Monthly Archives: October 2009

Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts

A New Courseware Trend?

This news item caught my eye. It announces an agreement between Blackboard and NBC in which the former will now offer access to the latter’s content. It states:

Blackboard is providing academic users with access to historical multimedia resources from NBC Learn. The two companies today announced that that they’ve inked a deal to make historical and current events materials from NBC News accessible within the Blackboard Learn platform. Through NBC News Archives on Demand, college and university students and faculty will have access to thousands of video and audio files, as well as textual materials, covering a wide range of topics, from politics to health.

The details indicate that there is only a free building block that enables access to the NBC News Archive. There is a fee for the content. But we’re already paying hefty fees for access to text and multimedia news content found in any number of library databases. I wonder if this is the start of some sort of trend where content providers of all types, including the traditional library database producers, will seek partnerships with Blackboard and other courseware vendors to integrate their content directly into the product. That would raise an interesting question about who would pay for it, and what access options would be possible. To some extent, academic librarians are working to integrate the library content into courseware. Perhaps this just takes it to the next level. The question is, as the traditional campus negotiator for and provider of research content, how do we fit into this scenario?

How Do Your Meeting Rooms Smell?

I had to chuckle when I came across Acadamit’s advice to new colleagues to avoid meetings scheduled for the campus library:

Do not attend any meeting being held at the library. Those conference rooms always smell mildly of piss, the chairs are uncomfortable, and the coffee shop makes terrible coffee.

Our stacks supervisor once reported an oddly yellowish, wet stain among the book shelves that gave off a quite foul odor. We wondered if a student had brought a dog into the library or whether someone’s small child had an accident of some sort. We never did unravel this mystery. But as far as library meeting rooms that smell like a rarely traversed subway concourse (you city dwellers know what I mean), that’s a new one for me. Better perform a smell check on your meeting rooms – and keep a bottle of Lysol handy just in case – or a container of your cafe’s coffee. That might make a pretty powerful disinfectant as well.

ALA DIS-Connect?

A colleague with whom I serve on an ACRL committee made an interesting comment about doing our committee work on ALA Connect, the relatively new community for ALA members. While you can find and link with friends or create you own sub-community (like this one for ALA members who love cats) most of my interaction with the system has involved committee activity. On one hand the system succeeds because it does provide a platform for communicating with fellow committee members. There’s no need to set up an email distribution list; just post your message and it goes to all committee members. If you have a document to share, you can upload and attach it to your message. If fellow members want to reply, they need to log in to Connect. That’s what my colleague pointed out. We were pondering why so few of our fellow committee members commented on a document we shared. He pointed out that when he served on the committee two years ago, there was great interaction on the committee with lots of exchanges. Now you might say that a different set of people will respond differently. Or you might say that creating a barrier, such as having to log in to ALA Connect anytime you want to add your voice to a conversation, could potentially reduce committee discussion. I did point out that all members get an email with a direct link to the committee community, so it’s not that hard to respond to a colleague. Still, you need to log in first, and then you can reply to a posting. That’s not much of a hurdle to jump, but it might be just enough to discourage someone’s desire to connect. What do you think of ALA Connect? Has it impacted your participation for better or worse?

Celebrating Open Access Week

Last week was Open Access Week, and my library hosted an afternoon program for faculty. We started things off with a brief introduction to open access scholarly journal publishing. After a quick review of the origins and history of OA, we discussed the benefits of OA journals for faculty, students, libraries, universities, and the general public. We also demonstrated how to find open access journals in the library and on the internet, using an article written by one of our own faculty members as an example. Next, a faculty member from our Nursing Department spoke about her experiences publishing two articles in an open access journal.

We kept the presentations short to allow plenty of time for discussion (fueled by coffee and cookies, of course). There was a smallish group in attendance with a nice mix of newer and more seasoned faculty from many different disciplines across the college. Many junior faculty members (including me) are concerned about how articles published in open access journals will be regarded in the promotion and tenure process. It was great to have a forum to share the information that there are open access journals with prominent scholars on their editorial boards that employ a rigorous, double-blind peer review process, just as do subscription-based journals.

We also spent a fair amount of time discussing the means of production for open access journals. At the beginning of the program my library colleague mentioned the Open Journal Systems platform, an open source system that can be used to publish an open access journal, including managing the peer-review process. As the discussion progressed we began to consider the feasibility of publishing an open access journal at our college. It was a fascinating (and enjoyable) direction for the conversation to take, one that I hadn’t really anticipated when we planned the program.

I’m hopeful that our lively discussion indicates an growing interest in open access scholarly publishing at my college. Recently we’ve seen an increasing emphasis on faculty research at the college and university, and perhaps open access scholarly journal publishing will have a role to play. We’re pleased that our Open Access Week program was a success, and are already thinking ahead to planning for next year’s event.

