Monthly Archives: December 2009

Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts

Cooperation or Duplication

Here’s an interesting project from a few libraries out west that have decided to cooperatively build a library of video instructional tutorials. So far the tutorials cover the usual things, such as popular vs. scholarly journals, why you need to cite sources, and how to develop search terms. The Cooperative Library Instruction Project makes sense because why should every library be creating its own tutorials. Why not just have one generic tutorial, not specific to any library, that can be locally customized for use by many; wasn’t that the point of TILT. That saves time and faculty could also be directed to the site for incorporating the instruction into their courses. But isn’t the idea of sharing academic library tutorials the whole point of ACRL’s PRIMO repository of instructional materials? And why create new tutorials when there may be perfectly good ones out there? For example, I think this tutorial on scholarly versus popular is quite satisfactory. Why wouldn’t the cooperative include this rather than create a new one? Isn’t that the point of cooperation – not to reinvent the wheel? All that said, take a look at the Cooperative’s tutorials. You might prefer them to others you’ve tried.

Overheard on the Quiet Car

I recently took the Acela to Boston, and was able to get on the quiet car for the 5-hour ride back to Philadelphia. I couldn’t help but notice the conductor’s announcement: “This is the quiet car. There is no cell phone use allowed. All conversation must be kept at a whisper. In the quiet car we like to keep a library-like atmosphere.” I can’t say for sure but I’m guessing it’s been a while since that conductor visited a library.

Does This Mean They Liked Me?

It used to be that when you made a presentation at a library conference or symposium you’d get a few polite “nice job” comments after the talk, and if an attendee really enjoyed it he or she might send you a note afterwards – just as a token of appreciation for a job well done or to follow up with a question or two. Times have changed. After a recent presentation, when I next logged into my gmail account I saw I had eight new followers on my Twitter account. Now, I don’t know for sure if they all attended my program, but at least one or two of the names looked familiar and it seemed more than just a coincidence. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining. I’m just not sure quite what it means. I’m guessing this is the contemporary way of signaling that someone’s presentation resonated with you. It’s kind of interesting in a way. In the old days we just exchanged notes and had it done with. There’s something more permanent about following someone. Sure, you can always stop following, but how often does that happen. It’s a commitment. It’s flattering (I think), but on the other hand I feel like I”m going to disappoint these folks because my tweets are far from stimulating and are rather few and far between. Perhaps I need to pick it up and deliver more. Ah, the pressures of modern life.

News for ALA Swag Whores

Heard something interesting on the radio today. The simple pen is no longer the number one swag item being given away by corporate exhibitors. It looks like 2009 was the year of hand sanitizer. That’s right. Exhibitors have replaced their cheesy pens with little hand sanitizer bottles emblazoned with their corporate logos. So if your main reason for going to ALA is to stock up on all the pens you’ll need to keep your family and friends well equipped with writing instruments for the year, you may be disappointed in 2010. Then again you could become everyone’s go-to-guy/gal for hand sanitizer. I will be looking closely for those truly savvy vendors who put two and two together and think creatively when coming up with swag that will keep those librarians coming back for more.

Latest NCES Data Shows Little IL Progress

In a post from August 2008 I shared some data straight out of a report titled Academic Libraries 2006 that presents tabulations for the 2006 Academic Libraries Survey (ALS) conducted by the United States Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). The data related to the percentage of libraries reporting information literacy activities was underwhelming when one considers all of the attention our profession places on and puts into information literacy and library instruction initiatives. For the fall of 2006, there were far too few institutions reporting that information literacy was a part of the institutional mission or had been incorporated into the strategic plan. So I was curious when I saw the latest Academic Libraries 2008: First Look report that presents tabulations from 2008. How did we do? Was there an increase in reported information literacy activity between 2006 and 2008?

There was some change all right, but not in the right direction. Here are the same five data items identified in the NCES Survey related to information literacy:

1. defined information literacy or information literate student
2. incorporated information literacy into institution’s mission
3. incorporated information literacy into institution’s strategic plan
4. has institution-wide committee to implement strategic plan for information literacy
5. strategic plan formally recognizes the library’s role in information literacy instruction

Here at the corresponding percentages for each of those five items for 2006 versus 2008:

2006———————————–2008
1. 48.4——————————- 1. 46.3
2. 34.3——————————–2. 32.5
3. 30.4——————————–3. 30.3
4. 17.6——————————–4. 17.8
5. 24.8——————————–5. 24.2

