Monthly Archives: June 2012

Digital Badges for Library Research?

The world of higher education has been abuzz this past year with the idea of digital badges. Many see digital badges as an alternative to higher education’s system of transcripts and post-secondary degrees, which are constantly being critically scrutinized for their value and ability demonstrate that students are ready for a competitive workforce. There have been several articles from the Chronicle of Higher Education discussing this educational trend. One such article is Kevin Carey’s “A Future Full of Badges,” published back in April. In it, Carey describes how UC Davis, a national leader in agriculture, is pioneering a digital open badge program.

UC Davis’s badge system was created specifically for undergraduate students majoring in Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems. Their innovative system was one of the winners of the Digital Media and Learning Competition (sponsored by Mozilla and the MacArthur Foundation). According to Carey,

Instead of being built around major requirements and grades in standard three-credit courses, the Davis badge system is based on the sustainable-agriculture program’s core competencies—”systems thinking,” for example. It is designed to organize evidence of both formal and informal learning, from within traditional higher education and without.

As opposed to a university transcript, digital badges could provide a well-rounded view of a student’s accomplishments because it could take into account things like conferences attended and specific skills learned. Clearly, we’re not talking about Girl Scout badges.

Carey seems confident that digital badges aren’t simply a higher education fad. He believes that that with time, these types of systems will grow and be recognized by employers. But I’m still a bit skeptical over whether this movement will gain enough momentum to last.

But just for a moment, let’s assume that this open badge system proves to be a fixture in the future of higher education. Does this mean someday a student could get a badge in various areas of library research, such as searching Lexis/Nexis, locating a book by its call number, or correctly citing a source within a paper? Many college and university librarians struggle with getting information competency skills inserted into the curriculum in terms of learning outcomes or core competencies. And even if they are in the curriculum, librarians often struggle when it comes to working with teaching faculty and students to ensure that these skills are effectively being taught and graded. Perhaps badges could be a way for librarians to play a significant role in the development and assessment student information competency skills.

Would potential employers or graduate school admissions departments be impressed with a set of library research badges on someone’s application? I have no idea. But I do know that as the amount of content available via the Internet continues to grow exponentially, the more important it is that students possess the critical thinking skills necessary to search, find, assess, and use information. If digital badges do indeed flourish within higher education, I hope that library research will be a vital part of the badge sash.

Responding to Change

Recently I had the pleasure of hearing Paul Courant, Dean of Libraries at the University of Michigan, and John Unsworth, vice provost for Library and Technology Services at Brandeis University, speak on The Hathi Trust, Google Books, and the Future of Research. The event was the part of the BNN Symposium on the Future of the Academy sponsored by the NorthEast Regional Computing Program (NERCOMP), the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education (NITLE), and the Boston Library Consortium (BLC).

The theme of the day was institutional responses to technological change: how do we keep libraries relevant in supporting research? How can emerging technologies enable new kinds of research using traditional materials? How can we take advantage of changing technologies while preserving our values and services? This event was a great opportunity for thinking about these questions from a big-picture perspective.

Courant had a few central messages to his talk, which I summarize and comment on below. His words, paraphrased, are in italics, and my thoughts and questions follow.

  • Technology is a set of mechanisms that get you from input to output. Libraries produce value by making things reusable and sharing them; that’s a technology. We’re all using technology; there’s no such thing as a “technophobe.” Hardware and software, devices and databases, are all tools that function within this technology. Books are a technology: they move ideas along, from authorial input to reader output.
  • In a disrupted world, build things to see what works. Don’t wait for all the ducks to line up in a row. Dedicate time and energy for new initiatives, but don’t require that they be perfect, or have buy-in from an entire organization. Create and support spaces that enable experimental projects. (Is the Harvard Library Lab still operational? Are there others?) Learn from the things that don’t work.
  • The old system doesn’t tell you what to build. What do we do because we’ve always done it? Are there traditions (services, functions, processes) that we preserve for their own sake? What is worth preserving and what can we leave behind?
  • Look to purposes, not to things, although things can be the only way to some purposes. Is a traditional reference desk the only way to provide drop-in research help? What are other ways that we can provide time-of-need assistance? Must we be in the physical space of the library to provide this kind of help? Or does having a physical service desk in the centralized public space of the reading room encourage patrons to use librarians’ services? Does the presence of a reference desk enable user interactions that wouldn’t happen otherwise?
  • The library isn’t there for itself; it’s there to enable scholarship and learning. This is one of the “no-brainers” that I forget sometimes, especially with collection development. Creating an ideal collection with its own integrity can be very rewarding, but so can assembling connections to materials that enable and enrich research, teaching, and learning.
  • Preserve outcomes, not business models. Use the language of learning outcomes to help shape the direction of new projects. What do we want users to be able to do as a result of this service or product? What do users want to be able to do? How can we meet those needs using the resources we have?

