Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Some thoughts on leaving (or rather being kicked out of) Google Reader

By now, everyone knows that Google is killing off their Google Reader rss reader. I am a pretty heavy user of rss feeds, both professionally and personally. To me, they are essential to keeping up professionally as well as staying informed personally. Thus when the announcement came, I found myself having to, yet again, go look for an alternative. After a week or so, I have a few thoughts for what little they may be worth. Keep in mind I am not a techie or geek or twopointopian. I may use rss a lot, but I certainly don't delve into every little nut and bolt. All I want is something that reads the feeds, allows me to organize them, save some posts to read later or refer to later for blogging, and that is about it. In other words, I don't need anything fancy. So, that's the point of view I am bringing. If you want something more polished or with more technical knowledge, there are others who can give you more depth.

I will start by saying that I do not buy the idea of just using Twitter and Facebook to keep up. Twitter is pretty much the equivalent of drive-by shootings. Content just comes and goes, and as the old saying goes, "you snooze, you lose." While you can arrange the people and items you follow into lists, you can't save anything in terms of posts aside from marking them as favorites if you catch them. The search option, to be honest, is not that great at times neither. As for Facebook, I don't consider my friends and social acquaintances as good sources of information; there are one or two exceptions, but they are rare and far between. Also, searching for anything on Facebook is next to impossible because, let us be plain here, their search pretty much sucks. I use an rss reader to bring order from chaos. I use a reader so I can keep track of a curated list of specific sources. Twitter and Facebook simply cannot do that. Now, if those two tools work for you, then more power to you. For those of us who need more depth and substance past quick headlines, something like a feed reader is very valuable.

If you want a list of rss feed reader alternatives, Mr. Phil Bradley has put together a list of 20 alternatives and then another one of 33 more.  I did not go through every single one, but I did go through a few. There are other posts out there listing alternatives, which are mostly the usual list of options. I say go to Mr. Bradley's lists and take it from there as he picks up a few things no one else has.

So, what has worked for me and what has not? I exported my feeds, and after a week or so of experimenting, this is what I have learned:

The stuff that did not work or was not good enough for what I need it to do:
  • Bloglines. I had used Bloglines previously, and I was pretty happy with it until it changed, and then later got bought out. By the way, they are powered now by the same folks who power Netvibes, of which I will speak of in a moment. With the changes they did, my old account went to hell, so I had to make a new one, or try to make a new one. During the week after the announcement, they had a lot of speed issues, as in they were extremely slow. The fact that they were being run by Netvibes did not help neither because I encountered some glitch that in essence "crossed" Bloglines with Netvibes, and not in a good way. Bottom line is that Bloglines is not what it used to be, and unless you like the Netvibes interface and style, you are probably not going to like Bloglines. I am certainly not using it. 
  • Netvibes. This is a popular choice for the popular folks. I believe places like Mashable, Lifehacker, and even a librarian or two mentioned it as a choice. The problem I had with Netvibes now is the same one I always had since I opened the account way back when personal start pages were popular: it is slow as molasses. In fact, I have seen paint dry faster. I will grant that this week they probably had a lot of demand. But the issue is not new. The few times I tried to use it, I just left frustrated and went back to Google Reader. Updating in Netvibes is also not too consistent. So, it looks very pretty, and I can appreciate that. But I honestly fail to see the appeal given the slow speed in loading overall and in updating. Also, during the past week, it had an issue creating dashboards. When I attempted to create a new one, it would "flip" over to some generic Bloglines page (this is where the company owning both is a problem it seems); it was like some cable crossed somewhere. On the positive, Netvibes was pretty responsive when I tweeted about the issue, and they did fix that bug for me. That responsiveness I certainly appreciate, but until the product gets better in terms of speed and not freezing up, it is not one I am bound to use. By the way, I did try it both at home and at work, two locations where I do have high speed Internet, so I know that it is not my issue. They are just sluggish. And that just does not cut it. 
  • Feed Booster ( It imports, so I was able to do an import of feeds. However, the interface is not intuitive at all. Nor is it simple to use. Overall, the screen was a mess, unclear, and you could not even see all the feeds you imported. I got the impression it may not have imported all the material in spite of saying it did. I would stay away from this one.
  • Pulse ( It does not import. It looks very pretty, so if you like the magazine style set-up, and you use a tablet, you may like this. From what I saw, it is very basic, and it populates based on preset things. Basically, if you just want to read the headlines of daily news from the usual places, this may be ok. If you need something deeper and more substantial, this is not it.
  • The Old Reader ( This was interesting. This is one that a few people claim is a lot like using, well, the old Google Reader. So I was interested. I was able to set up an account. Now, importing feeds? That was a different pain. Apparently, they lack capacity, so they take your import cue, then you have to get in line. The first message I got when trying to import was that they had no cue spots. Later, I was able to get the import in, only to learn there were about 30,000 (yes, those are four zeroes) ahead of me to get the feeds loaded up. I could add feeds by hand just fine, but given the number of feeds I follow, that was not an option. So, I left it and like some infomercial cooking device (Video link) "I set it and forgot it." And to quote that fine entrepreneur, "but wait, there's more!" A couple of days ago, Old Reader did e-mail me to tell me that my feeds were ready. I logged in, and it looks like all the feeds are there. The interface may take some getting used to, but it may be workable. Keep in mind that it only brings in your feeds. If you had saved items on Google's tool, they are not making the trip over. That is pretty much the case for most of the options. The fact that I had to wait so long to get things set up with them was a big turn-off, since by then I had found another easy and viable option, which I will mention shortly. Will I use Old Reader? For now, maybe more as a backup than as my main reader. It is still running slow at time due to the demand, but I can hope that will improve over time. 
  • Newsalloy ( This has no option to import. It is just a basic news reader. You can add some things manually if I recall. I did not spend much time here. 
  • Newsblur ( is another darling for some people out there. However, here is the deal. It is capped at 64 feeds for the free version. That's it. And recently, they stopped taking in free users. A tool that is not free is simply not an option when there are other decent free options out there. Once I saw the cap, I did not bother. Actually, I just checked again as I was typing this, and the free cap (they are doing free it seems) is down to 12 sites to track and other restrictions.
  • ( Another basic news reader. This is not really an rss reader per se.
 Stuff I am waiting on or want to check out later as of this writing:
  • I did request an invite for Sprightly ( If I do get in, I will try to let people know about it.
  • I heard some good things about Rolio (, but I have not tried it. Again, if I do, I will try to let people know.
What actually worked for me:
  • Feedly. (  This is an extension for Firefox and Chrome. I am a Firefox user, so given I heard good things about it, I took the chance. Naturally, the disadvantage may be for some you do have to have Firefox on your device. Or you need a tablet where you can install it. I have an iPad at work, and yes, they have an app for it, which I did install. Personally, I prefer using this on the laptop via the browser extension, but the iPad app is ok and can be read, so in a pinch, it's ok. However, I do like the extension. The default is a magazine style set up, but you can change it to a list similar to Google Reader. I have gone back and forth on the view, and I am fine with it. In fact, I am getting used to the magazine style. Keep in mind, what this extension does is "pull" your stuff from Google reader, so you sign in with your Google account, and then it pulls the stuff, synchronizing with Google as well. For those concerned, recently on their blog, Feedly reassured users that they are working on an API clone, so after Google Reader goes extinct, you should be fine. I will wait and see if indeed that is the case, but I certainly feel pretty good about using this. I have not gone back to Google Reader since I made the switch to Feedly, and I am not planning to. By the way, the saved items I had on Google Reader came over (due to the syncing), which was cool as well. 
So that is what I have learned. Feedly is working well for me, and it seems business is back to normal. Well, as normal as can be. I have always known that when it comes to free products online, we live at the whim of the maker. So I take things with some caution and a big grain of salt. What is here today can certainly be gone tomorrow, which is why I also try not to keep my eggs in one basket. Since I read my feeds in various locations, I tend to prefer web-based solutions. However, if you prefer some desktop tool, there are those options as well; Mr. Bradley's list provides some too.  He also has a nice reminder of what I just said in terms of free online tools that I think is worth reading. I think I agree with his description of Google as "trying things out for short periods of time and then, like the 3 year old toddler, throwing them to one side if they don't do quite what they expect." As Mr. Bradley says, the real issue with Google now is one of trust. Sure, if they shut down a free product, it is what it is. It is their right to do so if they are not making any money on it or whatever reason they want to give. They own the thing; it is theirs to kill. But the damage to reputation is there. I am sure a lot of people are going to trust them next as the question becomes: what will Google kill next? It is not a matter of if they will kill something next. By now, we know they will, but what will it be? GMail? Maybe down the road Google Plus? Sure, why the hell not. They can push it all they want, but if no enough people bite, I am sure the toddler will get tired once it sees it is not getting attention. Blogger? I do keep my blog backed up just in case. As the old saying goes, nothing lasts forever. You folks get the idea.

