Monthly Archives: January 2009

Purgatorio

I have a dilemma.  It is one that puts me in direct conflict with myself, and is remotely related to my post from November about where to draw the line when helping patrons.  We received a new printer/copier for student use back in October.  It has a document server that allows students to select the document they want to print and combines that with a coin-operated printing system.  For the most part, it works exactly the way it should, and should save me having to take printing payments every few minutes.

 

However, even after two months of usage, students still look on it with fear and trembling and ask my help over and over and over again.  I have a large sign with step-by-step instructions, complete with pictures of all the relevant bits.  It’s a four step process.  Put your money in.  Press the “Document Server” button.  Use the touch screen to highlight your document.  Press Start.  I even have instructions at each computer workstation: Print as you would normally.  Walk to the printer.  Follow the instructions printed there.

 

But this is what actually happens: the student prints, then comes to me at the desk.  “Did my syllabus print?”  I point to the large printer four steps to my left, and show them the instructions on the wall above the machine.  I continue my work (or my discussion with the student I am helping) and listen for the sounds of the printer.  As soon as I am free again, I look over.  The student is usually still standing there, staring at the machine.  I walk over, and ask them if they need help.  They have a panicked look, and say “I don’t know what to do!”  I walk them through, step by step.  “Oh – I didn’t see the instructions,” is quickly followed by “That was easy!” 

 

OK, I get that initial reaction.  New technology can be intimidating.  There’s a fear of breaking the machine, or messing it up somehow.  But the same student will come back two hours later and we will repeat the process, almost word for word.  I spent over *four hours* yesterday showing the nursing students – over and over – how to use the printer.  And they used it last semester!

 

However, even after two months of usage, students still look on it with fear and trembling and ask my help over and over and over again.  I have a large sign with step-by-step instructions, complete with pictures of all the relevant bits.  It’s a four step process.  Put your money in.  Press the “Document Server” button.  Use the touch screen to highlight your document.  Press Start.  I even have instructions at each computer workstation: Print as you would normally.  Walk to the printer.  Follow the instructions printed there.

 

So I ask those wiser than myself: how do you teach folks how to use the technology so they become self-sufficient? More importantly, is there some kind of trick to creating printed instructions that actually are useful to a new user?  I really do want to help, but I also can’t afford to spend half of every day just helping people print. 

 

Hard Times For Higher Education

Every week it seems, the recession brings more bad news for American colleges. As endowments decline, even prestigious private institutions have announced unprecedented hiring freezes. Public colleges and universities are girding for cuts in state support. The California State University system, the nation’s largest, has already warned it may need to reduce enrollment by 10,000 students next academic year. A quality college education is more important than ever, but the economy is making it less accessible for students, and now even threatening the health of colleges themselves.

This quote from an article by Charles Karelis and Stephen J. Trachtenberg (Trachtenberg is president emeritus of George Washinton University) pretty much sums up the recent news about the state of higher. I follow higher education news closely and my only comment about their statement is that it’s more like “every day” not every week that more bad news about the state of American higher education is released. If it isn’t a new indicator of the dire financial situation of IHEs, it’s a new study sounding warnings about the imminent collapse of students, faculty, endowments or some other critical issue that signals the decline of higher education.

In particular, a study released on December 3, 2008 hit hard and received widespread media coverage. According to the biennial report titled Measuring Up 2008, from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, the rising cost of college threatens to put higher education out of reach for most Americans. The Center’s president, Patrick M. Callan, was quoted saying “If we go on this way for another 25 years, we won’t have an affordable system of higher education”. So higher education is being hammered on multiple fronts. Endowments and investments have lost enormous amounts of their value. The public and legislators are calling for colleges and universities to hold down costs. The ramifications for the future are significant. Despite all the criticism being heaped on the higher education industry in America no one denies that our current population is earning fewer degrees, tomorrow’s citizens face reduced access to higher education, and the bottom line is that our global competitiveness itself is at stake. A real mess.

