Category Archives: Worth Reading

For postings that mention a good article, book, study, etc.

Latest Ithaka Study On Faculty – A Small Step Forward

Today we learned from both Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle that the Ithaka Group released their Faculty Study 2009. I’m not going to write about the latest report in any great detail. You should read what these other sources had to say about it, and take a look at all the comments (I left one at the IHE article which had the more provocative title). If you want to know what I have to say about the report, you can take a look at the ACRLog post I wrote about the same report released last year that featured data from 2006. In that post I wrote:

But why are we only considering the role of the academic library as gateway, archive and buyer? I would argue this report needs to add a new dimension for faculty to consider – the academic library’s role as learning center and instruction partner.

A comment came from none other than Roger Schonfeld, who authors these Faculty Survey reports. In response to my post he wrote:

I’ve made a note of your suggestion that we add a question about the learning partner role should we pursue a 2009 faculty survey. Through other research areas and our affiliated organization NITLE, we have an ongoing interest in the support of teaching and learning, and these surveys could do a better job of addressing these interests.

That’s certainly not a promise, but I was encouraged by the comment. So how did Schonfeld and his Ithaka colleagues do in adding some questions for faculty about the library’s instructional role? I have yet to give the report an in depth reading, but I was pleased to see one chart (figure 9 on page 13) that asked faculty to rate the role of the importance of the library for “teaching support”. They write:

Almost three-quarters of humanities faculty indicated teaching support is a very important role of the library, while a notably lower share of social scientists and scientists saw teaching support as very important. Is this role really most strongly valued by humanists and if so why? Alternatively, is there some reason that perceptions vary so significantly? As numerous libraries have invested in building information commons over the past decade, are there alterative or additional teaching roles that would be valued by social scientists and scientists?

As far as I can tell – and correct me if you find otherwise as you read the report – there is nothing else beyond this in the report about the teaching role of the librarians. But when you compare it to the 2006 report, this is a nice step forward. I can only hope that Schonfeld and colleagues will work on developing a more robust section on the teaching and learning role so that we can also learn how faculty respond to our efforts, along with those sections on materials and scholarly publishing.

So how do we respond to the news in the latest Report that in some ways the library and librarians have a diminishing role for faculty across the disciplines? I’ve been sharing my ideas since the last Report on things we can do to put less emphasis on the “gateway, archive and buyer” roles on which these Reports focus. I think we academic librarians would agree that while those roles are all essential to how we support our communities, they are the passive ways in which we do so, and there is so much more we do – in an active way that is ignored by these types of reports – which are unfortunately the ones that get the attention of academic administrators. To get a sense of what I’ve been writing in response take a look at this and this – and heck – share them with an administrator so they know that we academic librarians are thinking about these issues and have lots of ideas for how we can be much more – when it comes to faculty – than just gatekeepers, archivists and buyers. Chime in on what you think we can do – and what you are already doing – to make faculty aware of how we can contribute to student learning and their research success.

Two last items:

1) What’s with IHE and the Chronicle. I thought it rather odd that neither article about the Ithaka Faculty Survey featured comments from an academic librarian. Excepting the IHE article offering a comment from Mary Ellen Davis of ACRL, you would think we have nothing to say about the report. Now maybe both reporters did interview academic librarians and the quotes didn’t make the editor’s cut, but I suspect there is diminishing interest in what we have to say.

2) This blog is one of the only ones I came across that mentions the Ithaka Report, but perhaps others will chime in on it.

What Can We Learn from “Lessons Learned”?

It has taken me way too long to get around to reading Project Information Literacy‘s progress report, “Lessons Learned: How College Students Seek Information in a Digital Age.” Some of the key findings from their survey of over 2,000 students:

–They spend a lot of time getting a grasp of context: the big picture, the words being used to describe what they’re investigating, what they’re supposed to produce as a finished product. (This, it seems to me, is particularly true of novice researchers – or any researcher who is investigating something they know little about.)

–They don’t report using searching Google as their first step in starting a research project; they consult course readings to get their grounding. (Google and Wikipedia come first for non-classroom research needs.)