So, for now I am sticking with Feedly, and keeping my feeds loaded to The Old Reader and maybe one or two other places. They may be here today and gone tomorrow, but I will try to hang on as much as I can. What I do fail to understand is why take a good thing and destroy it. I mean, I get the financial incentive part. But the decision does not seem to be very constructive, and it did alienate a lot of people. Is that alienating people worth it? Maybe to them it is. Not to me, but then again, I don't run the place.

For what it's worth.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Article Note: On Employment Opportunities for New Academic Librarians

Citation for the article:

Tewell, Eamon C., "Employment Opportunities for New Academic Librarians: Assessing the Availability of Entry Level Jobs." portal: Libraries and the Academy 12.4 (2012): 407-423.

Read via Project Muse.

This article reports on a 12-month study, running from 2010 to 2011, of 1,385 job advertisements drawn from various job aggregators. The goal was to assess just how available or not entry level jobs for academic librarians are. In some ways, this article confirms much of the discussion already going on in the librarian blogosphere. For those who have been in the job market recently, it may validate some of our experiences. It is not news, nor should it be news, that getting a librarian job in academia is extremely difficult and competitive. It is even more so if you are fresh out of library school given competition with librarians already in the field who may either have graduated previously and just could not find a job right away or more experienced librarians who are making lateral moves in their careers. In this situation, new librarians with little or not practical experience stand to lose. As Tewell writes, "the job market is very limited for entry level job seekers in particular, who typically lack the experience of more seasoned job applicants and are unlikely to have integrated themselves into librarianship’s multifaceted culture" (408).

The author summarizes the history of the library job market in the literature review. The author mentions that the severe shortage of jobs led to articles, and I will add blogs, blaming LIS schools and professional associations, such as ALA, for misrepresenting the market. Let's be honest here. There has to be some misrepresentation going on. What library school is going to admit less people into its programs let alone responsibly inform its students about the poor librarian job market? Career advice on "alternative" jobs other than librarian (what most people go to LIS school in the first place) only goes so far, assuming such advice is available. As for organizations like ALA engaging in over-recruiting, let's leave that for another day.

The author monitored various aggregators to draw job ads for the sample. The author then defined an entry level job as one requiring an ALA-accredited MLS or equivalent (and by the way, we could comment on how the word "equivalent" can be a slippery slope or sleazy way to get around the MLS requirement), one or less years of experience, and w/o experience or duty requirements that entry level librarians do not have such as supervisory or administrative experiences. Next, the job ads were sorted based on various traits such as position level, title, institution name and type, location, and years of experience required.

The author found that entry level positions made up only 20.7% of the total sample. It must be noted that the majority of job ads featured "preferred qualifications," which are often code words for what an institution really, really wants, and if you don't possess them, please don't bother to apply.

