Daily Archives: November 19, 2007

Kindling Debate

It’s a trifle ironic that, on the same day that the new NEA jeremiad, er, report on how reading is going to hell in a handbasket (again) Amazon finally released its e-book reader, Kindle. So, if nobody reads anymore, is Kindle – or, as Newsweek puts it in swooningly glowing terms, “the future of reading” – doomed?

According to the NEA, using a Kindle isn’t reading. As Linda Braun points out at YALSA’s blog, reading online texts does not count (and, in fact, the report expresses astonishment that using the Internet to find information correlates positively with reading proficiency. How can that be?) Also, the report continues to lament the decline in reading without really looking at it historically. Only half of Americans between 18 and 24, the report says, read a book for pleasure. (The only reading that counts is in print and for no particular purpose other than pleasure; I wonder what the faculty who assign all those books would think about that?) They note that’s a decrease in the past ten years – but is probably higher than fifty years ago. Steve Wasserman said in an article in the LA Times last August that a 1955 Gallup poll found only 17% of Americans “read books.” Oh – and multitasking is bad. So stop it. Right now. Get off the Internet and go read something.

All in all, there seems to be a bit more skepticism about the NEA’s doomsday scenario than the last time they reported the sky was falling. And given the vigor with which the Kindle gadget is being debated, the death of reading – and books – seems to be greatly exaggerated.

Warming Up To The Idea Of User Education

Reading the latest (November 2007) issue of Against the Grain brought two surprises in one article. In his regular column (In My Humble But Correct Opinion) Rick Anderson takes up a public service issue, not his usual fare. So surprise number one is that he’s taking on the problem of the reference desk and the need to create some change. He’d like us to be “more motivated to try harder to put our desks out of business”. Perhaps he’s been reading ACRLog posts, the Chronicle or Library Issues more recently. But the big surprise is that Anderson may be warming up to the idea of the benefits of user education. In the past his writings and presentations have come down rather hard on library instruction. I believe he referred to it as “eat your peas” librarianship – forcing our students to become mini-librarians. So imagine my surprise when one of his suggested alternatives to sitting at the reference desk is “Couldn’t that hour be more fruitfully spent in front of a class somewhere else on campus…”.

Yes Rick, librarians can achieve positive outcomes when they educate users. I know our research systems should be so easy to use that no one ever again needs to think about what words they should use in a search, or whether it makes a difference if you use a business or humanities database or whether an article comes from a popular magazine or scholarly journal. But until that time it may be that getting out into the classrooms – or having the students come to the library’s instruction center – is a constructive strategy for equipping students with the knowledge and skills they need to conduct effective research. Not only might it eliminate the need for a stop at the reference desk, but it’s a good thing when students get to know librarians through user education experiences. They actually learn who their friendly, departmental librarian is, and in many cases the next time that student needs help he or she will go right past the reference desk and down the hall to that librarian’s office for a consultation. Think of it as “pre-emptive reference“. Great suggestion as well about integrating library services into the curriculum (and courseware and social networks). Some of us call that the information literacy initiative.

As always Rick’s writing is first class and thought provoking – and when it comes to how one views the future of the reference desk – he and I might finally be in agreement about something. If you aren’t reading his IMHBCO column regularly you need to get a copy of Against the Grain – which is always chock full of great stuff. Now I will REALLY be surprised if Rick joins the Blended Librarians Online Learning Community and shows up for our next webcast about information literacy.

Finders, Seekers, Info Keepers

Editor’s Note: At ACRLog we ecourage academic librarians to share conference reports with us – at the national and chapter level. This posting provides a report from Scott Vine, Reference Services Librarian at Franklin & Marshall College and a member of the Delaware Valley Chapter of ACRL. Here is his report on their latest program.

The ACRL Delaware Valley Chapter held its Fall 2007 event, ‘Finders, Seekers, Info Keepers: Connecting with Today’s Students,’ on Friday, October 26 at West Chester University’s Graduate Business Center. About 70 people turned out to hear the morning speakers, Lynn Silipigni Connaway, Consulting Research Scientist at OCLC, and Marie Radford, Associate Professor at Rutgers University’s School of Communication, Information and Library Studies. The slides from both talks are available online. Pictured here, from left to right, are three of the four afternoon panelists: Marie Radford, Tom Moran and Alexia Hudson.

Connaway spoke on Making the Library More Accessible. Her research attempts to understand how and why people search for and access information in various situations. She described two recent projects that used individual and focus group interviews to identify perceptions and attitudes toward information seeking of targeted populations, including college and university students. She offered several quotes and observed behaviors gathered in these studies that are startling on the surface, but which many of us know is the case:

· Students often turn to their parents for information help, specifically their fathers, as they ‘know everything, or can find it out.’

· Undergraduate and graduate students tend to turn to Google and then human advisors for help, and some showed embarrassment at this.

· Students’ needs are often highly interdisciplinary, and libraries’ ordered subjects often don’t match up.

· Libraries are used as a backup to data accessed through personal electronic devices. When they do use the library, students would like to see more roaming personnel, with a coffeehouse atmosphere. They would like us to lessen the intimidation factor, and provide better signage.

The second study had to do with chat and virtual reference (VR), and turned up equally useful results.

· Students have been taught not to speak with people online they don’t know, and that’s what VR asks them to do. However, the trust factor is big – if it is recommended by an adult, they will use a library’s VR.

· Graduate students would rather speak with someone they know, face to face.

· The people who do use VR really like that there is a collaborator available.

· VR provides access for people who won’t come into the library. And at this remove, they will ask more challenging, in depth questions than they would ask in person.

· They don’t want to bother the librarian, even online. Privacy is an issue in that they don’t want us to know what they don’t know. We need to let them know we want them to ask, more.

Connaway asked what our response as librarians could be to these realities, and posited that it is often to be bothered by them, personally or professionally, rather than listen and respond to our users’ requests. Recognizing that some people just don’t use libraries, we could help them by making our experience more like the experience available elsewhere online. Her studies show that we need to be comprehensive and in the research flow, our services should telescope from the personal to the global, there should be a low transaction cost, and our services should be reflective of the people using our systems.

Radford’s talk was called Creating Chat Connections: E-valuating Virtual Reference Transcripts, based on a study which examined 850 random QuestionPoint transcripts selected over two years from over 500,000 users. She offered several good insights:

· An average VR session took just over 12 minutes. There doesn’t have to be a rush online.

· People don’t use VR because they’re in a hurry – they just may be more comfortable there, or at a distance.

· Users prefer face to face help, then chat, then phone and email. They remember when a librarian treats them well, and the opposite.

· Barriers to good chats include limiting the time spent, sending them to Google, reprimanding, abrupt chat endings, and refusals to provide information.

· Basic interpersonal skills go a long way toward successful VR interactions – be yourself, greet them, recognize that they may be intimidated, show awareness, empathy, humor, provide an answer, and say goodbye.

The afternoon panel added Alexia Hudson, Reference and Instruction Librarian at Penn State Great Valley, and Thomas Mogan, Director of Student Development at Villanova University into the mix. Hudson spoke briefly about her work in connecting with students in Second Life, and Mogan talked about how Villanova used a One Book effort to bring students, faculty and staff together.

Questions from the audience focused heavily on balancing how we connect with students online, and how we continue to teach them what they need to know to do their work and to learn. How can we decide between rigorous academic practice, and just providing the answer? Is it possible to offer both scholarly instruction, and seamless service? All the panelists agreed that while it’s a challenge, it is possible and necessary for libraries to offer our traditional educational services, and move forward in offering the Web 2.0 and 3.0 interactions that our students want.