Monday, April 29, 2013

ACRL 2013 Conference Notes: Panel on Questioning Authority

ACRL Panel Session
Topic: Questioning Authority: Standard Three and the Critical Classroom
Date: Thursday, April, 11, 2013 at 8:00am

To be perfectly honest, this was not quite as described on the program. I thought it would be more about "teaching students to meet the objectives and outcomes of the ACRL Information Literacy Competency Standards while questioning authority, challenging homogeneous norms, and examining ingrained bias. . . ." (from the program description). Instead, it was heavy focus on LOC classification and practically nothing on teaching (the one thing on teaching language to students was useful, but by the time it came up, too little, too late). It sounded exciting from the program, but it definitely did not deliver as promised. If I had been sitting near the door, I would have left and try to catch something else. In addition, the fact that they assumed everyone in the session had an online device (an assumption I find privileged and elitist to say the least), so they could follow along to some websites was not helpful. For one, the connection was not working up to speed, and the presentation literally ground to a halt. Instead of trying a "plan B" or simply at least telling us what they hoped to accomplished, they consumed time just hoping the sites would load. At any rate, here are my notes, sketchy as they turned out (any comments, as usual, are in parenthesis).

  • Starting with a discussion of authority critiques; basically, the way things work now. (This took my back a bit to my days studying theory in graduate school). 
    • Western-centrism
    • A "Procrustean bed." 
    • Imagine knowledge production as procedural and politically neutral.
    • Reinforce socioeconomic hierarchies.
    • Foreclose interrogation of the meaning of information and literacy. 
  • The illusion of authority. Our place in the classroom, where we also need to honor the knowledge the students bring in. (This reminded me of the work of Paulo Freire, some of which they are probably drawing upon. If interested, I have reviewed a couple of his books here and here. In addition, while I was finding those booknotes, I came across this presentation I listened to at JCLC a few years back that seems relevant and may go along with this).
  • Turn on its head the notion of Wikipedia as lacking authority (ok, I am willing to entertain this, up to a point). They do have an education program (which is nice, but I don't think it automatically washes all of Wikipedia's other sins away. Still, worth a look. I do like the idea of putting students in as information creators, but this is still Wikipedia).
  • On empowering non-catalogers to improve catalog access points.
    • Why? Who nominates headings for the catalog? Who approves them? What's the big deal? Selections, assignments. 
    • Example subject of "police brutality" versus "police community relations." Some may apply spin when it comes to selecting which subject heading to use. 
    • Example of using the term "victim" versus "survivor" for rape, molestation, etc. 
    • An idea to suggest subject headings, look them up in LC Linked Data Service (this is something I need to play with a bit more). The idea is to show students how the record works, and the page can be a teaching tool. This is the useful part: you can use it to teach students about language (While I am not sure how I could integrate this into a lesson yet, I can see the potential for it. As I said, I need to explore it a bit more first, but I think my other instruction librarian here would be interested in this too).
  • There are always opportunities to discuss and explore bias. Does not mean positive or negative, but bias is there. 
    • Smash the academy (this from a group of academics. Nice, but a bit ironic, as they pointed out. Anyhow, sounds like a nice slogan for a button and food for thought).
    • Idea: could pick a Wikipedia article and take it apart. Question how the information is presented and constructed, question and point out biases. 
  • Things to check out
    • @barnlib (Barnard Library's Twitter account. I have added it to my Twitter list to follow).
    • The Barnard Zine Library at
    • Presentation slides from the talk at  (Notice that their title is different than the title on the ACRL program? Their decision? Editorial decision? Either way, as I said before, the program description did not seem to really match the actual topic). 

Friday, April 26, 2013

ACRL 2013 Conference Notes: Geoffrey Canada Opening Keynote

ACRL Opening Keynote
Speaker: Geoffrey Canada, President and CEO Harlem Children's Zone.
Date: Wednesday, April 10, 2013, 4:00pm

