Monthly Archives: December 2008

Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts

What Are the Top Academic Librarianship Strories in 2008?

We’d like to know what you think are the top news stories in academic librarianship for 2008. You can help us develop a post about 2008’s top news by taking our brief survey. There are just three questions. We’d also like to know what your crystal ball is showing for 2009.What are you hoping will happen or what would you like to see? Like all of our other surveys it’s totally anonymous, and there are no incentives or prizes. We hope you’ll complete the survey because you like us.

Any Point In Giving Directions?

Planned a library program lately in your city or region? If so, did you think it necessary to give directions to the program location? It just seems sort of pointless to give anyone directions these days – especially to librarians who ought to be super skilled at finding information on the Web. For one thing, most academic institutions – just about any organization or business these days – provides directions to their location – by car or public transportation. Even if there were no directions, you can create your own using any of several map services available on the web. And then again, GPS navigation is become more and more commonplace. Many of us have GPS on a phone or a portable device (my GPS is my favorite e-device). One scenario for when advance directions could be useful is if the program is in a hard to locate building on a large campus. For example, if I’ve never been to the Columbia University campus before, knowing how to get to the right building can be useful. Then again, is there a higher education institution without a campus map on their Website?

Did ACRL Know?

ACRL apparently showed good foresight in choosing Dan Ariely as the speaker for their President’s Program at ALA 2008. Did they know that Fortune Magazine would name Ariely as one of their “10 New Gurus You Should Know?” Ariely’s big idea is that people are predictably irrational. Thanks to ACRL we academic librarians already knew that.

Gadgetary Hopelessness

Just got my latest Time Magazine – the “List” issue – after all lists are now the great American pasttime. They are impossible to resist. I am sorry to report that I don’t own a single gadget on the top 10 gadget list. Unfortunately no GPS device made the list. Guess GPS is either too mainstream or no longer cool. And there’s no way I’m going for the 65-in. television. If I had one of those I’d probably sit in front of it and never stop watching. I’d probably never write another blog post again – no time. I know that may sound tempting to some of you, but try to resist the effort to take up a collection to get me that big screen TV.

Top Newspapers For Higher Ed Reporting

It’s no secret that the newspaper industry is in trouble. Circulation of print editions is way down. Advertising revenue is even further down. And Tribune Co. just declared bankruptcy. The Christian Science Monitor recently announced it would publish only one print edition a week. Nearly every newspaper is struggling to transform itself for an online world where the next generation seeks out its news. The prognosis for newspapers is not good. That’s too bad. I depend on many different newspapers (mostly the online editions) for keeping up to date with higher education. So many different newspapers around the country are constantly reporting on local and regional higher education news and events. Some report on national trends. Both the Chronicle and InsideHigherEd develop many of their articles from news originally reported in metropolitan newspapers. For example the Chronicle recently reported on faculty who were concerned about students using ChaCha’s answer service for cheating. That story first appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer (and the Chronicle’s article referenced it).

But all newspapers are not created equal. When it comes to reporting higher education news some are better than others. In the past it was not uncommon for metropolitan papers to have dedicated reporters for education or possibly just higher education. In today’s environment that would be a luxury for most daily newspapers. However, some daily papers are real standouts when it comes to reporting higher education news. In this post I share some of my top picks for reporting higher education news. My top five are:

The New York Times – Perhaps no surprise here. The NYT consistently delivers articles about higher education, from breaking news about issues such as student loans or the latest trend on campus to more unique stories about special higher education programs or institutions with unique students. Their regular Education Life supplement has no equal.

The Boston Globe – When I’m on the lookout for stories to add over at Kept-Up Academic Librarian I will always take a look at an article from the Boston Globe. This paper provides excellent coverage of the higher education industry in the city of Boston and the state of Massachusetts, but it also is a great source for news about national developments and trends. This paper will have several articles about higher education in any given week. For example, it recently reported on how second-tier IHEs will be pursuing students in China to bolster their enrollment. The Globe is one paper that still has a reporter, Tracy Jan, who follows the higher education beat.

