Category Archives: General

Journal or book – does it matter anymore?

Discarded Ideas 02.04.2008 by mskogly via flickr CC

Today I put out on twitter

Does it really matter if students know if their source is a journal or a book? Why/why not? #infolit #crowdsourcing

as this is something that has increasingly had me wondering. This has been prompted in part by a discussion on twitter yesterday about whether as undergraduate students ourselves we ever used the library or contacted a librarian (most of us said no) and partly as a result of a discussion at MPOW about what the journal subscription model may look like in the future. I think both of these discussions are worthy of further investigation and thinking in their own right at another time.

So, back to the point of this post. As stated in the tweet, I was crowd sourcing, looking for some ideas, possible arguments for and against this position & trying to gauge the mood of my potential audience before putting this post out there.

I’m very grateful to my PLN for their responses, including:

still think it’s important because they will need to know for reference formatting. so boring but true

[important for] selecting sources, eg. book provides overview, journal more likely to be orig research…good scholarly practice

journals still regarded as “better” for some subjects

I don’t think it matters if the info is relevant to their topic eg history uses a lot more book references than info science

if trusted source (lecturer) is pushing papers to students distinctions b/w source types not key – all abt content

If students (& by this I am referring mostly to the average UG student, who make up the bulk of the student population at most universities) are given a list of readings or citations to look up, then yes, it’s helpful if they can tell the difference between a journal & a monograph. It certainly makes our job in reference much easier if they know that.

However, my point is slightly different – and here I run into the fact that at times it’s hard to express myself adequately in 140 characters. I think I am really asking “Once having arrived at the source, does it really matter what the source is?”

Let me explain further. At MPOW, we put a great deal of energy into helping academics generate stable links to our online resources.  These links can placed into the Learning Management System (LMS) usually Blackboard or Moodle, and they route students via the library proxy server to land them at their article, e-book, digitized chapter or AV resource without the student having to navigate any of the path along the way – other than to authenticate themselves as our students at some point if they are off campus. So increasingly, students are not being given a list of readings or citations to look for and often their further reading from the subject can occur as a direct hyperlink provided in the document they were originally sent to read.

In my experience, the academics generally like these links and while it’s a slightly complex process to generate them it’s usually a one-off investment of their time. While some are concerned about what they see as the loss of student research skills, the feedback from most is that they want the students to read, absorb & synthesize the material. Many feel that unless it’s made easy for the students, they will just not bother reading it. I have also had academics tell me that the time spent generating these links pays off in terms of less time spent further down the semester track answering emails & phone calls from students who can’t find the citation from a list.

This situation of course causes an instant librarian dilemma! On the one hand, if the link is provided as a ‘click here’ service, without citation data being included then students arrive at the reading with no context whatsoever and this has the potential to bring an information professional out in spots. However, the point of this post is to stop and ask myself ‘why is this so?’

Even when academics attach the hyperlink to an actual citation, aren’t students still just going to click & not notice the context? Many e-records include a copy & paste ‘how to cite this’ – and while I understand that this may not meet the requirements of a particular referencing style, it still means students don’t really need to have context to create a citation for the information they have just used. It might look wrong and the student may lose a few marks for not following instructions, but let’s face it, an academic can still find & check the source document even if it’s formatted in Harvard when they really wanted Chicago or APA.

On the other side of this argument, supporting our academics is my role – and if this link generation makes their lives easier & enables them to help students focus on the skills of critically evaluating the content then isn’t that a good thing? Is this actually a similar argument to the print vs e? Is content king rather than the container?

Increasingly, the publishing gap between monographs & journals is closing. Traditionally journals are more agile, more reflective of current practice, published faster and peer reviewed journals are seen as more authoritative. The different publishing models, rise of open access publishing and the increase in academic blogging are all pushing the boundaries of the traditional model. I’m in no way suggesting we stop helping students understand how to evaluate their sources, I’m just wondering if the model for that is coming to its use-by date. Is the issue of format in publishing becoming irrelevant in that evaluation?

The obvious elephant in the room here is the serious researcher, whether post-grad or academic, as context is bound to be more appropriate or relevant to them, but they are not really who this is about. I think there’s a lot more to say on this topic and some others that float around it in a more or less connected way. Another time perhaps.