  • Opens the keynote by pointing out that President Obama is asking for funding to replicate his work and that of the HCZ. 
  • Librarians control knowledge of the world. Librarians understand how quickly the world and knowledge are changing. 
  • Those growing during the 1960s worried over the soul of America. Note the various assassinations during that time period: the Kennedys, MLK, Malcolm X. 
    • He sees 60 Minutes as a place of social justice, a show of hard news with a social message; he was featured on the show and interviewed by Ed Bradley.
    • Later, he realized that the show to be on was Oprah.
  • National trauma. The U.S. Senate is bringing forth a very watered down version of guns and background checks (we know now that the legislation failed to pass, link to CNN).
    • We have lost more children to guns in the U.S. since (at least) the Korean War. 
  • Problem: Millions of children not prepared for present nor future jobs and careers. This is a national problem.
    • Current policies allow kids to fail in schools. Men end up in jail. Women and their children end up in poverty and then continue the poverty cycle. Why is this allowed? 
    • Referred to the report "Ready, Willing, and Unable to Serve." From the report, Mr. Canada mentioned the following: Youths unable to qualify for military service due to lack of skills, felony arrests (at least 10% of youths). not being able to pass exams to get in (about 30%). Add in about 17% of youths are too obese to join the military. This is society's fault. 
    • Educated people know better and (usually) care for their kids to not allow them to fail. 
    • Overall, in the end we have to take responsibility for leveling the playing field. However, there are no plans to educate America's children. 
    • Education as a business has refused to change. A system where the business does not care for its customers fails. Education has been failing for decades, and no one has cared. 
    • Studies constantly confirm poor children lose ground over the summer months. 
  • Teaching is a real profession. Not just anyone should teach. A bad teacher will destroy a child. 
    • "If you cannot fire lousy teachers, ship them to good communities. Maybe they can afford a lousy teacher. Poor kids can't." And yet we do send the lousy teachers to the poor. 
    • And even then, good teacher or not, parents have to work for their kids' success. 
  • In a pinch, always do what rich people do. They only have one goal for their kids: college, and a good college at that. College level skills are the entry tools for the job market. 
  • Teaching: Hold all the community accountable for it. Provide arts, physical education, so on. You [rich people] provide them for your kids, so why not for poor kids? Parents of means know it's good. For poor kids, suddenly we "need data" to justify it (talk about a serious double standard). 
    • Providing comprehensive support is critical. 
    • In the end, our job is to educate. Do what it takes. Have to work weekends? Do it. Have better teachers and start working with the kids early. 
    • Mr. Canada gave the example of the 2-year old child who spills a cup of water. Consider the educated parents versus the poor parents and the different messages they give the child. Educated parents tend to give affirmative messages (it was an accident, these things happen, no big deal sort of thing)  versus the negative messages from the poor parents (that dumb kid can't do anything right, made a mess, so on). This has an effect on the kid's development. 
    • As a country, we can provide pre-K education. It is an investment that can and should be done. The truth is that money does exist to educate our children. 
    • We are willing and prepared to incarcerate kids who fail but not willing to pay to educate them, which costs less. For the cost of prison, we get no return on investment or good outcomes, yet we fail to pay to educate, which can yield benefits and positive outcomes. We have a failing strategy. 
  • Issue: the willingness to allow kids to grow up in danger: guns, crime, bullying (real and online), etc. Many parts of this country are not safe. When one lives in fear of not being safe, it is hard to concentrate on esoteric or any other ideas. Kids worried about their lives can't worry or focus on math, reading, etc.
  • Libraries are safe places to think and learn. 
  • Challenges: 
    • Make sure to provide youth with diverse range of opportunities. You never know what will save a kid
    • Think outside the box. 
  • We need teachers who know how to give kids what they need and ought to have. 
    • Part of our job is to open the world to kids until they find what they need to save them. We have to do this constantly. 
    • World is changing. We have to think strategically and lead change. 
    • Mr. Canada told the story of being a psychology major and struggling with a statistics course. He flunked his first exam. By luck, the professor helped him with a new book and line of thinking, so he managed to pass the class. It was not "slant." The guy got him to read two books. The professor figured out a way to keep students' egos intact and to work harder. 
    • We have to be prepared to think outside the box. 
  • U.S. is conditioned that if the kids are not yours (literally yours or belonging to your group), then it's "who cares," they are someone else's kids. We have to fight for all the kids, and it will be a fight. 
From the question and answer segment:

  • How do we make the "missing plan" happen? 
    • As big as the federal budget is, see the spending on war. Someone decided that was a priority (I would add that someone elected those who decided that was was a priority. After all, politicians do not just spring out of thin air). Why are kids not a priority that we sacrifice for? 
    • Average Americans believe their voices are not heard. A starting place is for Americans to actually get informed (and librarians can certainly can help with that. Just ask your local friendly librarian). Then, after you get informed, call your legislators and comment. Do not forfeit your voice to the lobbyists. Find groups that support your cause and work with them and support them. 
  • On educating teachers, especially if those teachers work, have families, so on. 
    • Teachers as a profession are just not paid enough. 
    • Get smart people, pay them well and a lot, then work them hard. Otherwise, who wants to work in a stressful job with bad conditions and poor or no wages? This is how you attract lousy teachers. 
    • Pay good teachers for their performance. If they deliver, pay them. This is better than paying for prisons. 
  •  How to raise awareness of issue of danger? 
    • Common response: "we did not expect it to happen here" (ain't that the truth? People always think it, whatever it is, will happen someplace else, until it happens to them).  But we are fine about Chicago or Detroit. We have kids growing on war zones, and this should not be acceptable. A sense of outrage is needed. 
  • Implications of Common Core Standards.
    • Good, but they are not still preparing the educators or the kids. All they did was change the test that kids did not pass before and make it worse. This is cruel. 
    • Changing teaching and learning strategies is needed. 
    • Librarians can help with this, if only they were given time. 
  • Community colleges often get the least prepared students. You can solve the issues when the students get to college. 
    • Use science and work on kids sooner, early. Education currently is run on myths. 
    • Need to connect support. Good schools throughout. Hold people accountable and have a good education pipeline. 
    • Need better connections between high school and college. Transparency means less places to hide. Again, accountability. This does mean stopping things like social promotion. 
  • Our college kids fail quietly and anonymously. We need to get information on those at risk kids as soon as possible. 
    • Look at the data, then work backwards. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

ACRL 2013 Conference Notes: Preconference on "Planning, Assessing, and Communicating Library Impact."

