Tag Archives: library instruction

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.

Library 2.0 – really?

Trust is the Key to Web 2.0 by kid.mercury via flickr CC

Over the past year I have heard about the Arizona State University library’s (ASU) creative use of YouTube for their library minute initiative, but hadn’t had a look until today.  For the uninitiated, the library has put together about 30 short videos (they are literally a minute) on a range of topics – for instance, today I watched:

  • Using the Academic Search Premier database
  • Fun & games in the library
  • Meet your subject librarian
  • Top 5 resources for online students
  • Information about open access & why it is important to the library
All of these topics are presented by the same librarian and are a mash-up of live footage of the presenter, video footage, cartoons, photographs, animation and music.  They are very impressive – short and snappy, designed to be easy to watch and get a message across within the limited time a university student may be prepared to give to hearing about library services.  The current thinking in marketing academic library services is to meet the students where they are – and they are looking at YouTube (and Facebook, Foursquare & Twitter).
Now that I’m thinking about these issues from a learning perspective, I found this experience somewhat frustrating and raising more questions than it really answered. On the one hand, the ASU library minute videos and the other ‘library 2.0’ ways they have of communicating with their users and community certainly tick boxes.   Their facebook page in particular creates community, links back to the library website and/or blog and out to the YouTube channel and is a conversation, as library staff respond to comments left by (presumably?) students. In Groundswell, the authors stress throughout the entire book the importance of social media being a conversation.  The book is aimed at a commercial market, but there is much to learn in there for libraries.
On the other hand, while each of the five videos I looked at today have healthy statistics in terms of number of views (all over 1000, some over 3000 views) I can’t help wondering how many of those views might be other librarians from around the world checking out what ASU is doing in this area.  I’m sure the university itself has access to analytics that enable it to know where the ‘hits’ on the YouTube channel are coming from, but as an outsider, it’s hard to tell.
A quick and dirty search on both Google and in some scholarly databases failed to turn up much actual evidence that any of this library 2.0 marketing works. I found many blog posts that question the value of library 2.0, or its implementation, or whether the term itself is accurate. Most tellingly, over on Agnostic, maybe, Andy asked back in February 2010:
How much is Library 2.0 really driven by the user experience? I imagine the library-patron relationship less like a ‘horse and cart’ and more like a planet-moon relationship. (If information was the sun, patrons are the Earth and libraries are the Moon. We are roughly in sync with our patrons, sometimes ahead or behind, and sometimes in the way.) … [sometimes there is] little or no user feedback indicating such a tool or service was desired in the first place
In the case of the ASU videos, the university’s own evaluation of the library minute concept, presented as a poster at Educause 2010 reveals a large number of ‘other library’ users and the fact that 32% of undergraduate students at the university were aware of the videos. This would appear to confirm that the videos are meeting the needs of libraries and librarians but still leaves me wondering about the users. Do they even want to know this stuff?
I have blogged here before about the tendency of librarians (and I suspect, any given group of professionals) to talk amongst ourselves about our services, programs and ideas. Admittedly my ‘literature search’ was rough but I would really like to see some research into whether providing (great quality) videos, links and feedback on facebook has an impact on our users and their perception or use of the library services.
Ganster, L., & Schumacher, B. (2009). Expanding Beyond our Library Walls: Building an Active Online Community through Facebook. Journal of Web Librarianship, 3(2), 111-128. doi:10.1080/19322900902820929
Li, C. & Bernoff, J. (2008). Groundswell : winning in a world transformed by social technologies. Harvard Business Press. Boston.

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.

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.

Getting paid to have fun

This past couple of weeks has seen me working on a website for the library, within the Google Aps domain that we hold at MPOW.  Google Sites is a wiki based ‘put the modules together’ platform and really easy to use (once you get the basics sorted out in your head!)  While there are all sorts of limitations with this structure, it has been an ideal solution for me – the library desperately needed a web presence and our resident IT support (yes, there’s only one of him) is run off his feet with day to day stuff.  With Google Sites, I have been able to construct a web site on my own that does the job and gets the information about the library services out there into the student’s preferred domain (and looks a bit snappy too).

Along the way, I have been able to play with lots of different learning objects – with varying forms of success.  I have used Jing to create short video screen captures of different Google search functions (namely Wonder Wheel and Timeline) and link to these from my web site.  In anticipation of a new intake of students in a few weeks, I have spent today putting together a short virtual library tour using Window’s Photo Story software (that I then uploaded to YouTube because Google sites has an automatic YouTube plug in and I don’t need to worry about html code embedding).  Photo Story is a really simple little piece of software I came across while doing my practicum at TAFE last year (I did a virtual tour of the library as one of my projects).  It doesn’t need any special equipment other than a camera and a microphone, so I whipped out the trusty iPhone, snapped a few pics of the library and surrounds, uploaded them to the computer, donned the headset/mic and away I went.  Photo Story strings your pictures together in a kind of power point display, adds your narration and some funky background music and you have  a little video without having worked with any kids or dogs.

