and gone tomorrow, so use with caution. 
  • And finally, do remember that "social networks are personal" (353). There should be a person or more behind the social media presence. I will add that once you make the jump you do have to keep updating, adding and sharing content, and overall, be active and dynamic. Worse you can do is sign up and then leave a dead site in place. If you cannot put the effort in, do not bother. You are better off not doing it than starting out then letting it languish. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Webinar Notes: "Incubate Leadership @ Your Library"

I am catching up on older notes I have taken that I wanted to post here. This WebJunction webinar (link to archives, so on) gave me a few ideas I wanted to remember. So, here we go. Any comments of mine are in parenthesis. The event took place on October 16, 2012:

  • Learn how to learn. Take control of your own learning process (not terribly new as I think about, but an idea that bears reminding. No one is going to do it for you. However, if once in a while, the higher ups were a bit better about funding certain things, you know, the whole "put your money where your mouth is," that would be nice too).
  • An idea I definitely liked and one I should consider implementing: writing a learner biography (I've had to do things like literacy autobiography and even teaching autobiography, but this would be a nice way to turn things around): 
    • Include details of experiential learning. 
    • Link to other learners and mentors. 
    • The document can be/will be organic and fractured. 
    • Case study, life cycle of the learner.
    • Most "impactful" learning.
    • Learning objectives with measurable outcomes and results. 
  • Defining leadership. 
    • Leadership is not about roles. It's about the action of leading. 
    • On the idea of being leadership-challenged, questions to ask: 
      • Do you and your organization nurture leadership potential?
      • Do you or your staff shun leadership opportunities?
      • Do you limit opportunities for others to lead? 
  • On mentoring, the notion of formal (with institutional support) and informal (simple arrangement between two parties) mentoring is a common myth. 
    • Useful definition: Peer mentoring is a "forum for mutual exchange i which individuals can both learn and share." 
  • Libraries as learning organizations. However, in focusing on patrons' needs (which are important), we often neglect our own individual and organizational needs. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Booknote: The Information Diet

I read this last year, but I debated whether to share my review and notes more widely or not. I was very underwhelmed by Mr. Johnson's book, but it did give me things to think about. In the end, I decided some of my notes should be shared as I think they are relevant to the work librarians, especially information literacy librarians, do. So, I am posting my review as I published it on my GoodReads profile followed by some notes I took from the books with my comments on those notes.

The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious ConsumptionThe Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption by Clay A. Johnson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I picked this book up out of curiosity mostly. I found it somewhat underwhelming. Part of the reason I found it falling short is that, to be honest, a lot of what Johnson preaches is information literacy repackaged. It's what good instruction librarians, and just good librarians in general, have been doing for years, even long before the Internet that he seems so fixated on. That was the other thing that did not endear me to the book: the often elitist assumption that Internet access is easy to get and that everyone can get it. There is such a thing as a digital divide, and the author just seemed to either miss it or ignore it. Also, he tries a bit too hard to remain neutral, and I have to say, there are times when one side is wrong. Pure and simple. This is not something we need to get relativistic about. In addition, if you are well-read already, and you keep up pretty well, then a lot of the book up to the point he gets to the actual information diet is a backgrounder that you can either skim or skip. There are some interesting things now and then, but unless you don't keep up much, they are not really new. As for the plan itself, let me save you time: be selective of your information sources, be balanced, cancel your cable, get it all off the Internet (because we all know broadband is easy to get and ubiquitous). I did take some notes as I read, so I will likely do a longer write-up of the book in my blog. For now, I will say I was not really impressed. This book could have just been a long magazine article. Or the content could have just been left at the companion website.

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This is right from the opening pages of the book, setting up the problem:

"If large numbers of people only seek out information that confirms their beliefs, then flooding the market with data from and about the government will really not work as well as the theorists predict; the data ends up being twisted by the left- and right-wing noise machines, and turned into more fodder to keep American spinning" (4). 

As Johnson argues for the information diet, I hoped to see what role critical thinking skills and information literacy would play. On my initial impression of the book, I think he is missing that point.

Johnson makes a parallel between food and overeating and information and information overconsumption:

"Much as a poor diet gives us a variety of diseases, poor information diets give us new forms of ignorance-- ignorance that comes not from a lack of information, but from overconsumption of it, and sicknesses and delusions that don't affect the underinformed but the hyperinformed and the well educated" (6). 

The above can certainly describe Fox News' viewers, who may think they are well informed (a delusion. It has been documented that people who view Fox News exclusively are not well informed at all. Link to report on the study. Note other links when you get there). Sure, some diets are worse than others; will Johnson acknowledge this or try to keep a neutral illusion? And what about intentional misinformation, when some media intentionally poison an already bad information diet? As I read,  these are questions I think about. Overall, after finishing the book, I see he does not really address these questions, trying to just remain neutral instead of taking a stand and calling things as they really are.