Date: April 9, 2013, 8:30am-3:30pm
Topic: "Planning, Assessing, and Communicating Library Impact: Putting Standards for Libraries in Higher Education into Action."
Presenters: Lisa Hinchcliffe and Debra Gilchrist. 

The preconference topic is based on the Standards for Libraries in Higher Education document, available at this link: Note there are additional links and materials at the site, so do take a look.

A question to begin: how do we contribute value.

Some reasons people gave for being at this session:
  • Having the standards. Tie them to university goals. 
  • They "made me" come (this was said in humor). 
  • To learn from others. 
  • Libraries are being judged. We need to know how to reply. 
  • Accreditation. We need to look and be different to the evaluators. 
The culture we desire here (and one I think we should desire in most places): collaborative, informal, conversational.

Context is important to understanding what is valuable. . .
  • . . . to us. 
  • . . . to faculty. 
  • . . . to users. 
  • . . . to administrators. 
The most effective library ever. How do you know? Then, how do you make it even better? This is what standards are for.

Big issues at institutions:
  • What are the campus administrators talking about? 
  • What is in the media? 
  • What key words do you hear?
Some answers to the big issues given at the session by participants:
  • Budget
  • Retention
  • Student learning
  • Student success
  • Attainment
  • Impact of e-books/e-learning
  • Job attainment 
  • Role of libraries and liberal education (this topic is certainly of interest to me now that I work at a liberal arts college)
  • ROI (that is "return on investment" for non-librarian and non-business folks)
  • High impact educational practices
  •  Reputation
  • Future of higher education and "threatening" MOOC's and commercialization
  • Retaining relationships with graduates
  • Impact on research output
  • Future of the faculty
  • Intellectual property
We need to make our case. Ask if we are investing the college's money wisely.

Our institutions are diverse. Choose which standards can guide your works and be more useful to your school.

There is value in collective thinking (as a quick illustration, see list of answers participants gave above). Start the work by engaging other colleagues in your library, then the faculty.

We looked at two evidence models: the evidence-based model and the outcomes assessment-based model. In this context, evidence is the stuff we collect to help us make judgments.

  • Evidence-based model= Principles (what does the library do?) >> Performance Indicators>> Evidence
  • In the Evidence-based model, we just document the activity. Impact is not as needed (though it is desirable to have and know). Note that you may need to develop models and services at your library before you can measure an impact. 
  • Outcomes assessment-based model= Principles (what does the library influence?) >> Performance Indicators>> Outcomes >> Assessment>> Evidence  
# # # # # 
An example of the Evidence-based model (which you could put in a nice table)

  • Principle (from the standards): Collections (this would be #5 from the standards)
  • Performance Indicators: The library provides access to collections aligned to research, curricular focus, or institutional strengths. 
  • Evidence: a liaison program; collecting class syllabi; (specific) library policies.
  • (You could then add another column to your table for tracking. This would be so you know where the stats and data are kept)
# # # # # 

The key question for the Outcomes Assessment-based model: How are faculty, students, researchers, etc., changed as a result of our efforts? Here is the definition of outcomes. Here we look at impact. What do our users do, or what do they do better as a result of our services and work?
  • A simple formula for an outcomes statement: "Because the library , {user group name} [verb phrase]."

# # # # # # 
An example of the Outcomes-based model

  • The outcome: Campus community implements information literacy as a collective endeavor. 
  • Criteria: How will we know we are successful? What will be happening? 
    • X% of departments include IL  learning outcomes in key courses, such as major gateway courses, capstone courses, composition courses, etc. 
    • X% of faculty embed information literacy into course assignments. 
  • Actions: What will we do to make this happen?
    • Liaisons collaborate with department faculty to strategically identify courses and design and embed outcomes. 
    • Liaisons discuss relevance of discipline-specific IL outcomes with departments. 
    • Develop discipline-specific assignment example website. 
    • Liaisons collaborate with faculty in assignment design. 
  • Evidence: How will  you collect information? 
    • Curriculum map. 
    • Instruction log/Activity spreadsheet and Librarian/Faculty Collaboration Log.
This is an example. In this example, you can simply find how many faculty are doing something. There is no need (or desire) to evaluate what is being done (and reassuring them that they themselves are not under evaluation is important). The curriculum map tells you by department and program where the outcomes are embedded. The actions are things you do to get things done. 

# # # # # 

On constructing an outcome. This is what will faculty/students/researchers/librarians do as a result of engaging with the academic library.
  • A formula: Who? + Verb + Impact of Experience. 
  • Example: Campus Community + Implements + Information Literacy as a Collaborative and Collective Endeavor. 
This is a formula that makes sense. The rubric to measure it here is more criteria. Your verb choice "sets the stage." You don't always have "to count," but you can judge through your professional lens, which can include asking students, say at reference, questions as you teach narrowing terms, for example.

Another outcome example:
  • Using Performance Indicator 4.1 from the standards document: The library organizes information for effective discovery and access. 
  • The (possible) outcome: Students retrieve information from the library catalog and electronic resources that enhances their ability to engage course material and assignments. 
  • Note: Go past the evidence (you can say that your library provides the tools to achieve the outcome) to see what the students can do. The verb "enhances" needs to be better defined, be more active. Also, not just "retrieve," but "retrieve relevant information" would be better.
Summarizing on outcomes then:
  • The outcomes should be inspired by the Standards but determined by Institutional Priorities. 
    • Mission/Vision
    • Strategic Plan
    • Accreditation Guidelines
    • Campus Initiatives: general education (which we certainly have here on my campus), globalization (got some of that too), etc. 
  • Some approaches to develop the outcomes you could use: 
    • Brainstorm
    • Map to other documents
    • Benchmarking with other libraries
  • Think what stakeholders you want/need involved and at what stage: librarians, faculty, students, administration?

