Tag Archives: students

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.

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.

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.

The gentle art of invigilation

Writing Exams from ccarlstead via flickr CC

Sounds painful doesn’t it? Here at MPOW we often get called on to do ‘stuff’ that you don’t do in bigger workplaces.

Today, I co-supervised an exam.  I kind of enjoy being an invigilator (it sounds so much more probing than ‘librarian’ don’t you think?), although I am glad I don’t have to do it full time. Every now and then, as required here at MPOW is OK though and makes a nice break from the normal routine.

It reminds me of my time as a student (and I’m a new grad let’s not forget, so that time isn’t so far behind me) sitting in exams.  Now  it’s never occurred to me to cheat in an exam, so I’ve never had cause to have a twinge of guilt when the invigilator stops by my desk and has a good look at what I’m doing – but that doesn’t mean I haven’t felt that twinge of emotion-that’s-probably-not-guilt-because-I’ve-not-done-anything-wrong.

Kind of funny being on the other side of that equation and watching the students’ body language as I walk up and down the aisles, or scan the room from the corner.

Gatekeeper or doorjamb?

There probably isn’t an LIS person out there who doesn’t subscribe to Unshelved.  It’s very public-library skewed but for the most part it picks up on stuff that affects us all in libraryland. It’s clever and oh so cynical – I love it.

Today’s Unshelved really spoke to me. Sometimes I feel like my role here at MPOW is as doorjamb.  That is, I have my metaphorical foot wedged firmly in the ‘door to information’ to stop the students slamming it shut without a second glance.  Much of what I do each day works on the principle of ‘if I build it will they come?’. If the gateway is wedged open, even just a little, I might get a few students who are interested enough to come in and find out what the library is all about (other than repeat borrowing of the text books because they can’t/won’t buy their own).

I am inspired to continue by a series of small victories (remembering we only have 250 students in total), such as:

  • the student who spends the afternoon in here every Thursday studying his business law text so he can use the law dictionary that I bought and put on reference to help him navigate through a complex subject in his third language
  • the two students who come in 2 mornings a week to sit and read the papers for half an hour.  I encourage the students to do as much reading in English as they can so I’m really happy for them to bring coffee in and flick through the papers reading the sports pages.
  • the lecturer who came and asked me for more information about a link I had sent the teaching staff to a business case studies website.  As they never reply when I send stuff out to them I was unsure if any of them ever read any of my emails!
  • the students who take the time and effort to understand (and follow) the very few library rules I have in place
  • the students who have come in to tell me they’ve enjoyed some of the links I put on the library website (that have nothing to do with libraries and everything to do with engaging with students)

So, for those people, the doorjamb is there, firmly wedged in place.  My brief when I started at MPOW was to get more students using the library and it’s services.  I’m getting there.

Doing a spot of gardening

Weeding. It’s a term all library folk know, even if it’s referred to in different organisations by another term. Such as culling. Or disposing. Or deselecting. Or ‘managing the collection’. You get the idea.

For as long as libraries have held books there has been the vexed question of what to do with them as they age, fall out of favour, become politically incorrect or just don’t fit the organisation’s purpose any longer.  Vexed because it seems a waste to get rid of ‘perfectly good books’ but also a waste to keep them on the shelves taking up valuable space year after year and not actually being used.  Of course, libraries now have to deal with this issue across many more media than just books – but it’s specifically the ‘traditional’ and tangible media such as books, DVDs, videos and other physical objects I’m talking about in this post.

The rationale behind the disposal or weeding section in a library’s collection development policy is to ensure the collection remains up to date, current and most importantly, meeting the needs of the library users.

In my prac placement at a NSW TAFE library, one of the projects I was given was to assess the collection in one particular subject area and make some decisions about what to keep and what really had to go and subsequently, recommend any acquisitions to then fill the gaps.  The subject area was childcare, the faculty had recently changed the courses so that some of the material in the library was no longer needed and much of it was potentially out of date.  Budget restraints meant that much of the AV material in this subject area was still on video (and the library provided facilities for students to watch these on site as most people don’t have access to VCR’s at home anymore).  The process of watching bits of these videos, studying the course outlines and recommended reading lists, liaising with faculty and building up a picture of what was contained in the collection was for me, a fascinating process. One 12 video series was packed off to the head of the faculty on campus to determine whether the material was still useable but most of it I was able to make decisions and recommendations on my own.

The issue of censorship and subjectivity comes into this a lot.  Just because the 80’s fashions in a particular video had me and the other staff in gales of laughter doesn’t mean the content isn’t sound.  However, I had to weigh up whether the material would have any credibility with our students, as they have grown up with digital media, good sound and sophisticated techniques.  All the solid content in the world is immaterial if the students dismiss it as old or boring at the opening credits. (One memorable video from the travel industry collection featured mustachioed men in short shorts and long socks playing deck tennis on a cruise liner and rendered the entire library staff helpless with laughter – it was all so very 1980’s!).

