Steve's Library Blog

Reflections on professional practice in libraries

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Webinar mania and undergraduate information literacy competencies

Following a whirlwind of a week watching wonderful webinars, I’m happy to write about my experiences. My group taught a webinar on the opportunities and challenges of institutional repositories like Deep Blue. We collaborated on a Google Doc to plan and execute our presentation, creating both the slides and our outline for the talk. The Elluminate software was easy enough to use since we figured out how to insert the slides, insert polls (and their results) and overall extract a fun level of participation from our couple dozen webinar guests.

I also really enjoyed watching other webinars. I learned new things, and was reminded of a lot that I already had known, but had let slip into the back of my brain. I loved being able to participate in the chat box while the presentation was underway. Webinar allow an interesting multi-modal level of participation that isn’t possible with a real seminar or talk. Those who may be shy to raise their hand at a conference have less reason to fear the anonymity behind the keyboard. You also have the ability to poll the audience in much more sophisticated ways. At a conference, you can only ask the audience a yes or no question and get a quick show of hands. On an online poll, you can give the audience many different choices.

I enjoyed the readings for this week. Professional development is absolutely crucial for librarians to maintain a skill-set that is relevant for the 2010s and beyond. I was amused by the wide range of skills inherited by the librarians in the Blowers and Reed article. Opening up a computer and taking apart a floppy disk is definitely a way to get people facinated by computers and computing, even if it doesn’t teach them anything practical. (You won’t be opening a computer to add more memory if you’re only learning the 1st core competencies). On the whole I thought the idea of teaching core competencies in a self-paced module style that allows for individualized learning on a multi-community scale was absolutely brilliant, and I loved how many other libraries adopted the same model.

I think there’s a promise here for also teaching undergraduates information literacy skills. We could create individualized learning modules on how to search databases, how to evaluate google search results for inacurate or low quality articles, and how to cite your sources properly. The only problem is how to motivate the first year undergraduates to complete these core competencies? We could have them enter into a prize money raffle, or even give everyone who completes the competencies an iPod shuffle or something. It might be expensive, but what the information literacy that the students gain their first year could end up being invaluable.

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Tweet the Library

Hey everyone, in case you didn’t know, you can follow me @sxflynn. I’ve had a Twitter account for about two years. I started my account when I got accepted to grad school, and have used it solely as an outlet for professional/library musings. I understand that everyone has a different use for Twitter. Some like to post personal updates on there as well, but I prefer to keep personal information on Facebook.

This past week I’ve been following the hashtag #si643 for our SI 643 class. We were all supposed to tweet with the hashtag this week and follow each other. By searching for #si643 I’ve been able to follow an entire week long conversation happening in our class. It’s been an interesting experiment and something I think would be a great teaching tool in a class, were I to be a professor in a different discipline. You could encourage students in a computer science class to tweet a hashtag and ask each other questions about homework. I suppose the only problem would be the 140 character limit. For a library instruction class, you could have a hashtag for your library and encourage your class attendants to follow you on Twitter and tweet the hashtag or send an @ reply if they had a question. I’m sure you could provide some interesting quick reference help over Twitter as well.

I could imagine it going something like this:

umfreshman: @mlib HLP! need credible src 4 my econ101 paper on how rent control affects nyc rental mrket ASAP
mlib: @umfreshman nothing to fear! search EconLit http://bit.ly/h2yERO type in “rent stabilization” and “new york city”

Or something like that. I’m sure other libraries have twitter reference but I also like the idea that it would be open to the public to view. Other patrons that follow the library would be getting a daily stream of tips from the reference librarians. Does anyone think this is a good idea, or see any downfalls from it?

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#HCOD Galore

What an interesting week this has been! It was an honor to have Bonnie be a guest of ours and to participate with her in an interactive way. She gave a great talk on HarperCollins OverDrive. First I wanted to lay out where I stand on this issue. I think this is a much bigger issue than just a 27 checkout limit. This is a first shot in a long a hard battle between publishers and not just libraries but the entire e-book consumer universe. Publishers are desperately holding onto a business model that worked for them under a non-digital regime, but now with the ability of authors to market their works directly to consumers, the wall is slowly crumbling, as it is with the music industry, and soon enough we will find authors selling their e-books at much more competitive prices and terms to libraries and readers.