Refer to Planning/Assessment Cycle document (6 question design) (handout from session)
  • Begin looking at the context you work in: your library, your campus, mission and values. Our library will/may have different outcomes from other libraries; again, diversity. 
  •  Look beyond the LIS literature (something I try to do). Look at literature about students and higher education in general. Then consider how it applies to the library and how the library makes those higher education elements work. 
  • Your administration: listen to their messages and how they differ from one audience (what they say for the campus, for example) to another audience (say, to the trustees or the outside community). 
  • Some outcomes you may evaluate every year. Others could be every other year or two. 
  • When possible, look at your own internal documents. 
  • How is the library story told? How and where can it be embedded? (This is a question I often think about)
  • For outcomes, sometimes stakeholders may choose actions (action verbs)  you might not choose. Let them choose, guide them gently as needed; this fosters ownership. 
  •  Where the institution is holistically may not be where the students are. You need to make this distinction. So, you could/would have different outcomes for one group or another. 
Assessment is not research. Assessment does not really inform practice. You could do research, but that is a separate thing. You don't necessarily prove the impact. However, research can then come into play to tell the story.

Outcomes can be complex. Outcomes are things that matter.
  • Remember not to incorporate too many things in one outcome. Have multiple outcomes to tell your story. 
  • Know when to stop. And make it manageable. 
How do you measure the outcomes? Here is where criteria come in.

# # # # # 
Criteria example

Outcome: Researchers easily access relevant materials.
Criteria: # of articles downloaded/document delivery.
Criteria: # of faculty express satisfaction/being able to access (as measured by a survey).

You can choose a percentage of faculty with expectations exceeded, met, or not (for instance, some of this data can be found via LibQual+).

# # # # # 

Criteria can be used individually or combined to achieve specificity. 
  • In some cases, criteria could make you rethink your outcome. 
  • It is easier to say what your action will be than saying how you will measure it. 
  • Question: what is the tension between aspiration and reality? This can vary from library to library. Criteria can be generated by us or externally imposed (and this does make a difference). 
  • Watch what is happening and being assessed across disciplines. Think strategically and design intentionally. 
Be inspired by the standards, not constrained by them. Look for library outcomes, then see how unit/department outcomes feed into the library. Yes, you can (and likely will have) unit/department outcomes.

On actions, you may take the at other times out of the cycle. Action is what is done/happens to make the outcome happen. Some examples:
  • Use of social media to market and promote library space/the library as a destination. 
  • Use of signage (print and digital). 
  • Student survey to determines marketing needs/targets. 
  • Promotion of services to faculty, say via a liaison program. 
  • You could think of "conversion rates" (the retail concept. Say how many people come into the store then how many "convert", of those coming in, how many are buyers. I will admit I may be a bit skeptical of this, then again, I am always a bit skeptical when people want to inject retail ideology to our public services). 
We need to convey/market that we are not just "support." We are partners and collaborators with the faculty and campus. Check the standards for performance principle and for personnel topics.

It can be helpful to look at other campuses but be careful. Their outcomes likely focus on specific local goals and outcomes. So don't just adopt someone else's stuff wholesale.

Now to evidence: collecting the data. If you have done the previous steps, this is easier/a bit more evident. Decide on what you are collecting then on what is sufficient.

Another sample outcome: Faculty utilize physical and virtual environments that facilitate their class preparation and research.
  • Sample criteria: 70% of faculty indicate library search tools assist them. . . . 
  • Sample evidence: faculty survey. 
 On evidence, you may end up collecting "sensitive" data. Be sensitive to issues relating to human data. Be aware of any laws, regulations, etc. related to student data and privacy. 
  • Know your campus IRB (Institutional Review Board) or campus assessment unit. 
  • Results of research can serve as assessment date. However, assessment data is not usually research (so, is this sort of like "all bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon" thing? Yes, small humor break). 
  • Performance evaluation is separate from assessment. 
Analysis: What you do with the data and what we learn from the evidence and data.
  • Trust is an issue. We need to reassure others on trust. 
  • It's not just what the data says, but why? 
  • "Assessment is a conversation, not just a report." --Deb Gilchrist. We need to ask who needs to be in the conversation and at what time or stage. 
  • Analysis can generate more questions. 
  • You can have hypothetical discussions before the data analysis is done and reported. What if the data reveals X instead of Y? Doing this kind of scenario exercise can be a conversation tool; it can help you consider what might be done. This can also help ameliorate others who may just challenge the data for the sake of the data. 
Communication is crucial throughout the process. Where is the information available and accessible? This is part of closing the loop (also part of just knowing where the heck you put things so you can find them later). 

# # # # # 
Sample benchmark exercise 
(something you can try when teaching this concept)
Collect a list of what each person at a table had for lunch, then rank who had the best. 

