Today I put out on twitter
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.
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.
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.
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
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.