Category Archives: Technology Issues

For posts about teaching technologies, library technology issues, new technology

3-D Printers

One aspect of being a new librarian is the feeling of having arrived late to a party where everyone is already deep in conversation. You lurk with your drink and canapés hoping to hear something that resonates on which you can say something intelligent. Or perhaps you just blurt out what you’re thinking to the delight or horror of your new peers.

So I hear things about 3-D printers and think I have something to add. My gig before science librarian was equipment manager for a Cell & Developmental Biology department. So I have some years of experience evaluating, purchasing and subsequently training people on highly technical equipment. The value of centrally funded equipment is fairly clear to me, and you can see cool examples of how a 3-D printer might save money in lab. But this single blog post gets trotted out too frequently as a justification for 3-D printers. There’s been some pushback on 3-D printers – Hugh Rundle and Jacob Berg both come to mind. And they make good points – like you may have way more important things to do with your time, or maybe the main library isn’t the best place for these things. But they also reference “technolust” (Rundle) and “wish fulfillment” (Berg) as a dig at the motivations for getting a 3-D printer. Fair enough, but I think a library is a pretty good place for these things if they are coming to your campus, unfortunately you probably don’t have the time to make them really useful.

Most lab equipment is poorly utilized. Very few pieces of equipment get used daily in a lab, – pH meter, spectrophotometer, benchtop centrifuges, and thermocyclers (perhaps) all get regular use. But there probably isn’t enough demand for a single lab or most departments to own a 3-D printer and use it to capacity. In the cost saving link above, the author made some electrophoresis combs – that can probably be used for years. I’ve closed out a lot of labs, and there are multitudinous gel combs and molds floating around, you’re just not going to be cranking them out daily. Having access to a 3-D printer is a potentially huge benefit to scientists trying to replace a small plastic bit of a machine (cost $50-75 from manufacturer) or to engineering students working on something like a robotics project. However, not many lab groups would be using them daily, so sticking them at the individual lab seems like a waste.

Even if an individual lab can justify the time and space, individual labs are often terrible, and I mean truly awful, at sharing. Dispositions run the gamut, but my memories of negotiating for access to a piece of equipment reminds me of baksheesh.  Having a place where scholars can go, get training, and not get entangled by reciprocity has a lot of time saving value. The grapevine is also a poor way to inform a community of new technology.

Scientists (and I imagine other scholars) like to see things in action before purchase. Scientists generally ask their peers and poke around before purchase, so getting a 3-D printer could also serve as a proof of concept to the community. Most will probably conclude they don’t need one for themselves. But the thing about 3-D printers is labs are only the most obvious users, and if a printer is put there they will most likely be the only users. Off the top of my head, 3-D printers have applications for art, education, and archaeology in addition to STEM fields.

All that said, I’m a bit leery of bringing 3-D printers into the library because they squirt hot polymer compound through tiny holes. Entropy is a tremendous enemy of devices like this and I fear they would be rapidly beaten into uselessness in a shared use environment. I’m sure they are well engineered and easy to clean (down sales reps, down) but … hot plastic, tiny tubes. Also, even if they are plug and play, designing something cool must take some training – and who provides that time and expertise? That said, I’ll leave folks with some nuts and bolts questions to help them assess whether a 3-D printer is right for their library.

  1. How much is a service contract for this machine? If I don’t buy a contract, what are the hourly service rate, the travel allowance and per diem cost for a technician to visit? Alternately, do we send it in for repair? If so, what are the packing requirements and typical turnaround time?
  2. What is the consumable cost? How much time does it take to switch consumables (for example – plastic colors) and does that take special training? Do I have to purchase consumables from you or are there third party solutions? Consumables also include things like motors and belts – over time every moving part is a consumable.
  3. What routine maintenance is required? How long does cleaning take and how often must it be performed?
  4. What operating systems do you support? Do we get free updates to the software? How about the firmware? Do we get free upgrades to the software? Can you import schematics from other programs?
  5. What circumstances void the warranty and/or contract?

