Monthly Archives: June 2010

A Full Day of Information Literacy

Last week I went to the ACRL New England chapter’s Library Instruction Group (NELIG) annual program Meeting Digital Natives Where They Are: New Standards for the New Student. This was my first conference entirely devoted to library instruction, and it was great to have the opportunity to think and talk about information literacy all day.

The morning started off with keynote speaker John Palfrey, Vice Dean for Library and Information Resources at Harvard Law School and author (with Urs Gasser) of Born Digital. The book reports on the results of their interviews, focus groups and surveys with the oft-discussed millennial generation, exploring the way these kids relate to information, one another and institutions. I won’t recap the book (or transcribe the piles of notes I took), but here are a couple of takeaways I found most relevant for academic libraries:

  • Credibility is a huge issue for us adults: we fear that kids are highly susceptible to misinformation on the internet. But Palfrey’s research found that most kids don’t use information from Wikipedia verbatim or uncritically. Most use it to get an overview of a topic, and then head to the references at the bottom of the page to find more information. I use Wikipedia like this all the time in my teaching so I found this to be quite encouraging.
  • The digital generation has an incomplete understanding of intellectual property. It’s true that many of them do download and share music illegally (and they realize that it’s illegal). But they don’t know that there are legal ways to use copyrighted materials–fair use–so they hesitate to use them to remix or mashup content. This is a great opportunity for librarians to help students learn about ethical use of information.

I haven’t read the book yet, but after seeing Palfrey speak I’ve added it to my summer reading list. There’s some innovative supplemental material too: they asked kids to create podcasts interpreting each chapter of the book. The video he shared with us was fascinating and well worth a watch.

Next there were two breakout sessions, each with multiple presentations. Full disclosure: I was a presenter in the first session, where I discussed a classroom game I’m developing to teach students how to evaluate information. Many thanks to all who attended my session and contributed to our lively discussion. The one down side is that I missed the other presentations, though I caught up with them on the program website and NELIG blog.

During the second session I went to The Big Picture: Visual Storytelling in Library Instruction, presented by Nicole E. Brown and Erica Schattle of Emerson College. They shared an innovative approach for library instruction that uses images to tell a story to introduce students to research. They present information to students in three ways:

1. their slides contain images (only!): first a few slides to introduce a metaphor for research (in this case, learning to swim), and then several that illustrate the process of research
2. their spoken narrative describes the steps taken while doing research
3. their handout provides details on information sources students can use for their research during the library session

By modeling the process of research they were able to inspire students into action, and after this short introduction students spent the remainder of the session actively searching for information on their topics.

The final session featured Clarence Maybee and Charlotte Droll from Colgate University who presented The Crossroads of Learning: Librarians and IT Professionals Banding Together to Embed Information and Technology Literacies into Undergraduate Courses. They described two student projects–a podcast and a poster session–in which librarians and instructional technologists collaborated with course professors. Both the podcasts and the poster session encouraged students to step out of their comfort zone and added a public dimension to their work. Students were more engaged with these projects than with a typical research paper, and seemed to work harder, too.

By the end of the day I was fading fast, since I had to wake up at 5:30am to get the train up from NYC. But I was glad I went: it was a fantastic program (kudos to the organizers!), and I really enjoyed spending the day geeking out on information literacy. I came away with lots of ideas for my own instruction, too, and I can’t wait to try them out.

Do Open Academic Libraries Need Academic Librarians

I started the day by doing a quick dive into an open course on education futures. Open courses are nothing new. MIT began offering them some time ago, and a number of institutions have followed suit. This one caught my attention because it was being offered by two education gurus in a totally independent setting. I was curious about the curriculum and the platforms they were using to offer the course (a combination of elluminate for live sessions, drupal for the website and discussion board, blogs, etc). It looks pretty interesting, and what’s of greater interest is how easy it is becoming for anyone with access to open technologies to create a course and open it up to the world. Of course, such courses offer no credit, lead to no degrees, and have no accreditation – but that’s not the point. If you want to join a learning community and expose yourself to new ideas, the open course is a perfect way to do it. If people want to create something and share it with others, the tools to do so are now available – and I think we’ll be seeing many more examples of the open movement in unexpected ways.