USA Today – Some of you may not equate this paper with stellar reporting but it certainly does a good job of staying on top of trends in higher education. USA Today may also be the front runner when it comes to offering a series of stories on a particular trend in higher education, and it occasionally offers some pretty decent investigative reporting. For example, USA Today recently examined institutions that improve their athletes GPAs and graduation rates by putting them into special majors populated largely with easy courses that provide the athletes with no marketable skills.

Philadelphia Inquirer – While its higher education reporting is not as strong as the above papers I think my local paper has definitely improved its higher education reporting over the last few years, especially since they eliminated their education beat reporter a few years ago. Sure, this paper tends to have a more regional focus, but occasionally it will report on a trend I haven’t seen reported elsewhere. Or it might have a series of reports that is supplemented with a variety of multimedia. One such example is a recent series about high school seniors and their college application experience.

Washington Post – The Post has been a consistent performer over the years although I have noticed a decline in the number of higher education articles being reported in the last year or so. But like the NYT, the quality of the reporting is always high, and the Post may be the best at reporting on how higher education is faring on Capitol Hill. The Post is perhaps the only other paper besides the NYT that has a higher education supplement for higher education, and their education columnist Jay Matthews will occasionally focus on higher education.

So those are my favorites. You may disagree with some of my choices. There’s no question that a few other papers also do a good job of reporting about higher education. The Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times and the Christian Science Monitor are all quite good. Even the Wall Street Journal has turned into a pretty good source for higher education news since making more of its content freely accessible. If there is any one concern I have about the ongoing availability of higher education newspaper content it is that more papers may choose to allow only their subscribers to reach full-text articles. Let’s hope the trend is towards more access to full text. But just to be on the safe side, when you find a good article you will want to visit again, consider saving it to something like FURL just for safe keeping.

If you are a regular reader of the Chronicle and InsideHigherEd that’s a good way to keep up with what’s going on in higher education – and as academic librarians shouldn’t we be well informed about the news of the day for the industry in which we are employed. Just paying attention to what’s going on at your campus without putting it into perspective of the larger picture may simply leave you with too narrow a vision of where academic librarianship fits into the overall higher education enterprise. As it was so well stated in the introduction to the recent CLIR report No Brief Candle: Reconceiving the Academic Library for the 21st Century “the future of the research library cannot be considered apart from the future of the academy as a whole.” Fortunately there are some excellent resources beyond the Chronicle and InsideHigherEd that can help you develop a regular feed of news and information about higher education developments at the national, regional and local levels.

Renting Keys to Walled Gardens

The Pew Internet and American Life Project has just issued its third annual forecast of “The Future of the Internet.” It’s well worth a read. Among predictions:

–The mobile phone (or its descendant) will be the primary access point to the Internet by 2020.
–Social networking won’t increase tolerance. It might even polarize people into less tolerant camps.
–The original architecture of the Internet will not be replaced, but will be enhanced by research.
–Attempts to control access to content will continue to be challenged in an ongoing battle between intellectual property owners and users.

I’ve been thinking about this last point quite a bit since the Google settlement. I was very struck by a comment made by Brewster Kahle of the Internet Archive, interviewed in the Mercury News after the deal was announced. He accused Google of breaking the model of the Internet, “trying to build a walled garden of content that you have to pay to see.” My first thought was “our libraries are full of enormously expensive walled gardens.” How did we let that happen?

How many of you realize that the Harvard Business Review articles that are in your databases can’t be used in course reserves or printed out and shared with a class (or even, technically, made assigned reading)? Just look at the fine print: they are licensed “for individual use” of the library’s authorized patrons and are “not intended for use as assigned course material.” You can’t link it in your syllabus or in course reserves. For that, you have to pay all over again. (Thanks to members of the Digital Copyright list for noticing this weirdness.)

