Tag Archives: information literacy

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.

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.

Overuse syndrome

A lot of jargon by kevinspencer via flickr CC

I’m a bit behind catching up with RSS feeds of some of the blogs I follow – I KNOW the ‘mark all read’ button is really handy and I do use it for plenty of my subscriptions, but I usually find Roy Tennant interesting so I saved that one from the all powerful delete button and today I read his 7 words or phrases to never say or write again (written some time back in March).

I laughed in an ironic, slightly bitter kind of way at his list of 7, as many of these jargon-ish terms have been topics of discussion on blogs and twitter feeds among my network of library folk as well.  As a recent library school graduate, I can report we studiously learned the terms OPAC, bibliographic instruction and copy cataloguing in my course. True story.  As a way of communicating with people outside of libraryland (ie everyone ELSE  – our customers, other staff in our organisation, our families and the average person on the street), they are right up there with information literacy training and my personal favourite, circulation desk . You can still buy signs that say ‘Circulation desk’ to hang in your library. Also a true story.

The more I ponder this issue, the more I wonder. Do we only use these terms among ourselves? Is it an attempt to bring a precision of language into our conversations? After all, other library folk know what we mean by information literacy or the OPAC.  We sometimes spell out for our customers that which we can shorthand among ourselves with jargon or specialised language. If we’re not inflicting that on the general public, does it really  matter?


Information literacy in the real world

Data, Information, Knowledge... by MichaelKreil via flickr CC

The more I read and think about the term ‘information literacy’ the more I find it a fairly meaningless, libraryland-jargon-type term.  I’ve been for a few job interviews lately and inevitably, there is the question (or some variation of the question) “can you tell us your understanding of information literacy”?  Well, no. Not really. Not in the 3 minutes you have allocated for my answer anyway.

Case study: students at MPOW.  Yes, these students are born digital, or digital natives or whatever current buzzword applies.  They are generally aged 18-21, live or die by their smartphones, use Google to get answers to just about every question relating to their daily lives and video Skype family back home.  Does this mean they are tech savvy? Absolutely.  Do they get the right answers? Probably.  Are they in fact, transliterate? They would appear to be. Are they transferring those skills to the academic setting? Absolutely not.

The much bigger question is – do they even need to transfer those skills to the academic setting? In my experience after a year working with them? No, they don’t. They can pass most of their subjects at undergraduate level by using the text book and occasionally a newspaper article or other text they may find on our (limited) library shelves. This makes it very difficult to generate much interest from students in learning more about searching for and evaluating information.

So, I despair.  The situation is vastly different for first year Bachelor of Business students than it is for advanced research students but I suspect we still make many of the same assumptions and mistakes about the information literacy of the individuals.  I think there is much to be gained by the concept of learning through play and wish I had more scope to implement some of these ideas here at MPOW.

Instinctively, I look for practical, easy, real world ways to describe concepts to our students, so when I read this post from The Green Librarian linking to an ACRL article by Anne Pemberton I was inspired.  Pemberton’s article talks about the similarities for students between certain familiar functions on Facebook and unfamiliar functions in database searching.  This I can use – my students know all about Facebook.  I’m putting this straight into the next search skills workshop I run.

Updating my CV

I was doing some updating of my ALIA PD points today and it startled me to see that I have pretty much already accumulated the points I need for the 2011 year (it’s a financial year thing).  I only joined the scheme in April 2010, realising that all the reading and learning I had been doing for my new job since starting here in February could also be counted as PD points.  It then occurred to me that  it’s probably time to update my CV with some of this learning and achievement and professional progress.

So this is a relective and slightly self indulgent post, a pause to look at what I’ve learned and managed to achieve since starting at MPOW (my first professional position and first full time job in 18 years) back in February 2010.  I’m pretty pleased with this list.  I have:

  • joined the ALIA New Generation Advisory Committee (NGAC)
  • learned how to participate in teleconferences
  • developed a web site using Google sites and written and uploaded all the content myself
  • developed and written library and academic skills modules for the college moodle
  • implemented a monthly student newsletter (college wide, not just library news) that I now co-ordinate & edit
  • learned how to conduct information literacy workshops (and learned that it’s different each and every time)
  • learned how to use prezi (thanks @misssophiemac)
  • learned how to use flickr (thanks @restructuregirl)
  • learned how to use twitter (thanks tweeps!)
  • established a Facebook presence for both the library and MPOW generally
  • learned about Orkut as a social networking site
  • participated in a blogging project (#blogeverydayinjune)
  • written my first collaborative document as part of an NGAC task
  • been to UTS to hear Heidi Julien talk about information literacy
  • been to the ALIA Biennial conference in Brisbane and met lots of new people
  • learned how to use the Libraries Australia database
  • written my first article for InCite (as yet unpublished)
  • discovered what a ‘personal learning network‘ is and how to develop and contribute to one
  • participated in discussions about my experiences as a student as part of research into LIS education
  • started planning for the library to move to another building and co-locate (finally!) with the computer lab

Some of this has been ‘just part of the job’ and some has been personal professional development that may or may not cross over into ‘the job’ but I believe (and fortunately, so does my employer) that it is all part of being an active participant in a learning profession and that ultimately that has benefits and payoffs for the employer beyond the ‘things that get done on the job’.