Other pundits are jumping on the bandwagon and gaining attention for their plans on how to run higher education institutions more economically and hold them accountable to cost savings. We hear about moving to three-year degree programs, eliminating summer and winter breaks in favor of keeping students in class year round, and introducing more online learning programs (have you noticed that the for-profit education system, those highly invested in online learning, are the only ones doing well right now). For example, Kevin Carey is in the limelight with his recent article titled “Transformation 101” which appeared in the Nov-Dec 2008 issue of Washington Monthly. Carey’s point is that higher education institutions should be leveraging technology to become more efficient and less costly. He writes:

Colleges are perfectly capable of becoming more efficient and productive, in the same way that countless other industries have: through technology. And increasingly, they are. One of the untold stories in higher education is that the cost of teaching is starting to decline, but virtually none of those savings are being passed along to students and parents in the form of lower prices. Instead, colleges are pocketing the difference, even as they continue to jack up tuition bills.

Hardly the kind of talk colleges and universities want to hear. But there are also some good points in the article so it’s of value to academic librarians. We know that our institutions are using technology to achieve efficiencies in teaching and administration. But they are also caught up in the rankings competition and that can lead to excessive spending.

Scott Walter pointed me to two posts that report on the freefall in most academic job markets, particularly in the humanities, and evidenced by a post at Leiter Reports that encouraged readers to submit reports of cancelled job searches in philosophy. Everyday we hear new reports of institutions establishing job freezes, travel freezes, freezes on building plans, and it may not be long before the news turns more to layoffs (some have begun), journal cancellations and other signs of significant change. This reminds me of a similar period in the early 1980s when the economy was in a nosedive and inflation was spiraling. Governments were in trouble. Back then the phrase of the period was “cutback management”; how do you run an efficient operation when your resources are being cut right and left. I even published an article about this back then . The point of the article was that library organizations needed to be proactive in these uncertain times. Cutback managers don’t wait until the axe falls on the budget and staff. They are out there disseminating a message to the top administrators about the library’s value to the organization, and the ways in which libraries can actually save the organization money.

Now that the calendar has turned to 2009 the news is still full of reports of higher education institutions that are anticipating severe drops in funding and/or revenue (such as both the UC and CSU systems and too many others to mention here), but I’ve also seen other articles taking guesses at whether we’ll see a recovery in 2009 or whether it will take until 2010 – or possibly even longer. So far, despite the challenges to higher education institutions, academic libraries seem to be holding their own. I’ve heard few stories of significant cuts to book or e-resource budgets, cancellations of new buildings or large renovation projects or worse yet, layoffs. It will be interesting to see how much that situation changes by the time ALA Annual rolls around. Until the sick global economy begins its turnaround perhaps the best strategy right now is for our academic library community to share information about economic-driven change, along with strategies and innovations that may help us to promote the great value we provide to our institutions. Have something to share? Leave a comment – now or anytime over the next few months when you have something to add to this conversation.

Proselytizing for twitter

Recently I find myself quite absorbed by twitter, and with the zeal of a new convert I’m now going to add to the enthusiastic clamor surrounding it. I’m sure for many readers here I’m preaching to the choir. However if, like me a month ago, you don’t fully understand what twitter is, I recommend an article called “Twittering Libraries” written by an LIS student in the Fall 2008 term.

First, I acknowledge that skepticism is natural (and not helped by the recent headlines about twitter’s phishing snafu). I too used to wonder if it was *really* worth trying to figure out yet another 2.0 buzzword. Believe me, I am not the queen of all things tech, although my youthful appearance often conceals this fact. I’m not trying to claim twitter expertise (I suppose that’s called twexpertise) by any means, but I am starting to feel as affectionate toward it as toward firefox and gmail.

As I’ve already written a few posts (here and here) about twitter and libraries on my personal blog, rather than repeat myself I’m going to report some of the more illuminating and entertaining moments I’ve had on twitter recently:

-Twitter searching. Every so often I search “library” and see what non-librarians are saying about us. A couple of days ago I tried to find mention of my institution and realized there wasn’t much buzz about us in the twitter universe. Maybe it’s time to change that?

-Expanding on that thought, which one is worse: To be distantly at risk of a twitter hack, or to have no input about your twitter identity? Take FakeRodBlago, for example, which is a comedic account of the proceedings against Rod Blagojevich, written by “The Rod.” Taken from a public relations perspective, what happens when you are not representing yourself, and your identity is at the mercy of people making fun of you?