Other notes:

  • The majority of job postings came from larger universities, 68.9% of the positions advertised. Then colleges with 19.4%. Public institutions had the majority of postings at 52.6% (415). 
  • A question the author asked, and one that now and then flares up in the librarian blogosphere: "How do the increasing number of professional positions that do not require an MLS impact the librarian job market?" (417). Go back and consider those ads with "preferred qualifications" among other things also when you ponder this question. There are other questions that need answers as well such as entry level jobs filled by real entry level applicants versus applicants with prior professional experience (I would define this prior professional experience as post-MLS). 
  • This may be of concern, especially in light of recent cases such as McMaster University. As the author writes, "the increasing number of nontraditional library employment opportunities indicates that although the MLS remains a prerequisite for a majority of positions, this may not remain the case as academic libraries continue to redefine their goals and create new positions accordingly" (418). This goes along with the idea of "feral" librarians as proposed by James Neal.
  • In sample cases, it is clear that experience does correlate with obtaining a library job, or at least getting a good library job. 
  • Statement of the obvious because as we know a lot of the LIS literature basically presents a lot of the obvious. Here we go: "It is not unheard of for entry level positions to be obtained by professionals with several years of experience, particularly in a difficult job market" (420).
  • Some very small rays of hope: 
    • "Applicants for entry level jobs are most likely to find positions in a university setting..." (421).
    • "This suggests that for job hunters, targeting universities may be a more fruitful path to finding employment than pursuing particular areas of the country" (421). Translation: find a university in a place you think you can bear living in. Don't just hope you are going to get that cool job in Seattle because you want to live in Seattle. The university that will hire you may not be in the coolest city of your dreams. However, geographic mobility remains important. 
    • "In terms of entry level positions, recent graduates have the most opportunities in Public Services and Electronic Services" (421). For what my humble opinion is worth, this is still a "people" profession. Even if you work in electronic resources, depending on the place, odds are good you may end up with a reference desk rotation or liaison duties, so odds are good that you will need people skills.
  • Conclusion: "This study provides evidence that in the current academic library market, entry level positions are greatly outnumbered by those requiring years of experience and duties beyond the reach of recent graduates. Recent graduates lacking significant practical experience may find securing a professional position to be a potentially insurmountable challenge" (422). 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Article Note: On Using New Media to Teach Information Literacy

Citation for the article:

Cope, Jonathan and Richard Flanagan, "Information Literacy in the Study of American Politics: Using New Media to Teach Information Literacy in the Political Science Classroom." Behavioral & Social Sciences Librarian 32.1 (2013): 3-23.

A big part of my philosophy as an instruction and information literacy librarian is that the skills my team and I teach are lifelong learning skills. When we teach students how to do research, how to evaluate the sources the find, to ask questions, so on, we do it not only for the moment but with an eye to the future. We do it with the belief that, hopefully, they will be able to use those skills in their lives after college whether it is to buy a house, look up information on a medical condition, or evaluate the claims and lies of politicians. Thus I found myself interested in this article because these days we get a lot of political information via new media, which can be defined here for the most part as online sources, especially social media. This topic has always interested me, even if I don't get to write much about it. We hear a lot about social media in librarianship, but we rarely hear about teaching about it to our students (or the community at large if we look at public librarians), and more importantly, how to evaluate and even respond to it. There is a lot in this article that instruction librarians can and should learn and then teach to their students.

Some of my notes with comments:

  • "Several political scientists have championed the potential of including blogs, social media, and other new media forms in their political science courses; however, there has been little close examination of some thornier issues that new media post to the political science educator" (4). There has been a little writing on the topic of using blogs to teach students about the scholarly process and conversation. We probably need to keep investigating this further, and for me, as we teach our classes, we may need to consider this topic more. 
  • What the article argues, which I think is very important: "In this article, we argue that when using new media (e.g., blogs, social networks) in political science courses, a great deal of attention must be paid to developing within students the capacity to evaluate claims found in information sources and to the development of a disciplinary analytical framework that students can use to situate their research within the broader context of the course and the social and political world" (4). 
  • Professors still love to demand students use "reliable sources." However, times have changed. Sources have changed, and we need to teach our students how to use everything at their disposal, and more importantly, how to evaluate it. As the authors write, "the new media environment for covering American politics is a chaotic blend of independent bloggers, Internet media aggregators (e.g., The Huffington Post), social media networks, and traditional news organizations with a Web presence. In this context it becomes necessary to think about IL more as a group of methods for thinking about and analyzing the claims made by variegated information sources than as a set of skills that can be taught divorced from a disciplinary engagement with the information content" (5). I will spare my four readers my opinion of most "independent" political bloggers and places like HuffPo. But yes, it is important to think in terms of teaching critical thinking skills and evaluation skills. The nice thing about this article is that it describes a collaboration between a librarian and a political science professor. This is how it would work best: the expert in the content and the expert in information sources and research coming together to teach the students. 
  • The notion of "reliable sources" is not clear cut anymore is because, as the authors mention, newspapers have been hiring bloggers for a while to write for their newspapers. In other words, you don't necessarily have a "traditional" journalist writing for The New York Times, for example, when it comes to things like politics. This means we need to teach students to ask a whole new set of questions. 
  • The problem with a lot of nontraditional media sources, or why Matt Drudge's blog is not a good source (just because he got lucky in breaking the Lewinsky story, it does not mean he is some objective reporter). As the article authors write, "these new sources often approach the news with a strong ideological and partisan approach that challenges traditional ideas of unbiased, professional and peer-reviewed journalism" (6). 
  • By the way, this is not just for political science classes. Even undergraduate composition classes need this. "The ability to evaluate the veracity of claims and then to synthesize these different claims into coherent written arguments that offer original and thoughtful analysis of the material within a disciplinary context is a fairly high-order skill" (7). And boy was it a challenge to teach it as I learned when I taught composition long ago. 
  • The authors describe an assignment where they have students look at a Congressional District where they write a paper on a congressional race deemed competitive by election time. Naturally, this can be challenging as media coverage can vary from district to district. This is worth reading as the students are taught skills that I wish a lot of common citizens had. A large reason that the U.S. ends up with such bad politicians is that people just don't make an effort to be informed. In many cases, they may not know how, but it is also because finding that information is not always accessible. Some of the things students are asked to do include (see page 8)
    • track developments in the race such as fundraising, campaign tactics, advertising, and media coverage. 
    • make note of local political history and demographics
  • When you think about it, it does take some work to find some of the above, but a lot of new websites, online sources, and social media have made some of it easier. For example, Open Secrets (out of the Center for Responsive Politics) and the Sunlight Foundation are two I can think off the top of my head now. Before the Internet, you had to rely mostly on national newspapers, and if you were lucky enough to have access to Lexis-Nexis, maybe you could look at local newspapers. In addition, according to the authors, pre-Internet, students were taught how to use Congressional Quarterly's Politics in America or the National Journal's Almanac of American Politics (9). I think I learned about those two in library school. We have come a long way in terms of options and resources, but it also means we need to be asking a lot more questions and looking at sources more critically. 
  • A challenge the authors faced with their students: "While the authors' students were very good at quickly finding particular nuggets of news and information related to their assignment, they frequently struggled with critically examining the claims made by those information sources, understanding the differences between different kinds of sources (e.g., a highly polemical blog post vs. an empirical analysis), and then synthesizing those pieces of information into a coherent and original analysis" (11). In part, this just reinforces that we can't assume that just because the kids are tech savvy, that they know how to get online to find information and use it well. I've mentioned it once or twice.
  • Method. Authors examined 12 student papers and their discussion board postings. They then created a typology of students based on their work: the Believer (takes all news as trustworthy no matter what), the Cynic (suspects everything and claims no news media or campaign claims can be trusted. In a way, think of the character of Detective John Munch in Homicide: Life on the Streets and later Law and Order: SVU), the Opportunistic Surfer (the guy or gal who just loves being able to find all sorts of things online. However, is more in it for the tech than for the substance), and the Discerning Analyst (this is the ideal they aspire to get; the student who can evaluate what he or she finds properly and synthesizes well). The article includes a table defining the types. I think this may be a bit too simplistic. Given politics today, you do need a bit of the skepticism of the cynic in addition to being a discerning analyst. That probably would earn me a cynical label, but keep in mind, I know how to use and analyze what I find. However, we can't afford to have believers running around, which is probably why politics can be as bad as they are. We need to teach them to be good discerning analysts who are willing to ask questions and call b.s. if needed. It's not all cold objectivity. 
  • More on the need to be skeptical, but not falling into the deep cynical trap: "Although skepticism about claims is a healthy starting point, a deeper evaluation of the sources and an engagement in some kind of argument is necessary for a good piece of political writing" (15). Be very skeptical, but then go beyond that. 
  • Significance: "The new world of political blogs and the rise of amateur/citizen journalism require attention in the classroom, something that most accounts in political science and information literacy have ignored" (18). 
  • "Students must be provided with the analytical tools necessary to examine the empirical claims made by partisans, and they need the historical and contextual tools to understand the interplay of these forces" (19). Not just students, but the population in general needs these tools, and I think librarians, both academic and public, should be able to help in this (at least the good ones should be able to help). 
  • And to conclude: "The students must also understand the impact of new media on voters and campaigns, in terms of both how campaigns and candidates are using the new technology, and to what degree vote decisions are impacted by these new mediums of communication. Students share these struggles with other citizens; the digital revolution holds the promise of increasing the quality and quantity of information. But students, like voters, need the wisdom that reflection and education provide to make the best of new technology and media forms" (21). 

