Library Resources Must Not Be E-Learning Tools

Just exactly what do non-librarians think of the myriad library databases they can access courtesy of their local library. Not much apparently. Well, they certainly don’t think of the library’s resources as learning tools. Or it may be that they only think of the library resources as gateways to information, but by themselves not as resources that can facilitate or promote student learning. We need to do more to get our user community thinking of the library’s databases, bibliographic manager tools, and more as robust learning tools.

This comes after reviewing the lists of the top 100 e-learning tools. This ranking came about after Jane Hart, head of the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies, in Somerset, England, wanted to know how learning and technology experts would rate the technologies. So in July she asked 64 e-learning experts to list their top 10 tools. From that list she compiled a list of the he most frequently cited items in her survey. At the top was the Firefox Web browser. Next was, the social bookmarking tool. That was followed by Web-based e-mail, specifically Gmail from Google. Guess what? You won’t see a library database or information management resource among the top 100. Others have noted the absence of what would seem to be obvious e-learning tools, such as courseware systems.

It’s not as if the responding experts ignored information retrieval tools. Both Google and Google Scholar are on the top 100 list. And it’s not as if these experts wouldn’t know something about library databases. After all a good number work at academic institutions. No, I think it’s just a case of our failing to create awareness about these resources to the faculty and researchers who should identify them as valuable e-learning resources. It looks like the list is now open to anyone (or at least the until the 100th person contributes) who wants to add their own top ten list of tools. So far one librarian has done just that, and mentioned the library web site as a top ten tool. Perhaps someone would like to take it a step farther and point out that the databases (AND academic librarians) are among the top learning tools available to students, educators and researchers. It’s one place where awareness can begin.

12 thoughts on “Library Resources Must Not Be E-Learning Tools”

  1. > No, I think it’s just a case of our failing to create awareness about these resources to the faculty and researchers who should identify them as valuable e-learning resources.

    Do you think it might be because they are not actually very valuable e-learning resources as presently constituted. I am quite sure there is no lack of awareness on the part of the people surveyed, including myself.

    I have access to a major research library (CISTI) supported by data search and retrieval services and professional librarians. I have used it twice in six years. The reason is that it is not convenient, not even remotely, especially with the layers of security involved in protecting publisher’s intellectual property.

    > Perhaps someone would like to take it a step farther and point out that the databases (AND academic librarians) are among the top learning tools available to students, educators and researchers. It’s one place where awareness can begin.

    Do you think it is contributing to an accurate reporting of the field to have someone who provides a service to write in and say how valuable that service is?

  2. The list is mostly about technologies, not content, isn’t it? With a few exceptions. It’s as if writers were asked what their favorite writing tools were and they named computer, pen, desk, Word, an online dictionary, a fifth of Jim Beam – not the more varied and complex resources they use for inspiration or information.

    That said, our databases are inhospitable for a number of reasons. Licensing to a single library means you have to be affiliated with a library that has lots of databases and usually go through cumbersome processes to log on and search. Public libraries have an even tougher task. Their resources, beyond books, are not well known, and the advantages (such as they are) over Google aren’t obvious to the average person. Finally, public libraries don’t always tell patrons what they have in ways that work. I recently got a library card in a city where I’m spending some time. They have amazing databases available for remote searching. But when I went it to get my card, proof of residency in hand, all the information I was given related to checking out books. It struck me as a huge missed opportunity to do some low-key but potentially effective marketing. “Did you know that with this card you can…”

    That seems more exciting and positive than how long you can keep your books out and what the fines are. (Heck, I would even recommend handing out a list of cool books or interesting local authors rather than a purely “them’s the rules” message.)

  3. If my institution offered a service that could be of help to me and my students, I’d absolutely want them to tell me about it. I don’t see how my telling others how valuable my services and resouces can be to them would constitute inaccurate reporting. To not make them aware does a disservice to them. I’m not so sure they are as aware of what the library can do for as you suggest. Granted, our resources could be easier to find and use – and the library profession is working on that. I do believe they are extremely valuable for e-learning, but those who have access to the learners don’t often know enough about the resources themselves (you may be an exception) to communicate it effectively. That’s what the survey confirms for me, which is why I’m writing that we need to create more awareness – just as Barbara’s public library needs to do.

