Monthly Archives: May 2007

Why Do Students Read?

Barbara’s post about promoting reading for pleasure reminded me of something Twyla Tharp wrote in her book The Creative Habit:

I read for a lot of reasons, pleasure being the least of them.

Tharp goes on to describe the various reasons she reads–to compete with other people, for personal growth, and mostly for inspiration. She talks about how she reads–she starts with the most recent thing an author has written and reads everything by that author moving backwards in time; she reads as much as she can around a work–books by the author’s contemporaries, commentaries on the author, biographies of the author, or the author’s letters.

Phew, that’s a lot of reading. The point of it all is utilitarian. She’s reading to get ideas for her work. This seems to be true for many creative people: John Waters admits to subscribing to hundreds of magazines and living with scores of books; Bob Dylan tells in Chronicles how he went to the New York Public Library and read microfilmed newspapers from the 19th century for inspiration.

Why, how, and what do students read? There’s a lot of confusion on this topic. There are some studies, hard-to-believe, that claim that most college grads can’t even read a short text and follow directions. The Chronicle runs a list every few months “What They’re Reading On College Campuses” but that is sales at college bookstores so presumably it includes professors as well.

I’d like to see one of those work practice study thingies on this topic. What about a bulletin board off the library web site that simply asks Why do you read? There are so many interesting and various different reasons to read–for grades, to learn, to compete, to feel part of a community, to escape reality, to be interesting to other people, to be well-rounded, for pleasure–it seems a shame to focus on just one.

Field Guide To Generation Y

Looking for insight and guidance into the inner workings of your twentysomething library workers? Look no further than the latest issue of Fortune (May 28, 207) for the article “You Raised Them, Now Manage Them“. By their definition a Gen Y worker was born between 1977 and 1995. Given the unique generational personality of Gen Yers (as the article refers to them), recruiting, managing and retaining these folks is an acquired skill. So what can the baby boomers administrators learn from this article? Here are some of the things you’ll want to know:

Plumage: They have a distinct profile. They’re into fitness, tattoos and piecing (about 30% have them), a sense of fashion, and electronic accessories. Gen Yers have been told since they were toddlers that they can be anything they can imagine…So they’re determined to live their best lives now.

Habitat: More than any prior generation this one sees no problems with living at home after college. Over 50% have, and stayed more than a year. By also marrying later they are stretching the transition to adulthood into the late 20s. That also leads them to quit jobs they don’t like. As one Gen Yer said, the worst thing that can happen is that we move back home. There’s no stigma.

Recruitment: Companies are getting creative by tapping the Gen Y community, and offering different perks. Some are advertising jobs on Facebook, while others offer in-house fitness centers. But who do they really need to reach to hook the best candidates – Mom and Dad. The companies hold information sessions and open houses for the parent.

Retention: It may be that Gen Yers need a little more personal attention than previous generations. Experts suggest doing something special for their first day on the job, or celebrating their birthday. Most important though is assigning a mentor to the Gen Y employee to help him or her to acclimate more quickly to the work environment.

So if you are a baby boomer administrator – or even a colleague to a new Gen Y employee – this article, if nothing else, will provide some perspective on how this generation differs from your own, and the sorts of things you can do to bridge whatever divide, if any, exists between you and your Gen Y colleagues.

BONUS for Facebook Followers – this same issue has an article on “Facebook’s New Face” that provides an inside look at how Facebook is moving beyond just serving as a social network to a technology platform on which anyone can build applications for social computing.

Notes From The Campaign Trail – Part Three

Editor’s Note: Here is the third post in a series from Scott Walter, ex-ACRLog blog team member, in which he shares his learning experiences as a candidate for ACRL office.

Recruitment and retention in the profession are critical issues for our future, and they are equally important for an organization like ACRL that draws its strength from its members. The key question is often posed as: how can we make sure ACRL remains relevant to the rising generation of professionals?

That’s an important question. That’s a critical question. And, despite my time on the campaign trail, I don’t have “the answer.” What I do have, though, is a better appreciation for the fact that it’s not the whole question. Recruitment and retention are key issues, but the way we talk about those issues often neglects a pretty important group of people – everyone who we have already successfully recruited and retained, but who aren’t done learning, growing, and contributing to ACRL.

This is what I heard: “I know recruitment and retention of new librarians is essential, and programs aimed at those groups are wonderful and need to be supported, but what does ACRL offer to an experienced person still looking to grow?” After hearing enough versions of this question, I began to think that I had made a mistake when thinking about this – I forgot that there should always be “Three Rs”: recruitment, retention, and renewal.

ACRL has wonderful programs that give voice to rising members of the profession and give them an opportunity to contribute to our common work. We need to continue working on these, but we also need to do a better job paying attention to programs aimed at experienced professionals that recognize their need for continued professional development and support their interests in making a wider impact on the Association, e.g., looking at people who have led successful initiatives at the Section or Chapter level and helping them to bring those initiatives to the Division. What does ACRL do to help the experienced professional renew their skills and renew their commitment to our Association? I think we do a lot, but what I heard is that we could do more.

I loved Steven’s characterization of the Giveback Generation Librarian . One lesson I learned on the campaign trail is that people want to belong to a giveback organization. I’d like to hear some ideas about how to make it happen.

The Changing Nature Of Authority: Doctors

Medical doctors have long been considered paragons of authority and expertise in our society. Their authority derives from long, rigorous academic training and is refined through continual clinical practice. We should listen to doctors because they are the best chance we have to get a reliable diagnosis based on the best science available. Or are they?

In What’s Wrong With Doctors, Richard Horton reviews How Doctors Think, a book by Jerome Groopman. The review points out that on average 15 percent of doctors diagnoses are inaccurate (still pretty good compared to the error rate that used to be attributed to reference librarians–was it 55%? what ever happened to that by the way?).