Reflections on Reflecting

As is custom around the end of May, the staff and faculty at my library are all working on our annual reviews.  Annual reviews can be a bit frustrating because they sometimes seem tedious and they’re not always the best tool for giving and receiving constructive feedback.  They are also intimidating political documents, which can dictate pay raises and other welcome or unwelcome changes.

I’m only on my second review at my institution, but I’ve already noticed a pattern while I write them—I vacillate between feeling completely overwhelmed to feeling cautiously optimistic.  I feel overwhelmed because I often struggle with clearly articulating my accomplishments.  Like many librarians, I’m not one to brag, but the annual review forces us to make a good argument for all that we did (or did not do).  After the initial struggle (and inevitable procrastination), the emotion of being overwhelmed dissipates and I begin to feel cautiously optimistic as I see all my accomplishments listed out in my Word document.

I think it is extremely important for us all to annually reflect on where we’ve come from, where we are now, where we would like to go in the future, and our impact on the organization.  Additionally, it’s a great opportunity to check and make sure we are actually doing what our job description says we should be doing. Nevertheless, I have mixed feelings when it comes to annual reviews.

My biggest frustration with annual reviews is that I believe there should be many more opportunities (informally and formally) for us to reflect.  Every month I take the time to jot down the highlights (and even low-lights) of the previous four weeks.  I find that taking the time to do a monthly reflection fosters an attitude of gratitude and perspective—especially when I’m feeling very stressed.  Additionally, looking back on my entries from the past year greatly helped me complete this year’s annual review.  If you’re interested in reflecting on a daily basis, the program iDoneThis might work for you (–it costs $3/month, but you can try it free for 30 days).  Every day it sends you an email asking what you accomplished that day.  After you reply, it dumps all the information into a calendar that you can login to look at whenever you like.  I gave this program on honest try.  It didn’t work for me, but I still think the concept is very cool.  My librarian idol, Char Booth, talked about using a three-question reflection after every teaching session in her ACRL keynote, “The Librarian as Situated Educator: Instructional Literacy and Participation in Communities of Practice.” Her three questions are,

  1. What went well?
  2. What did not go well?
  3. What is something that I should think about for next time?

I’m thinking about adopting this approach for the upcoming academic year.

Whether your style is to reflect daily, monthly, or after every teaching session, it is important to make it a regular practice so that when it comes time to do an annual review you armed with lots of things to say.

Do you have any tips or suggestions for reflecting on your professional work?

Push-Us-Over-the-Edge Friday?

By now you’ve probably heard all about #OAMonday: May 21st, when the folks behind the open access advocacy site access2research.org unveiled the site and kicked off the push to petition the White House to allow public access to the results of taxpayer-funded research. The message has spread far and wide throughout the academic and library community, with amazing results: so far over 22,500 signatures have been gathered in just 12 days!

I’m sure that most ACRLog readers have signed the petition. Librarians have been and continue to be on the leading edge of open access advocacy, and the ACRL Insider published a post in support of the petition on the very first day. I’ve seen so many tweets and retweets about the petition amongst the librarians that I follow that I’ve lost count, and clearly all of our hard work has made an impact.

But there’s still a ways to go, still nearly 2,500 signatures required to guarantee an official response to the petition from the White House. Maybe you’ve already signed, but how can you help push us over the edge today and in the coming days?

Spread the word beyond the scholarly and library community! I know this might seem like a stretch: if you’re like me, many family members, friends, and acquaintances haven’t heard about and may not understand the issues around open access publishing or why an academic librarian would be concerned about them. It can also be hard to ask folks to sign a petition, and I know I’m always wary of potentially adding yet another message requesting action to possibly-overstuffed email inboxes.

I overcame my own personal petition-emailing fears last week, and the results have been pretty amazing. A neighbor responded nearly instantly that she had signed the petition. My mother signed it, forwarded it to her friends and colleagues, then emailed me the article in the Chron about the petition a couple of days later. I think that including links in my email to this concise and well-crafted video featured on access2research.org helped, and now there’s another great video available, too.

What other ways have you found to spread the word about the access to research petition? Share your success stories in the comments! (And if you haven’t signed yet, please head on over to the White House site and do!)