  4. I have been working with one of my chemical engineering professors and we have been promoting Knovel around campus as a teaching tool, in addition to standard research tool. He actually uses it in class to demonstrate how the equations work, so students gain a true understanding and not just memorization of. He also feels the interactivity and processes are closer to the “real world” rather than the traditional homework assignments.

  5. This is an area where I’ve encountered a lot of difficulty in promoting, especially in a public library.

    Our public library spends a substantial amount of money in its subscription to a consortium which provides access to a host of online databases. However, they get fairly minimal use from our clients.

    A little while ago, I put together a promotional competition, with a quiz containing about a dozen questions that could easily be answered by using (and only using) our online databases. It had very limited success.

    And after discussion amongst our staff, the conclusion was that, unfortunately, if a client is familiar with Google, and they perceive it to be sufficient for their needs, then they’re often not going to *want* to go out and seek out alternative, let alone better, tools.

    This is, of course, a problem that libraries need to tackle in promoting lifelong learning in our communities, but so far the solution eludes me.

  6. Well, if I tried to answer the question from the standpoint of an educator, I’d be sure to list library resources as one of the tools because they really have helped me to add structure to my courses (and to give my poor students a break from my boring lectures).

    But, I would have to look at the tools that make my teaching all that it can be. I have to handle basic communications – so, Meebo and Thunderbird would have to get a nod (IM aggregator and email choice). Camtasia (or a rival) would be a necessity – I often have to show my students what I’m doing on my computer and record my voice as I’m doing so. PowerPoint is so easy to put the framework of a lecture together (I’m careful not to slide read and it’s easy to flip through PowerPoint slideshows with Camtasia).

    Then if I toss in Blackboard I’m starting to struggle with what else to include. Maybe folks just started to avoid listing courseware in order to come up with ten pieces of software. Zotero is a really nice piece of free software, but I don’t really use it for e-learning/teaching – I certainly could though. Hmmm…how about the telephone?!! I have certainly used that. Windows XP has a neat Remote Desktop function that I absolutely cannot live without, so thumbs up for XP. Word would have to merit mention. Netscape composer (any web authoring tool, but this one works so easily with the particular web hosting system that is used at Clarion where I’m an adjunct – I must admit that I detest Dreamweaver) is a must. IE7 is what I typically use although I won’t break out into hives if I have to use Firefox.

    So, I think I’d call the library one tool that is at my beck and call – but more importantly it’s at my student’s beck and call as well. That makes my job sooo much easier.

    There are individual resources that could be mentioned, but I think they’d be different for every discipline.

    Finally, I believe it’s important to note that we’re quite intertwined with many of the tools that were mentioned. Many of our databases allow RSS feeds, many of us have Google Scholar linking back to library resources. We acquire very nice tools that work with a lot of the tools the e-learning experts listed – a good one that I saw Brian Gray mention is Knovel and its ability to export spreadsheet data and visualize data. So, while we didn’t get named in the list … we were certainly there in spirit. Chins up all around and keep fighting the good fight.


  7. Here a few years ago we purchased Refworks jointly between the Library and the EdTech Unit. It’s hugely popular among the grad students but I doubt it has had much penetration with undergrad classes. eReserves and eJournals are utilized substantially for teaching, but truthfully most of those services don’t seem to make the radar of the learning technologists – they are direct between the instructor and the Library provider and further even the role of the Librarian is invisible with eJournals. As a teacher I don’t really care whether I find an article in a campus supplied eJournal or on a publicly available Web site. It’s just a url to me.

    Those who are experimenting with Web 2.0 (not Library 2.0) don’t seem to seek out Librarians to aid in their exploration. That is the issue you folks should be talking about, not whether Library databases have visibility among instructors and instructional technologists.

  8. So why not just pull together a dozen librarian e-learning types and bullet-vote for one tool, such as SFX? There’s room for more input and the more folks they hear from the more likely they are to include their voices. Note also that many of the “experts” don’t really work hands-on with e-learning. It’s a very slack rope.

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