Question: how do you judge? (answers the groups came up with):
  • Nutrition, taste, attractiveness of the food. 
  • Are the ingredients fresh? 
  • Price
  • Personal satisfaction
  • External reviews (to get validation)
  • Ambiance of the eating establishment
# # # # # 

Benchmarking: we look to compare ourselves to another group, usually a peer community. How are we in relation to others with similar strengths and weaknesses. You can also do internal benchmarking; this is done over time, say one year to the next.
  • You could use a peer library that you choose. Note that your campus may have a specific peer group in mind, so be aware of this.
  • In benchmarking, we use metrics. For rations, decide which ones you want to use. 
  • "Data are what data are."
  • Ratios are more important than descriptive data. 
  • Remember that data is used to make arguments. 
  • Data are not decisions. Data are evidence of decision-making. It is important to be conversant with data and for your staff to be conversant too. Report out and report in. 
 On telling the story. Is the foundation of the house you want to build strong enough? Is the story about the library? Or about the students? You get different dimensions of the same story based on what you ask and the choices you make. 

Consider using the organization inventory document (handout provided during session) as you start conversations. Do you have a conversation with your director? with your staff? with others?

On culture: 
  • Think perhaps of another time of major change and reflect on successes and obstacles. 
  • Leading change has to be intentional 
We are informing our practice to better serve our students.
  • Be mindful. 
  • Reassure others of trust. Promises made must be kept. 
  • As leader, you model the way. 
  • Ask what challenges the library faces and what strategies you can use to address the challenges. 
Finally, collect your own data as needed. If no one else is collecting it, you collect it. 
(Note: as soon as I can get a working scanner, will try to put up the two handouts)

Monday, April 22, 2013

My First Time at an ACRL Conference: Some Impressions

This post is to jot down some initial impressions on my experience at the conference. I will be posting my notes on the sessions I attended throughout the next week or so. If you don't care much for the personal stuff, just skip this one and come back in a day or so.

# # # # #

I attended the Association of Research and College Libraries (ACRL) Conference for the first time last week. This was a conference I never gave much thought to attending since I've been in workplaces that simply could not afford to send me and/or simply did not see professional development for librarians as a priority. Thus, before this year, ACRL was some mythical place that well-heeled academic librarians, usually in R-1's (or what they used to call R-1) and Ivy League schools, went to do whatever it is those librarians did when they got together (aside from drinking and hanging out, which seems to be a lot of what librarians do in conferences if you judge by their social media output, but that is another post for another time). Plus ACRL is an American Library Association (ALA) division, and besides the fact that ALA conferences also seem like mythical places to me, small-time unknown librarian, ALA and I have our differences.

I dropped my ALA membership years ago, and it has not bothered me in the least. It has not affected me professionally neither. The fact that I have professional brethren and colleagues I respect and look up to as exemplary librarians who do not have it neither certainly reinforces my view that I can do without. After all, they certainly do without, and they are no less librarians than those who have membership. Plus, to be honest, not taking the hit in the wallet annually is certainly good when you are not exactly swimming in money. I say this mostly to give some context, not because I am interested in some debate on whether I should join ALA or not. By now, I have seen the camps are set in their views: those inside usually say ALA can do no wrong and how dare I, a small librarian, question the directives of the mothership, and those who have left who often a bit too rabid in their disgruntled state (I can agree with some who have left, but others are just as extreme as ALA fanboys and fangirls).

Having said that I do have a soft spot for ACRL since it provided me with what is probably the best training and education program for instruction librarians: The Institute for Information Literacy (more popularly known as Immersion). I am an Immersion alumnus, and it is an experience that I value, that I take pride in (admission is pretty selective, so I share company with some seriously good people), and that has opened some doors for me. In fact, I would like to return for their assessment track given the work I am doing here now at Berea; we need this kind of learning here to continue building a culture of assessment. At any rate, I will grant that it makes me wish ACRL was not conjoined with ALA, but sometimes you have to take the good with the bad.

In the end, when the opportunity to attend came up, skeptical as I was, I figured I owed it to myself, and to my institution, to go. So, one of our instructional services librarian who also does most of our collection development and I went. That it was in Indianapolis, a city that is only about three and a half hours away, and a city I know because I lived in Indiana for a significant part of my life, did help to make the decision easier. In addition, being new to my job here (it will be my one-year anniversary on September 11, 2013. How time flies), the travel was a good time to spend some quality time with my colleague.

Although the location of the conference was huge, the conference itself did not seem that big. Compared to TxLA (Texas Library Association) Annual, that one felt bigger. And I am not saying that to disparage ACRL. I say it more because the myth I had in mind suddenly met reality. That aside, the conference was a positive experience overall. I will just add a couple more things on general impressions. As I mentioned, I will be posting my session notes throughout the next few days as I reread them and reflect a bit on what I have learned.

The hotel we stayed in was very nice, very plush; a downtown city hotel that I would never be able to afford on my own. It makes me aware of how fortunate I am given I was less than fortunate less than a year ago. It does make me wonder why there are never any affordable hotels when it comes to conferences: you either have to break the piggy bank or hope your employer picks up the tab. It does illustrate that the conference industry does count on those employers. I should know; I worked in said industry for a brief time. You know those guys and gals who provided your coffee service during the conference, so on? I was one of them many moons ago.