Monday, March 18, 2013

Article Note: On teachers as second career librarians

Citation for the article:

Lambert, Claudett, and Nadine Newman, "Second Career Librarian: Teachers Transitioning to Librarianship." Library Review 61.6 (2012): 428-446.

Read via Interlibrary Loan.

Right away I was interested in this article because I am a teacher who made the transition, after a few long winding roads and some bumps, into librarianship. I knew that many school teachers did jump into school librarianship, often as a way to get out of the classroom or as a way to advance that did not involve moving into administration. In my years, I have not seen many school teachers transition into academic librarianship like I did, but I am sure there are some out there. I can say that having training in pedagogy and education has been invaluable in my career as an instruction librarian. I think it does give me an edge over other librarians who fill instruction positions that lack such training. While you can gain some knowledge and training in programs such as ACRL's Institute on Information Literacy (a.k.a. Immersion), having the teaching degree does go a long way.

The authors start by reviewing the literature to point out that librarianship has gained benefit from professionals in other fields coming to librarianship such as scientists, lawyers (in fact, one of my classmates in library school was a lawyer who had served as public defender. Boy, did she have tales to tell), teachers, and managers. Many of them came to the profession by serendipity. I know I came to it because someone pointed me to it at the right time. The authors also go on to point out that the teaching profession has had a series of challenges and troubles: classroom conditions, low pay (not that librarianship is any better depending on where you are), politics, etc. Many teachers leave within the first five years of entering the teaching profession. To make their point, the authors go on to observe that librarianship has relatively good levels of satisfaction. Overall, and this is something I have known, the service orientations of teaching and librarianship tend to be very compatible.

The article is reporting on a qualitative analysis of data from interviews conducted with library degree graduates at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica. It was a small sample size. The authors wanted to see what issues had influence on teachers leaving the profession.

Some additional notes:

  • As I was reading and the authors discussed the loss of teachers to that profession, I wondered if education as a while is really bothered by the losses. Does it really lose enough good teachers (I don't mean the weak ones who just get weeded out) for it to make a difference? 
  • And then another question was the eternal issue of the non-existent librarian shortage. I don't know right off the top of my head if library jobs are any more plentiful in Jamaica. But here in the U.S. we have a serious excess of library school graduates, new and old, plus librarians looking for work (be it promotions, lateral moves, so on) competing for an extremely tight number of jobs. So, what happens to those teachers who now became librarians? Public schools have been chopping school librarian jobs left and right. Let's not forget as well just the tight market for other kinds of librarians. So, what do those former teachers do? Languish? Do something else? Go back to teaching? I am thinking these questions could provide further room for research and study. 
  • This caught my eye a bit: "In terms of second career librarians, the literature has failed to give adequate coverage as it relates to public and special libraries. From the literature gleaned, it would appear as if many of these career changers have opted for academic libraries" (433). This may sound cold, but it could be because academic librarianship is often seen as more glamorous and/or prestigious in the librarianship hierarchy. Again, here is another possible field of investigation, a look at public and special librarians. 
  • Again, those of us who came in with teaching skills may have an advantage. The authors cite the following: "McGuiness (2011) notes that most teaching librarians lack not only teaching expertise but also good role models. However, for those teachers who transition to librarianship, they are already equipped with the skills and competencies for the job" (433). I was fortunate that I had one or two good librarian role models when I was coming into the profession. 
  • The authors drew various conclusions from their study (see pg. 442) including: 
    • Teachers had a desire to get advanced education/degrees.
    • They came to the profession due to various conditions (this does seem kind of vague, but I think they are trying to say that for teachers they often had their own reasons). 
    • For many, it was not their initial field of choice. 
    • Librarianship (very often) low paying, but it did not deter them. Keep in mind, teaching is also low paying in most cases.
    • Librarianship is a service profession very compatible with teaching (this is something I have always said and believed since I became a librarian). 
  • The authors were doing mostly fine for me until they gave some credence to the by now discredited meme of "the greying of the profession." Let me make it clear again: there are no massive numbers of retirements coming in our profession. In fact, in many cases, people literally drop dead on the job rather than retire; people are just working longer, and there are not that many jobs out there. Need proof? C'mon, a few of us have been talking about this since at least 2005.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Article Note: On Information Literacy as Socially Enacted Practice

Citation for the article:

Lloyd, Annemaree, "Information Literacy as a Socially Enacted Practice: Sensitising Themes for an Emerging Perspective of People-in-practice." Journal of Documentation 68.6 (2012): 772-783.

Read via  Interlibrary Loan (ILL).

I thought this article was a bit on the verbose side to say that much of information literacy happens in context, and that for some settings, information literacy is specific. The paper begins by stating its aim is "to explain how information literacy happens" (772). That seems like a grandiose goal to me, and I am not sure how well the paper delivered it. I was intrigued by the ideas of how information and knowledge are made legitimate and then sanctioned. Overall, I thought this paper was a lot of theory. It felt like stuff I already know or can deduce from my practice, except I did not need to go "so deep" to say it.

Some very brief notes:

  • "This requires a shift in our understanding about what constitutes information literacy. It moves us away from individualist approaches, which seek to understand how an individual engages with information, and towards conceptualising how the phenomenon is constituted by practice architectures, i.e. the sayings, doings, and relatings (Schatzki, 2002; Kemmis and Grootenboer, 2008), that shape the information landscape, orienting and orchestrating the practices of the social site towards particular ways of knowing and particular forms of knowledge" (774). 
  • "That is to say, that people participating collectively in a social setting bring practices such as information literacy into being, and shape it in ways that are collectively agreed upon through negotiation, and in ways that reflect the practice traditions of the setting" (774). 
  • "Information literacy is a collective practice, one which not only connects people to rational and instrumental aspects of their performance but also to the embodied and affective aspects that shape identity and situate people within that social context. We become information literate and operationalise information literacy in ways that reflect a negotiated understanding of what constitutes knowledge and ways of knowing" (775). 
  • The author mentions that we get into practice via mediators. This was one small idea of the article that intrigued me: librarians as mediators that interpret the landscape for newcomers or those needing a little help. It makes sense to me and seems consistent with a lot of my experience. 
  • Something that seems to be common sense, or at least something that I think most information literacy librarians already know: people "must learn to recognise and then engage with specific discourses that represent the knowledge domains of their organisation or community" (779). Put another way, the academic conversations in a business school are different than those in a history department. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Article Note: On Outreach Initiatives

Citation for the article:

Dennis, Melissa, "Outreach Initiatives in Academic Libraries, 2009-2011." Reference Services Review 40.3 (2012): 368-383.

Read via Interlibrary Loan.

The article discusses the results of a very small survey sample of 21 librarians who managed to correctly complete the survey on the topic of outreach duties. I have to wonder about my professional brethren's ability to read directions given that the author mentions that some non-academic librarians tried to complete the survey in spite of her directions specifying it was geared to academic librarians. And then, out of a total of 37 responses, only 21 managed to correctly complete it (373). I thought literacy was a requirement to be a librarian. The small sample size is certainly an issue, but this then just leaves room for further research as the author suggests at the end of the article.

I was interested in this article because I was an Outreach Librarian at my previous place of work (PPOW). That was my title, and my duties included coordinating, creating, and implementing programs for the library for the academic campus and the community at large. I also served as the library's social media specialist. In addition, I was also a subject liaison, and I worked as a reference librarian with rotations at the reference desk. So, the kind of work Dennis is discussing is the kind of work I used to do. I will note that my position was designed to have that title and set of responsibilities. In other words, unlike the librarians sampled, it was not just some secondary thing for me to do; it was my main thing to do. That support for it at various levels varied from inconsistent to non-existent is a separate issue (one I may discuss later).

Dennis notes that the ACRL Standards include expectations for the library to contribute to institutional effectiveness, which gives a rationale for outreach activities (qtd. in 368). For me, much of outreach is a contribution to institutional effectiveness. Specifically, it is important to campus commitments of creating lifelong learners. Dennis goes on to add that "implementing successful outreach initiatives may offer more ways for individual libraries to measure their value to the institution" (369). I would argue that a good outreach program can add value to the library and campus; it also can build a lot of good will.