On the current news cycle, or why PBS in the U.S., may be the only decent newscast left:

"Driven by a desire for more profits, and for wider audience, our media companies look to produce information as cheaply as possible. As a result, they provide affirmation and sensationalism over balanced information. And in return, we need to start formulating an information diet-what to consume and what to avoid- in this new world of information abundance" (6). 

By the way, the description above may well be another argument to keep librarians around. We are good at sorting out information and evaluating it to help others get what they need. We also teach others how to do it.

Now, to be blunt, a lot of his argument boils down to information is neutral; it's what we do with it. Given his charitable view of folks like Zuckerberg, Facebook's CEO, a lot of his argument is starting to look like this: it's not the drug dealers' fault; it's all those addicts out there.

In the book, Johnson goes on to discuss Roger Ailes of Fox News. Ailes may have found a "brilliant" business model peddling affirmation and entertainment according to Johnson. It still does not make the Fox News brand of misinformation right nor ethical. This is not something one should really be neutral about. Unfortunately, others have copied the model. MSNBC simply went all out left as Fox News went all out right.

"Media companies want to provide you with the most profitable information possible that will keep you tuned in, and the result is airwaves filled with fear and affirmation. Those are the things that keep institutional shareholders that own these firms happy" (33). 

Again, nothing really new there. We already know the media empires are more interested in the bottom line than any sense of common good. So, what comes next then? Well, for one, the work of educators and librarians needs to go on to counter this.

By the way, Fox News, as Johnson states, does tweak headlines to appeal to its audience. He then goes on to state that "Fox News isn't about advancing a conservative agenda." Given what we know now, that statement is either naive or full blind ignorance by Johnson. Claiming neutrality seems more like staying silent in the face of something that is clearly wrong. And yes, The Huffington Post, the source he chooses as a contrast, does the same stuff, which is why I cut them both out of my information diet (though I still get some exposure from what others share). I did find Johnson's position at that point problematic; it seems to undermine much of what he says elsewhere. Now, here is a thought to ponder:

"In the world of fiduciary responsibility, quality information means market inefficiency" (35). 

On the danger of confirmation bias, then add the backfire effect:

"The seeds of opinion can be dangerous things. Once we begin to be persuaded of something, we not only seek out confirmation for that thing, but we also refute fact even in the face of incontrovertible evidence" (47). 

The above is why we need to be vigilant, educated, and open-minded. This is something that conservatives and a lot of liberals fail at these days.

Johnson goes on to discuss personal filters and how they fail. This is something I often think about as I tweak my information diet and pick, choose, and weed out sources. This is also why I may keep some extreme/less than bright/misinformed "friends" on my social media: I get to keep an eye on the other side and thus counter a bit of the information bubble. 

"You don't need the liberal or conservative media to make you ignorant. It can come from the production and consumption of information from your friends, and the personalization of that information. The friends we choose and the places we go all give us a new kind of bubble within which to consume information" (61). 

This is also why it irritates me that RSS readers are being phased out in favor of social media. I like to organize my news sources by their value, not by what my "friends" or acquaintances, some of which are less than reliable, think is newsworthy, or worse, what a social media site like Facebook with its crappy algorithm thinks I want to see. Thinking more on this, I do realize that I serve as some folks' source of information or news. I've had people mention they like following me for the links I find and share on Facebook or Twitter. So, I try to be very careful and selective about what I share in my online social outlets. I probably make a bit more effort as a result to make sure things are accurate, so on.

Much of what Johnson goes on to write about is basically rehashing of information literacy. This is stuff that we librarians have been discussing, researching, and teaching about for ages now. It is the kind of thing that, to be honest, we as a profession should own. For example, his definition of "data literacy"? Lo and behold that sounds like information literacy to me:

"Presuming you have access to a computer and the Internet, I've boiled down what I mean by data literacy into four major components: you need to know how to search, you need to know how to filter and process, you need to know how to produce, and you need to know how to synthesize" (80). 

Notice the Internet access assumption. What about those without Internet access?

At least Johnson reminds readers that not everything is on Google (duh!):

"Finally, a lot resides inside of large data repositories that aren't findable through Google. Search literacy also means the ability to find the data you're really looking for outside of a search engine, and to constantly be on the lookout for these repositories" (81).

Gee! You know who does that on a regular basis, and often as part of their jobs? Librarians. Not only do we do that, but we can also teach others how to do it. I do get irritated when gurus somehow discover what we do but don't even acknowledge it, then make it sound like they discovered this new revolutionary insight. Then again, it is something I often see in business books and a lot of LIS literature, repackaging stuff that is not really that great and selling it as some big thing. The book has some good ideas, but to be honest, as I mentioned in the review, this could have been more of a long magazine article.

In addition, Johnson consistently assumes that everyone has access to the Internet, an elitist assumption given the big digital divide that does exist, a divide that libraries, in spite of all the obstacles, do try to address. He also tries to express some noble sentiments about publishing online and getting feedback from what you publish via comments and forums. I do concur that being able to take constructive feedback; that is indeed a crucial skill. However, Johnson makes no acknowledgement of the known reality that a lot of the blogosphere not to mention a huge segment of forums and the Internet are nothing more than a toxic dump of ignorance and trolls. This amounts to online crap, and such crap can often keep good, thoughtful people from publishing and sharing. He either completely misses this or just conveniently chooses to ignore it.