I am digressing a bit, maybe because on the one hand I feel like I made it, but on the other hand I feel a bit of that "survivor guilt" for many who cannot afford to go and need to go. I will note when I came to my current library, I left some very good people behind in less than favorable conditions. I wish they had been there with me. Anyhow, dang it, some affordable overnight options would be nice. I will add that the staff at the hotel was extremely nice and friendly; you do get what you pay for.

The other takeaway from ACRL is that small four-year schools, like mine, along with other small places such as community colleges, are woefully underrepresented. No, I am not the only one to say that, but I am saying it here. At least I did not get much of the snob vibe I got at another "big shot" conference I attended recently where you did get judged by your name badge, then if your little library was not deemed worthy enough, you were given the "you don't belong here" or "who let the plebeian from the hoi polloi in?" Now for ACRL, that is something those of us in small schools can help solve. We need to submit proposals and present at ACRL. Stand and recognized for we also practice the craft and have things to say and share. It would not hurt if we come together and do our thing as well. Who says we have to just go to the one mountain?

Oh, and a last minute addition. Then there is the assumption that if you attend, you must be an ACRL/ALA member. You folks in the organization are aware you sell admission to the unwashed non-members, right? We pay a bit more and get in, you know that, right? I mention this because I had an encounter with some candidate for ALA office who asked for my vote and was shocked when I told here I was not a member and thus I admitted I could not vote. I think she could have at least tried to convince me to sign up (at the time, I probably would have been very receptive to the idea), but instead I felt a bit awkward and chided, so I listened, nodded politely and moved on. As I think about it now, it seems a bit of a lost opportunity.

That leads me to the last thing I want to address: would I attend again, whether 2015 in Portland or later in the future? I will say maybe. I attended all the teaching and learning sessions I could, which was very valuable in my line of work. The preconference I attended was outstanding, probably one of the best things I did, and I am glad my library was willing to shell out some extra money for it. What I learned there will give us much to work on here. So, in terms of the conference being valuable to me as an academic instruction librarian, that is a pretty good reason to go back. Is my skepticism of the national organization suddenly gone? No, it is not, but I am willing to take a chance. In the end, maybe the reason to go back comes from my other instructional services librarian, a young passionate and very knowledgeable lady that, when told the next time would be in Portland, was extremely excited about wanting to go. When you see that kind of passion and desire to learn in the eyes of someone you supervise (I supervise two instructional librarians now. Yea, I've moved up in the world a bit), how can you say no? So, will I see y'all in Portland? Perhaps. Commercial flight is not something I relish, but I suck it up in rare cases, and I do like the Pacific Northwest (my choice of big city to live in would be Seattle or somewhere nearby). Who knows, maybe in two years I can submit a proposal. If some of those people can do it, I know my team and I can do it.

We'll see.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Article Note: On Encyclopedias Growing and Shrinking, 1690 to 1840

Citation for the article:

Loveland, Jeff, "Why Encyclopedias Got Bigger...and Smaller." Information and Culture 47.2 (2012): 233-254.

Read via Project Muse.

This is a history of books and reading article. It discusses the growth and eventual shrinkage of encyclopedias during the period of 1690 to 1840. I found it interesting to learn about the encyclopedia endeavors and trade during the time period. Loveland goes over why the encyclopedias initially grew in size, then why they shrunk to a stable size. And as we all know, encyclopedias are now really shrinking with the advent of online collaboratives like Wikipedia.

Some notes from the article:

  • The author argues that size can limit the value of an encyclopedia in terms of what it can provide for knowledge and information. Do note that these reference books do not always serve the function they were designed to do. This is due to social and cultural issues. 
  • A small definition: "As conceived here, encyclopedias are general repositories of information designed for consultation and sometimes for study or browsing as well" (234). 
  • Initially, encyclopedias were marketed to individuals seeking knowledge and self-improvement. By the early 20th century, the marketing changed. It was now to families seeking to secure a good education for their children. This was the time when you bought an encyclopedia set for the home so your child could have access to good information. I think this pretty much went on until the advent of the Internet. Personally, I do remember having at least two encyclopedias in the home: a Spanish language encyclopedic dictionary and a world book type of encyclopedia in English. 
  • During the period described in the article, an argument that encyclopedias were good sources for knowledge was their size. They were smaller than a library. Competitors often criticized each other for any exclusions; our encyclopedia is certainly more comprehensive than those guys kind of thing. 
  • Capital and financing were always an issue. Authors and publishers found various ways to deal with it such as  offering subscriptions and getting sponsors. Pirate copies and replications in other languages were an issue. 1774 saw changes in copyright law in Great Britain, the idea that it could not be held in perpetuity (an idea which is apparently eroding all over the place. Just ask the fine folks of the Disney company among others). That was just one nation. International copyright laws were still lacking.
  • Coolest title of an encyclopedia that was never finished: the 1701-1706 Biblioteca Universale Sacro-Profana. Sounds like a cool reference work to include in some occult kind of novel or such.
  • Initially, the encyclopedias got bigger and bigger. "Despite claims that the public was clamoring for additions, much of the new material that made its way into encyclopedias seems to have been inserted with little thought to readers' needs. Above all, eighteenth- and nineteenth-century encyclopedias often grew lengthier than initially advertised, a fact that led to anger on the part of subscribers" (243). Much of this issue was due to the fact that some article writers just kept on writing, and the editors were just too weak or lazy to rein them in. 
  • As copyright tightened, it did limit some encyclopedia growth. Editors and publishers now had to pay if they wanted to reprint something from some other work into their own. Also, those financing encyclopedias began to demand accountability, so free ranging editors and writers could no longer just keep on writing and writing content. However, interesting they did manage to keep costs low in terms of paying the contributors and writers, often appealing to vanity and fame to get them to work for free. 
  • From the conclusion: "Among the most important causes for the growth of encyclopedias from 1690 through 1840 were competition (with or without the encouragement of limited copyright), publishers' intuitions about the market for encyclopedias, and idealism and cupidity among publishers and contributors" (249-250). In the end, costs, financial conservatism, and more commercialism served to shrink them down. 

