Monthly Archives: September 2006

ACRL Creates More Opportunity For Online Learning

At its 2005 national conference ACRL took a bold leadership role in championing the idea of online learning by offering a virtual conference that ran simultaneously with its physical conference. I had the pleasure of taking part in that virtual conference by presenting the same program we had offered the day before in front of a cavernous room. How different it was to present to a group of 50 or so dispersed across the globe (yes, we had attendees from outside the US) where none of us could see each other. In some ways the virtual program was more intimate than the physical one as the opportunities for discussion were far greater. I think that virtual conference proved there was a good market for offering online programming to librarians who are not able to travel to F2F programs. Since then ACRL has offered a variety of online learning programs, from information literacy workshops to multi-day conferences. So I was excited to see that ACRL is once again venturing into the online learning arena with a new, one-day virtual institute.

Here is what the press release had to say:

Registration is now open for the ACRL Fall Virtual Institute, “The User at the Center,” which will be held completely online on November 9, 2006. The institute will focus on how libraries can use technologies and practice to put the user at the center of the information enterprise on campus. Maximize your ability to meet your mission on campus by discovering new tools and new ways of thinking about users and their behaviors.The ACRL Fall Virtual Institute will provide participants with a framing featured speaker, Jeffrey Trzeciak, University Librarian at McMaster University, as well as concurrent sessions focusing on topics varying from vlogging to wikis to user perceptions. Complete program descriptions are online at http://www.ala.org/ala/acrl/acrlevents/fallvirtualinstitute.htm.

I’m planning to register even though I’ve already got a few hours of instruction to do that day. But that’s one of the great things about virtual conferences; unlike F2F conferences you can attend everything and miss nothing. How’s that? Virtual conferences offer archives of all the sessions so I’ll be able to review, at my own convenience, any presentations I missed – I just won’t be able to get in on the discussions. Speaking of discussions, for those who are going to attend please consider having a headset available so that you can join the discussions. It can really be a big help to the speakers to have attendees with headsets who can join in the conversation. For more thoughts on how to be a better virtual conference speaker or attendee see a previous ACRLog post on that topic. Check out this article on virtual conferencing for more insights into getting the most out of virtual conferencing – as a presenter or attendee.

And for once folks, let’s not get into that discussion about why the conference isn’t free. I think we’ve covered that territory before – and if you take a look at what you’re getting – and that you don’t have to pay out all those usual F2F conference costs – it strikes me as a pretty good professional development value.

Your Library Needs More Shush Factor

I tend to be in agreement with most of the opinion pieces that show up over at The Irascible Professor. That’s probably because most of them are written by curmudgeony old academics like myself. But even I had to raise an eyebrow when I read “You Can’t Take That Away From Me“, the latest commentary by Jane Goodwin. In essence, it’s a nostalgic tribute to the quiet library of yesteryear where “Back in the day, the librarians kicked people out if they chose to behave like barbarians.”

Granted, the noise level in many academic libraries (Goodwin is mostly reminiscing about her childhood public library) has definitely gone up a few notches, but I don’t recall having had to eject any barbarians just lately. I wonder if in fact the author is simply overreacting to the changes that libraries have experienced as we move from quiet book warehouses to places where students gather to see and be seen while they tap away on keyboards, congregate to go through presentations and occasionally annoy us with their cell phone calls. But would any of us trade our somewhat noisy but busy libraries for the silent, tomb-like library of yesteryear? Only a month ago it was one week before students returned to campus and the library was so empty and hushed as if to seem it served no purpose whatsoever. I was delighted to have the voices, cacophony and frenzied action return. There may even have been an act or two that bordered on the barbaric – but we embraced it just the same.

But let’s not overlook, in our haste to make the library more fun and exciting for the users, the value of quiet study space. For many students the library remains a solitary beacon on campus where serious study in an intellectual atmosphere is conducted. We needn’t return to the days for which Goodwin longs, when librarians mostly excelled at shushing people and maintaining a peaceful sanctuary. But we should continue to maintain a dual-purpose atmosphere in which those who want to make a little more noise, which sometimes includes librarians, can co-exist with those who seek silent space. To really serve the true meaning of “library as place” it is necessary to be equally inviting to both crowds while alienating neither of them.

Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts

A Simple Blog

Not for everyone perhaps but I’m keeping an eye on Laws of Simplicity, a new blog by John Maeda (MIT Media Lab) that is based on his new book The Laws of Simplicity. The book focuses on Maeda’s 10 laws of simplicity, and the blog expands on these laws as well as other ways to design simplicity into services, resources, products, and other areas of life and business. Law number 5 in particular is one I need to read more about: simplicity and complexity need each other. I have previously thought of these two as relative but not dependent on one another. The book should tell me more.

