Monthly Archives: January 2008

Why Do I Teach (Dialog) in LIS?

There’s a meme going around in the faculty blogosphere in which folks are talking about why they teach their subject; Barbara Fister recently talked about why she is a librarian here on this blog. I’ll write more about why our faculty colleagues teach in a future post, but the meme started me thinking about why I teach reference and advanced reference for Simmons GSLIS. In short, I teach because I love being a librarian and I want to pass that enthusiasm on to future librarians. I get excited by providing good service to my patrons (I’m chatting with one right now — multitasking!).

I also love the thrill of showing students resources that are just right for the task at hand. When new library students first see the DK Illustrated Visual Dictionary and say “I want this!” I am thrilled that I have taught them about a particular resource. The same thing happens with ProQuest’s Historical New York Times, MedlinePlus, and sometimes the New Dictionary of the History of Ideas (check out my source list for reference and see if I have included your favorites).

I also enjoy the harder task of teaching students to search well. In the introductory reference class, my students answer about 80 carefully-crafted faux reference questions designed to get them to construct a search in a particular way or use a specific resource (developing a question which can only be answered by the National Union Catalog Pre-1956 Imprints is no mean feat!). They start with the local OPAC and move towards more and more complex questions, and it is exhilarating for me to see them grow into very accomplished searchers.

I teach Dialog in advanced reference. I agonized recently about whether or not to continue teaching it, as my students are very unlikely to encounter Dialog in their library careers. And yet each time I think about not teaching Dialog, I always stick with it. Carol Tenopir makes some excellent arguments in favor in a May 2001 Library Journal column “Why I Still Teach Dialog.” I agree with many of these, particularly the part about learning how databases are structured beneath the hood, as it were, and showing them Dialog’s terrific Bluesheets (would that all databases had Bluesheets!)

Ultimately, Dialog teaches excellent searching skills. There are no shortcuts in Dialog; potential searchers must learn its archaic ways and odd syntax, and they fear the DialUnits building up as they flail and learn. Yet it is both the syntax and cost which make Dialog such a good teacher. The odd syntax (remember typing hillary(w)clinton, or even hillary()clinton instead of using “hillary clinton”) forces them to consider exactly what they want to retrieve from their search. And students of Dialog must learn to construct good searches before they log on to Dialog, because in their final project, they are graded partially on how much they spent on their search. Both the odd syntax and the cost force them to create good searches, and this will hold them in good stead as they sit at a busy reference desk or answer a frantic IM and help their patron find relevant materials quickly.

So I have decided once again this semester to continue to teach Dialog. I will not succumb to my practioner’s desire to have students focus learning the EBSCO interface or the lovely new WilsonWeb interface, because as we know, these will change. I would rather have them learn how a library database is constructed so they can apply that knowledge to any database they encounter within the next 20 to 40 years. Plus, as the Loose Cannon Librarian said when I solicited opinions whether or not folks needed to learn Dialog, knowing Dialog gives new librarians “street cred” with their elders.

I’ve decided that teaching EBSCO and Wilson is like giving hungry students fish – which is important! – but that teaching them Dialog is like teaching them to fish: search skills learned through Dialog will last them a lifetime.

Editor’s note: I am excited to be blogging here at ACRLog, where I plan to write occasional posts about what’s going on in the faculty blogosphere. In my full-time life, I am an Electronic Resource Librarian at the University of Connecticut, and in my spare time (ha!), I teach for Simmons GSLIS @ South Hadley (see above). My regular blog contains my non-official thoughts about librarianship and cognitive science (and the occasional interaction between the two); see

ACRL Announces Its Big Awards

Yesterday ACRL issued press releases about two of its most notable awards – the Academic/Research Librarian of the Year and the Excellence in Academic Libraries. Who won?

If you had asked me to predict who I thought would be this year’s Academic/Research Librarian of the Year, Peter Hernon would not have been my pick. If you’ve opened just about any of this profession’s top scholarly journals in the last decade, you recognize the name. Hernon, professor in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at Simmons College, is a prolific researcher and author. Selecting as the winner someone who is primarily an educator and researcher is a significantly different choice from the awardees of the past several years – mostly library directors and significant contributors to ACRL’s leadership. According to the press release “Dr. Peter Hernon was selected because of his substantive body of research over a career of more than 30 years. His research, publications and presentations significantly impact the library profession”. I think this is a bold choice, and communicates that academic librarians still value what research and scholarly publication bring to our profession. If you’d like to explore some of Hernon’s latest research, take a look at Making a Difference: Leadership and Academic Libraries (co-written with Nancy Rossiter). He writes, “The twenty-first century librarian needs to be a leader and a follower, and the librarian who has managerial responsibilities and roles must also be an effective manager…Organizations must move beyond “managerial noise” and create a vision-driven organization in which the culture of leadership is inspirational, motivational, and transformational and displays emotional intelligence.” ACRLog congratulates Dr. Peter Hernon.

This year’s recipients of the Excellence in Academic Libraries award are:

* Shatford Library at Pasadena City College, Pasadena, Calif. (community college category)
* Laurence McKinley Gould Library at Carleton College, Northfield, Minn. (college library category);
* McMaster University Libraries, Hamilton, Ontario. (university category)

The award recognizes the staff of a college, university and community college library for programs that deliver exemplary services and resources to further the educational mission of the institution. The press release provides more details on each library organization. If you are familiar with any of the librarians at these institutions or know of the great work they do for their academic communities, you know they are deserving of the award. ACRLog extends its congratulations to all of the winners. They will continue to be a model for other academic libraries that seek to achieve excellence.