Doctors go wrong in many ways: they misapply evidence-based medicine; their training doesn’t teach them how to learn from mistakes (actually they can’t even admit when they make a mistake); they are susceptible to bribes and misinformation from big pharma; they are prone to a host of cognitive errors that they are unaware of–attribution error, availability error, search satisfying error, confirmation bias, diagnostic momentum, commission bias; they work in a system that rewards hurrying as many patients through as possible; and finally the classic–they don’t listen to patients.

Horton points out that the authority of doctors is no longer sacred and that a better educated public with access to more information is more and more willing to question the gospel. Groopman suggests that doctors should ally themselves with patients in a partnership to guard against error.

But are patients up to the responsibility? A doctor friend of mine told me how the mother of one of his patients told him that she stopped her son’s medication months ago. Why? he asked. Because of something she read on the Internet, she said. He was surprised. What did you read? Was it a study? How was the study done? Are you sure your son’s situation is sufficiently similar to what you read? Do you know the risks associated with discontinuing the medication?

Reading as much as you can about an illness that affects you or a family member–good. Going against your doctor’s advice without consulting your doctor first–not so good.

Learning about an illness is one of the most concrete ways that information literacy skills can be put to use in what we often call “lifelong learning.” We get sick; we’re get scared; we want more information. Has anyone ever taught us how to go about finding information in this situation? Not really, though the more education in general one has the better off one is. Finding and making sense out of medical information has a lot of pitfalls–from filtering out noise on Internet bulletin boards to finding reliable information that’s free and available to understanding how much about medicine is really unknown and uncertain, especially how it applies to your specific situation. It takes a great deal of knowledge even to know what kind of questions to ask your doctor. And who’s got the time to do all this research?

It’s good that we realize that doctors are fallible. Yet this doesn’t imply that by doing a search on PubMed we know more than our doctors. The changing nature of authority requires new skills for both experts and non-experts. Experts (including professors and librarians) have to get used to not having a complete monopoly on information and should have an understanding of where they can and do go wrong. Non-experts need to know where to find reliable or alternative sources of information and how to put this information into context. And both need to figure out how to talk to each other so the right questions get asked and answered at the right time, so that the chances for error are reduced as much as possible, and the chances for finding the truth are increased as much as possible.

Time For Academic Librarians To Tune In To The Semantic Web

Editor’s Note: We present this guest post by Brett Bonfield, a graduate student in the LIS program at Drexel University, intern at the Lippincott Library at the University of Pennsylvania and an aspiring academic librarian.

What if your refrigerator automatically charged and discharged items, maintained standing orders, and weeded its collection? These are the sort of functions the Semantic Web could make possible—a catalog for the rest of the world that incorporates the goals we have for our library collections and even raises the bar several rungs. Fortunately, our catalogs have a head start on our refrigerators: once they have incorporated the Semantic Web’s flexible encoding standards and ontologies that work both inside and outside the library, what might they be capable of by the time refrigerators are as sophisticated as today’s catalogs? One possibility would be a catalog that transcends the physical constraints of collocation, allowing users to follow connections from within one item’s content to related information within any other item’s content. That is, if the Semantic Web ever materializes.

The Semantic Web couldn’t have a greater champion. Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, has spent the last ten years developing it alongside his colleagues at the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the organization he founded to steward Web standards. These standards are the lifeblood of the WWW: just as MARC and AACR2 support libraries, W3C specs like HTTP, HTML, CSS, and XML support the WWW. The Semantic Web’s success hinges on developers adopting new W3C standards like RDF, which integrates applications like library catalogs, open Web directories, news aggregators, and personal music collections.

There was a time when RDF’s adoption would have been a given, when the W3C was seen as nearly infallible. Its standards had imperfections, but their openness, elegance, and ubiquity made it seem as though the Semantic Web was just around the corner. Unfortunately, that future has yet to arrive: we’re still waiting on the next iteration of basic specs like CSS; W3C bureaucracy persuaded the developers of Atom to publish their gorgeous syndication spec with IETF instead of W3C; and, perhaps most alarmingly, the perception that W3C’s HTML Working Group was dysfunctional encouraged Apple, Mozilla, and Opera to team with independent developers in establishing WHATWG to create HTML’s successor spec independently from the W3C. As more non-W3C protocols took on greater prominence, W3C itself seemed to be suffering a Microsoft-like death of a thousand cuts.

But then a marvelous thing happened: on April 9, WHATWG’s founders proposed to W3C that it build its HTML successor on WHATWG’s draft specification. On May 9, W3C agreed. W3C may never again be the standard bearer it once was, but this is compelling evidence that it is again listening to developers and that developers are responding. The payoff in immediate gratification—the increased likelihood of a new and better HTML spec—is important, but just as important is the possibility of renewed faith in W3C and its flagship project, the Semantic Web. Coincidentally, this agreement occurred around the same time that O’Reilly Media released two reports, “DocBook Elements in the Wild” and “DocBook in the Wild: A Look at Newer Content,” that provide encouraging glimpses into a more semantic future.

O’Reilly uses a schema called DocBook to structure its manuscripts, marking up content elements like index terms and image data, and even differentiating runnable code from the results of that code. In so doing, O’Reilly’s editors may be demonstrating the next stage in library content, catalog materials that cross-reference other items within our collection as well as the world of information outside the library. Although DocBook is not itself part of W3C’s Semantic Web specification, its developers work closely with W3C and it maps well to RDF.

Three years ago, Campbell and Fast asked what academic libraries and the Semantic Web could offer each other. At the time, the Semantic Web was years away from offering anything tangible. Now, for those of us wondering if the successor to AACR2 will be RDA or something less library-specific, the events at W3C and O’Reilly are calls to prick up our ears.