Some additional notes from the article:

  • An initial definition of outreach: "The term 'outreach' typically implies reaching out to non-traditional library users, extending 'beyond borders' of a physical library and promoting underutilized or new library resources. Today's outreach librarians may use the term more broadly to include any initiative that reaches an audience that otherwise may have not been exposed to library resources or services" (369). I partially agree with the latter part of that statement, and I will discuss it a bit more below.
  • The duties of the outreach librarian will overlap with other departments and units. I know mine did. I worked very closely with our instruction librarian back in the day, plus I did reference work. In fact, reference for me was another way to reach students and whoever else came into the library. It is a given, I would say, that you will do other things, and your duties will overlap. The exception may be on a very large campus where librarians are very specialized, something the author notes. But if you work in a mid-sized place and smaller, outreach may well be one of the many hats you wear whether you have the title or not. Here I am slowly discovering that much of the outreach efforts will overlap with my instruction and information literacy duties; however, I do have a team I can count on for help. We have a lot of room for growth here.
  • Funding can be a challenge. Support I would say is a big challenge as well. Outreach can sound like a glamorous job, especially if you think all it is is doing social media (also known as "sitting on your computer doing Facebook, online chat, etc. all day" as I have known some people who aspired to just that), which may be a part of outreach, but it is not all of outreach. It can be challenging. It takes work, and it takes an ability to get along with people since a lot of the work is collaborative in nature. An ambivalent administration and/or resistant librarians can also be a significant challenge. 
  • There is a suggestion that academic librarians should "look to non-academic librarians as their own job duties expand and include outreach" (Cmor, qtd. in 370). Because there is no possible way we can learn anything from public librarians. Pardon the snark, but something that does irritate me is the snobbery a lot of librarians exhibit when it comes to public librarians; like somehow they are beneath us. Personally, I have found that I learn a lot from public librarians. I can only hope that what I share, some of them may find useful as well. I think in many cases there are opportunities for collaboration that are missed, often due to that snobbish attitude. 
  • Dennis mentions that academic liaison librarians are starting to include outreach in their duties (371). This also expands the definition of outreach. Recently, on some online forum I prefer to not mention, there was the question of what is defined as outreach. The apparent consensus was that it is just reaching outside the library to the community at large. Yes, that is part of it, but it is not all of it. When I go work in a student dorm on campus, that is outreach (even though the students are my main constituency/stakeholder). When I reach out to faculty members, whether in person or online, to make them aware and engage them in our various services, that is outreach as well. When I bring them into the library for a program, that is outreach as well. So, if I am hiring for an outreach position, those would also be things I would look for. An outreach librarian works in and out of the library. You really cannot have one without the other, and it is not just for the "non-traditionals" or "not the usual" folks. Sometimes you do have to reach out to "the usual folks" as well. Plus, often those "usual folks" may be your ambassadors of word of mouth to bring other people to the library. 
  • Other ideas for outreach, which are mentioned, and that I am thinking abut for my campus: 
    • residence halls
    • international students
    • some academic departments (a librarian outpost)
    • student affairs
    • campus orientation (I am actually starting to work on this with some help from others on campus). 
  • The eternal challenge, and this can vary in severity from place to place: "To increase participation, future events would need to be better scheduled, advertised, and more widely marketed" (372). This also includes knowing small local details, things like, if you live in a pretty conservative religious town (as I used to do), you don't schedule events on a Wednesday night (it's church night). 
  • The article provides a small, nice list of some outreach initiatives other librarians have done. I will admit I am always amused by the bathroom stall newsletter idea. 
  • As I mentioned, I had the title of outreach librarian. However, this may have been an exception rather than a rule if we go by the article. Dennis writes that "the fact that none f the titles of these participants includes the words 'outreach,' 'marketing,' or 'promotion' indicates that outreach is probably not a primary function of the participant's job, but rather a smaller portion of the job" (375). Dennis notes further than her survey did not ask how much time the participants devoted to outreach, something that I would have found of interest. Dennis concludes that outreach has become ingrained "in a wide variety of public service positions. . ." (375).
  • We do need to note "it seems that the position of 'outreach librarian' is still inconsistent in many academic libraries, and thus the initiatives considered successful outreach projects come in different packages" (377). From my experience, I can attest to this. 
  • "The survey indicates that academic librarians with little investment in outreach initiatives still feel a need to perform outreach, as new technologies require such projects to fall into their line of duties" (378). And there is more that could be said on uses of technology and social media for outreach, but that is another topic for another time. 


Friday, March 08, 2013

Booknote: Mentoring Faculty of Color

First, I am posting my brief general review of the book as I posted it to my GoodReads profile. Then, I will jot down additional notes and some quotes from the book I want to remember and share with others.

Mentoring Faculty of Color: Essays on Professional Development and Advancement in Colleges and UniversitiesMentoring Faculty of Color: Essays on Professional Development and Advancement in Colleges and Universities by Dwayne Mack
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The book features 14 essays written by underrepresented faculty who teach at predominantly white colleges and universities. The book fills a very important gap in the literature of higher education: how faculty members of minority groups go through getting tenure, the obstacles and challenges they face, and the various paths they take in creating a way out of no way. The book starts with a solid introduction that provides context and sets up the book well. From there, this collection of essays does various things, and it does them well. Some essays give testimony and provide encouragement for readers. Other essays break down the mechanics of academia and debunk sacred cows such as the idea that academia and higher education are a meritocracy (they are not). Additionally, there are essays that provide very practical advice on issues ranging from how to create a good CV to how to deal with the tenure-track workload. This is definitely a book that every graduate student of color and every recent graduate school graduate of color needs to have.

Furthermore, this is a book that senior faculty, of any color-- white or ethnic-- needs to read as well. It provides information and tools necessary to provide good mentoring opportunities for new scholars. A big message here is for those who came before to give back to those who are coming after them.

Overall, whether you are a new scholar of color on the tenure track or a veteran seeking to learn more about how to help your peers, this is a book for you. The essays are clear and easy to read. This is a book you will probably want to keep on your shelf.

I will add that the book has some things to say to academic librarians, but I will write about that a bit more in my professional blog.

View all my reviews

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As an academic librarian, I think this book has much to say and offer for those academic librarians of color who are on a tenure track. It also has lessons for those of us on the academic life who may be faculty (sort of, of a different kind, hybrid, what have you) or just academic professionals. The book tells you what you need to know in simple and direct language. The authors demystify the stuff that scholars of color need to know that the majority take for granted or in some cases flat-out refuse to tell them.