He does make a point that I agree with, but with some qualification, regarding why I blog, but also why I keep a personal journal for things I want to write about but not worry about trolls or assorted online assholes. With this point, I end this post:

"Content creation and publication are a critical part of literacy because they help us to understand better what we say, both through the internal reflection it takes to make our findings comprehensible to others, and through the public feedback we get from putting our content in front of others" (83-84). 

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Mount TBR Challenge, or I've got to get this pile of unread books down a bit.

(Crossposted from The Itinerant Librarian)

I have a pretty big pile of books to be read (TBR), and I have decided that I need to get a handle on it. So, I saw this Mountain TBR challenge, and I figured that if I took a public challenge, that I would be able to be accountable and thus get the pile down a little bit. The nice thing about this challenge for me is that I do not have to list the titles ahead of time, which is good because I like the flexibility of choosing things at the spur of the moment. One of the areas that I have been adding books to is graphic novels and comics, so on that alone, I could climb up pretty high on Mount TBR, but I will try to keep things balanced with other books. No guarantees on that though. We'll just have to see what I grab to read.

By the way, I still borrow a lot of the stuff I read from my libraries (my college and my local public library), so I should have no problems when it comes to reading a lot and reading broadly.

To be on the safe side, I am committing to the Mount Blanc level, which means I have to read 24 books out of my TBR pile. I am welcome to read more, but I have to do that at least. And given that I am a month and half late, I need to get cracking.  I am not sure if I will list them here (as updates) as I read them, or label them in my end of year list. We'll see.

 The challenge was found at My Reader's Block here.You can read the specific rules at the link. 

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Booknote: How to Find Out Anything

Since this book deals with research and teaching people how to do it, I figured I would share the review I posted about it on my GoodReads profile here as well. I think for people new to the research process or trying to learn how to do it, this is a good start. For most librarians, this should be review.

How to Find Out Anything: From Extreme Google Searches to Scouring Government Documents, a Guide to Uncovering Anything About Everyone and EverythingHow to Find Out Anything: From Extreme Google Searches to Scouring Government Documents, a Guide to Uncovering Anything About Everyone and Everything by Don Macleod
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was better than I anticipated. For librarians, this book can serve as a review of things we know already (or should have learned either in library school or somewhere along the way in our work). So, for librarians, it is a book that can be skimmed and reviewed as needed. Now, for the rest of the people who are not librarians or professional researchers, Mr. MacLeod brings a lot of knowledge to the table in a relatively compact book.

He covers the following:

*How to think like a researcher. Learning how to ask the right questions, but also learning how to know when you have found the answer.

*On Google, including some advanced techniques. This part does show the usual disadvantage of some books that present content about the Internet: they can quickly change or go out of date. Some of the Google features mentioned are either not there or they are about to be phased out, like iGoogle (the personalized web page component that Google is retiring). Also, Google has made it more difficult to find the advanced search options (getting to the actual advanced search screen is not easy, and he does not mention it in the book. I do not know if he just did not consider it important, or took it for granted). However, many of the tips on advanced commands you can use are pretty good.

*Stuff on finding information from other sources than the "usual" Google search. He looks at associations, business resources, government resources. This is a pretty good section that shows that not everything is on Google. In fact, if you are only relying on Google, you are missing a hell of a lot of information.

*How to find people. This was a mixed bag. Yes, you can find out many things by the digital footsteps people leave behind. However, getting to it may not be easy. Often, you have to pay to get specific information about people (say for things like background checks). Contrary to common myths, stalking someone is not as easy as it used to. It can be done, but it does take a lot of work and savvy, and as I said, you may have to pay. And that is a good point to make: not all the information is free, and MacLeod does point that out, highlighting some of the paid services that may be of interest or not.

*He also gives credit to the library and librarians, for in this age, they are the one place where you can get a lot of information for free plus you can get good research support. It does pay off to get a library card and to become friends with your local librarians.

So overall, for what the book claims to do, it is pretty good. It does provide good advice and information on how to find a variety of things. It is written in pretty easy to understand language, so the average person should be able to pick it up and get some things done. He even gives some sample exercises to help you practice what you learn. In conclusion, for librarians, this is mostly a review (if you paid attention in library school or at your workplace you paid attention to the older, experienced librarian). For lay people, this is a good place to learn a bit about research, what sources and places to use, and how to use them. It is not the be all, end all, but it is a pretty good start. I think the book does a lot to de-mistify the research process, and that is a good thing. I have no problem with people learning to do these things. I am all about empowering people, and I know that I will still have work since my patrons will always have research and information needs as well as be taught how to use resources and evaluate them. As a librarian, this is a book I would keep on my shelf both to review things now and then as well as to lend to people as needed.

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