Sometimes making a decision about what stays and what goes feels perilously close to deciding who gets to read what, which starts to feel like censorship….  It’s all very well deciding that as a particular book was published in 1980 and has only been borrowed 3 times in the past 10 years that it’s probably no longer relevant to the collection but … what if… ?

This is the point at which it is good to remind oneself of the needs of the actual users of the library:

  • Perhaps that book relates to a subject that is no longer offered by the college? Easy – get rid of it!
  • Perhaps there’s 3 copies of later editions? Sure – toss it out!
  • Perhaps it’s aimed at a university level student and as such, isn’t really what TAFE (in this example) students are looking for? Well… maybe, but what about that one student who does want to go the extra mile – you know, the one who’s doing this course as a pathway to university… can I really deprive them of the chance to use this fabulous, albeit a bit old, resource?

And so the internal struggle starts up again….

There’s not really a straightforward answer. A good Collection Development Policy allows you to select and dispose somewhat dispassionately – after all, you are just following the rules. … I think. At MPOW, the library is on the move in the next 6 weeks or so.  It seems to me that ‘s a good time to do some weeding.

In closing, an excellent example of just what to DO with all those old videos that come off the shelves:


Yes, this is an uninspiring title for a blog post – but let’s face it, shelving is a pretty uninspiring topic.

A few weeks ago there was some discussion on my twitter stream about the use of paper signs in libraries (and probably signage in general as we all know no-one reads them).  I’m here to tell you no-one listens to me talk either! I have talked till I’m blue in the face about returning books to the returns box and asking students (and staff!) to hand books back to me after they’ve used them in the library.  I have put up signs, talked about in on the website, etc etc.  And still, I can’t keep the law books shelves in any sort of order.

Understand, this is a minor irritation here at MPOW as our law book collection is literally only about 50 or so books, but when Unshelved for today came across my desk, I just had to write this quick post.


Here at MPOW it’s nothing to get involved in projects that are technically a little (or even a lot) outside one’s area of expertise and professional knowledge.  I’ve blogged before about this so it’s nothing new.

The particular ‘things’ that are taking up my time at the moment include teaching academic skills as our usual tutor is off on maternity leave, helping to put together an application to run a Masters of Professional Accounting at MPOW, worrying about the specific language and cultural issues that our students face and how to best put together assistance for them, training teaching staff in the use of the student management database system and trying to find a way to fit some sort of infolit training into our students’ very packed timetables.

Top of my worry list is the academic skills stuff.  One of my (many, I’ll admit) soapboxes is the absence of teaching pedagogy in our training as librarians.  Infolit I’m reasonably comfortable with, I teach that to my own kids all the time but academic skills is a different thing, particularly here when it is often combined with some English language difficulties as well.  In addition, our academic skills program seems to be largely contained in people’s heads so I’m trying to get it out onto paper and into some sort of formalised course structure (or at least some lesson plans!).  This caused my first headache – I had absolutely no idea how to start going about doing this.  I’ve since read and read and read and feel like I have done enough reading to award myself a GradDipEd but was still a bit lost.  Until……

I tweeted the other day about my joy at finding the UTAS Teaching & Learning site:

Just found this wonderful UTAS site – has answered most of my questions, could be pedagogy love http://bit.ly/9KjfAL

I feel like I’m on a roll now (well I was until the MPA application stuff came up and took up most of my week)- this site tells me what I need to know, as opposed to what I need to be teaching others – and this is what I was having trouble finding.  Tick that box.

The other major issue filling up my ‘thinking’ time is the lack of information and evidence based practice (or even questions and thoughts!) relating to organisations like MPOW.  We are small and highly specialised so while I have learnt SO MUCH from my colleagues/tweetmates in the academic world little of it actually fits well with what goes on here.  Similarly, although we share many characteristics with Specials, I don’t have a special library – I have students with academic needs.

I know there are other private higher education organisations out there but by the very nature of the private, for profit-ness of these organisations, we don’t collaborate or share ideas.  A project I would love to get my teeth into is whether in fact the libraries and information centres from these organisations could do some collaborating or idea sharing without jeopardising any commercial-in-confidence stuff and bringing the wrath of investors down on our collective heads. Sort of like CAUL for minnows…

This turned out to be a bit deeper than I thought it would be for a Friday afternoon post – particularly after the brain-frying, depression-inducing, mind-numbing and painful processes of proofing, correcting and assembling I’ve been doing this week!

image: Be Prepared by Mykl Roventine via flickr