Thinking time

Unshelved 31 January 2012

I love this. I’m lucky enough to be ‘allowed’ to have thinking time at MPOW – it’s part of our job and often leads to new and interesting things. It’s not necessarily sitting-still-thinking, it might be an informal discussion over coffee with a colleague gathering ideas, or reading a blog post, or talking about twitter, or bouncing an idea for a research project.

All of this ‘thinking’ time means I am better prepared when I talk with academics, I know more about library services and options and I’m a more informed library professional. This is good.

Coding. Or not.

All the pieces fit together

OK. So the ‘thing’ for 2012 seems to be coding. Everybody is either doing it, or urging others to do it, or writing, blogging or tweeting about doing it.

Roy Tennant over at Digital Shift says all library professionals need to at least understand coding & urges us to try out Codeacademy’s Code Year initiative. I happen to agree – I find even my very basic understanding of HTML to be practical and useful (although at this point largely just for maintaining my blog), so I signed up and have been receiving my lessons weekly by email. I should point out here that I know absolutely nothing about coding. I am a complete novice with no experience with or exposure to coding before now (except that tiny bit of HTML I mostly learned mucking about in WordPress).

This has been a really smart initiative by Codeacademy, for lots of reasons, many of which you can read about here. There’s been an amazing takeup of the course, with tens of thousands signing up in the first few days of 2012.

Matthew Murray at ExtremeTech questions whether anyone can learn serious coding in this way and that it promotes a shallow view of the programming industry. Head on over there to read more of his opinion.  A couple of sentences in Murray’s piece rang true for me because you see, I haven’t enjoyed the CodeYear experience at all so far. Murray says

Just for kicks, I sat down with the opening lesson of Codecademy, just to see what it was like. It asked me to type in my name, then append it with “.length,” then type in a simple math equation. All of it was basic JavaScript, with no indication of what was happening or why.

I have just finished week 1 of the Code Year course. I struggled through it, partly because it’s so foreign to me and way outside my comfort zone. However, at least part of the problem lies in the way the course has been written (at least week 1). There’s no context, no goal setting, no outcomes, no sense at all of what comes next or where the piece you are copying and pasting fits into a bigger picture.

It’s early days yet. Much of what is written on the web about this so far is praising the initiative but there seems to be very little of substance about the content or the delivery. Over at Palely Loitering, Laura comments that she has managed to finish lesson 1, but she’s not really sure how much she learned about applying it in the real world. I hear her!

I have found the user forums that come as part of CodeAcademy to be both useful and frustrating. Useful because there are folks in there trying to help others and frustrating because everyone asking questions seems to have the same problems – lack of guidance in the ‘lessons’ and very little understanding of what is being asked of the ‘student’.

Checking the #codeyear hashtag on twitter brings up a lot of results, but scrolling through I think many of them are auto created by the program itself (for example, when you sign up you get the opportunity to send a pre written tweet that says

I’m learning to code with @Codecademy in 2012. Join me!http://codeyear.com/ #codeyear

Not helpful. I’m looking for critical comment, not more marketing.

I’ll go on to lesson 2 – I’m working on the theory that it may just all suddenly make sense or appear to be in context. I’ll keep you posted.

 

 

A library day in the life – Round 8

A working day by Tupolev und seine Kamera via flickr CC

So, this week is Round 8 of the Library Day in the Life project and as I’m an occasional contributor to the project – here’s my day!

I am an outreach librarian within the Academic Services Unit at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. We ‘outreachers’ are the point of contact for academics and higher degree research students at the university and actively promote the research support services the library offers. In addition, I have recently taken on the role of collection co-ordinator within the Humanities, Creative Arts & Social Sciences Unit. As collection work and responsibility is spread across all academic services librarians here, there are 2 co-ordinators to keep track of the projects and tasks that form the collection part of our daily work.

8:00 arrived at work, did all the usual ‘waiting for my computer to warm up’ stuff – getting a cup of tea, chatting to the other early birds on the floor (there’s not many of us this early – it doesn’t take long!)