The limit of 27 checkouts per e-book is just scratching the surface of a much larger problem that libraries may encounter in the future. Academic libraries have been dealing with the problem of e-content licensing for over a decade, where database vendors merely license access to library patrons rather than sell copies outright with perpetual local usage rights. To the best of my knowledge however, HarperCollins e-books were being sold with perpetual usage rights to libraries, as if they were selling a physical book. In this case, I could understand the rationale behind limiting an e-book to a finite number of checkouts before requiring a re-purchase. In this short-term way of thinking, 27 checkouts is probably too small of a number. 127 seems more reasonable.

But this doesn’t address the real issue, which is that e-books are not physical books. In fact, this whole issue reminds me of how automobiles looked like horse carriages when they were first invented, or how computer metaphors for digital music use the CD or LP even though digital music doesn’t exist in a physical form. Before 2010, the iTunes icon had a CD in it. Apple intelligently redesigned the iTunes icon to be a simple blue globe with music notes in it.

Non-fiction reference books with a finite amount of information, much like the music album format with a finite number of songs, is under attack. When you use an e-reader like how I use my iPad, I don’t get a sense of length and time when reading an e-book or an online article. Unlike reading a physical book, I can’t feel with my thumb the progress I’ve been making in a book. When you host reference information on a database that can be updated in real time, vendors have an incentive to charge access fees to libraries rather than sell a one-time copy.

Popular fiction on the other hand is a format that transcends the physicality of the book. We love to read stories numbering over 50,000 words. E-books won’t destroy that although the long term trend of fewer people reading novels is a related conversation worth discussing. Therefore, it seems appropriate for an information vendor, whether it is HarperCollins or someone else, to sell a one-time non-updating perpetual digital copy to a library.

If that’s the case, then there shouldn’t be any “checkout limit” of any kind. Digital information doesn’t expire and doesn’t break, unless the servers crash.

But there’s another problem, why send a library a digital copy of a work if it’s just going to be read by potentially every single resident of a particular jurisdiction? If I’m an e-book reader, why pay for the e-book when I can, from the convenience of my own living room, download the e-book to my e-reader and start reading?

Either the public library model is in huge trouble, or the publisher is. Or both. Maybe e-books are really a fad that will always be popular with a small niche of the upper-middle class technological elite, while the patrons on the other side of the digital divide continue to visit libraries to read physical books.

Another question I have is maybe libraries shouldn’t be spending so much money purchasing e-books that people will eventually be able to read at $.99 on their own dime (actually.. penny), as Eli Neiburger predicts.

The more I think about this issue, the more questions I have. I will stop now. Let the conversation continue throughout the weeks and months :-)

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Book Seminars and Library Workshops

I really enjoyed our book club that we had last class! It was a great opportunity to hear what our fellow class members think about all sorts of different readings. It brought back memories (good and bad) from high school English class. Good memories were the collective “Aha!” moments that I remember from English class. Bad were not feeling like you have something interesting to say, and thus not saying much at all. I know it’s been more than 10 years so high school English, but some old habits are hard to give up. The solution is to re-read and fully comprehend everything, and take notes while you read so you can easily recall your thoughts. I’m glad I had this book club because it brought these problems of mine into the light, and I hope to improve by it.

I enjoyed reading the article about conducting a library workshop for faculty members so that they can give better assignments to students. There are many interesting details in the article but I’ll only go into a few that I found noteworthy.

I found it interesting that “scavenger hunt” exercises are highly discouraged. It’s funny because this is the assignment we were given in our reference 647 class last year. We had to find specific information without using online resources, and we had to find those answers in print resources. I ended up finding some random trivia in the New York Public Library Encyclopedia or something similar to that. I forget the specifics, but the bottom line is I found the assignment tedious, but at the same time I learned about how difficult it can be to find information without consulting online resources if that’s all we’re used to using nowadays. So on the one hand I understand the point the professor was trying to make, but on the other, I agree with this article that assigning a scavenger hunt will turn students off and make them probably not want to use the library.

I have some personal experience with working as a reference librarian on IM chat reference where I got several questions within the space of an hour that were almost identical. It was students who had an assignment in their class that required them to seek out particular library resources. All of them seemed to just want me to give them an answer, so I’m pretty sure the professor was properly consulted in the best practices for how to incorporate the library resources into a class assignment. As a hopeful reference, instruction and/or faculty liaison librarian, I hope to incorporate the principles and examples of this article into my own practice.

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The Socratic Method in Teaching

Since books, and in the future, electronic books are and will be the primary vehicle through which libraries promote learning, it’s appropriate that for class got to read several articles discussing different strategies to improve reading comprehension and analysis.