Some highlights from some of the essays in the book: 

  • Pottinger's essay describing the Lasallian environment reminded me of my own days in a Lasallian school. The lesson of using the college mission to build your own academic reputation and get buy-in as minority scholar is an important one. It makes me think how I may be able to get it done here at Berea College.
  • The Otieno essay was well-structured and provided a nice set of steps at the end for a summary. In fact, various essays in the book provide good summaries at the end. 
  • Otieno provides some valuable advice on informal mentoring relations: "As in any situation where free advice is given, it is your responsibility to critically reflect upon the advice you get through these informal relationships" (34).
  • I found Khaleel's essay moving and to be honest I cringed at times, maybe in part because I have found myself in situations similar to hers in the past. How she put up with some of the straight up bigotry on her campus truly amazes me. She is probably much more patient than I am because after the second job description change I would have told them what they could do with it. 
  • Professor Khaleel goes on to write, "it is ironic that faculty hired to teach in colleges and universities seldom have formal training to teach." I've said that for ages, and I should know. Unlike the vast majority of my librarian peers and teaching faculty I work with, I DO have formal teaching training, and years of experience now in teaching (and no, not just one-shots as one big shot librarian who shall remain nameless once suggested to try to put me down a few years back). 
  •   From Garcia's essay, "Work with students was not formally acknowledged, but instead viewed as a disconnect from the academic realm" (76). This grinds my gears. For me, students come first, and your little faculty coffee talk can wait. Sadly, I know librarians who have that same attitude when it comes to direct student work; this is the kind of librarian who, even though they claim to be public services librarians, prefer to simply sit in an office and be hooked online to "serve" via chat, Facebook, Twitter, so on. Not that online services are not important, but not if it degrades personal, human service. If you think you can do it all sitting down on a computer without seeing a human being (and you are not a programmer, cataloger or some other technical job), you probably should not work as a librarian. And by the way library and academic administrators, when I am working with students, I am working. That is part of my job, and if I have to make you wait because a student needs me, I will make you wait. 
  • Liu's essay on Success in Academic Life for faculty is a very practical essay and likely makes it worth the purchase price of the book. How come no one told me this kind of thing as I came up the ranks? We need more of this stuff. And yes, this includes librarians, who, for all the image of being helpful, can often be anything but helpful with colleagues. 
  • On a broader note, we probably need a similar book on mentoring librarians of color that is as effective as this one. There are bits and pieces out there, but not as concise as this book. 
  • Mack reminds us that in spite of lack of campus collegiality, we scholars of color share a responsibility to "make a way out of no way." I admit, not something I find easy, but I keep trying.
  • Smith asks great question: "Why has being a good scholar and academic come to mean that one should be working incessantly at the expense of doing social justice work, having fun, or maintaining interests outside academia?" (198). As I would say, magnificent question.  For me, the answer was to leave the doctoral path and become an academic librarian. Believe me, so far, it has been a good path. 

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Campus Lecture: Tony Doyle on "Privacy and the New Panopticon"

Tony Doyle, of Hunter College, spoke on our campus in a lecture co-sponsored by the library, on October 2, 2012. I wanted to get these notes down for a while, especially after the concept of panopticon was alluded to by another guru at the Library Assessment Conference later that month. To be honest, I found this small lecture to be more valuable than that other big presentation. These are my notes from the lecture:

  • Do we in fact have less privacy than 20-30 years ago? Yes, we do have less privacy. But is it a good or bad thing? And can we do something about it? 
  • Note to check out work by Helen Nissenbaum on privacy.
  • As individuals, we have a reasonable interest in privacy, keeping some things private. Privacy also allows for experimentation without social costs such as ostracism or stigmas (this is a large reason why I have no problem with people online having pseudonyms or being anonymous, something that does irk a few certain celebrity librarians in the profession). 
  • Socially, privacy promotes social freedom. A robust democracy needs informed citizens. People feel free to share information and seek it if they have a healthy degree of privacy. 
  • Jeremy Bentham came up with the notion of the panopticon. The panopticon is a place where all can be seen without the observer being seen. He developed this concept for a prison. This is the basis of ideas of surveillance and how you could modify your behavior if you know you are being watched. He saw this constant surveillance as a motivator for good behavior. 
  • Peter Singer, a contemporary disciple of Bentham, thinks the concept is a good idea. For example, webcams in restaurant kitchens and even in slaughterhouses. (By the way, you know who else thinks this is a good idea? This "reality show" guy. A show that, by the way, has faced much of the criticism other "reality" shows face: being fake.Take that for what it's worth. For more of Singer on this topic, see his Harper's essay of August 2011.).
  • According to Nissenbaum, our lives are rich with information. Note how we leave digital trails. For instance, something as seemingly "innocent" as EZ passes for toll roads. 
  • There may be a sense that information technology has also enhanced our privacy. This is the sense of desirable anonimity. 
  • But overall, there has been a loss of privacy over the last thirty years. 
  • Four things computers do really well: 
    • Store massive amounts of information.
    • Aggregate exhaustively. 
    • Retrieve easily. 
    • Analyze thoroughly. 
  • Bland bits information, aggregated and analyzed, can generate more information and patterns. 
  • One more thing computers do well: distribute information and data fast and wide. 
  • Note to check out work by James Moor
  • With all this information, marketers can target your vulnerabilities. Sure, custom ads may be of interest, but what are the companies learning about you as you browse, shop, use a credit card, so on? 
  • (To me, Doyle seems awfully optimistic. You can be judged by your profile, maybe even manipulated, but he does not believe this can be nefarious. Given what we know of companies, can we afford this optimism or even naïveté?)
    • On the other hand, we have things now like facial recognition software. But he sees surveillance as good at times. 
    • Overall, we can't count on being totally invisible in terms of privacy as we could in older times. 
  • We ought to do more to protect our privacy in public. 
  • Five important questions that we need answers for: 
    • Who is gathering the information? 
    • What kind of information is being collected? 
    • Why is it being collected? 
    • Who are they sharing it with? 
    • Under what conditions is the information being shared? 
  • Doyle argues the new panopticon in large measure is created by us, by the digital trails we leave. This is also tied to convenience. For example, try renting a car without a credit card. 
  • Problem with new security measures is that after they are added, they never go away. 

Monday, March 04, 2013

Article Note: On Diversity and Working Class Students

Citation for the article:

Casey, Janet Galligani, "Diversity, Discourse, and the Working Class Student." Academe 91.4 (July/August 2005): 33.

