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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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!