Did your library plan any events to celebrate Open Access Week? Did you learn anything new about faculty attitudes towards scholarly communication on your campus?

Lessons from ECAR – “Real Books and People”

poor URLs

The new ECAR study on students and technology has just come out (thanks for the tip via Collib-L, Bill Drew!) and as usual, there are interesting findings. Nearly 90% of students come to college with a laptop now, and an even higher percentage of them use the library’s Website at least once a week. That’s a higher percentage than those who download music or videos (86%). Update: Bernie Sloan at Collib-L points out an interesting tidbit from the report: “…the percentage of students who reported using the library website daily has increased from 7.1% in 2006 to 16.9% in 2009.”

Texting and use of social networks are nearly ubiquitous, but instant messaging is dropping, which has interesting reference implications. The number who report they contribute content to the Internet through videos, wikis, or blogs is under half, and when asked about their use of these technologies for academic purposes, the percents drop into the single digits. Sorry, blogs and podcasts – they’re just not that into you. But they figure they know their way around searching. Eight out of ten say they’re proficient Internet searchers; about a third say they’re experts.

One finding that hasn’t changed much over the past few years – students don’t want a whole lot of technology in their courses. About 60% prefer a “moderate” amount of technology; only a small percentage wanted no technology, but they outnumbered the even smaller percentage that wanted their courses delivered entirely through technology.

In their responses to the final open-ended question of our survey, students wrote explicitly about a preference for “real books and people” and said “shiny new tech is still no substitute for well-trained, passionate instructors.” Of the many comments expressing this sentiment, perhaps this one sums it up best: “There is still a big disparity among academic staff when it comes to use of IT in class. Some professors are obsessed with their technology and some don’t like to use it at all. There needs to be a balance between human interaction and IT-based learning.

This is one of those studies that I read each year, a useful snapshot of emerging technologies and the role they play in the lives of our student. This one makes me think about ways to add texting to our reference repertoire, and reassures me that our Website is important to students. It reminds me that students thing they’re pretty good at searching and that I will need to persuade them they could be better. But it also reminds that these “digital natives” are not full assimilated into the Borg; they still prefer face-to-face learning with some, but not too much, technology involved.

CC-licensed photo courtesy of Frank Farm (frankfarm.org)

Don’t Let It Bring You Down MJ

MJ, I rarely, if ever, regret anything I’ve written, but I read your comment and if my post causes you to doubt that I am really passionate about academic librarianship, or if it leads you to question if you are making the right choice about wanting to pursue a career in academic librarianship – that I would really truly regret.

I wrote about passion primarily to explore just what we mean when we talk about being passionate about our jobs. I pointed readers to a NYT article that got me thinking about whether we are really passionate or merely satisfied with our choice of profession. You do hear the “P-word” thrown around quite a bit when academic librarians talk about their work (well, maybe you’re not seeing signs of it at your academic library). But I ultimately decided that it is of little consequence whether what we call “passion” would meet the criteria of a passion expert such as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

As an LIS student planning for a career in an academic library I can imagine that much of the news these days about higher education and academic libraries could be a downer for you. If it isn’t someone predicting the demise of the traditional university it’s someone else telling us the future academic library will be a room full of technicians controlling the content of some massive digital library. But I want to express my opinion that I continue to see a bright future for academic libraries, but that we just can’t take it for granted. We have some hard work ahead of us if we want to maintain our relevance amidst the doom-and-gloom outlooks.

I could probably write a few posts full of stories that would help you understand what it is that I love about my work. Instead, my suggestion is to go back and read my article on “passion for the profession” from that 2003 issue of portal. If you read it I think you’ll see there is a great deal to look forward to as a future academic librarian. But let me share just one story. Even though I’ve been an academic librarian for a pretty long time now, one of the things I really love about the job is that it constantly presents new challenges. At my library I’m responsible for leading our scholarly communication effort. We’re an ARL member, but we don’t have the luxury of having a dedicated position for scholarly communications and copyright. So it is part of my portfolio, but scholarly communications can’t always be at the top of my priority list. But here we are and it’s Open Access Week. So I wanted to do at least one thing to create some awareness on my campus. So I asked my colleagues in our Instructional Technology Center if I could make a presentation about author rights at their montlhy user group meeting scheduled for the week of October 19th. They said yes. The problem is that I didn’t know a heck of a lot about author rights, and I certainly had never talked to faculty about the issues. But I discovered there’s a ton of information out there, and between videos, author agreement examples, sharing my own stories about using the author addendum and getting them to tell their stories about being ripped off by publishers because they just signed the agreement without thinking about it – we had a pretty damn good conversation – and what I shared really opened up their eyes to some new possibilities. This was incredibly rewarding, and I’m sure this kind of thing is happening for other academic librarians on a pretty regular basis. How many jobs are there where you have this kind of opportunity?

