Monthly Archives: February 2008

Go To The Academic Library For A No-Tech Assignment

This may be just one more sign that some faculty still have a disconnect with what’s happening in a 21st century academic library. While reviewing the transcript from this week’s Chronicle Brown Bag Live Discussion session with teaching expert Barbara Gross Davis I was drawn to one exchange about teaching with technology. Davis gave a good response that properly indicated there are many contemporary teaching approaches that do not involve technology. But when she provided some examples she said:

There are many other areas that don’t necessarily involve technology that are influencing how people teach, such as formative/early feedback, classroom assessment,learning in groups even in large classes, library based research assignments, and so on.

Now I know that instructors can design library based research assignments that don’t involve technology – if they think carefully about the design – but in an increasingly confusing world of digital information retrieval it would seem that faculty would want to design library based research assignments that help students develop or fine tune their skills in using information technologies. Even if an instructor wanted students to only use no-tech books in their assignment or some printed primary research material, the students would still likely need to use OPAC technology to find them in the library.

So I find it just mildly disturbing that a recognized educational expert may still be thinking that the academic library is equated with non-technology-based learning methods. I’d actually like to see academic librarians doing more to promote the library’s digital collections to faculty as instructional technologies because they do have a role to play in helping students learn course content. And I’d venture to say that the vast majority of library instruction that takes place at our institutions either focuses on or includes some discussion or application of library technology tools. I’m not suggesting that Davis would have our students return to doing all their library research with pencil and paper, but in a Google/Wikipedia dominated research landscape no instructor should ignore an opportunity to expose their students to the library’s high quality digital research environment – and while they’re at it – show the students how to use library technology to find those old no-tech books.

Obsolete Academic Librarian Skills

A few bloggers were having fun identifying totally obsolete skills. You know, the sort of things we all used to do all the time that nobody has to bother with anymore. For example, dialing a rotary phone, using carbon paper to make copies, or changing the ball on a selectric typewriter. That got me to thinking that in the years I’ve been in this profession, for the vast majority of academic librarians, there are more than a few accumulated skills and practices that could now be considered obsolete. Here are some that come to mind:

1. Filing order for catalog cards (heck, anything to do with catalog cards)
2. Installing, setting up and using communications software (anyone use SmartCom lately)
3. Understanding the difference between (w) and (n) (for most of us on a day-to-day basis)
4. Creating a menu for choosing CD-ROMs off the networked player (who misses that one)
5. Knowing pretty much every book in the reference collection (or what’s left of it)
6. Printing and distributing pathfinders (path…what)
7. Mailing out reprints of your article (when’s the last time anyone asked for one)
8. Required training sessions before end-users can search online databases (and silly certification practices)
9. CD-ROM training classes (and training the CD-ROM trainer workshops – as if they were ever needed)
10. Setting meetings by going around and asking everyone when they’re available. (thank you meeting wizard)
11. Feeding the paper into the printer so the holes fit into the tractor pins (I hope you still don’t have to do that)

There’s a few to start with – or maybe you don’t agree with some of these. What would you add to your list of obsolete skills for academic librarians. And to not alienate our highly creative newer to the profession readers, use your imagination and let us know which of the skills or practices you are using today will be obsolete 20 or 30 years from now.

Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts

The Retirements Are Coming, Just Later Than You Thought

In a recent ARL Bimontly Report Stanley Wilder once again informs us of significant demographic change in the research library environment. His report, “The ARL Youth Movement: Reshaping the ARL Workforce” indicates that according to 2005 data that ARL members have “an unusually old population that is aging quickly.” By 2005, nearly half of the library professionals in ARL libraries were over 50 and one third were in the 55 and over category. So why is this report’s title boasting about a youth movement? It sounds like ARL libraries should be filling their water coolers with prune juice. In 2005 only 12.7% of ARL professional librarians were under 35, but by 2020 – when the youth movement really kicks in – those under 35 should increase to 17.4%. And what about that big wave of retirements all the LIS students were promised. When do they kick in? How about between 2010 and 2015, not too far off. That’s assuming, of course, that most current ARL librarians don’t keep working into their 90s.

From The “More Than I Want To Know” Department

wierd google ad

I can’t quite recall what search lead me to get this Google ad, but I can assure you I’m not contemplating my own mortality or other morbid subject matter even if I am one of those way over-the-hill ARL librarians.

You Librarians Are Pretty Awesome Innovators

The link to this page has been making its way around the library blogoverse. While a number of posts have pointed out that this is just a good page for identifying some cool new technology resources, I’d like to think it’s more than that. For me it’s an example of the great innovation that comes out of libraries. As the list demonstrates, librarians are creating some of the tools but also finding interesting ways to use tools that weren’t designed with libraries in mind. So how are these beta research tools examples of innovation? Here’s a definition of innovation I like: “It’s simply finding new ways of creating value and bringing them to life.” (Design Management Review, Fall 2007, p.62). Many if not all of the resource tools on this list create value for library users. Now let’s get out there and get our communities to start using these resources.

