Monthly Archives: May 2006

Is This New OCLC Report Worth It?

When the OCLC Perceptions of Libraries and Information Resources report first appeared in December 2005 I pointed out some of the findings about college students included in that report. I suggested that although the overall conclusions of the report were somewhat dismal, I was encouraged that college students, when compared to the general population, appeared more knowledgeable about their institutional library; for them it wasn’t just about books. Now OCLC has issued a version of the Perceptions study, a subset of data, that examines the information-seeking habits and preferences of international college students. This data comes from just the 396 college students who participated in the study. I guess the question is, given that much of the data is a subset of the original report, how much do I gain by getting a copy of this new report. Will I discover any new and eye opening revelations?

The page describing the new report does indicate there are new graphs and additional analysis. That could certainly be helpful. What I liked about the original is that comparisons between college and public library users could be distinguished reasonably well. Afer looking over some of the new report’s sections I would say OCLC has retained the comparisons in a good way. I found it easy to see that college students report going to libraries daily and weekly far more than public library users, or that they use the library web site at twice the rate of other respondents. On the other hand, when it comes to choosing an electronic resource to start research, college students differ little from the general public; they all use search engines first according to this report. For what else could I use the report? Well the next time a faculty member asks me why I think it is he or she who should be promoting library resources moreso than librarians I could pull out this report and show them that students report learning about electronic information sources from faculty far more than they do from librarians. So faculty can play a crucial role in helping to educate students about the library’s electronic resources.

So I think I will get a copy of this new report even though I have a few copies of the original Perceptions report. I think it will make it easier to read and find the data I need. Oh, and I’m also going to get a copy for my boss. I wouldn’t have thought of handing him a copy of the original report, but I think this one is just right for academic administrators.

Making The Case For High Quality Academic Library Buildings

According to a new study about the role the campus physical environment plays in students’ enrollment decision making, the quality of the academic library building is near the top of the list in what factors into a student’s decision. In an article titled “The Impact of Facilities on Recruitment and Retention of Students” that appeared in the March/April 2006 issue of Facilities Management, the academic library was second only to “facilities in major” when students were asked what buildings were extremely or very important in the selection decision process. The library was rated higher than classrooms, recreational facilities, and even the residence halls. But the survey results reported in this article also suggest that for most students an inadequate library building might not be a deal breaker. When students actually rejected an institution it was most frequently owing to inadequate residence halls. In terms of retention, the library is also important to keeping students satisfied once they are enrolled.

I don’t doubt that our academic library community has always known that being able to offer an academic library building with quality facilities for research, study, interaction, browsing and learning makes a significant difference in the lives of our students. For one thing, it can make all the difference in the world in whether or not the students actually use the library. A great facility, or even an adequate one, can attract students who might otherwise end up doing their research and writing in computer labs, dorm rooms or even off-campus cafes. Now we may actually have some useful research data to support our anecdotal evidence of the need for high quality library facilities. I hope that some of our colleagues will be able to use this new information to convince academic administrators that an investment in a great library facility is just as important – if not even more important – than those buildings with social or recreational amenities that are often thought to be the ones that encourage students to enroll.

1998 Presentation Has Held Up Well

As I was preparing for my class this week I came across some notes from a presentation that I had put in the folder, probably intending to use at some point, but long forgotten. This particular presentation was by James Neal and it was from 1998. Neal, who is now heading up library operations at Columbia University was still at Johns Hopkins’ Sheridan Librarian at that time, and they were involved in some unique entrepreneurial enterprises. As I re-read the notes I thought that much of what Neal discussed or predicted then reflected many contemporary issues that academic librarians are confronting now. For example, he discussed societal and cultural change that we needed to understand. Here are a few items mentioned:

  • Wireless will change how we compute and work
  • -mobile computing has had an enormous impact

  • MTV generation
  • -new modes of learning and the importance of user participation (sounds a bit like our current discussion of Millennials and Library 2.0)

  • ATM Environment
  • -self-initiated services are now routinely offered in academic libraries

  • User Expectation Revolution
  • -this one was right on target; this is the age of the user experience and it’s defined by users expecting simplicity, ease of use, and “if it’s not online it doesn’t exist” (which are the exact words he used to define what he meant)

    I was also intrigued that I had written some notes about new staff in academic libraries. Even then Neal was talking about academic libraries needing new professionals that would not necessarily be librarians, but who would bring to the library systems and learning skills that librarians were lacking. It’s interesting that Neal was thinking about this back then, and is now involving many different kinds of non-librarian professionals at Columbia (see his Library Journal article on feral professionals).