-Bear in mind that Twitter is a fairly basic tool. To designate a subject term, use a # symbol. So for example, if you use twitter as a chat tool and include a unique identifier like ‘#butterfly322′ in your tweets, you can later go back and search for #butterfly322 to review the discussion.

-There is impressive diversity to the tweets coming out of libraryland. I’m glad to see so many of us on twitter, because it means we are in more places more of the time. In this way we can stay relevant and in the consciousness of our patrons. (Never mind staying on top of things with each other and the profession!) Check out these examples: Disobedient Librarian, Infodiva, TextALibrarian, MdLawLib, Bill Drew.

-There are an array of crazy twitter tools that I haven’t even begun to play with, and the list is growing all the time. Who knew about some of these?

-Twitter is evolving. I believe it’s still in its infancy in terms of relevance, but I keep hearing new uses for it every day. People use it for all kinds of things, from the important to the mundane — breaking news stories, personal status updates (of the type “mmm, grilled cheese sandwich” etc.), automated updates, favorite links, technology troubleshooting, marketing new products, and a lot more. There are students, tech folks, religious folks, parents, shameless self-promoters, educators, recruiters, and average joes all using twitter. So pretty much any type of person — just create an account and watch Everyone to see.

In summary, I think this tool is definitely something that academic libraries should pay attention to. Please come find me if you decide to join!

Still Waiting For Those Old Librarians To Retire

Editor’s Note: A frequent source of grousing among those newer-to-the-profession academic librarians is that the “impending shortage of librarians” they heard so much about is just a myth. The shortage, no doubt, is predicated on the expectations that many senior members of the profession would soon be retiring. Someone who has closely studied employment and retirement trends among academic librarians over the years is Stanley Wilder, Associate Dean for Information Management Services at the University of Rochester River Campus Libraries. In this guest post Wilder shares some of his latest findings on how the economic downturn is likely to impact academic librarian retirement trends.

Can academic librarians afford to retire in the Bush recession? Already in April of 2008, the Wall Street Journal noted that declines in home values and the stock market were driving many to delay their retirements. This fall’s calamitous drop in home values and investment portfolios can only have reinforced this trend, and my informal canvass of academic library colleagues leads me to suspect that we are delaying our retirements along with everyone else.

Retirement is an unusually resilient cultural behavior, and largely impervious to routine economic fluctuations. The ARL demographic data are a case in point: the portion of the population aged 65 and older has been remarkably stable over the past 22 years (at about 3%), despite recessions in the early 1990s and early 2000s. The stability of this group is all the more remarkable in a population that has otherwise swung dramatically from young to old.

But the Bush recession is clearly not a routine economic fluctuation. What would delayed retirement mean to academic librarianship? The first to go would be the projections of the age profile of U.S. ARL librarians developed in conjunction with my two reports for ARL, which would become obsolete should retirement behavior change significantly. Next, it should be said that delayed retirements would not affect all librarians equally. For example, ARL directors may have already begun to delay: in 2000, 2% were 65 and over, jumping to 9% in 2005. In functional areas of the academic library, catalogers were not far behind at 7% but the impact is negligible on IT professionals, the youngest job category in the ARL data. And racial and ethnic sub-groups within the profession are effected differently. Delayed retirement would have less impact on African American librarians, an unusually young population, but Asian librarians are significantly high with 9% in the 65 and over category.

I have been saying that the anticipated shortage of librarians is unlikely, but a bad economy with delayed retirements would make it harder still to imagine generalized labor shortages in our profession. We are far more likely to see large applicant pools chasing a reduced number of openings. I suspect they already have. Finally it should be obvious that while retirements can be delayed, they cannot be foregone altogether, meaning that the inevitable youth movement may be more dramatic, if somewhat later than anticipated.

None of this speculation matters if academic librarians do not, in fact, delay their retirements. Until we have data to tell us what is actually happening, I would love for ACRLog readers to comment on trends they see in their own libraries or in their region. Have you heard of senior librarians planning to delay their retirements? Do libraries find themselves newly unable to fill vacancies, and has there has been a recent change in the quality and quantity of applicants for those positions they are able to post? Share your observations.

Many thanks to Stanley Wilder for sharing his observations on retirement trends in this contributed guest post!