Margaret Metzger - Teaching reading: Beyond the plot writes about her effort as a teacher to implement an innovative socratic seminar format in her high school freshmen English class. She makes student rearrange the class into two concentric circles, the inner circle being the students that lead discussion, and the outer circle being students that largely observe and listen, but also participate. Overall my reaction is that it really depends on the quality of the teacher and the willingness of the students.

If you have a bad teacher, it simply won’t work. I’m lucky to have had mostly good teachers, but if you have a bad one, the activities will always seem very contrived, and the advice will be poor. The students also need to be respectful and willing to participate. If this is a school filled with kids that aren’t inspired, aren’t motivated, then the teacher is going to have to fight tooth and nail to get the kids to be serious in class.

Given these caveats, I think this is a really good idea. My experience with high school English is mostly the teacher talking to us. The worst was when we would just read the whole book aloud in class and the teacher would say “ok Steve it’s your turn now” and I would read for 5-10 minutes until it was someone elses turn. There was nothing engaging about that practice.

I identify with the beginning of the article that talks about low confidence. I have very low confidence in my own deep reading abilities. I never grew up reading for fun. Reading novels reminds me of English classes. I’d like to get back to reading, but definitely won’t while I’m in school worrying about stuff at night and can’t relax.

Lynda Tredway - Socratic seminars: engaging students in intellectual discourse is an interesting article that takes a similar yet different approach to Metzger. Instead of having students be the principle drivers of class discussion, this is a classroom setting where the teacher is still responsible for driving the discussion and calling on students.

An important point however that I took away from the article was that, as a student, feeling that your voice matters is huge in classroom participation, and it’s something that any teaching method that emphasizes students talking to one another and deemphasizes quantity of participation over quality can achieve.

It bugs me how the traditional model of classroom participation assumes that those who speak up are the smartest. On the contrary, I’ve read research that suggests that students who are more outgoing in their personality are more likely to speak up, not necessarily those who have brighter things to say. I think it’s important for the teacher to find ways to get everyone to say something. That’s what I like about socratic method the most.

The final article I read was Barbara Hoffert - The Book Club Exploded. It’s all about how library book clubs have grown to the point where librarians are using them to promote library services. I have never been part of a book club so this article is outside of my comfort zone, unlike the previous articles dealing with classroom learning which I can identify with since I used to be one of those students in the classroom.

I think book clubs are one valid way to promote reading, and a more appropriate way for adults as opposed to the socratic method which is more appropriate for students. Adults, unlike students, are much more difficult to influence since their brain has matured, so I feel like at a book club its going to be more about different people sharing their thoughts with one another and less about trying to influence or change others for the better. It reminds me of how when grown teachers were used in the Socratic method seminar experiment by Metzger, she had to ask them to not use outside life experiences to inform the interpretation of documents, which proved to be futile.

I don’t think book clubs would be as good as a vehicle for promoting reading comprehension to students as having direction from a classroom teacher. Kids need and want direction from an adult leader. College and some grad students straddle the definition between adolescent and independent adult so this strategy may entirely depend on the background of those involved.

Finally I want to talk about our class. I thought it was really interesting to hear about all the different varying opinion on the different library bloggers. I really enjoyed our group discussion on bloggers like Annoyed Librarian and David Lee King. It was also interesting to hear about how my class colleagues felt were the differences between academic and public librarians in how they expressed their views in blogs.

Finally, I want to address this issue of how transfer may or may not apply to public libraries. I think transfer definitely applies to public library instruction. Think about the example in class, how one would go about finding out about used car models that they wanted to buy. I think the whatever public librarians are able to teach patrons during one of those instructional classes on how to use EBay or Facebook, could definitely be transferred to any other website that the patron might stumble upon.

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Motivated to Learn Library Databases?

I just read the 3rd chapter of How People Learn and I wanted to focus on one aspect of the chapter - motivation and its effects on learning. Naturally as an up and coming librarian I am super-interested in what motivates people to learn since it should help me design instructional modules that are more effective and make its attendees more willing and motivated to learn library databases.

Before going any further, I also wanted to bring up something we discussed in class, and that is the ability for games to transform worldwide learning. Given that we spend millions of years collectively playing online social games, there has to be a motivational aspect to gaming. Apparently according to the TED video, people keep playing games because they are optimistic about their chances of winning, and are not afraid to take on a challenge. I think there’s also a social dynamic to it, which is something How People Learn brings up as well. On page 49 they write: “Social opportunities also affect motivation. Feeling that one is contributing something to others appears to be especially motivating.”