8:15 emails – not too many to deal with, accepted a meeting request for later today, put a couple of things in the ‘read/do something with later’ pile.

8:30 talked with a colleague who is new to twitter, answering a few of her questions, including looking at a couple of different twitter apps and comparing their features

9:00 met informally (as in, she wandered onto our floor so I grabbed the chance for a few words) with the manager of our Electronic Resources Unit (ERU) in my capacity as collection co-ordinator.

9:15 talked with (ie, sought advice from!) previous collection co-ordinator about a few issues that I haven’ t been able to resolve

9:30 realised it’s library day in the life week and that today may be a reasonably interesting day to write about so started writing this

9:45 read a document on producing reports from our back end catalogue system ahead of a briefing/training session on this later this morning. I desperately need to learn how to do this to get a pile of backlogged collection projects underway.

10:00 Coffee with a few team members 🙂

10:20 back to reading my training document

11:00 went off to learn in practice how to produce reports

12:30 lunch under a shady tree in the courtyard with a colleague

1:00 preparation for a meeting with the Centre Manager of one of the research centres within my Outreach portfolio. The centre is relocating to a smaller space and looking for advice on how to review their book/report collection – it’s mostly grey literature so I’m looking for some resources to point them towards. I’m also eating chocolate.

2:00 meeting at the research centre. Very successful meeting, leaves me feeling very positive about the relationship between the library and the centre.

3:15 quick coffee break with a colleague

3:30 at my desk, dealing with email that arrived while I was in the meeting and following up on a number of issues resulting from the meeting. Also set up a meeting with an academic from another centre who wants to get up to speed with the support we can provide for her teaching this semester.

3:45 quick meeting with a colleague who has been doing research around whether we continue to subscribe to a particular journal

4:00 debrief with my team leader on the significant 2pm meeting

4:20 home

It was really hot and muggy in Sydney today, I felt like I’d run miles when I got home. Most days I don’t mind public transport – some days, like today, I’d give my right arm for an airconditioned car.

Back to work

This week marks a couple of things. It’s my first week back at work after nearly 4 weeks off following a combination of enforced university shutdown and annual leave. Was great. Not talking about that here.

I have come back from leave to a newly renovated workroom, with new furniture, a new spot on the floor and new desk neighbours. It’s all very fresh and clean and it’s great just to have a change to mark the new year.

It’s also 2 years this week since I went for an interview for what would become my first professional library position, at my previous place of work.  I have been trying to remember what that week was like – I was desperate for a job, nervous about the interview (in fact I had thought it went quite badly) and so excited when I got the call to say I had been successful.  I remember it was a really hot day, and I actually went to 2 interviews on the same day, racing across the city from one to the other.

So all in all, it’s fitting that this week’s theme for the Friday Photo 2012 challenge is ‘work’.  I’m not particularly inspired by the theme – but did take this picture of my desk before I started unpacking the boxes on Monday.

I need to unpack....

Information silos: or where choosing twitter has let me down

News waves by kevin dooley via flickr CC

I’m going to be bold (and controversial?) and say that I think I am generally less informed as a result of my involvement with twitter.

Don’t get me wrong. I love twitter. I love the connection to a professional community of like minded others and the speed and ease of communicating with those folks. I love the constant, never ending flow of information past my door – and the fact that I can dip in and out of that flow to pick out the things that catch my eye. I would find it both difficult and isolating to be without twitter and my personal learning network.

However, as I’ve mentioned before – I miss browsing and now I’ve found that I’m missing out on a range of information because of the way I have chosen to have that information fed to me. I rely increasingly on twitter for that data flow – but of course the people I follow on twitter are folk with similar interests to mine. Otherwise I probably wouldn’t be following them. On Facebook, I not only limit myself to family and friends (and the occasional page about one of my personal interests) but now the Facebook news feed changes limits that even further by deciding for me which updates I will see.