Lies, Damned Lies and Pedagogy

Anne-Marie Deitering has a great post over at Infofetishist about the historical-hoax-as-pedagogy story that popped up in December. A professor at George Mason taught a course on historical hoaxes and had students create a hoax and spread it virally using social networking. It was so successful it fooled a lot of historians and got written up in USA Today before the spoof was revealed. According to the course website, “The purpose of this hoax was to spend time thinking about how easily information takes on a life of its own online, ethics in the historical profession, and the role of digital media in popular culture.”

Some people felt it was a great assignment for these reasons:

–It used social media for higher-order educational ends
–It involved students in original authorship with an audience beyond one teacher
–It asked students to be creative with their research
–It taught students to think critically about sources
–It was a lot more fun for the students than traditional research
–It got a lot of press and demonstrated the power of social networks to spread information

Others, including Dietering, were bothered by it. Here are some of those reasons:

–Putting false information on Wikipedia is vandalism and vandalism is wrong
–Deliberately creating an elaborate hoax violates established trust networks; this project gave the whole idea of trust among historians a big Bronx cheer
–It took an easy approach to inculcating skepticism. It’s not that hard to feel superior when looking at a hoax site. It’s harder (but a much more useful skill) to look at serious approaches to issues and analyze their arguments and evidence.
–It suggested that creating an elaborate lie is much more creative and engaging than historical research, which is boringly confined by facts

On the whole, I have to agree. You can be creative with history and invent events and people using historical information and learn a lot about history in the process. You can use social networks to expand your audience for your scholarship. You can learn how to be skeptical of hoaxes and appropriately critical of secondary sources. And you can do all that without concocting an elaborate “gotcha” in which the mechanisms of creative mendacity take center stage over doing history or critical thinking.

But Anne-Marie says it better than I could.

I just don’t see where the information literacy skills here translate into what most students need in their real work with online information sources. Increasingly, I just think that a focus on deliberate hoaxes isn’t a very good way to teach students how to evaluate information.

Now I get that the work done to create the hoax might give the students in this class a greater appreciation for stuff that could make them more information literate, and that knowing specifically what they did to create a fake site might give them some stuff to look for in other sites, but I don’t really see the larger benefit here beyond the reminder that stuff on the Internet can be fake and I honestly don’t think that our students don’t know that full well already.

Because here’s the first thing – helping students learn that there is stuff on the wild, wild web that was put there just to trick them, to punk them or to prank them – well, there’s not a lot of value in that. . . . Most people who put fake or wrong or misleading information out there on the Internet have an agenda beyond April Fool’s – they’re trying to do more than trick us and what our students need is help identifying those agendas. They need help identifying the information that isn’t flat out lies, but that is a particular kind of truth.

At its heart, I think information literacy is inherently linked to inquiry, and discovery. It’s about the ability to learn from information – not just to find the sources worth learning from but to use that new information to change the way you understand things, and change the way you approach the next question.

And yes, I get that she’s pretend, but the fictional process the real class came up with does suggest that historical research is difficult and tedious and one doesn’t make the great discovery by engaging with sources in an open-minded way. If the class had been engaged in a discovery-based research process I would hope that that would have come through in their fictional avatar’s narrative. It doesn’t. There is no doubt that this group of students were truly engaged – playing with history, creating a new world and the characters to fill it. . . .

If the skills they were learning were about creativity and world-building it seems like the resulting project could have taken the form of an ARG or a similar project where those creative muscles could be flexed in the service of creating a world for the rest of us to play in, too.

And that’s probably what bothers me the most. It isn’t that a fictitious version of reality was invented. It isn’t just that the implication is that history, done the way historians do it, is boring and lacks creativity, though that does bug me. It was the way it was marketed and performed, as if the real object wasn’t to learn how to be skeptical or to create something historically plausible, but rather how to pull off a kind of performative sleight-of-hand that would fool the most people and gain the biggest gotcha.

It seems to me we get a constant barrage of social media self-promotion and manipulation through the media; learning how to add to it doesn’t seem the most direct way to understand its impact, any more than doing something many would consider unethical (deliberately creating a hoax) is the best hands-on way to explore ethics.

photo courtesy of magic74