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Some thoughts on GoodReads getting gobbled up by Amazon

I found out a couple of days ago that GoodReads, the site I use to track my reading, sold out to Amazon. This is not exactly thrilling news as this is about as good as Barnes and Noble (about the only bookstore of scale still standing, and I am picking it as an example somewhat book-related) selling out to Walmart. For me, now it's as the old saying goes, "there goes the neighborhood." In many ways, despite some issues, GR was a neighborhood, a community of readers where they could track their reading and engage others as they wished. I personally did not use the forums or groups very much. I did use their tracking and list features for books I've read, books I am currently reading, and books I would like to read in the future. For me, it was about the reading experience. Occasionally I would get a recommendation from GR that I added to my TBR list. Once a few friends joined, seeing what they read and recommended was useful. To be honest, I am not thrilled about Amazon swallowing up all that data to try and sell me stuff I probably don't want.

Unlike other people on the Internet, I am not miffed by the idea they sold out. I understand it is the American Way: come up with a good idea and if enough people want it, make a fortune. Sometimes you make the fortune yourself. Other times you sell your idea to some behemoth with cash to burn (or plenty of suckers investors willing to lend you said cash). So as nice and convenient as GR is, it is not really surprising it got bought out. It's a pity they got bought out by Amazon, a company I do dislike and find unethical in many of its practices, but as another old saying goes, "money talks."

I could rush out and delete my account, but I am under no illusion this would deprive them of my data. Much like Facebook, I would bet my data, even if I export it, will stay in some server someplace waiting to be aggregated, parsed, and analyzed for commercial use. However, if I can find an alternative to GR, I may migrate. I am not holding my breath. Amazon has gobbled up much of the competition as they own Shelfari and have a stake in Library Thing. Plus, while the founder of LT may say that Amazon's stake is small and not a big deal, it does not mean it will stay that way. A minority stake today could well become full ownership down the road. I think I will try and pass on that.

What I will likely do, as others are doing, is gradually wean myself out of using GoodReads. It is a part of my online routine, so it will be a gradual process. I probably will stop adding data to it (I will likely finish updating for the books I have listed as currently reading, then add no others once I finish those). Then export all the data I can, and eventually clear out any GR reviews I shared on my blogs (mostly remove the GR html coding stuff and then clean up the reviews so they stand on their own). After that, I will just do what I've always done, which is keeping my records in my personal journals and sharing selectively in my blogs.

So, the sale is disappointing, but it's  not the end of the world. It's the Internet, where a good free idea eventually gets sold out. Sometimes it sells out to someone good, and other times to a slum lord who just let's it die. It is what it is; it does not mean I have to like it. However, as long as there is another option, I will explore it and try to avoid the slum.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Article Note: On using undergraduate personal essays for instruction and evaluation

Citation for the article:

Bonnet, Jennifer L.,, "The Apprentice Researcher: Using Undergraduate Researchers' Personal Essays to Shape Instruction and Services." portal: Libraries and the Academy 13.1 (2013): 37-59.

Read via Project Muse.

I am always interested in learning how undergraduates learn and do research, plus I have an interest in anything related to reflective practice. So, this article caught my eye. I will say that at times it seems a bit on the idealistic side; in other words, the students sampled seem a bit too perfect and very unlike some undergraduates I've worked with during my career. That aside, I like this idea, and it was one I shared with my library director. Here, we have done some analysis of student papers in the past, which is a set of data I have to review sometime. So, I am thinking adding some kind of reflective component to the students research process might be a good idea. Something for me to explore further.

The authors are reporting on a sample of students who submitted personal research essays, that is, essays reflecting on their research process and learning, as part of a research project that was submitted for a campus undergraduate research award. The final sample size is 34 cases evaluated by two coders. This is, in a way, a form of the literacy narrative essay or autobiography. Their library sponsors the award. It's a win-win situation, so to speak. The students get some recognition for excellent work, and the authors get some material for research and publication (namely this article and probably some further salami slicing). Snark aside, the value for the researchers is clearly in gaining insight into how the students learn and do research. The article makes a very good point that a lot of the LIS literature focuses on either novice undergraduate researchers or graduate students. The authors write,

"In other words, when studying undergraduate researchers, it is common to emphasize the novice researcher as an outsider to disciplinary expectations and to ignore the advanced undergraduate researcher in favor of faculty or graduate students already embedded in their field of study" (40). 

There is very little dealing with advanced undergraduates, a topic this article addresses.