Any good rep should have this info off the top of their head or very quickly. 3-D printers are cool and relatively inexpensive. Given the range of applications, a library is a pretty good fit. But the time and energy they may require for user training and maintenance should be investigated pretty thoroughly before purchase.

Revising The Cephalonian Method

A couple weeks ago I had the opportunity to test out the Cephalonian Method in one of my library orientation sessions. The Cephalonian Method is an active learning technique developed by librarians at Cardiff University in 2002. The technique has been written about in several articles, which are listed on Cardiff’s “Official Cephalonian Method Page.” Allegedly, this is a technique used in Cefalonia, Greece in the tourism industry to keep tourists interested and engaged. I was introduced to the Cephalonian Method last year at the Music Library Association meeting at a presentation by Andrea Beckendorf from Luther College (my alma mater).

At the beginning of each session, students are given index cards containing a prepared question that they ask when the instructor requests it. At Cardiff, the librarians group their index cards by color (for example, blue is for basic introductory information) and each index card has a corresponding PowerPoint slide, which is revealed after the question is asked. Many of the questions and slides contain humor that helps to keep the students attentive, engaged, and will hopefully encourage them to remember the information later on. In addition, music is played at specific times before, during, and after the session to keep the environment feeling fun and relaxed.

My use of the Cephalonian Method was much simpler than Cardiff’s. My library orientation session was for 50 or so music majors (mostly first-year students) enrolled in a music history survey. In the past, the professor and I split this class into three different sections since that’s the only way we can fit everyone into our library classrooms. But this time, I got the opportunity to do one general library orientation during class time and then work with them in small groups the following week.

For the library orientation, I didn’t play any music because I was going to a classroom with technology I was unfamiliar with. Also, I didn’t use PowerPoint because I thought it would be too labor-intensive and I knew that I wanted to demonstrate a lot of database searching. I wrote questions on 15 or so index cards. I used three different colors for the index cards—one for each “scenario” that I cover:

  • Scenario I: Using the library catalog to find a score, CD, and book.
  • Scenario II: Finding background information and scholarly articles on a specific composer.
  • Scenario III: Finding online streaming music and downloadable scores when you’re away from the library.

I numbered each colored card and I would call out “Blue number three” and the person with the blue card that had the number three would recite their question. I incorporated a lot of quirky questions that I thought music majors would enjoy, such as “I really enjoy listening to Shostakovich symphonies at 3 am because they put me right to sleep. Are there any streaming music resources other than Pandora or Spotify that I can use?“ But I tried to ensure that none of the questions could potentially embarrass anyone.

While I didn’t get a chance to do a formal assessment of the Cephalonian Method, I think it was a huge success. The time flew by and the students asked really great questions at the end of the session. If I do this next time, I would like to make the questions even more humorous. But all in all, it was very quick and easy to pull off–plus it was a fun way to spice up my teaching!

Have you used the Cephalonian Method?

The Library is Open

For the past couple of years I’ve been wearing two main hats at my job: one as an information literacy librarian and the other as a lead on a collegewide pedagogical grant. I’ve had several opportunities to connect the two, which I think strengthens both my library and my grant work. This year the connection I’m working on most actively is between the library and a new digital platform that’s been developed via the grant: the City Tech OpenLab.

The OpenLab is a website that faculty and students can use in their work on courses, but it’s much more than a learning management system. The website also provides spaces for projects and clubs to collaborate and promote their work; it hosts our student eportfolios, too. As a commuter college we’re hopeful that the OpenLab will help strengthen the City Tech community by providing our students, faculty, and staff with a virtual space to connect and collaborate.

We built the OpenLab using the open source applications WordPress (blogging/sitebuilding software) and BuddyPress (social networking software), much like successful efforts at our university and others, including the CUNY Academic Commons and Blogs@Baruch, as well as the University of Mary Washington’s UMWBlogs. All of these platforms share a commitment to openness that’s missing in most conventional learning management systems (like Blackboard) and even open source systems like Moodle and Sakai: the ability for users to make their work publicly visible and to share it with the entire university and beyond.

