Daily Archives: June 14, 2006

Financial Aid and the Digital Divide

CHEPA is the Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis at USC. Every few months, I check out the new issue of its newsletter, The Navigator. The Spring 2006 issue had an interesting piece on the digital divide that suggests a new opportunity for collaboration between academic libraries and student affairs.

A report on a forthcoming study of low-income, urban high school students that suggests that the ongoing digital divide can have a significant impact on student access to financial aid, i.e.: “students increasingly have access to financial aid information on school computers . . . [but] lack the practical knowledge needed to complete the application process . . . . Because of little to no training of college counseling staff and/or students at the high school site, many students engage in financial aid processes online without a clear understanding of how to be a proactive advocate for one’s own financial aid needs.”

Now, imagine: instruction librarian + financial aid office + diversity recruitment officer + Office of Civic Engagement = workshop provided at urban high schools (or at convention of high school guidance counselors) aimed at making high school counseling staff and first-generation college students more information literate about the financial aid process.

There’s also a little piece on new research on Video Games and Student Learning – another hot topic on the conference circuit this year!

Welcome AASL Blog

ALA issued a news release today indicating that the American Association of School Librarians launched a permanent blog. Apparently AASL previously only did a conference blog. The blog team here at ACRLog welcomes AASL blog to the ALA family of blogs. What other divisions have them? I know that PLA and LITA have blogs, but I don’t think there are any others just yet. I’m sure that other divisions are planning them as I write this.

It would be great if all the ALA associated blogs could offer a uniform URL. We use www.acrlblog.org, but that is by no means a standard. I think it would be smart to have a common syntax along the lines of: www.divisionabbreviationblog.org (as in www.aaslblog.org; www.litablog.org, etc.). The URL for AASL blog is quite different. While I’m on wishing for things that will probably never come to fruition, how about a link on ALA’s home page for “Read ALA’s Division Blogs” – where you can find links to all of them.

Gathering Intelligence

Scott McLemee is a scary dude. In mulling over the sticky question of Wikipedia, he lulls the reader into thinking “nice piece, but nothing really startling … until this:

Consider a recent discussion between a reference librarian and a staff member working for an important policy-making arm of the U.S. government. The librarian asked what information sources the staffer relied on most often for her work. Without hesitation, she answered: “Google and Wikipedia.” In fact, she seldom used anything else.

My first thought: “that explains a lot.”

My second – “well, that’s what our students do, so why am I shocked?” And maybe it’s not a bad strategy. I often turn to Google when looking for policy information; there’s a lot there of value, much of it published by the government this Googler works for. But I also thought about the many useful scholarly publications that aren’t (yet?) open access – and the fact that, if this staffer is like our students, her search skills are not nearly as strong as her confidence in them.

What’s ironic is that we tend to think of “collective intelligence” as a new concept, when all scholarly discourse is based on that notion. It’s part of what H.G. Wells was thinking with his Great Brain, as McLemee points out; it’s in the Consitution of Michael Polanyi’s “Republic of Science.” The only real difference is that expertise is not assumed to be universal, but is earned, and ideas are tagged with authors’ names both to give credit and as a useful shorthand. A single name used in a literature review can conjure up whole libraries of thought.

If our information literacy efforts helped students understand the ongoing, collective nature of knowledge production, they might be more interested in being part of it. As it is, “research paper” assignments tend to dwell too much on how to harvest snippets of expertise and how to apply the sadistically complicated rules for tagging that seem to exist only to protect you from charges of plagiarism. Wikipedia could be a useful and familiar metaphor for the collective intelligence in the library – and for the social networking that has gone on for centuries.

Tenure-Driven Publication And Presenting Need Not Be A Grind

I was inspired to write about publishing and presenting by academic librarians on the tenure track by a post on this topic over at Wandering Eyre . Jane relates how she feels like a “lady of the night” because she is obligated to give away her research to professional conferences if she is to achieve tenure. While her post is itself a continuation of a thread about gratis presentations versus paid ones, I sensed more angst about the “publish or perish” pressure felt by academic librarians on the tenure track.

I’m not on the tenure track – never have been – so it may be difficult to put myself in the place of someone who is feeling the strain of seeking to get selected to speak at a prestige conference event, or feeling the need to sacrifice the opportunity to accept a good honorarium at a lesser prestige conference because accepting might reflect badly on one’s perceived commitment to achieving tenure. I’ve also had the good fortune to publish where I wish or present where I want without needing to worry if it will impress a tenure review committee – and perhaps that degree of freedom helps to promote writing and presenting productivity.

But after reading an account like the one at Wandering Eyre I have to ask what this profession needs to do to work towards (acknowledging that the tenure process is not under the control of librarians alone at any institution) a more holistic tenure process. What do we gain by putting our young or new professionals through a process that leaves them feeling drained and uninspired, believing that what you really have to communicate – and how you choose to communicate it – isn’t as important as where you write or speak it. Admittedly, the tenure track and its associated pressures are all about weeding out under performers to create an academic organization that benefits from having the best of the best. But what can be done to allow those on the tenure track to enjoy the process of research and publication, the way it was meant to be be experienced, without being made to feel as if they are on a vicious treadmill. Here are a few suggestions that might help tenure-track librarians avoid that “senseless grind” feeling.

  • Allow new librarians a year or two to get their feet wet before starting the tenure track countdown clock. Since librarians come out of library school far from being finished products they have a lot to learn. It is not the same as a faculty member that has come out of a Ph.D. program where he or she has done extensive research and writing – and usually just continues that same research in year one on the job. Let’s not add to the new librarian’s pressure by requiring research right from the get go. Heck, it can take a few years in the field to figure what one’s research interests are. Others have suggested making the tenure track longer for similar reasons. Giving librarians more time to discover their true research interests will make conducting research feel more intrinsically rewarding and less like forced labor.
  • Allow librarians to make their research more of a learning experience by turning research into an opportunity to master new skills. Allow tenure-track librarians to build a research portfolio that reflects a subject skill or a technology focus. A business librarian’s research could consist of articles about advanced techniques in specialized databases. Another librarian might choose to focus on library applications of web-based software.
  • Let collaborative efforts weigh more heavily than they may count now. One of the best ways to get on the road to publication and presentating is to co-author with more experienced colleagues. Give more weight to being a third author or a panel discussion member, especially in years one through four. As librarians get more experience they’ll begin to take the lead and move into those first author spots.
  • As next-gen librarians more frequently come to the profession with blogs, more of them will gain a following and develop some degree of notoriety. Rather than seeking to quash that with standard tenure procedures, allow these blogging librarians to flourish by giving them some credit for their work and allow them to accept some of those offers to present even if it’s not the ACRL National Conference.
  • The future of professional development is virtual conferencing/workshops and webcasting. Are tenure committees paying attention to this? It’s time to allow participation in virtual programs to count as a form of scholarship. And for those librarians who build virtual communities like Web Junction, OPAL, or Blended Librarians, as members of boards or contributors, they should be getting plenty of recognition and credit for tenure.

    Do I expect tenure-track academic libraries to make these sort of changes? Well, I would hope the more progressive ones can give it some thought. Why not attempt to transcend some of the likely opposition (I did it this way, so should others; Faculty won’t treat us as equals if our tenure process isn’t the same as theirs; Some of these new methods are not peer reviewd, etc.) and be among the first to create new avenues for scholarship. There is significant discussion about this profession’s need to recognize that our user communities are changing and that our libraries need to change to accomodate those users. If this profession can’t even recognize that its members and what drives their research interests are changing – and that it is time for new accomodations – then we may be truly challenged to meet the needs of our user communities.