Collaboration – A Good Idea That Doesn’t Work

There is ongoing buzz about Surowiecki’s “wisdom of crowds” concept that suggests that groups of people make better decisions than individuals. It’s the thinking behind social collaboration bookmark sites as well, and again suggests that following the crowd’s bookmarks may be a better way to locate information than doing one’s own searching in an engine or library database. An article titled “What’s Next: The Idiocy of Crowds” by David Freedman suggests that while collaboration is a great idea it doesn’t work. I think there are two different ways in which we can think about collaboration. The one Freedman claims is more about groupthink is sometimes evident in the blogiverse. A blogger writes about the genius of a blog post and then before you know it 10 or 20 other bloggers are saying the same thing. The big problem says Freedman is that a lone dissenter is likely to fear voicing his or her opinion because with technology tools backlash can be magnified and distributed far more quickly. So even if there are some flaws in the post – a lone dissenter is unlikely to make that known for fear of instant backlash. The other type of collaboration I recognize is the kind that occurs on our campuses when we collaborate with faculty, colleagues and other academic professionals. In this case I endorse collaboration strongly because I think we accomplish more as partners than as individuals. This type of collaboration, I believe, is really about taking action and getting things done, than just promoting ideas with the intent of getting everyone to think the same way.

Satisfying The New Consumers

According to this article there is a new generation referred to as the Connected Generation, but it sounds a lot like the Millennial Generation to me. Similarities aside, the Connected Generation is identified in this article (part one of two) as having 10 consumer cravings. These include things such as extreme personalization, the importance of design and brands, and adventure. These “10 cravings” come from a new book on this topic. Although the book appears to be geared to corporate marketers it may be a worthwhile read for us as we always need to find better ways to promote our services and resources to our new generations of library users.

When Good Enough Seems Sensible

Jane of “See Jane Compute” has a good post on “Embracing Good Enough“. The gist of the post is that there are times when doing good enough work (in her case it’s teaching) is all right. Jane warns about the problems we create when striving for perfection causes us to miss sight of getting something important done. I think there’s something to be said for recognizing when good enough efforts can make sense. I still don’t think that should be the case for certain types of student research, especially when faculty have worked collaboratively with a librarian to design an effective assignment that demands some challenging work. From my perspective condoning “good enough” student research does a disservice to students even if we think it saves them and us time.

Laughter in the Dark

It’s crazy season for instruction – the month when you have to keep trying to remember what day of the week it is. Is this the day I teach a first term seminar, a psychology methods course, a section of invertebrate biology, and art history, or is it that tomorrow? It can be thrilling, and draining, but sometimes you hit the wall of blank stares from a class that has apparently taken a vow of silence and have given up fun for lent a few months early.

Too many of those in one week and you can have one of those semi-annual crises of faith, when the librarians have to huddle together and remind each other why we do this to our students.

Friday night was different. A group of first year students, all enrolled in an alternative general education curriculum, came to the library two hours after it closed with their flashlights to solve the Mystery of the Missing Professor. We got the idea from Carleton College, which hosted its first murder mystery in 2002. We wrote our own script, giving students a missing persons case that led them to seek out clues in the library collection. They started with a secondary source in which they found scraps of paper left by the missing faculty member that led them to a primary source, and from there to a reference book where they found a print-out of an e-mail message containing a reference to a journal article that they had to look up. When they ran out of clues, they were to stop at the reference desk to see if the librarian would have any further information.

Maybe it was because the library was dark and they had flashlights. Maybe it was the pure silliness of it all. But this is the first time I have seen students actually run to look up the next reference they’ve been given.

They’ll be back in a few weeks to get the more in-depth version of library wisdom and probably won’t enjoy themselves so much. But our first after-dark mystery showed that with a little foolishness and a touch of competition – and flashlights! – students can make quick work of what would otherwise be just another boring library exercise.

Get Your Writing On The Fast Track

The first paragraph of Stephen Downes’ essay titled “Half an Hour: How to Write Articles and Essays Quickly and Expertly” struck a chord with me because he shares how colleagues frequently ask how he can write so much over a continuous period – while he also does a fair number of other things – like post constantly to his various blogs (I’m certainly in amazement at his output). Not to suggest that I’m in Downes’ league, but I do find that librarians I meet at conferences will sometimes share a similar comment with me. It’s a hard question to answer, and I usually just mutter something about good time management skills.

In some cases it really just boils down to being able to get something written quickly – which is why I thought Downes’ essay was worth sharing. In conversations with colleagues about their writing projects, once a good idea is developed, a stumbling block for many would be librarian-authors is getting started and then getting rolling. If getting started has presented a challenge for you in the past I think that Downes provides good strategies for approaching the writing process in a way that will speed things up at the start and then help to maintain the momentum needed to get a writing project to completion. It’s critical to avoid the bogging down that ultimately leads to half-finished manuscripts.

None of this is to suggest that fast writing is good writing. Fast writing will help you get your thoughts out and into some form in which they can then be revised into something worthy of publication. One piece of advice I’d add is to not worry about writing too much or the quality of what you are writing – on the first go round. Just focus on getting your ideas out (and use Downes’ strategy to give it structure and substance), and then you can refine them and tighten up your manuscript with successive re-writes (hopefully aided with critical readings by trusted colleagues). Being too focused on perfection when tackling the first draft is one way to kill momentum.

If you’ve got a good idea for what gets your writing projects onto the fast track, please share them in a comment.