Some notes from the article:

  • "The personal essays in our student sample not only provided insights into the nuts and bolts of students' research processes, but also illuminated their thoughts about the nature of engaging with and creating scholarship" (38). 
  • Citing Alison Head and Mike Eisenberg on the four ways undergraduates establish research contexts 9see pg. 39): 
    • Establish a big picture. Background and topic selection. 
    • Identify and learn relevant language related to the topic (vocabulary, keywords, lingo, etc.). 
    • Situational context, a.k.a. figuring out what it is the professor wants and expects. 
    • Gathering the information needed and finding the necessary sources. 
  •  They cite Gloria Leckie's work on the contrast between novice researchers, who have to learn how do literature searchers, learn how to read articles, and then sift the massive amounts of information they find versus experts who are already familiar with topics so they know how to follow citation trails and the names in the field (40). This is something instruction librarians need to keep in mind. But it is also something they need to teach their undergraduates. It is important for us to teach our students about the academic conversation and how to follow it. Following a citation trail is one of the necessary skills to be able to follow and then engage in the larger academic conversation. 
  • Purpose statement from the article: "Our purpose here is to open up some questions: what might be the implications for library instruction from what these apprentice researchers, a collection's core set of users, have to tell us? To the extent that they represent an incipient mastery of the very thing that library instruction exists to cultivate, library research, what might their accounts  of research tell us about what and how we should teach students who might, for example, receive a one-off library instruction session in a gateway course?" (41). Reminder that, as always, we should strive to meet the needs of various students in our classes, students of various intelligences and at various levels of knowledge in terms of research and academic work. 
  • "For the personal essays, the award committee looked at the sophistication of the search strategies used, students' comprehension of the material, and the use of appropriate resources" (42).
  • "In other words, students were prompted to describe ways in which sources and research shaped each other" (43). They asked students to reflect on how their ideas and research methods changed and evolved as they did the research.
  • "Perhaps unsurprisingly, students tended to draw on their personal backgrounds or life experiences as catalysts for their research topics" (44). In other words, the old adage of "write what you know" seems to be alive and well, which is something we often tell students in writing classes. 
  • "Students [in the sample] tended to chase footnotes, pursue the works of authors who piqued their interest, and mine scholarly bibliographies, all to expand their knowledge on a subject" (45). This is where things start looking a bit too rosy. I am not questioning these students being stellar. I am more wondering how this relates to the experience of many of us instruction librarians in the field where students may not be as stellar. Again, this emphasizes the importance of teaching our students higher level thinking skills and research methods. 
  • "Librarian-run research sessions not only helped students find materials, but also helped students realize that librarians are available and approachable, an insight that empowered students to engage with librarians at other institutions in person and online" (47). Most of us are just happy if they come see the librarians on their own campus for help. Making the jump to engaging librarians on other campuses is quite the leap for most undergraduates. Still, this does validate the importance of conveying to students that we are there for them. 
  • Though not used for this article in full, the authors did also solicit faculty reflection, doing so in the form of the letters of recommendation faculty wrote for the competing students. "In their recommendation letters, faculty were specifically asked to describe how the student's final project was relevant to the course assignment and learning goals, whether the sources used were appropriate for the scope of the argument and its method, and whether the methods of research and argumentation were consistent with disciplinary standards" (50). 
  • Statement of the obvious: "Judging from our findings, the students who are most consistently benefiting from research instruction are those who approach their professors" (51). These are also the ones who approach their librarians. 
  • Another statement of the obvious: "Librarians are consistently working to demystify the research process for undergraduates, in order to help students feel enabled and empowered to see themselves as capable researchers" (52). I labeled this as obvious since it is what I strive to do, and I am sure it is what good instruction librarians everywhere do as well. 
  • Still, going further on the previous thought: "While we are not always perceived as collaborators in the research journey, librarians are uniquely positioned to help students go beyond the minimum requirements posed by an assignment and consider a range of sources, dig deeply into a topic of interest, recognize multiple perspectives, and become impassioned about research" (52). We need to market what we do. Much work remains to be done. 
  • And as I said, this is a very unique sample of students, a bit too ideal. As they are described by the authors: "The sample represents a small and self-selecting group motivated by strong personal interest in their projects, a picture of the undergraduate researcher seemingly at odds with the vast majority of undergraduates who receive instruction from librarians" (52). Do note the latter part of that statement. I think that says what needs to be said. Still, we should be aiming high in all of our classes instead of trying to dumb down or "Google-fy" our instruction and resources. 
  • Lessons and things we can do (which I already do pretty much, but a nice reminder): 
    • "Help students to see the ways in which library research is often deeply personal, and capitalize on this fact" (53). Help students discover their passions and interests. As they select topics, ask, for example, what are they talking about in a class. 
    • "Help students to see the ways in which research is neither linear nor without stumbling blocks, and that both of these qualities can elicit research's most profound rewards" (54). This is, in part, why I often do on the spot searching for students in class, I offer to "start their research" if they give me a topic. Great fun in teaching if you can think well on your feet and reflect a little as you do it, thus modeling in a small scale how research works. 
    • "Emphasize the degree to which research is about relationships with other people" (54). Both on campus relationships as well as shaping relationships and networks off campus. 
    • "Design instruction sessions so that we engage students at multiple levels, including that of the apprentice researcher" (55).