So there was either decline or no significant change. That’s quite puzzling and somewhat disturbing. Here we are two years later and academic librarians’ efforts to advance the integration of information literacy into our institutions appear to be backsliding. Maybe we need to discount the data item number two above. How many academic institutions are going to incorporate something about information literacy into their mission statements? I wouldn’t even expect my own institution to do that. And what about the incorporation of information literacy into the strategic plan. At my own institution an early draft of a new strategic plan written this year included some text about the importance of the library for supporting research – nothing about information literacy. But even that minimal language was dropped in a later version. So getting the institution to incorporate information literacy into the strategic plan is no easy task. I would expect number 4 to be higher though. Here is an objective worth working towards. And rather than ask about integration of information literacy into the strategic plan or mission, why not change that to integration into a curriculum plan for core education. I think more academic libraries could report that their institution’s plan for general education or liberal education does discuss information literacy as does the one at my institution.

Academic librarians still have their work cut out for them when it comes to institutional recognition of the value of information literacy. Beyond that, what can the Academic Report 2008 tell us about our performance and contributions to the academic community? Not much. But here are some comparative numbers that may interest you:

Total Circulation-144,119,450(06)–138,102,762(08) 4.175 % decrease

Interlibrary Loan-10,801,531(06)—-11,095,168(08) 2.718 % increase

Returnables – 8.676 % increase
Non-Returnables – 5.265 % decrease

Gate Counts–18,765,712(06)——20,274,423(08) 8.04 % increase

Reference Transactions–1,100,863(06)—1,079,770 1.916 % decrease

Presentations–471,089(06)—-498,337(08) 5.784 % increase

E-Books–64,365,781(06)—–102,502,182(08) 59.249 % increase

FTE Librarians—26,469(06)—–27,030(08) 2.119 % increase

You can find more of these data items in the full report, and it’s not too difficult to toggle back and forth between the 2006 and 2008 reports to see where the differences are. As the representative items offered here suggest there hasn’t been much significant change over the two year period, excepting a big increase in the number of e-books. Without doing any sort of detailed analysis it looks to me like academic libraries are holding their own. There’s nothing here to suggest the academic community is abandoning their libraries. Circulation and reference are down a bit, but ILL is still busy, more people are visiting the building and despite the anaemic indicators for information literacy, the number of instruction sessions (included in “presentations” I take it) continues to increase.

I hope that the folks who construct the NCES survey instrument for academic libraries will give more thought to what type of questions would give us a better picture of the status of information literacy integration into the institutional curriculum rather than the mission or strategic plan. I see they do include a group of academic librarians in the development of the report. Perhaps for their next meeting they’ll put this issue on the agenda.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Winter Break

Finals end today at the college where I work, and the semester is coming to a close. I really value the stretch of slower days in the library during the intersession; it’s a great time to take stock of what we’re doing and where we’re headed. This semester was incredibly busy, with a big increase in enrollment and much more instruction than last fall, so I’m even more grateful for the temporary slowdown. This winter break I’ve got three big projects to I’m hoping to tackle:

1. Planning for Next Semester
The core of our library instruction program is a mandatory one-shot for all English Composition classes, and our instruction librarians met last week for a debrief and planning session. For next semester our focus is on increasing both student and faculty participation in these sessions. We brainstormed a number of strategies at our meeting and will start to implement them over the next few weeks. I’m looking forward to teaching the revised sessions next semester — it’ll be interesting to see how these changes impact student engagement.

2. Long-term Program Ideas
In addition to prepping for our Spring instruction sessions, I’m hoping to take some time this intersession to think more about the future of our information literacy and library instruction program. I’m especially interested in learning more about programs that feature intensive, one-on-one collaboration between librarians and faculty in other departments. I’m excited to dig into research on faculty development programs like the Undergraduate Information Competency Initiative at Cornell University, the information literacy workshops at James Madison University, and the Information Literacy Quality Enhancement Plan at Trinity University.

3. Research and Scholarly Work
I’ll have a few research leave days in January, so I’m planning to catch up on some research and writing. I’m working on a research project with a colleague this year and we’ve got a pile of data from interviews with faculty and students to start to analyze; I’m also beginning a study with another colleague. And, despite my best efforts at keeping up, I still have a stack of articles that I haven’t found time to get through this semester. If I can shrink that tower of paper by the end of the winter break, it will definitely feel like an accomplishment!