What all of this means is that increasingly I am less and less likely to come across information, material or news from outside my silo. Yes, I follow some news and journalists on twitter – but I don’t have twitter open on my desktop all the time and in the vast flood of information it’s easy to miss stuff. I can’t physically spend the time scrolling back through the hours and hours of tweets I missed – it’s just not practical. Examples of things I missed? I didn’t know there’d been a nursing home fire in Quakers Hill this week. I didn’t know about the ‘formals scam’ that meant hundreds of Sydney school kids lost money on booking formals and after parties. I didn’t know there are bushfires happening in WA. Did I need to know these things? Probably not, but I don’t like feeling uninformed about issues that are out there being talked about. Would these things have come across my twitter feed? Undoubtably, but as I said, I’m not connected to twitter 24/7.

The way around this of course, is to add yet more ways of getting information. For example, I could go back to reading the paper (either online or in print, I don’t have a preference), or listening to radio news (I love radio as a medium and it’s my biggest regret about using public transport to work, that I miss out on radio news and current affairs time). At least by browsing the paper, or listening to the whole news broadcast things come across my radar that are otherwise outside my ‘bubble’ and I am forced to at least be aware of the political, social and economic environment that continues to exist around me in spite of my seeming best efforts to pretend that it’s not. My twitter feed is the equivalent of only listening to the news stories that already resonate with or interest me.

Time wise this additional information scan would probably be at the expense of time on twitter. However, if I give up time on twitter I am also giving up the community building and social interaction that comes with the medium – and I don’t really want to give that up.

In addition, there’s the silo-ing that’s being done to me by others – mostly companies that collect my data, my browsing history or my favourite search terms and use that information to package up yet more links, suggestions or results in a similar area. Have a look at this post about personal data life-logging, or this one about giving up Google if you want to explore that further. This is an extension of my self-imposed silos but more importantly and perhaps more dangerous in the longer term, it means increasingly I am given/fed/exposed to information and news feeds that I am comfortable with, from people and organisations I generally agree with or am aligned with. There’s not much in my news feed that is confronting, challenging or makes me sit up and think – it’s a ‘yes men’ situation waiting to happen. Not recommended in business and I would argue similarly dangerous personally.

For heavens sake, twitter even once suggested that I follow @newgradlib because we are similar. Of course we’re similar. It’s me.

 

 

Browsing in the digital world

SFMOMA Artscope Visual Artwork by pushandplay via flickr CC

This post was inspired by a Mashable post on the importance of browsing to content discovery.

To me browsing is essentially a visual activity and inextricably linked with allowing my eye to make visual links between items – such as similar books or CDs on a shelf in a shop or library.  One of the things I struggle with in the move to digital information is the loss of browsing in that way.  Following links on web pages and discovering more information can be fun but it’s a process that often takes me further away from what I was looking at, not just a little way either side of it.

I am not a luddite about electronic collections and don’t advocate browsing or serendipitous discovery as a justification for keeping vast quantities of print material sitting on shelves, but I think browsing in the sense that I know it is definitely harder to do in a digital world.

To be fair, I grew up as a browser. I leafed through atlases, encyclopedia and my dad’s record collection. I browse cookbooks, coffee table books and other people’s book shelves. There’s something very tangible about browsing the physical object and serendipitous about coming across unexpected finds.

Mitchell Whitelaw said in his presentation to TEDx Canberra in 2010 that search is great if you know what you are looking for and you know what’s in the collection.  I’m paraphrasing slightly – to find out exactly what he said and more, check out this (17 minute) video:

(Co-incidentally, TEDx Canberra 2011 is next weekend folks. It’s sold out but the team has successfully arranged for it to be streamed live – great for those of us who can’t get there this year!)

I digress. You can read more about Mitchell’s visualisation projects at his blog The Visible Archive.  Hearing Mitchell speak was the first time I realised that it might be possible to have something approximating that old habit of browsing in the digital world.

Other examples of visual browsing in the online world that appeal to me include the ‘cover flow’ view of the digitised Australian Women’s Weekly collection on Trove at the NLA and Flipboard for the iPad.  The fact that projects like these are being developed by people with technical skills of which I am in awe and used by ordinary, information hungry folk like me gives me hope that I’m not the only person who misses browsing.

Taking responsibility

We have a new team member starting at MPOW at the end of the month – suddenly I won’t be the new person anymore. This is a bit daunting as I find the I’m new here can you tell me how this works card quite useful. I know I’ve only been here a few months and can legitimately use this tactic for a few months more yet, but it brings it into perspective with the thought that there will be someone newer. Maybe I know more than I think I do? I guess I’ll find out when she says I’m new here can you tell me how this works?