I read this as part of a jigsaw exercise for a session of the New Faculty seminar series I am attending this academic year as part of my experience as a new faculty member at Berea College. I read it back in September of last year, so again, this is catching up on some notes.

Notes that I wrote about it as I read it:

  • I think the main point is that we often talk about diversity, that we often say it is a desirable thing, but we don't always know what the term means, let alone what it looks like. In addition, the article considers the invisibility of working class students when compared to other, more visible minorities or groups. 
  • The article opens with an anecdote. It mentions recent commenters regarding diversity regarding diversity, but I noticed the article lacked specific names or citations. To be honest, I've seen bloggers who at least give links and cite better. However, I find the points made to be valid, maybe in part from experience, maybe in part because I've done other readings, so I am able to fill in some of the gaps. The author also draws on personal experience as a teacher. 
  • I am not sure that I totally buy that working class student are always/totally silent. Is this a question of engagement? For us teachers and educators, how can we assure that we do not come across as elitist but instead as approachable?
  • By the way, the rhetoric the author mentions of college as a way up and out of the working class is now coming into question. I would add that, if nothing else, the U.S. as a nation has done a great job of denigrating working class work, but that is a separate thought for a separate time. Anyhow, the Great Recession has served to challenge a lot of previously unchallenged assumptions. 
  • A quote from the article that really caught my attention and one I know can be true: "But this perspective ignores the reality that some students have a lot to lose by going to college. Specifically, working-class students often become alienated from their families in direct proportion to their procurement of new ideas and attitudes, and they are frequently unprepared for the cultural and personal schisms that result." In essence, these students often pay a very high price. 
  • The challenge for faculty who come from working class, or other minority backgrounds, comes from the pressures of academia to conform to its model, making it hard for them to serve as role models. On a side note here, the book I am reading at the moment, Mentoring Faculty of Color, is very relevant on this particular issue (even if it may not go as much into working class directly). 
Some things from the actual session where the article was discussed:

  • The college is working strongly on interracial relations (Black and White mainly, but others too). This is part of the eight Great Commitments of Berea College. There is still much work to be done. 
  • A suggestion was made for future convocation events to have discussion times with safe, facilitated spaces. I have mentioned this as well to at least one member of the campus committee in charge of the convocations. The way things are set up now, students have their departmental labor meetings right after convocations, so basically they have to rush out after the convocation to the labor meetings, which are required. I suggested moving the labor meetings to a different day of week, which could also allow then for the discussion spaces to be created. However, it is a big undertaking to achieve such a change, so I don't foresee it happening any time soon. It is a pity because, outside of some classes that may require students to attend a specific convocation (usually one related to some class topic), convocation speakers and topics are rarely discussed once the event is over. I see this as an issue that needs to be addressed on the campus. 
  • Question given to the group to prompt reflection on the article: what insights on race, class, so on do you take away from the article? 

Friday, March 01, 2013

Article note: On Helping Undergrads Read and Use Scholarly Articles

Citation for the article:

MacMillan, Margy and Allison MacKenzie, "Strategies for Integrating Information Literacy and Academic Literacy: Helping Undergraduate Students Make the Most of Scholarly Articles." Library Management 33.8/9 (2012); 525-535.

Read via Interlibrary Loan (ILL).

The article addresses a common concern: Can our students read the scholarly literature? The authors created a workshop as part of a research methods course to address this. Right off, this seems like a very good idea. As an undergrad, I don't recall getting too many formal lessons on how to read scholarly articles. I don't recall much of that in the basic composition classes I took as a freshman; you know, the ones where you have to write a research paper. As I think about it, I had to learn a lot of it on my own, and then teaching it to high school students finally made it second nature to me. Even in graduate school as an English major it was assumed I knew this basic skill (I did know it by then, but as I said, much of it I had to learn on my own). It seems pretty much every professor I came across either assumed I either knew the skill or that some other place-- another class, the library maybe, or the writing center-- would take care of it. Since I had to learn on my own for the most part, I am always interested when someone makes an effort to teach it. It is a disservice to our students to continue assuming they know how to read an academic article. If teachers expect students to engage in academic conversations, if we expect them to do research that goes along with the flow of academic inquiry, then it is necessary to teach the students how to read an academic article. Teaching this is part of giving students the tools they need so they can have a fair chance at success.

The authors mention that the lessons on how to read an academic article happen during the junior  year. Personally, I don't think we could afford to wait that long at least as it applies to our college here.


  • What the article does: ". . . explore the challenges students encounter in reading scholarly articles, describes a class developed to help them overcome the challenges, and reports the results of a survey of senior students students on their reading practices" (526). The article does deliver on this. I may be interested in seeing if we could run a similar survey here as part of our assessment efforts. 
  • "The academics also felt that practitioners did not read the academic journals" (527). This line caught my eye as it is a common complaint. I am also willing to bet that a lot of librarians in the field, "the practitioners," do not read the academic journals in LIS neither. Many of them may claim to read liblogs, and while there are some good ones out there, that is not enough. 
  • "If scholars and practitioners find the academic literature challenging, should be we suprised that students encounter difficulties" (527). 
  • "Most information literacy (IL) sessions focus on identifying, locating, evaluating, and citing material, but as Rosenblatt notes, 'Shouldn't we, as instructional librarians, be concerned about students' abilities to use the information they have discovered?' (Rosenblatt, 2010, p.60)" (qtd. in 527). We should be involved in making sure our students can read the material that we help them find. We can do it collaboratively with faculty, which would be the preferred way,  or just us doing it in the library. If librarians claim they can't teach it or that it is not their job, then learn how to do it so you can teach it to your students.
  • "We also discussed different ways of annotating, and showed our heavily-annotated copies of the article which contrasted with the near-inviolate printouts some students brought with them" (528). That is how I read academic articles, by the way: I annotate them as I go along. 
  • Modeling and leading by example when teaching is important: "Essentially, the authors modeled how they, as scholars would read the article, what they would check, inquire into, or let pass" (528-529). 
  • Professor MacMillan's page that includes links to pre- and post- test instruments.