Daily Archives: November 14, 2007

Whatever You Think Of Carlson, You’ll Miss Him

He’s not an academic librarian, but he is well known in our community. And it’s likely that something he has written at one time or another has probably annoyed or pissed you off. But I don’t doubt that you will miss what Scott Carlson, the Chronicle of Higher Education’s library beat reporter for many years, writes about academic libraries now that he is moving on to a new beat at the Chronicle. According to Mr. Carlson (that’s how the Chronicle would refer to him), in his new role he’ll be reporting on sustainability issues, particularly as they relate to architecture, facilities, grounds, energy, and so on. He’ll also help coordinate sustainability coverage in research, activism, and curriculum throughout the paper.

A search of the full text of the Chronicle in LexisNexis (byline (carlson) and publication(chronicle) and atleast5(librar!)) indicates that Mr. Carlson produced approximately 80 articles about academic libraries over the past seven years. Perhaps one of the most memorable of them is “The Deserted Library” (11/01) in which he profiled the declining use of the academic library building. I can recall few other articles in any publication that generated such an outpouring of furor and debate on the library discussion lists (no blogging back then). But Mr. Carlson returned to the topic a few years later with a much more positive report on how thoughtful renovations to the academic library vastly increased our contribution to the institution (9/05). He called on us to question our sacred cows in articles that asked if we still needed books or reference desks. He frequently profiled academic librarians pushing the technology frontier or challenging the profession’s accepted traditions. And if you received a voice message or e-mail from Mr. Carlson, your pulse probably quickened a few beats. “Carlson wants to talk to me?” you probably thought to yourself with some mixture of anticipation and worry over whether he’d quote you in his article and what he’d actually write if he did.

I suppose in some ways we academic librarians maintained a symbiotic relationship with Mr. Carlson. He needed us and our libraries as material and interviewees for his reports. We needed him to serve as our conduit to the vast Chronicle readership, primarily our faculty and top administrators, to bring to their attention our accomplishments and challenges. I suspect that we got more out of the relationship. So while Mr. Carlson is not one of us, I would venture to say that many of us consider him a respected colleague. I think we will miss what he writes about academic libraries.

So Mr. Carlson, we wish you well on your new beat. Bring on Andrea Foster who will do her best to fill your large shoes.

But I didn’t know I was plagiarizing…

I’ve recently been assigned the task of developing an open-to-all workshop on avoiding plagiarism. It got me thinking about when I first heard of the concept of plagiarism. I don’t remember it being discussed much, if at all, in high school, but citing sources must have been mentioned at some point, because I asked for the MLA Handbook for my birthday that year (you readers can relate, right?). At any rate, the subject came up more often as I got farther along in college, along with firm warnings of the dire consequences of plagiarism (failing courses, getting kicked out of school, being branded a “cheater” for life, etc.).

Since plagiarism detection software such as Turn-It-In have become more common, I figured kids in high school these days would at least be familiar with the idea that plagiarizing is wrong. Until, that is, a recent library instruction session for an English Comp class. I made up a brief quiz for the students, in which they had to find and list the citation of an article in a literature database that they would consider using for a paper. I was completely floored by the number of students that asked me “What is a citation?” and “Why do you need these?”

I don’t think my plagiarism workshop assignment could have come at a better time. It’s clear that many students are not being instructed about plagiarism and the necessity for citing sources in high school, and perhaps even in the beginning stages of their college careers. There seems to be a very important need to talk about plagiarism, its consequences, and how to avoid it. This is especially true when even university leaders are facing accusations of plagiarism. Despite SIU’s president’s plagiarism being deemed “inadvertent,” this can’t be setting a very good example for students.

The March 2007 issue of C&RL News had a good article about the role of librarians in teaching students about plagiarism. I’d love to hear of encounters the rest of you have had with plagiarism-ignorance, and how you inform students of the importance of citing their sources.