Probably the most valuable part of all of this to me has been the professional networking through twitter, NGAC and the conference.  I had an example of this just today in a focus group discussion for the LIS research project – I was delighted to find another participant was someone I had met at the conference.  Connecting and reconnecting is what helps build the profession.  I’m not sure where all that will take me in the longer term career sense but I’m sure it’s going to be positive.

image: Ecliptic Star Trails by makelessnoise via flickr

Zombies here, zombies there…

Over the weekend I listened to the May instalment (ok, so I’m a bit behind) from the crew at Adventures in Library Instruction.  If you haven’t heard this podcast and you are in anyway involved in information literacy training and/or instruction it’s worth at least having a peep (or hearing a peep if you want to be really technical).

As a learning tool, podcasts appeal to me for several reasons.  I like audio and can engage in it more easily than reading (witness my raving about audiobooks), I can listen to it in the car which is good use of time that is otherwise dead to me and I get a sense of the personalities and people behind the information.  I’ve been listening to ALI pretty faithfully since they started (well, since I read about it in PD Postings anyway – but I have heard all podcasts up to and including May this year now) and feel I’ve not only learned a lot but have had good insight into how other people do their jobs and WHAT they do for their jobs.  This is particularly important for me as an OPL.

So why zombies? The May edition of ALI featured 2 librarians from the University of Florida who had organised library involvement in a campus wide zombie themed alternate reality game (ARG) and developed a libguide to zombies as a way of tapping into what the students were interested in but also getting some library and information literacy instruction into them as well.  Have a look at this video the library produced as part of their involvement in the week long ARG:

It was a great episode of the podcast and this post doesn’t go even close to doing justice to the level of detail and involvement that went into this. While I can’t do anything like that here at MPOW (University of Florida has about 50,000 students and we have about 300!), the take home point for me was tapping into student culture – whatever that may be in your neck of the woods.

image: How to survive a zombie attack by Hryck via flickr

Why information literacy?

Yesterday I took myself on an excursion to UTS to hear Heidi Julien from the University of Alberta talk about information literacy.  As part of preparing to write this post with my comments on the talk, I thought I’d revisit Miss Sophie Mac’s recent blog post on information literacy in context.  Sophie says of information literacy (among other things):

I believe first and foremost that it’s important because information is experienced in socio-cultural context and outside this information has no meaning.

In the room yesterday, there was much debate about the many-sided subject of information literacy.  Heidi Julien feels strongly that information literacy must always involve some aspect of learning as surfing the net for 20 years does not develop IL skills.  However, the resource issues in libraries and the vast percentage of the population that do not have regular contact with instruction librarians (either academic, public or school) means that instruction cannot be the only way to deliver information literacy skills.  Given that Heidi presented some pretty compelling research into the cost to business and community of low information literacy, it would seem that it is an issue for the wider community – leaving the question of how do we reach everyone?

Here’s some of the highlights (from my perspective) of the session:

  • Does information literacy suffer because of it’s name? Who wants to be considered ‘illiterate’?
  • If info lit = instruction, then we have to address the issue of pedagogy of teaching in library education, ie we don’t get pedagogical training yet we are expected to take on the role of librarian as teacher (hopefully the Reconceptualising LIS Education project will address some of this?)
  • I met @misssophiemac
  • Spotted @malbooth in the crowd tweeting away
  • let’s work with Google, not against it – the students (and community in general) will use it, they may as well learn to use it properly and effectively evaluate the information they get out of it
  • more networking! Got chatting to one new person, re-established contact with someone from the past

All in all, I had a great afternoon, was good to get the brain working on some abstract ideas, was refreshing to get out of the office and hear the thoughts and ideas of others.  Oh, and I walked there from MPOW, so along the way snapped this pic of the old Mortuary Station on Regent Street at Central for the #1pic1thoughtinaugust project.  I love this building.

You know you’re information literate when….

Some Friday afternoon fun!  How do you know if you’re information literate?

This question was recently posed on the ALA Information Literacy Instruction e-list by Becky Alford, Reference & Instruction Librarian at Clarke College, Iowa.

Becky very considerately collated the responses and posted them to the list – it goes something like this:

You know you’re information literate when:

  • You have at least 2 active library cards.
  • You often find yourself gleefully suggesting, “This calls for immediate research!”
  • Your motto is “Think before you google.”
  • You think not crediting a source is worse than not recycling.
  • You hear the Cheers theme when approaching the reference desk.  (Subsequent highly scientific research has indicated that it would be better to use the Friends theme instead.)
  • The library website is your homepage.
  • You can easily name your 3 favorite databases.
  • You narrow searches with the ease and precision of a ninja.
  • You believe most books are only as good as their references.
  • When visiting libraries you can find and check out books in 5 minutes or less.
  • You spot irrelevant search results immediately because you just can’t stand them.
  • You tested out of Defense Against the Dark Arts by flexing your superior critical thinking skills.
  • You could easily defeat Chuck Norris using Library of Congress subject headings.
image: Without A Library by wirelizard via flickr

Family librarian – again

Tonight Miss 16 rang wanting a lesson in Harvard style referencing – over the phone no less.  Even more than I love being a librarian, I love that I have a child who is ‘nerdy’ enough to be appreciative of the fact that I’m a librarian! It makes me feel, well, kinda cool.  I have knowledge and skills that she finds valuable – as I have blogged about before.

Of course, now that I’m off the phone, I’ve thought of a dozen different ways I could have said things – each one better and brighter than the one before.  It makes me think seriously about the referencing module of my information literacy/academic skills courses that are taking shape on the moodle at MPOW.  I think there’ll be some tweaking and rewriting later this week.

A mini evidence based practice ephiphany in my own household! Did I mention I love being a librarian?