Chance To Influence Next Generation Higher Education Administrators

I was intrigued by this new initiative created by the folks at Inside Higher Ed and the Association for the Study of Higher Education. It allows anyone to submit a 1,000 word, well-researched and documented essay on any news story published by Inside Higher Ed. While some essays must be based on a set of pre-selected stories, others can be proposed by potential authors. Because the content is targeted to faculty and graduate students in higher education administration programs, as well as current higher education administrators, this seems like an excellent opportunity for academic librarians to share their perspective on library-related news stories and essays that appear in Inside Higher Ed. Doing so could help to influence and shape how future higher education administrators perceive the academic library.

All too often when these stories appear, be they informative or controversial, librarians engage in discussion among themselves on their discussion lists and twitter feeds, or they leave insightful comments to the stories, but rarely is there any organized follow up. In the end those who need to hear what we bring to the conversation most likely never have that opportunity. This new program changes that. Take for example two recent IHE articles, one a news item on “bookless libraries” and the other an essay on “Reviving the Academic Library“. Both generated considerable discussion in the library community, but who knows what message reached the academic administrators who decide on the library budget or whether or not to commit funds to a new library facility.

What do these essays look like? If you go to the detailed information page there is an example that provides a good picture of what’s expected. In addition to the essay authors should develop a set of questions that faculty could use to lead a discussion on the topic. Academic librarians should keep this new program in mind for the next time that Inside Higher Ed publishes an article or essay that could use a balanced and authoritative response from our profession. To not do so allows authors who may have an outdated interpretation or inaccurate understanding of the mission and operation of the contemporary academic library to unduly influence the thinking of academic administrators.

Going Through The Motions

Have you ever attended a presentation, sat through a class or lecture or possibly watched a music performance and afterwards felt that the speaker, instructor or performer simply sleepwalked through the whole thing? I’m sure all of us have at one time or another. It can be a real challenge to constantly motivate yourself to get excited to the level of delivering your best – whatever it is you are doing. It could be answering a question at your reference desk, teaching an instruction session or leading your colleagues through a meeting. Are you giving it your best and trying to make it as engaging as possible for the other person or are you simply going through the motions in order to get it done? Are you reminding yourself that even though you’ve done this a thousand times it may be the first time for the other person?

Earlier this fall I traveled to Georgia to give a keynote talk and a breakout session at a library conference. The breakout session was scheduled for 9:00 am the morning after the talk. After picking up the computer projector and speakers I needed (this was a set-it-up-yourself situtation) I proceeded to my designated room. With about 30 minutes to go before my talk I figured I’d relax in the back of the room, and then have 10 minutes at the end of the current session to get set up for my breakout. What I found there was unlike any presentation I’d come across at a library conference.

It was like stepping into the children’s department at my local library. Mr. Science had transformed a convention center room into his personal discovery center. Who was Mr. Science? Imagine a man dressed up in a lab coat with a crazy fright wig and some clown accoutrements; sort of like a kid’s mad scientist. With an elaborate backdrop, loads of props and books galore, I simply asked myself, “How on earth will I get set up for my session if he ends at 8:50 and I start at 9:00?” It looked like it had taken the better part of an hour for him to get his gear together and I guessed it might take half as long to break it down. But I decided not to fret about it and just relaxed and tried to pass the time. But an odd thing happened. I found myself really engaged with Mr. Science.

Now it could it be that I have the attention span of a child, and thus was perfectly suited to short skits with bad puns with eye-catching, magic-like tricks and illusions. Each one ended with a plug for a book which is a nice touch. But I think what grabbed my attention is that Mr. Science was putting everything he had into every moment of his program. I don’t doubt he’d done these corny tricks and told those bad jokes a thousand times before, but I could easily imagine a K-6 child seeing and hearing this all for the first time and being completely engaged and wowed by the experience. Even the big finale – yes – the old pull a rabbit out of a box trick – (anyone but a child could easily see where the rabbit really came from) – was performed with incredible enthusiasm. Then it was all over. Despite my satisfaction with Mr. Science I told him, no, he could not leave his stuff there while I ran my breakout session.

So what can we learn from Mr. Science? I can only imagine how tough it must be to deliver a presentation to an audience of children. Sure, we academic librarians must contend with some students who are distracted by their texting and web surfing, but what if they just got up and left or started acting out if you failed to keep them engaged. Most college students will just stay politely bored with you. Since we can’t pull rabbits out of hats we need to get the students engaged in their own learning. But beyond that each librarian educator must make a commitment to avoid simply going through the motions. If Mr. Science is a good example then bringing all of your enthusiasm to each meeting with students and faculty opens up the opportunity to create passionate users. Is this an easy thing to do? Not at all. It’s hard work. So how do you bring your A-game to every instruction session and presentation? That sounds like a future post, but if you have some tips to share please leave a comment.