The honeymoon is over, now the marriage begins…

Last week was the start of my second semester as a university librarian. Having barely surfaced from all the work associated with ALA Midwinter (and with still quite a few things on the to-do list I brought home), I could’ve used another month of calm before the current storm. But that is not the academic librarian’s life, I find!

The nice thing is that over the break I got to see a number of projects from the fall pay off. We launched a new library front page (no small thing!!) with a design that my colleagues and I spent many long hours drafting and revising. I attended my liaison college’s start-of-semester meeting and was pleased to realize — by running into them there — that I am succeeding in building relationships with faculty members in my departments. I put up my first exhibit, a tie-in to Focus the Nation (in which my campus is participating), with the generous help and contributions of several colleagues.

At the same time, I’m finding that the shine is off a little. Don’t get me wrong, I still love my job, but I’m starting to see more reality and less honeymoon in my library. I’ve had a few minor interpersonal conflicts to smooth out, and I’ve seen obstacles appear in the path of some projects or directions I want to pursue. Where before I had this big smile plastered on my face all the time, now the smiles come and go. Perhaps the contrast is more distinct after coming back from two days of Emerging Leaders activities in Philadelphia. That experience made me feel ready to take over the world, but of course the world is not particularly receptive to being taken over.

I’m not unique here, and I don’t claim to be. It’s not as if my experience is unusual; many people go through this sort of honeymoon-to-reality phase in work, in marriage, and in other types of relationships. We start out and everything’s new, exciting, full of promise. We project our hopes and ideals for the relationship onto the other person or organization, and over time slowly start to realize that what we imagined is simply not the truth — and it doesn’t have to be. It can be even more exciting to shed those honeymoon imaginings and get to know the reality behind them.

I was just reading a 2004 article in the Chronicle on this topic, and the columnist had a very savvy perspective:

My hiring honeymoon died fast, thank goodness. I found out that just because I was the center of attention for a few months did not mean that the program or the university would perpetually revolve around me. I found that when I bellyached less, and instead offered practical and measured solutions for real problems, administrators looked more favorably on the requests I did make. And I found that respect came to me from doing my best at everything I could do and admitting what I couldn’t do.

Between the lines in Mr. Perlmutter’s article I’m hearing a few reminders: first, to be a team player and to give as much as you take; second, to be rational instead of emotional; and third, to be patient. None of these things are always easy, but together they contribute to far deeper and more lasting relationships.

So come back to me, lottery-ticket feeling. Because I’ve hit the point now where I need to figure out how I fit into this organization, and how it fits me. As I move forward, I vow to keep those three reminders in mind. A honeymoon is a wonderful thing, but ultimately I’m committed to a long, happy marriage.

Why are You a Librarian?

No, that isn’t meant to be said in the voice of a slightly-tipsy relative at a family gathering. You? A librarian? Why on earth . . .

It’s an invitation to a meme started over at Free Exchange on Campus, where I occasionally blog. It was inspired by Dr. Crazy’s wonderful post, “Why I Teach Literature.” And now a number of academic bloggers have weighed in. What they have to say is an excellent way to learn more about faculty perspectives and the passion that drives them into the classroom.

I was asked to join in just as I was mulling over Steven’s post on faculty status, so in part my response to “why I am a librarian” is an extension of my responses to that post and a reflection on the ACRL/AAUP statement on librarians and faculty status. In my post I tagged a handful of librarians – you’re it! – but then felt a bit silly because in those blogs, the answer is pretty obvious, even if it the question isn’t posed that way.

But I hope some librarians will be moved to pick up the meme – here in comments, or on your own blogs. I sometimes think some of our colleagues in the academy respect what we do … they just aren’t exactly sure what it is or why it matters.

Another Case of the Missing Library

Steven just remarked on the Educause training toolkit for information literacy that somehow missed the fact that libraries have been working on it for some time. D’oh! This presentation on an Annenberg School-sponsored media survey also struck me as a place where “library” as a source of information is noticeably absent. (So are books.) Admittedly, the focus is on how media can recapture people’s attention as a trusted source of information, and it’s really focused on “how do we get consumers to pay attention to our advertising so we can recover that revenue stream.” But still … the survey asked about where people turn to find trusted information. The library is not one of the options. (See especially slides 20 and 24.)

The survey focused entirely on sources of information that can be optimized for advertising dollars – and how to drive the public toward news media for purchasing decisions – so they may have just decided libraries don’t belong on the list. But when they ask about “where you go for information” and libraries aren’t there, it suggests value is only attached to information sources that exist to generate advertising dollars and stock dividends.

The study reports that people are increasingly skeptical about mass media and that “word of mouth” is more important than being told what to read through PR and marketing. In other words, you PR flaks have shot yourselves in the foot and are now trying to learn how to talk like a human.

Maybe our users need to get a little more outspoken. Libraries have net assets worth billions! You can claim your dividend every time you use them! You can use them online with no pay wall! And no harvesting of personal information or annoying banner ads!

I think we have an edge, here, if only we were able to get the word out.