Watch Good Presenters To Improve Presentations

My spouse is a pretty dismal tennis player (she doesn’t read ACRLog so I think I’m relatively safe in stating that here). She wants to improve and tries hard when practicing on the court. Whenever there’s a good professional tennis match on television and I suggest that we watch it together she tells me that watching tennis is boring. But I insist that players at any level can learn how to improve their game by watching the pros in action. I realize that watching great players won’t raise me to their level, but I can learn things by watching how they position themselves on the court, how they anticipate an opponent’s shot, how they hold their racket when approaching the net and much more. I think the same holds true for watching great – or even good – presenters at work.

I bring this up because Peter Bromberg has a post on being a better presenter at Library Garden, and while he provides a good list of resources I thought a significant omission was links to sites where really fine presenters can be found doing their thing. These sites include T.E.D Talks, GEL Conferences and Talks at Google. PresentationZen also points to good presentation videos. Just as I’ll never play tennis at the level of Federer or Sampras, I’ll never present as well as a Godin or Lessig. But when I watch their presentation videos I can pick up tips about starting a talk, good use of visuals, timing, use of humor, and story telling and narrative. I used to maintain a long list of “how-to” presentation sites, presentation tips and a related bibliography at my Keeping Up site. But I don’t anymore. I figure anyone who is looking for the standard presenting tips (number of bullet points per slide, colors that work together, font sizes, use of humor, etc) can find them with a search engine. Now I think it is even more valuable to learn from good practitioners of the art of presentation. If you want to give it a try here’s a good one to start with – it’s an economist presenting ideas about why college students fail to learn economics in traditional courses. He shares some ideas about how it can be done better, and you’ll pick up some tips about good presenting as well as good teaching.

Open and Closed Questions

Another way to introduce students to the idea of complexity in the research process is through open and closed questions. In Second-hand Knowledge: An Inquiry into Cognitive Authority, Patrick Wilson describes closed questions as matters which (for now) have been settled beyond practical doubt and open questions as questions on which doubt remains.

I suggest to my students that one way to focus their research is to pay attention to clues that suggest where the open questions are and to concentrate their efforts there. Wilson points out that previously closed questions can become open when new information comes to light. In class, you can illustrate this and attempt some humor with the line, “when I was your age, Pluto was a planet!” Then proceed to explain how the planetary status of Pluto became an open question with the discovery of the Trans-Neptunian objects Quaor, Sedna, and Eris. Then follow this up with an example of an open question in the subject matter of the class you are teaching.

The term “research” is ambiguous. For some it means consulting some oracle–the Internet, the Library, the encyclopedia–finding out what some authority has said on a topic and then reporting on it. Fine, sometimes that’s what research is. That kind of research can be interesting, but it can also be pretty boring. What makes higher education thrilling is discovering live controversies and trying to make progress on them. Academic libraries are not only storehouses of established wisdom, they also reflect ongoing debates on questions that are unsettled, in dispute, very open, and very much alive.

A Scholar’s Regrets

Danah Boyd is happy to be part of a special issue of Convergence, a journal devoted to new media technologies. But she’s sad that the only people who can read it will be those who subscribe (or whose libraries subscribe – she notes that the institutional subscription is over $500 a year.) Certainly, there’s some irony in using old media to explore new media. From it won’t happen again, because from here on out, Boyd plans to only publish in journals that allow open access – and she urges other scholars to join her boycott.

I should probably be sympathetic to academic publishers. They are getting their lunch eaten and the lack of consistent revenue from journals makes it much harder for them to risk publishing academic books and they are panicked. Yet, frankly, I’m not humored. Producing a journal article is a lot of labor for scholars too. Editing a journal is a lot of labor for scholars too. Academic publishers expect authors to do both for free because that’s how they achieve status. At the same time, they are for-profit entities that profit off of all of the free labor by academics. Some might argue that academics are paid by universities and this external labor is part of their university job. Perhaps, but then why should others be profiting off of it? Why not instead publish with open-access online-only journals produced as labors of love by communities of volunteer scholars (i.e. many open-access journals)? Oh, right. Because those aren’t the “respectable” journals because they don’t have a reputation or a history (of capitalizing off of the labor of academics). The result? Academics are publishing to increasingly narrow audiences who will never read their material purely so that they can get the right credentials to keep their job. This is downright asinine. If scholars are publishing for audiences of zero, no wonder no one respects them.

She recommends that tenured faculty focus on open access-friendly journals, that libraries add open access journals to their catalogs, and that tenure and promotion committees take open access into account. She also suggests funding agencies follow NIH’s lead and mandate open access. And that publishers “wake up or get out.” In an addendum, she points out that patterns have changed; in the past, publication in a top journal meant everyone would read an article, but now younger scholars are less deferential to the idea of prestige – partly because they don’t browse a handful of journals now, they seek out relevant material that they identify by other means.

Boyd is pointing toward a shift in how authority is defined among scholars, but I suspect there’s a practical, technical reason for this change as well: the disaggregation of a journal’s contents into individualized articles that can be discovered by means other than following a particular journal is changing the way people keep up with and discover scholarship.