Academic librarians have been successfully working with learning management systems for years now, and there are lots of articles, blog posts, and other sources to consult for ideas and strategies about how best to collaborate with faculty and connect with students as embedded librarians in these platforms. At City Tech our librarians do a bit of embedding in Blackboard, the LMS that our university uses, too. But the OpenLab is different: it’s not just for coursework, and the tools available on the platform — discussion boards, blogs, collaborative documents, and file storage — are available to any member, project, or club.

It definitely makes sense for the library to be involved in the OpenLab, and my colleagues and I have been grappling with the question of how our presence on the platform can complement and augment the other ways the library uses to reach students and faculty. It would be great to use an OpenLab space to answer questions from library users, to point them to resources and services, to share news, and to highlight librarian profiles. But we already have a library website, which includes one page for each of our library faculty, as well as a library news blog.

We might need to be careful about duplicating our efforts excessively in the two spaces. Will patrons be confused if some library content is available on the OpenLab and other just on the library website? We can presumably use RSS feeds to bring content over to the OpenLab from our blog, so we won’t need to reproduce that content in two places. And we don’t have an interactive area for patrons to ask questions on our website, just a suggestion form and email address, so it’ll be interesting to see if we can attract Q&A in a more synchronous way from students and faculty on the OpenLab.

We’re actively brainstorming other ways to take advantage of the opportunities that the OpenLab offers, and I’m eager to begin experimenting in this new pedagogical space. Have other academic libraries worked with students or faculty on open educational platforms? I’d be interested to hear about your experiences if so!

In the Wake of the Storm: How CUNY Libraries Adjusted After Hurricane Sandy

When Hurricane Sandy hit New York and New Jersey at the end of October, most of the twenty-three schools that make up the City University of New York were in the midst of midterm exams. With the devastation wrought by Sandy, the university was closed after the storm, as were many others in the area. CUNY is a public institution and many of the colleges provided shelter to displaced local residents during and after the storm. Some CUNY schools, both in Lower Manhattan and other parts of the city, were without power for the week (or even longer). The damage to mass transit systems on which so many New Yorkers depend made traveling throughout the city difficult for students, faculty, and staff.

Yet despite all of these challenges, overall most CUNY facilities escaped serious damage from the hurricane and were able to reopen to students on Friday, November 2. We all returned to a semester that looked different from the usual, and in some cases, very different. Here my colleagues and I share our post-hurricane adaptations in some of the libraries across the CUNY system.

New York City College of Technology, Brooklyn
Maura Smale, Information Literacy Librarian
At City Tech we were lucky to have no significant damage to our facilities and the library reopened on Thursday, November 1. I coordinate our information literacy and library instruction, so my main focus immediately after the hurricane was figuring out the impact on our teaching calendar. We typically offer over 200 instruction sessions during the fall semester; there were 11 sessions that had to be canceled while the college was closed. While it was a bit of a scramble to reschedule that many sessions just as we were heading into our busiest time for library instruction, thanks to the flexibility and patience of our instruction librarians and faculty colleagues we were able to find new times for all of the sessions that were missed.

One unexpected effect of the hurricane was the impact on library classes that did not have to be rescheduled. Our instruction sessions are highly assignment-driven, and I spend lots of time at the beginning of the semester working with faculty to ensure that their classes are scheduled to come to the library for instruction when it’s most useful for them. Because the hurricane closed school for several days most faculty had to revise their syllabi, which meant that we saw many more classes than usual in the library in which students did not have an assignment to work on. It wasn’t a huge issue, but it definitely kept us on our toes, and I’ll be interested to meet with the Instruction Team after the semester ends to discuss our lessons learned.

Medgar Evers College, Brooklyn
Benjamin Franz, Digital Reference Librarian
At Medgar Evers College we sustained no damage from the storm. After mass transit was brought back online, normal business resumed. The process was a little slow, but after a few days spent mass-processing information literacy one shots, the library was caught up.

Reference brought its own peculiarities: after the storm, attendance in the library was down. It gradually increased, but took until near the end of the semester to do so. Now with finals occurring, we are in full swing.