So people are motivated to learn when they feel they are contributing something to others. This makes sense with online games. In Starcraft you are working hard to make your team succeed. Even when you game with someone in person you are developing a stronger relationship with someone.

How can these ideas be transferred to library instruction? The book not only talks about motivation but also how context can affect how people learn, with the example of Brazilian youths who can do maths on the streets but not in the classroom. If someone fails to remember what they learned in library instruction class, are these other “external” factors partially to blame? Another difficult issue that research that shows that learning in multiple contexts makes it easier than learning in a single context. Should all library instruction be in a library context? In a computer lab context? I say this has implication for library instruction during an IM chat. The context is the comfort of the user’s home/desk/office. Perhaps librarians should take advantage of this and make library instruction happen in as many contexts as possible?

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Putting Understanding First

I just read Putting Understanding First by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe. The basic point of the article is that K-12 teachers should emphasize not the rote learning of unconnected facts, but the understanding of those facts in a way that is fun and relevant for students, in order to maximize comprehension and acquisition. Without proper learning transfer, students will learn a curriculum but not be able to properly apply what they learned to practical problems.

Like previous readings on K-12 educational strategies, reading this article evoked memories of my own education. I don’t remember any calculus from high school six years ago, mostly because I haven’t applied it to anything useful since then. But I have on occasion used basic geometry and graphing. I remember what I learned all the way back in Middle School. a2+b2=c2 has stuck with me. I still know how to calculate the size of a triangle only knowing one sides length and one angle.

I wouldn’t say that my instruction was as ideal as what is described in the article. In fact, a lot of it, especially math, was simply building on previous foundations, something that the article criticizes as the “climb the ladder” approach which makes catching up for slacker increasingly difficult.

Since this article is geared towards K-12 education, it made me think of how it could be applied to academic library instruction, where you’re dealing with anyone from 18-year-old 1st years, to 80-year-old professor emeriti. In library workshops I feel like people expect you to get straight to the point and show them exactly what they need to do in order to use Database X. I think that adults would find it intellectually insulting to “waste” (I use that word lightly!) their time trying to begin with a “hook problem” and “introduce essential questions.” But maybe I’m not thinking creatively enough. Perhaps if only a few minutes were spent on these steps, it would make direct instruction that much more effective?

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My experiences with learning environments

I’ve been reading chapter 6 from How People Learn from the National Research Council, which discusses the varying types of learning environments and their effects on K-12 students. While it’s already a benefit that the work is well-written and easy to follow, I also appreciate how the book resonates with my own childhood education experiences.

I went to an international school, and often I felt that the textbooks we used were US-centric and thus didn’t work well with the backgrounds and cultures of my fellow students. I remember a math textbook asking students to solve word problems using dimes, nickels and quarters. For example, if you have x number of dimes and x number of quarters, how much money do you have? The teacher embarrassingly had to write on the board that a dime was 10 cents while a quarter was 25 cents. So much for a “learners centered” textbook.

We also all had to take an American history class, due to our use of an American curriculum, even though fewer than 5% of the students were American. Substituting that class for modern European history might have been more appropriate given our collective experiences and backgrounds. A happy medium might have been a history class that examines US-European relations.
When it comes to knowledge-centered learning and the importance of teaching concepts and understanding over disconnected facts, I try to think of library instruction classes I have taken and have taught, and what I could be doing better to ensure that everyone who attends a workshop properly retains everything I have taught them. There is a huge risk that given the practical nature of library workshops, that many facts presented could be disconnected. I think library instruction designers need to make sure that instructors are properly trained to contextualize everything that is being taught, and try to draw on the experiences of the patrons in attendance.

I really enjoyed reading about the issue of assessment because it makes me think of some of the most effective teachers in college. One political philosopher professor would require every student to meet with him first to discuss their idea for a paper, then would require every student to turn in a draft. Half of the papers given back had to be completely rewritten for the final copy. This kind of multi-layered assessment is crucial to teachers fully understanding the progress of their students. In library instruction, I feel that proper pacing to ensure that everyone in the class is keeping up with the instructor is important. That’s why I believe every library class should have at least one assistant standing among the patrons, helping those that are slower than the rest.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading this chapter. Instructional design librarians are running into these issues just as much as K-12 teachers and could learn and improve their own instruction from understanding the issues at hand and ensuring that their curriculums take into account what has been learned in the literature.