    So I thought what Neal had to say way back in 1998 has held up pretty well – and he gave some good advice for the future librarian in the digital age. Among those that still make sense:

  • Understand user behavior
  • - (little did we know how much Google would impact search behavior)

  • We’re in the teaching/scholarship/personal (user) development business
  • – a good philosophy for librarians that wish to avoid being marginalized

    It was certainly good to come across this old talk. I found it enlightening and informative back then, and while lots of things have changed since 1998 one thing that hasn’t is the value of what Neal shared with us that day.

    NCSU Chancellor Supports Information Literacy

    It’s always encouraging when non-librarians, writing in non-library journals, give a plug for information literacy. So I’ll continue to pass them on when I spot them. I found this one in a column by James L. Oblinger, Chancellor of North Carolina State University, that appears in the latest issue of EDUCAUSE Review. Titled “Ensuring Students’ Success” this column discusses those skills college students need to succed both in and beyond the higher education institution. He writes:

    Their information universe is more often the Internet than the library. What they must learn from us is how to identify problems, define needed resources, evaluate sources of information, analyze what they find, and respect intellectual property. Developing this information literacy is good preparation for students’ future as effective, discriminating, lifelong learners.

    It’s reassuring to read a high-level academic administrator who is enthusastic – or at leasts understands – about information literacy. Let’s hope the message spreads.

    Maybe Academic Librarians Can Improve The Quality Of Cheating

    What would lead any academic librarian to say something like that? Am I being sarcastic or serious – I’m not quite sure myself. I certainly don’t mean to endorse cheating at any level in higher education. However, it’s apparent that cheating, whether it’s plagiarism or testing, may be spiraling out of control. I think what I do mean is that if students are going to use electronic devices in exam situations to access information perhaps we should at least be working collaboratively with faculty to educate students to access high quality information when they cheat during tests. Let’s take a step back.

    First, maybe you should read two articles. One is a piece from the New York Times about the epidemic of cheating and how IHEs are working to keep pace in detecting hi-tech cheaters. The other is an essay in today’s Inside Higher Ed - in response to the NYT article – advocating that instructors should accept students “Googling” for information during tests because that’s what we all do in real life anyway, and that efforts to keep one step ahead of students in preventing hi-tech cheating is doomed to failure. Both the essay and the comments (maybe even better than the article) do tend to agree that at the heart of the matter is a mixture of poor teaching and equally poor tests and testing environments that are conducive to cheating. My own reaction is that in some testing situtations allowing students to access information makes perfectly good sense – open book/note tests are nothing new. These tests are not about rote memorization, they are about analyzing a problem, accessing information needed to develop a solution, and then quickly writing an articulate response. Expecting students to have memorized everything learned in a semester will lead those who cheat to do so – and as the author asks – what’s the educational value of expecting rote memorization.

    Where I take issue with this piece is the assumption is that all students need to do in their exams is have access to Google. Has anyone told the author that Google doesn’t index all the information students might need in a testing situation (e.g., deep web resources)? Is it possible that students might need to find a quote from a scholarly article (not found on Google Scholar) to support a point? Might an e-reference tool in the library’s collection be the best resource to consult during a test? So here’s my suggestion. If an instructor wants to make the testing environment more reality based by allowing students to access information on the fly – call it cheating if you will – I say make the resources used a part of the test situation. For the lazy and uninformed students who use only Google – go ahead and deduct a few points. Reward those who diversify their information resources during the test. Does the student cite an article in a library database? Great, add a few points. Does the student use more than one search engine to compile information? Even better – add a few more points. Once students start to realize that becoming more knowledgeable about all of their information options – and recognizing that having the ability to demonstrate their diversified resource knowlege will pay off with better test scores – our information literacy chores may just get a whole lot easier.