The impact came in the form of plans for the library renovation. Originally, the strategy was to cease loans on 11/30 and implement the move of the materials to the temporary locations in December. Hurricane Sandy slowed down this process. We have now met the movers, and they are busy labeling the shelves for moving. We will end all business and close the library December 23rd, as per the notice of our current Chief Librarian, Brian Lym. So Sandy delayed the full implementation of the move, but we progress well, if slowly, towards the renovation project.

Hunter College, Manhattan
Sarah Laleman Ward, Outreach Librarian
Hunter College has three campuses, with libraries at each location. Two of the campuses weathered the storm just fine. Our main campus at 68th Street and Lexington Avenue on Manhattan’s Upper East Side functioned as an emergency shelter during and after Hurricane Sandy, and the Wexler Library at that campus reopened on November 1. Our newest location in East Harlem, which houses the Schools and Library of Social Work and Public Health, also sustained no damage and was able to reopen when classes started up again on November 2.

Our Brookdale Campus was another story. Located on East 25th Street near Bellevue Hospital, the Brookdale Campus houses Hunter College’s School of the Health Professions and the Hunter-Bellevue School of Nursing. The Health Professions Library (HPL) is located on this campus, as are Hunter’s dorms. The campus sustained extensive damage from Hurricane Sandy and when classes resumed at the rest of Hunter, the faculty, staff and students from Brookdale had no place to return to.

Hunter’s Chief Librarian, Dan Cherubin, was asked to find space at the Wexler Library for those displaced from Brookdale as the extent of the damage was assessed and clean-up began. Although the 3rd Floor of Wexler is already off-limits due to ongoing renovations, the 5th Floor was quickly turned into temporary office and classroom space for the faculty, staff and students from Brookdale. Spaces within the library and in other campus locations were secured to house Brookdale’s classes, and the semester carried on. This impacted the Wexler instruction calendar as we shifted classes around to accommodate the Brookdale classes and also attempted to reschedule our own classes from the days we were closed. Additionally, we welcomed our colleagues from HPL at Wexler and found spaces for them to work until the library reopened. Over a month later, there are still members of the Brookdale community being housed on Wexler’s 5th floor although some programs have now been moved back to the 25th Street campus.

We’ve been happy to accommodate our displaced colleagues from Brookdale, and they have been excellent roommates. But at a busy, crowded urban campus like Hunter’s, the squeeze on already limited study space for students is still being felt by everyone, particularly because it’s final exam time.

Hostos Community College, Bronx
Kate Lyons, Reference & IT Librarian
When we reopened after three days of being closed, we discovered a huge opportunity awaiting. Our Office of Academic Affairs, after meeting with department chairs, decided not to add any days to the academic semester, and instead requested that all faculty make up lost class time by posting assignments on Blackboard, and taking advantage of other interactive online tools. Our Chief Librarian called on the library faculty and staff to help support this initiative.

Lisa Tappeiner and I (chosen primarily because are currently offering our library information literacy workshops via Blackboard, and because I am the Faculty Liaison to our EdTech Office) offered one-on-one drop-in support for faculty new to Blackboard, and our library provided more circulating laptops in anticipation of an increased demand from students for access to Blackboard.

As a result of this initiative (and Hurricane Sandy) and the subsequent spike in faculty using Blackboard, we’re revisiting how we in the library work with faculty who teach using Blackboard, and how we ourselves use Blackboard to offer asynchronous information literacy workshops. The storm provided us an opportunity to connect with faculty teaching online, and to think about how to better support our distance students.

Lehman College, Bronx
Jennifer Poggiali, Instructional Technologies Librarian
Robert Farrell, Coordinator of Information Literacy and Assessment

Like Hostos, our Bronx neighbor, Lehman College was fortunate to come through Hurricane Sandy relatively unscathed. Our administration also suggested that discipline faculty make up cancelled classes online. The instructional unit at Lehman’s Leonard Lief Library saw an opportunity to create a so-called win-win.

Before the hurricane, we were planning to use online writing assignments to assess the learning outcomes of our library web comics. The challenge we faced was finding professors willing to work the comics into their syllabi. When we returned to work a few days after the storm, Robert had an idea: we could offer instructors the comics and their accompanying writing assignments as a way for them to make up the time lost due to Sandy.