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Thoughts on Information Literacy in Academic libraries

I read a two of articles on information literacy in academic libraries. First was Assessing Information Literacy among Undergraduates: A Discussion of the Literature and the University of California-Berkeley Assessment Experience by Patricia Davitt Maughan. In the article she discusses how many undergraduates (1 in 4) never spend any time in the library during the week, while a significant minority spend less several hours each week. Coupled with research that shows the average college graduate doesn’t have adequate information literacy skills, the UC Berkeley libraries were determined to graduate a senior class that met the standards of information literacy. So far they are collecting statistics on information literacy and this articles concludes that if Berkeley wanted to realistically implement the ACRL Task Force’s standards, they would have to conduct far more interviews and research to properly assess the level of information literacy currently exhibited by the student body (since the research for this article wasn’t comprehensive enough).

The second article I read was Integrating information literacy skills into academic summer programs for precollege students Michigan login required. This was written by Bobbie L. Collins in Reference Services Review, Vol. 37, Iss. 2; pg. 143. The article describes a high school summer debate program with residency at Wake Forest University and the results of an information literacy program for those students.

It was interesting to read how the instructional design librarians revamped their old 1990s curriculum and added more active learning components like a written exercise for those students to do. In 2007 they invested in clickers which allowed the librarians immediate feedback as to whether the audience was understanding the library instruction, whereas traditionally you might need assistants standing in the back of the room looking at the computer screens to see who is behind. This summer debate program partnered with the Duke TIP program that attracts talented pre-college youth. They stay in the dorms for several weeks and part of the time they attend library instruction classes. The bottom line from this article is if the librarians can get involved and teach these kids at a young age how to use the databases and provide support, they will have a positive image of libraries, and this could eventually help with future funding.

I enjoyed reading both articles and it gave me a better sense of the type of information literacy literature out there, especially as it pertains to academic libraries. I was super impressed with how the high school students carried themselves during their residential program at Wake. In the article there was a detail on how the high school students were more interested in using all different library resources such as databases, monographs, CD-ROMS (antiquated, yes I know), while college freshmen were only interested in obtaining online articles. I think the biggest point worth repeating is that information literacy is a life-long struggle and it shouldn’t be taught only in college. Academic libraries can play a successful role in teaching information literacy to young people by having innovated programs like that of Wake. We saw how at UC Berkeley, there was so much apathy towards the library. I would argue that part of it is due to a lack of interest in the library throughout their entire life. Teaching information literacy to young people would invigorate their interest in libraries.

I honestly think academic librarians would be thrilled to host pre-college students who showed an interest in academic libraries and their mission. When I’m in an academic librarian, if I’m ever in a position to organize a program like this, I will look to Wake as an example.

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I want to watch that screencast over and over again!

I just created a simple screencast to show members of the University of Michigan School of Information how to filter their si.all.open emails into a folder. Students have a love/hate relationship with si.all.open. On the one hand it’s a source of useful and interesting information, like career postings and debates over recent issues in the news. On the other hand, heated discussions can spiral out of control resulting in dozens upon dozens of emails landing in everyone’s inbox over a weekend. Everyone including faculty and staff. I wanted to create this screencast to show people that there is a third way: filter all those darn emails into a folder so you can look at them on your own time, and concentrate on important emails in your inbox.

This isn’t my first experience with screencasts, or instructional videos for that matter. I frequently look for instructional videos on Youtube for a range of lessons, mostly on cooking. I’m a huge Gordon Ramsay fan and love watching his cooking instruction videos. In class we learned that a good instructional video has clear easy to understand instructions. Gordon Ramsay’s videos challenge that assumption in some ways.

One of the first Ramsay videos I tried following was how to cook a steak. He doesn’t give precise ingredient measurements, and the camera doesn’t always follow his movements. However his excitement is contagious. He makes me want to watch the video over and over again.

How often do people say they want to watch a library instructional video over and over again? Yes, librarians want to make sure patrons learn from their instructional videos. When measuring outcomes we often ask questions like:

1) Did the patron actually learn what was presented? 2) Will the patron learn enough to be able to teach him or herself?

Perhaps a new question should be introduced to the discussion: did the patron enjoy the video? I think it would be neat to make a library instruction video in the style of Gordon Ramsay. Yes you’d need an expensive camera, a confident and excited librarian, and a good video editor, but anything is possible!