What about an open academic library? That’s not “open” as in “our library is open from 8 am to 10 pm today”, but rather the library isn’t open, so the users decide to create their own library and open it others who want what the library offers when the library is closed. That sounds sort of messed up, but that’s exactly what is happening at the California State University, Los Angeles, where budget cuts have forced the academic library to close several hours earlier than in the past. According to this Los Angeles Times article, when budget cuts forced the library to begin closing at 8 pm, the students felt left out in the cold. They needed a communal space for quite study, computer access, photocopiers, and those other amenities (e.g., printers) the academic library offers – and they wanted it at least until midnight. So these enterprising students created an open library by bringing their own chairs and tables, jerry-rigging some electrical power, and they were in business – and they set it up right outside the library and appear to be attracting some crowds.

The actions of the students sends a powerful message to the campus administrators. Academic libraries are sacred campus space that provides students with the facilities and amenities they need for learning. On the other hand it does raise the question of what our role is in supporting student success. If the students can create their own open library without academic librarians, what does that say about our added value? Many academic libraries already offer 24-hour study spaces that are either unstaffed or staffed only by student workers or security personnel. Academic librarians need not always be physically present to make an impact on student learning. And you can make the case that while the students are contributing the physical elements of the library, the academic librarians designed the online research environment that the students may use at their open library. There’s clearly more to the library than chairs, tables, and computers. And while the article doesn’t comment on it, there may be CSU, LA librarians available via chat or text message to help students at the open library. Librarians or library school students could volunteer to stop by the open library and offer their services.

The open academic library at CSU, LA is more about, as one student is quoted in the article, “resistance” to an administrative decision to close early. I suspect it isn’t the start of a trend. But there’s no question that the field of higher education is ripe for open initiatives, and with respect to the academic library – at least for its most basic physical study functions (books? media? students could bring their own and share them I suppose) going “open” is a distinct possibility. I think we would certainly want to support an open academic library. If MIT can continue to function as an “admissions” only, tuition-based university at the same time it offers an entirely open campus, then it seems the traditional academic library and its open counterpart could certainly co-exist.

The High Fidelity Challenge

Students no longer care about using high quality information.

Students are all too willing to satisfice for whatever content they can find along the path of least resistance.

Students are too dependent on search tools that facilitate their use of low quality sources.

These are common concerns we academic librarians have about our undergraduates. We lament that they’ve abandoned high quality library-supported resources for those that are easy to find and use but which offer lower quality content. As we’ve been told,convenience trumps quality, and our students often prove it’s true. Turns out that we are far from the only ones combatting this problem. I discovered a similar situation unfolding in an unexpected place, the hi-fidelity music industry. What’s happened is that the new generation is content to listen to music on mp3 players, but mp3s have the worst sound quality of any audio medium (e.g., CDs,DVDs,vinyl). Why is a new generation choosing to listen to poor quality music instead of opting for readily available alternate formats that offer superior quality?

In the literature of user experience, high fidelity refers to more than the quality of music. It refers to the practice of offering products or services that are high quality in nature, but which typically come with higher costs or less convenience. So why would anyone prefer high fidelity? It’s simple. Those who are passionate – or at least care – about quality tend to choose high over low fidelity. That explains the success of Starbucks in a world where cheap coffee is abundant. More academic libraries are exploring the creation of a great library experience. Some have added a new position with dedicated responsibility for the oversight of an improved user experience. There is no one user experience for academic libraries, but it’s likely we’d aim for an information seeking experience defined by “high fidelity”.

According to a New York Times article about the decline of interest in listening to music on high fidelity devices:

From 2000 to 2009, Americans reduced their overall spending on home stereo components by more than a third, to roughly $960 million, according to the Consumer Electronics Association, a trade group. Spending on portable digital devices during that same period increased more than fiftyfold, to $5.4 billion. “People used to sit and listen to music,” Mr. Fremer said, but the increased portability has altered the way people experience recorded music. “It was an activity. It is no longer consumed as an event that you pay attention to.” Instead, music is often carried from place to place, played in the background while the consumer does something else — exercising, commuting or cooking dinner.