While this ends up sounding like an infomercial for Google, the fact is that they are out there providing simple, low cost solutions to technology issues.  MPOW has limited budget and resources, Google Aps allows us significantly improved collaboration and the ability to provide services to our customers (both staff and students).

image from Flickr Creative Commons user dullhunk

If I build it, will they come?

I am heartened by the fact that other staff at MPOW seem to think that student patronage of the library has increased tenfold since it has been staffed full time (about 6 weeks now).  I like to think that the fact that I am bombarding the students with messages, information, classes and emails is helping.  If I bang on about the Facebook page long enough surely some of them will take notice?

Collection development has been my focus this past week – taking a break from lesson planning and writing of objectives.  Collection development is tricky without a budget of course – but I am slowly building an argument for aforementioned budget and a workable, measurable collection development policy is an essential part of that argument.  There is a collection development policy in place, but I want to take the library in a slightly different direction so a rewrite has been called for.  It happens that collection development is something I have had some experience with so I am reasonably pleased with my efforts thus far.

I’m also joining the team of staff developing our online course management system, using Moodle as the platform – the idea (well, my idea anyway) being that the library and associated ideas of information management and resource discovery are included in the system as it is built from the ground up.

The library here is isolated from the computers – partly because of space restrictions but I think also because it just didn’t occur to anyone to put them together.  So, students can either look at books OR search google – they can’t do both easily.  Co-locating the library and the computer lab is a high priority for me, reinforced by some reading I did today on user behaviour in digital information seeking.  Essentially, this JSIC/OCLC study points out what we already know anecdotally – users see libraries as being about books – and my library is reinforcing that stereotype by keeping the books separate to the information source they prefer to use.

Re-inventing the wheel

Welcome to my ramblings as a first year graduate (at 43) librarian.  I wanted to use this blog to record my achievements, efforts and successes (and yes, I guess my failures too!) so that I would have some way of being able to measure how far I had (hopefully) come in my first year of full time work in nearly 18 years.  You are cordially invited along for the ride.

At MPOW (My Place of Work – a very useful acronym I first saw on KG Schneiders ‘Free Range Librarian’ blog) I am charged with the somewhat vague task of increasing student patronage of the library and assisting with improving their academic English and information literacy skills.   I also maintain the collection and manage circulations (after all, isn’t that what librarians do all day anyway?).  Oh, and I am the Records Manager at the organisation as well – just for good measure.

This is not too onerous a task for a librarian – after all, isn’t this what I spent the last 9 years of my life studying for? (the length of time it has taken me to get my degree is a discussion for another time).

Let me add that MPOW is a small higher education institute with a student population of about 200, all of whom  are international students, mostly from mainland China.  Like most librarians, I have little or no training or experience in teaching or educating – let alone to ESL students.  Do you start to get some idea of the challenges?

So, my days thus far have been filled with reading, reading and more reading.  I understand the basics of information literacy training, I’ve been training my own kids for years for one thing.  Bringing some of that experience, bits and pieces from other parts of my extensive background in administration and project management and dredging up memories of my library science subjects (finished long ago, it was the dreaded non-library major that took up most of the past 3 years) I managed to cobble together a passable effort and present a few topics to the students in my second full week on the job.

Well, so I thought anyway.  I realised after the 3rd session, when we had a practical application lesson in the computer lab that they hadn’t understood anything I’d said and as I had failed to tie the sessions to any measurable outcomes, I couldn’t work out where I had gone wrong with them – at what point had I lost them? Welcome to the world of teaching I guess….

We have another intake of students starting in mid year – this first lot will have to be satisfied with the knowledge that my first experiments in teaching have yielded much that will benefit those to come after them!  In the meantime, I have gone back to basics in an attempt to write a course from the ground up that will meet measurable outcomes and take account of the particular ESL aspects of teaching this stuff.

I have started with the obvious – the Australian and New Zealand Information Literacy Framework standards and a wonderful article from some library staff at the Waterford Institute of Technology, Ireland on the challenges of their pilot information literacy course with international students (Hurley, Hegarty & Bolger 2006).  Over the next few weeks I am immersing myself in the world of outcomes and lesson plans as I attempt to get this right.  I’ll be posting on this fairly reguarly – even if only to convince myself of my progress!


Hurley, T., Hegarty, N. & Bolger, J. 2006, Crossing a bridge: The challenges of developing and delivering a pilot information literacy course for international students. New Library World, vol.107, no.1226/1227 pp.302-320