I recently reread Rory Litwin’s 2004 essay on Google and the Monetization of libraries, and found it very thought-provoking. But it’s not just the Googlization of libraries that worries me. Are academic libraries building collections for the future and for all to use, or are we content to simply rent access temporarily for a limited audience? If we won’t stand up for free and equitable access, who will?

To be sure, we’ve partnered with scholars to push for open access, particularly to STM research. But I’m baffled when libraries pay money to subscribe to commercial versions of public databases like PubMed, ERIC, and NCJRS Abstracts, teaching our students to use interfaces that we think are better, but which they can’t access once they graduate. Lifelong learning? Pfui. Free to all? Feh.

When did we decide libraries are no longer a commons but a go-between that rents temporary membership in publishers’ walled gardens? Did we even notice?

Some quotes from the Pew report are worth thinking about.

“Traditional carriers have little incentive to include poor populations, and the next five years will be rife with battles between carriers, municipal, and federal governments, handset makers, and content creators. I don’t know who will win.” danah boyd

“Tribes will be defined by social enclaves on the Internet, rather than by geography or kinship, but the world will be more fragmented and less tolerant, since one’s real-world surroundings will not have the homogeneity of one’s online clan.” Jim Horning

“There will be cross-linking of content provider giants and Internet service provider giants and that they will find ways to milk every last ‘currency unit’ out of the unwitting and defenseless consumer.
Governments will be strongly influenced by the business conglomerates and will not do much to protect consumers. (Just think of the outrageous rates charged by cable and phone company
TV providers and wireless phone providers today—it will only get worse.)” Steve Goldstein

“Copyright is a dead duck in a digital world.” Dan Lynch

“By 2020, the Internet will have enabled the monitoring and manipulation of people by businesses and governments on a scale never before imaginable. Most people will have happily traded their privacy—consciously or unconsciously—for consumer benefits such as increased convenience and lower prices. As a result, the line between marketing and manipulation will have largely disappeared.” Nicholas Carr

“The Internet is not magical; it will be utterly over-managed by commercial concerns, hobbled with ‘security’ micromanagement, and turned into money-shaped traffic for business, the rest 90% paid-for content download and the rest of the bandwidth used for market feedback.” Tom Jennings

If that’s the Internet in 2020 – where will libraries be? Will any of our traditional library values remain intact?

photo courtesy of expatriotact, shared via Flickr’s creative commons pool

Long Lost Motivation

In the current-day liturgy of teaching, it seems that motivating students is key. Once you have students motivated, supposedly, they will easily absorb what may otherwise seem dry or mundane. So a teacher’s plan should not be to transmit the material, but to motivate the students to learn the material for themselves while acting as a guiding frame. For librarians who teach, then, the challenge is to motivate students to be interested in searching for and critically thinking about information.

I know it’s possible to be interested in searching for and critically thinking about information, because it happened to me. But that was in graduate school, after many years of appreciating libraries and learning. The question I keep returning to is, what’s the formula for librarians to motivate students in a meaningful way during a brief reference transaction, or at best a library instruction session? Particularly in context, where research is only one part of a broader assignment or class?
(And don’t mistake this as a call for credit-bearing IL courses — I agree with Steven Bell’s recent post)

One recent reference desk transaction that I consider particularly successful involved a patron writing an argumentative paper about how x causes y. She wanted to find research supporting her view. So we tracked down some research, looked at some studies, and found that x has not been conclusively shown to cause y, but there are correlations, and many sources have used these correlations to prescribe certain behaviors. This was a wonderful information literacy lesson because it demonstrated how information is generated and then interpreted, and it was directly relevant to the context of her need. It was also representative of most of the reference questions I handle, in that patrons really don’t care about the intricacies of the catalog or databases until they have a specific question. It’s only when learning search tools and finding aids is integrated into answering a question that the search for information becomes interesting. In a class, though, I find this level of customization is not always possible.