Four professors took us up on the offer, with three of them using our assignments in a total of seven classes (the fourth professor preferred to hold an in-class discussion on their content). We wrote instructions for the students, handled any questions or problems they had, collected the completed assignments through Google forms, and sent the results to faculty on prearranged dates.

We found that having the learning modules prepared–for a rainy day, so to speak–was a good investment of time and resources for the library and the campus.

John Jay College, Manhattan
Bonnie Nelson, Interim Chief Librarian
“The Library is closed due to the storm,” said the notice on the Library’s homepage on October 29-30, while the city was reeling from the effects of Hurricane Sandy. But by Halloween we realized how wrong we were, and changed the message to “The Lloyd Sealy Library is closed due to the storm, but electronic resources remain available.”

Of course, our students and faculty already knew that. Although the beautiful wood, carpet, and paper Lloyd Sealy Library was very much shuttered tight, the online library was wide open. 4,312 people visited the Library website from Monday to Wednesday of that week, viewing 9,240 web pages. During that same time there were 2,105 logins by students, faculty and staff members for remote use of our licensed electronic resources.

The Sealy Library is so busy during the course of a normal workday–with students studying in groups, reading, asking questions, or just chilling–that it is easy for us to forget how much of “library” work goes unseen. The subway may stop; the College may be closed; the Lloyd Sealy Library’s glass doors may be locked, but the Library is open.

Professional Jurisdiction

One of the many things I love about my position is that I’m one of only 3 librarians.  This means I have a fairly liberal allowance for things I can get away with, professionally speaking.  If I want to create my own outreach events, my boss invariably says “Go for it!”  If I want to create video tutorials to teach students how to retrieve full-text articles from our databases, the idea is met with “How soon can you make it happen?”  In other words, I’m not bound by the same position-specific job roles other librarians in large institutions may have.  I’m the outreach, reference, systems, emerging technologies, and instruction librarian all at once.

One of the challenges of this position, though, is navigating my professional jurisdiction.  My institution is very small (less than 1000 enrolled students) but we pride ourselves on spectacular support services.  We have Master’s-degreed writing and math tutors whose schedules are always full; we librarians spend most of our days meeting one-on-one with students for research consultations or conducting information literacy workshops.  But every so often, we’ll be presented with a unique student need and not know who to defer it to.  Unlike most of my first year librarian counterparts, I typically interact with students much older than myself: the average age of a student at my university is 38.  This means that some of our students are behind the technological curve and need some help catching up with basic computer skills. Is this the job of the academic librarian?

Public, and likely community college, libraries offer several classes a month in basic computer literacy skills.  They offer courses on setting up Email, Internet 101, and basic office software.   In addition to teaching these necessary computer basics, the courses might also cover more “high concept” topics like internet privacy and the politics of the publishing industry.  Typically, though, academic libraries do not offer these types of courses; maybe because the average college student is a digital native, or maybe because the university is in a city with a robust public library where the librarians can refer students with this need.  So when I began noticing a real need for technology support I couldn’t find many academic libraries to use for models.  For some reason, computer literacy workshops just don’t seem to fit in the library’s purview.

The library as a concept and place is in flux.  The needs of our students, the format of our collections, and the media through which we interact with the campus are all changing.  This means that as librarians, we’re always challenged to say one step ahead: to try to figure out how to best utilize our limited budgets and resources to meet the needs of visitors, students, faculty, and colleagues.  In this case of my campus, maybe this means taking on some of the more basic computer training.  Did I get my Master’s to teach classes in Microsoft Word?  No, not really.  But I did get my Master’s to facilitate a love of auto didacticism and self-sufficiency and life-long learning in my community.   However, I don’t want to lose the value of libraries by being a “one-stop-shop” or step on other campus department’s toes.  The question that remains on my mind is, given the changing demographics and needs of campus communities, where do library services begin and end?

Has your library faced a similar challenge?  How do you navigate where the library’s professional jurisdiction begins and ends?  Leave a comment or respond via Twitter, @beccakatharine.