I’m not sure what is going on at your library, but no matter where you work in this profession you’ll run into some negativity in your workplace. It’s unavoidable. But don’t let it get you down, and most of all don’t judge this profession based on what’s happening at your library or the people who work there. In the academic librarianship course I’ve taught for a number of years the student project involves an in depth study of a single academic library. The one thing I tell students at the start is to not make the error of assuming that all academic libraries and librarians are like the ones that will be encountered during the project. That’s why I started having regular discussion breaks where everyone shares stories from their project libraries. That way everyone starts to understand that each academic library presents a different set of challenges and opportunties – and an entirely unique set of library workers who will be incredibly different from the one library you’ve experienced. If I could suggest one thing to you it would be to make visits to other academic libraries in your region, talk to the academic librarians who work there, and start to gain different perspectives on the profession. It’s just not healthy to learn about academic librarianship by limiting yourself to a single institution. Get out there and meet other librarians and find out what they are doing and what gets them excited about their work.

So am I passionate about what I do? Well, I should be watching the Phillies play the Dodgers, but I couldn’t resist taking time to respond to your comment. It’s a small personal sacrifice of sorts but right now it seems more important than a baseball game. It seems like the right thing to do if you are trying to convince a colleague to look at the bright side.

Manual Labor

As if health care reform, the mess in Afghanistan, and H1N1 weren’t enough to ruin your day, having to cope with new editions of two major style manuals (neither of which actually keeps up with new information formats because they keep changing) is one of those “in the cosmic scale of thing it’s really incredibly trivial but ARRRGGGGHHHHH!!!!!” events.

MLA has finally decided it doesn’t matter what library you were in when retrieved an article or what “service” happens to be selling your library a particular database this contract year. Ten points for the rationality team. But leaving out URLs because anyone can do a search and find a website? One with no discernible author and several phrases at the top of the page, any of which might be the title – or the site name – or the sponsor? All of which are commonplace phrases that retrieve 5 million possible URLs? Okaaaay…. Deduct five points and go stand in the corner.

But it’s undeniably APA that has won the World Series of Stupid Style Manual Changes. DOIs? Not a bad idea. Citing the web site of the journal? Bad idea. Issuing seven pages of corrections and making excuses by saying they are “nonsignificant” errors?

Priceless.

This could be the tipping point. The time has come for faculty and librarians working with undergraduates to loosen up. In the cosmic scale of things, this manual labor really is trivial, but it carries a huge carbon footprint. For every hour spent writing a paper, at least an equivalent hour is spent trying to figure out whether you need a comma or a period here, which city out of the six on the title page is the one to use, what database you printed that article out of, or trying to identify the website of a journal for an article published in 1986 that you printed off JSTOR, given the publication changed titles three times and switched publishers five time since then. As this activity always happens in the wee hours of the morning on the day the paper is due, lights and computers have to be running, so we’re talking about a major energy drain. That’s not counting the environmental damage caused while creating and shipping the large amounts of carbonated caffienated beverages consumed in the process. Or the evening hours of the professors who are doing much the same while marking papers. Or the librarians trying to update their websites, guides, and class materials.

And what exactly are the learning outcomes of creating an error-free list of references? You learn that research is a pain in the butt. You learn that it’s really, really important to follow pointless rules with utter scrupulousness. You learn that, at the end of the day, you’ll get points off because you didn’t follow the pointless rules – unless, of course, you’re making a bundle off book sales, in which case “nonsignificant” is a valid defense.

I recommend that librarians stop teaching citation styles. (Why did we get stuck with that job, anyway?) That professors stop spending hours trying to correct student work using new style manuals as unfamiliar to them as to their students and go play with the baby or take a walk instead. That students are told “the reason we cite sources is because they serve as your expert witnesses; people need to know who these witnesses are, so provide their credentials, ones that readers can use to find the sources themselves, because they may want to learn more about the subject. That’s why we cite things. Oh, and to give credit where it’s due and avoid a plagiarism rap. That’s important, too.”

As for all those arcane rules? “Don’t worry about it. They’re nonsignificant. Just give me the information I need to find the source, and make it easy to read. That’s all I ask.”

We might not save the planet, but we would save a lot of pointless aggravation. Not to mention a few bucks buying updated style manuals.

CC-licensed photo courtesy of Jonno Witts; part of the Writer’s Block set.