I also do want to promote student independence in information-seeking behaviors, but wouldn’t you hate it if you walked up to some computer guru, asked her to show you how to do something, & she said “I’m not going to show you how to do it, but I’ll show you how I figured it out. I read the tutorial and went to a bunch of training classes, and then I played with it a bunch.” Everyone looks for similar shortcuts all the time, but shortcuts are meaningless without context. So context is essential to library instruction — we have to make library tools relevant to a certain class, or assignments, for the lesson to work.

In conclusion (sort of), it is easier but insufficient to simply feed students the shortcuts (i.e. the finding aids) without a context. We have to come up with truly thrilling examples of how information works, but much of the time we are preoccupied with thinking about how the tools work. Obviously it will vary by discipline, but does anyone have any great examples they’d like to share here? Or perhaps there’s a forum for this type of idea-generation that I haven’t found yet?

A Night at the Museum

Suzanne Briet once posed the question, “Can an antelope be a document?” in her article/pamphlet called What is Documentation?. I won’t go into all the gory details, but that argument has stayed with me since I first read it. She is essentially stating that a document is evidence in support of a fact. Paul Otlet, writing slightly before Briet, said that you can have information (documentation) about objects, but the objects themselves also become documents if you are informed by observing them. So… if you have a map, can it be a document? (Yes.) If you have a photograph can it be a document? (Definitely.) If you have a dinosaur bone, is that a document… does that inform us? (Yes, ask any museum curator!) Well, if a dinosaur bone is a document, can an animal in a zoo, say… an antelope.. be one? (If the zoo = the museum, then doesn’t the antelope = the dinosaur bone?) If you’re really interested in this nerdy-cataloger-type stuff, I recommend Michael Buckland’s treatment of the argument here which he calls “information-as-thing.”

I find this incredibly intriguing, and for 1951, it was amazingly farsighted. We catalog things now that don’t even exist in the real “brick and mortar” world – electronic resources and video and all kinds of stuff. And we do that because we are informed by these bits and bytes that flash across our computer screen. So I was deeply reminded of Otlet’s and Briet’s arguments when I saw this story on Wired’s website: Browse the Artifacts of Geek History. There are books, of course, but they’re covered in precious gems. And there’s a Sputnik rocket. Dinosaur skeletons. An Enigma machine. Escher-like woodwork. A hand-painted book on dwarves, embellished with gold and silver. I could spend weeks in this library and never be bored!

But it got me thinking. In the library field, they’re known as “realia.” Which is quite a dry and dusty term for all these amazing objects that you can see and touch and manipulate. For Briet and Otlet, these items speak for themselves. We can have – and should have – books and papers telling us about each one (and many in this collection have just that!) I can read all about the Soviet Sputnik program, and how the Germans used the Enigma machine to send coded messages to their submarines in World War II. I can look at books of anatomy and physiology about dinosaurs and human brains. I can even read a book about rare books (doesn’t that seem like a contradiction?), hand painted and studded with jewels. But all of those bookish resources – although incredibly valuable – pale in comparison to being in a place where you can touch a skeleton. And hold a meteorite. And tap a code into a machine. And feel the rubies and brush strokes of a 16th century book on jousting.

So this is what I’m thinking, though I admit upfront that it’s completely impractical and implausible.  How cool would it be to COMBINE the idea of a museum and the idea of a library?  So for the folks studying WWII, they can go to the Ds and browse a vast array of books about the war.  And they can see an Enigma machine or other WWII artifacts.  For me at least, that would make the things I was studying more real, more physically present.  Sure you can look at images online, but that just can’t compare to a hands-on experience with a part of history.  Or Shakespeare folios and literature.  Or dinosaur bones and science.   Granted, this might work better in a liberal arts venue than my community college, but the idea deeply intrigues me.  (OK, now you know.  I am certifiably nuts!)