No one in the industry is quite sure how to change the way people listen to music or understands what would encourage them to move back to high fidelity music – in the way that appreciating music played on high quality devices was prominent in the 1950s. If anything, new research suggests that over time the younger generation is just adapting to lower quality sound. According to the article, Jonathan Berger, a professor of music at Stanford, said he had conducted an informal study among his students and found that, over the roughly seven years of the study, an increasing number of them preferred the sound of files with less data over the high-fidelity recordings.

Is there a parallel phenomena in our undergraduates? Have they become so accustomed to retrieving an avalanche of information for just about any search they perform that they’ve lost the ability of past generations to distinguish between high and low fidelity? It’s a good question and perhaps one we need to explore further through research. But for now perhaps our best strategy is to follow the path of those who offer high fidelity experiences. They know they they can’t reach everyone. They know the majority will be satisfied with low fidelity. But they also know a minority of individuals, those with a passion for more, will continue to seek out a quality experience. It’s the minority that’s keeping them in business.

Discovery engines like Summon and EBSCO Discovery Service may be the modern equivalent of a low fidelity search system, like mp3 players that have lousy sound quality – but the vast majority pay it no mind. They at least are a step above web search engines so we can feel better about them and tell ourselves they make a difference (e.g., something is better than nothing), and that there is indeed a possibility they will lead a student to discover a resource about which he or she previously knew nothing. And what about the high fidelity resources and services we offer? We need to recognize the undergraduates and graduates who are passionate about research, and concentrate our efforts on introducing them to and helping them develop their passion for high fidelity. Just as there will always be music aficionados who appreciate better sound, we’ll have members of our community who appreciate better resources. Let’s not forget that we have something of value to offer them.

Get Involved In ACRL Regional Chapters

Editor’s Note: ACRLog is hosting a team of ALA Emerging Leaders. Each month one of our Emerging Leaders will contribute a guest post, and each will focus on some aspect of gearing up for the ALA Annual Conference in Washington, DC. This month we have Amanda Dinscore, Public Services Librarian at California State University, Fresno, offer her perspectives on the value of participating in ACRL at the regional level.

If there is anything good that I can take away from the poor economy these days, it has to be my renewed appreciation of what I do have. As a new librarian at a state-funded institution in California, I, like many of our colleagues, have a very limited travel budget that makes attendance at national conferences difficult. While I would never make the case for not attending national conferences, I would like to advocate for becoming more involved in the ACRL regional chapters that are often right in our own backyards—many of which hold events that are hours, if not minutes, away.

While involvement at the national level is unquestionably important, there are many opportunities that are a little closer to home and are certainly easier on our travel budgets. There are 42 regional chapters affiliated with ACRL, all of which are independently governed and provide a variety of opportunities for involvement. Some host annual or biennial conferences, while others host programs at state library association conferences. Most sponsor professional development and social events that provide opportunities for learning and networking with other academic librarians. Each organization is unique in what it offers, but all provide opportunities to learn more about the issues facing your own particular region or state and provide opportunities to get involved at a local level. Membership dues vary by chapter but are usually relatively low.

My own regional chapter, California Academic and Research Libraries (CARL), hosts a conference every other year, usually in April. I attended the conference for the first time this year and found it to be a thoroughly worthwhile experience. These smaller conferences are often a great, accessible opportunity for new librarians to present our work. For instance, a colleague and I had the opportunity to lead a discussion and present our research on usability testing of our library web site. We both found it immensely rewarding to share our experiences with a group of librarians who were also interested in this topic, many of whom shared experiences similar to our own. The added bonus was that we were able to make connections with other librarians who worked in our own state, many of whom are employed by the same state university system. There are often many points of commonality between individuals involved in regional chapters which can make for very rewarding networking and collaboration opportunities. I am still in contact with several people I met at the conference and we’ve discussed topics as diverse as tenure requirements for librarians, library web design, and library instruction. And, the conference cost about a quarter of what a national conference would have.

To learn more about getting involved in your regional chapter visit the ACRL list of chapter web sites. You can also contact the chapter officers with additional questions. If you’re attending ALA this year, you can also make connections with chapter officers at the ACRL Chapters Council Annual Conference meeting in Washington, D.C. on Sunday, June 27 from 8:00 a.m. – 12 noon in the Capital Hilton, Room Federal A. Additional information is also available on the ACRL Chapters page.