I’ve written before about my amazement that other people seem to think I have something useful to say – and it’s happened to me again. I posted to twitter earlier this week:

getting incoming links to my blog from a moodle at monash… does this mean someone thinks I have something important to say? #yikes

Now, this post is not an attempt to have hundreds of people suddenly tell me I have useful things to say – it’s more a reflection on the responsibility to stand behind the stuff I publish online. I know all the rules of social media – don’t publish anything you don’t want made public, think before pressing send/publish/enter/tweet and I follow those rules. It’s more that as a student myself, I like reading the blogs of practitioners, finding out what they think, agreeing, disagreeing, commenting or writing a post in response. It just never occurs to me that others out there might be reading MY posts in that context.

A bit daunting.

New shiny in the workplace

iCat not included with purchase of iPad from icanhazcheezeburger.com

We haz an iPad in our team and we are downloading your apps…

The Outreach teams at MPOW have been given an iPad to use in our work.  We have to share it, but it’s a pretty damn exciting piece of equipment to be allowed to play with, particularly as buying my own is not about to happen anytime soon.  It’s early days, no one has taken it out of the cupboard (except I suspect the team leaders have possibly been playing with it – just a bit) and while I’d love to make full use of it, I want my time with it to be productive and useful.

I can think of a dozen things straight away that I could use an iPad for in the workplace – but they mostly relate to the way I organise my day, do my job and communicate with people rather than the way the team might use it. The thing with an iPad or other mobile device is that they are designed to be personal – to provide you with access to the functionality you need to get on with the things you do. Figuring out how to share it and still have it be a productive and useful tool is important.

So, library peeps, I am crowdsourcing. Are you in an outreach/liaison position? It could be any type of library – doesn’t have to be an academic focus. Do you use an iPad as part of your work day? What apps do you find useful, what functionality is important, HOW do you use it in your work day?  Remembering that we can’t use it to keep track of email, tweet on the run or check the time of the next bus because we’re sharing it, what CAN we use it for?

Some of my ideas so far:

  • I do library tours with groups of international students – would be handy to have the iPad with me so I can also follow along with the virtual tour at the same time – point out that they can book rooms then show them immediately on the library website where they can book rooms
  • Collaborative work with another team member creating a document on the run in a meeting room or other space that is not our desktop
  • Note taking in a meeting with a School or academic
  • Access to cloud services such as dropbox when away from my desk
I’m sure there are lots of other things we could be doing with it – so far my list isn’t really anything I couldn’t do with a laptop – although taking a laptop on a library tour would be a bit tricky.
Any ideas shared in the comments would be gratefully accepted 🙂

Reference librarian of sorts

HELP by marc falardeau via flickr CC

Yesterday I spent an hour shadowing a reference librarian colleague  in the library’s ‘Help Zone’ – a central spot just inside the main doors of the library where students can come to ask for help on just about any topic. The Help Zone includes a few computers for students to quickly look up or check something, a few for library staff to use for basic reference, some consultation rooms for longer enquiries or booked research consultations, the self checkout points and the entry to the high use collection.

Feeling a bit apprehensive about the whole thing, I started out shadowing my colleague and watching, listening and learning.  However, a sudden burst of ‘busy-ness’ found me handling some student enquiries on my own – it seemed silly to make students wait when I could at least get them started on their query (of course, there were also plenty of ‘where are the return chutes?’ type questions too and I could definitely answer those!).  The overwhelming majority of students I spoke with were first year undergraduates desperately seeking resources as the semester’s final assessments loom large.

While taking my first tentative steps towards helping these students it occurred to me that they were just like my newly-at-uni-son – uncertain, probably a bit nervous about asking a librarian and just looking for a way to get started in the resource discovery process.  Suddenly I had more confidence – it really didn’t matter if I didn’t have the best answer to their question, I knew that I could give them AN answer and that it would be a step up from the spot they were in, it would be progress. My reward? Smiles and thanks from grateful students and a quiet confidence that I might be starting to get the hang of this new job.