–Most of them don’t seek help from librarians. They seek it from their professors. Only about 20% consult librarians, and that is most often for help with search terms and with finding full text sources already identified.

–They consistently use a limited number of sources and strategies based on what has worked before. In large part their problem isn’t finding sources, it’s limiting the number of sources available so they can complete a project.

–putting off research because of “library anxiety” seems to have been replaced by confident procrastination.

–In addition to Google, almost all students report using library databases. Databases are useful for locating credible sources, and credibility matters to them (though brevity is also appreciated); Google is helpful in understanding context and figuring out what those sources mean.

–Most students also consult the catalog as part of their research process.

–The traditional “research strategy” still found on some library websites – moving from general to specific by means of reference books, then books, then articles,then the web – bears no relationship to student research practices. (I can’t resist adding that I thought that “research strategy” was bogus twenty years ago.)

The authors raise some thought-provoking conclusions which mirror some of my concerns. Does the kind of work these students do using library resources contribute to life-long learning, or are they preforming tasks that will get them through college and then be abandoned? If they are taking their cues from faculty, shouldn’t we be sending cues to faculty? Maybe rather than providing library services most students find unimportant to them, we should spend more time working with their research mentors: their teachers.

More will be coming from this project – including an analysis of instructor assignments. Which reminds me – I’ll bet faculty would be interested in the findings of this survey. See if you can use a few nuggets from it to start a conversation.

photo courtesy of oceandesetoile and the Flickr Creative Commons pool.

Real-Time Web Likely To Shift User Expectations

There are some interesting new real-time web developments, and I can see how the way in which information is being delivered in real time could very well shift user expectations for obtaining content from academic libraries. While we have some traditional types of electronic databases, such as Lexis/Nexis, that provide searchable news that is updated every 24 hours, even that may be an unacceptable time lag in a real-time web world. Consider that most of our user community members frequent Google and Bing, and that both of these search engines have added real-time news content from blogs, tweets, Facebook updates and more. Compared to what the search engines intend to offer, news updated every 24 hours seems slow. What else is happening in the world of real-time web news that could change user expectations?

While it’s only in the prototype stage I think there is some merit to Google’s “Living Stories” approach to real-time information. For now there are just a few stories that give you a feel for the design and intent of the service. In a collaboration with the New York Times and Washington Post (content providers), Living Stories provides a constantly updated news feed for a single topic. Each topic features what I’d best describe as a faceted search so that it is fairly easy to focus in on one aspect of the topic or a type of content, such as video. I don’t know where Google is headed with Live Stories, but I would certainly hope that in the future they add a category for higher education. I can visualize it as a powerful way to stay frequently updated on a particular higher education issue.

Another area in which the real-time web is creating some waves is in social networking. Mashable reported on the top five real-time web trends in 2009. Both Facebook and Twitter will be stepping up efforts to improve the delivery of real-time web content. Though folks are still trying to figure out how to use it, Google Wave brought real-time technology to our conversations. Could these various technologies will converge and bring about improvements for each service provider? Another trend that is shifting user expectations is the customizable homepage. If you use Netvibes, iGoogle or Pageflakes you know it’s easy to install any number of widgets for receiving real-time web reporting. Netvibes is taking this a step further with Wasabi, a version that delivers real-time content from any number of sources with no need to refresh. Savvy web developers are already adapting to the real-time web by creating sites that can be rapidly updated or changed to reflect current news and trends as they happen.

It’s not yet clear what advances in the real-time web are in store for 2010, but academic librarians may want to follow the developments closely for signs of how user expectations may shift in response to a growing world of real-time news and information. For more of an introduction to the real-time web concept and what it could mean for academic librarians see this ACRLog post.

Digital Natives, Scholarly Immigrants?

While browsing through my table of contents alerts recently I came across an interesting article in the current issue of the Journal of Higher Education: “University Students’ Perceptions of Plagiarism,” by Lori G. Power (unfortunately behind the paywall at Project Muse). It’s a happy coincidence to come across this article now, as plagiarism has been much on my mind lately for a couple of reasons. A colleague is teaching our first student workshop on avoiding plagiarism this week. We’re also planning to offer a plagiarism workshop geared for faculty next semester, in collaboration with our college’s Writing Across the Curriculum program.

Power interviewed freshmen and sophomores at a small university in Maine both individually and in focus groups to try and unpack their knowledge about plagiarism. Unfortunately (and unsurprisingly), they don’t know as much about plagiarism as we may think (or hope). Power acknowledges that this aligns well with the results of previous studies, but her work reveals students’ perceptions of plagiarism in their own words, with fascinating results.

Power found that student responses to her questions about plagiarism fell into two main categories: agency and externalization. Most students expressed only partial understanding about what exactly constitutes plagiarism, especially regarding paraphrasing. Yet they were dissatisfied that many of their professors warned them away from plagiarism by emphasizing the potentially harsh penalties rather than explaining the nuances of academic writing. Students also noticed that faculty responded in different ways to plagiarism, which further increased students’ confusion. Ultimately, many students that Power interviewed expressed frustration at being required to play by the rules of the scholarly communication game without having had these rules fully explained:

It seems apparent at the college level at least, students see plagiarism as a bit of a power trip. Professors and college administrators seem to often tell students not to plagiarize, and warn them of the consequences, but these students don’t believe they do as well at helping students understand why not to plagiarize, or how not to plagiarize.

The other major theme identified by Power in her student interviews was externalization. Power suggests that because undergraduates–novices in the academic world–are unfamiliar with intellectual property, they view the prohibition against plagiarism as somewhat arbitrary. They often don’t identify a moral component to plagiarism, and don’t believe that there are consequences for plagiarism in the real world. And when asked why they shouldn’t plagiarize, many students in Power’s study replied that their professors needed to know that students had learned the course material rather than copying it from someone else.

Power concludes with suggestions for addressing plagiarism with our students:

We can’t assume a one-size-fits-all approach will work in preventing plagiarism. We must open wide the dialogue about power, judgment, and student agency. We need to improve our strategies for helping our students to discover the importance of intellectual property and the sharing and ownership of ideas.

Our students may be digital natives, but most are scholarly immigrants (at least as first- and second-year students). And as academic librarians, we have much to contribute to student learning about scholarly communication, intellectual property, and plagiarism.

Impact Factors Adjusted for Reality

An interesting study forthcoming in the September issue of C&RL tackles the question of how our scholarship is evaluated by tenure and promotion committees. As a tenured librarian in a department in which half of the faculty are currently working toward tenure, this question intrigues me. Fortunately, my non-librarian colleagues at my institution do not take a bean-counter approach to assessing scholarship. I’ve served on the committee and have seen first-hand that there’s no talk of “impact factor” and having published a book is not a mechanical substitute for evaluating the significance of a faculty member’s intellectual work and potential for future engagement with ideas.

The authors describe the way Oregon State University has adopted Boyer’s definition of scholarship – which embraces not just discovery of new knowledge, but application, teaching, and integration. After examining what librarians have been doing, they concluded the problem isn’t being productive, it’s explaining the “breadth and impact” of librarians’ scholarly work. This includes not only traditionally-published research, but additional modes of communicating ideas.

Blogs are vehicles to teach and communicate to both broad and specific audiences. Their format precludes them being taken seriously as scholarship in current tenure review processes, but their content often demonstrates engagement and suggests impact in ways rarely seen in the print library journal. This raises questions about the concept of format and vehicle. Expanding acceptance of new forms of communication along with reconsidering what constitutes scholarship will benefit librarianship as a whole. A first step is accepting open-access, peer reviewed journals as outlets of high impact and validity. The next step will be integrating non-traditional peer reviewed work such as blogs that have an active readership and generate comments and commentary.

The outsourcing of faculty evaluation by peers – relying on university presses and journal rankings to determine whether a colleague is worthy or not – has contributed to the problem libraries find themselves in: having to somehow fund access to a bloated body of research, much of which is only produced to gain job security. (Two years ago an MLA survey found a third of institutions required progress toward publishing a second book. This, when libraries’ budgets can’t keep up with bare necessities.)

Maybe in a backhanded way the work we do, documented in a way that people in other disciplines can understand, could provide a model for sanity.

CC-licensed image courtesy of Kristina B.