Monthly Archives: June 2008

What An Academic Librarianship Course Should Offer

A few weeks ago I invited ACRLog readers to participate in a survey which asked respondents to rate academic library course topics as essential, important or marginal. Respondents were also able to make suggestions for additional topics. Over a hundred readers responded to the survey. Here is what they had to say.

First, some information about the respondents. Over 50% have been in the academic library profession 6 years or less. We’ve had past indicators that ACRLog, like most library blogs perhaps, is read by the “new(er) to the profession” demographic, and this respondent data appears to support that. There was almost an even split on taking an academic librarianship course; 54% never took one and 46% did. Again, that sounds reasonable to expect. Not everyone who ended up in an academic library was thinking about it when they went to library school, so an academic librarianship course may have seemed less important at the time. Also, there are several LIS schools that have never, and still do not, offer an academic librarianship course.

The survey asked respondents to identify, by choosing from a list of 30 topics, what should be the most essential topics for an academic librarianship course. Respondents also indicted which topics were “important” and “marginal”. The topics most frequently selected as essential are:

higher education industry (current issues)
academic freedom/tenure
academic library standards
public service operations
reference services
information literacy
collection management
scholarly communication
student issues
future of academic librarianship

Those items that received the highest percentage of “essential” ranking were information literacy, instruction and higher education industry. I think this list confirms that most of the topics on my course syllabus are the ones that practitioners want LIS students to study. The one activity that made it into the essential category was “a required presentation”. I can certainly understand that because it relates to instruction skill, and the presentation is a crucial part of the job interview. I used to have students do a five-minute presentation on their class project (a study/analysis of a single academic library that the student visits and reports on during the course), but gave it up. The presentations were not well crafted or delivered, and I could see it was really painful for the students to sit through them. So I agree entirely that LIS students need to learn how to present effectively, but there’s just no room for that in most courses. My recommended solution is for the LIS programs to offer a number of short workshops, perhaps a full-day, where skilled practitioners would be tapped to offer a “how to” session to give LIS students these important skills that can contribute to interview and workplace success.

The topics most frequently selected as important were:

visit to an academic library
academic library field study
higher education accreditation
higher education organizational structure
faculty status for librarians
tech service operations
web 2.0 technology
library as place
e-resource management
faculty issues
career advice/keeping up skills
community colleges

Again, all these topics are covered in my academic librarianship course. In addition to what students can learn from the class discussion, recorded lecture content and supplemental reading, guest speakers cover many of these topics in their presentations. My course features both F2F guest lecturers and those who visit via distance learning systems. That visits to and field studies of academic libraries are considered important suggests that out-of-the-classroom learning opportunities are vital to the development of a future academic librarian. I heartily agree. Visiting academic libraries and talking to the academic librarians one meets there is a fundamental learning method, not just for LIS students but even veteran practitioners.

So what topics did the respondents think were just marginal for an academic librarianship course?

academic library leadership
human resources management
metadata services
special collections / archives
higher education history

Of these topics, leadership/management issues comes as the biggest surprise. It seems to be much on the minds of practitioners so I expected it to rank higher as a priority. I do spend some time on higher education history the first night of the course as I think it’s helpful to have that foundational information, but the other topics are better covered in those courses designated to give LIS students a primer on administrative, leadership and management.

I received a lengthy list of “suggested topics” that an academic librarianship should include – those items not among the 30 from which respondents could choose. There are too many to list here, but here are some of those that appeared more than once:

publishing and presenting for tenure
how to survive your first year as an academic librarian
project management
decision making
organizational politics
writing skills
reading the Chronicle
instructional technology for teaching
green library practices
mission statements
liaison relationships
dealing with deadwood
course design
vendor relationships
involvement in campus activity

A number of these, while not listed on the syllabus as official course topics, do come up as discussion topics at any point throughout the course. Marketing would be a good example because the students explore that as part of the course project and there’s usually some discussion about their findings. Reading the Chronicle is also covered through class assignments. Again, some of these skills are covered elsewhere in the LIS curriculum, but they could certainly be discussed in the context of academic library environments. The mention of writing skills is interesting because I find my students’ writing to be all across the quality spectrum. Fortunately, most are quite proficient. While I certainly want to help those who need improvement it can be incredibly time consuming and beyond the scope of what I can realistically accomplish. Like presentation skills this is something, while quite important, that needs to be dealt with outside the course.

I don’t know about you but I found the responses to the survey most informative. On one hand it affirms that much of what I cover in my academic librarianship course are the topics that practitioners find to be most essential or important. What about others who teach these courses? What do you think? The responses also provide me with some new ideas for additional topics of discussion. Why not spend some time talking about how academic librarians can contribute to the green campus movement? So many thanks to those of you who took a few minutes to respond to this survey. We are all stakeholders in the LIS education of our future academic librarians. Practitioners, it seems, have much to contribute to, and much to gain from, the development of a quality curriculum.

Peer (to Peer) Review?

Gary Olsen raises an interesting issue in the Chron – as more scholars put their efforts into online scholarship, how can it factor into promotion and tenure decisions? His answer – devise a system whereby scholarly societies certify sites that are submitted for peer review, maintain a registry of certified sites, and check back often to make sure they haven’t fallen off in quality or been overtaken by pre-teen hackers.

He says the peer review system for vetting books and articles works pretty well, but P&T committees (and everyone else, apparently) are at a loss when confronting a website –

. . . since no vetting mechanism for scholarly sites exists, even those that are designed by reputable scholars typically undergo no formal review. Such uncertainty disrupts the orderly intercourse of scholarly activity and plays havoc with the tenure-and-promotion system.

Clearly, the scholarly community needs to devise a way to introduce dependability into the world of electronic scholarship. We need a process to certify sites so that we all can distinguish between one that contains reliable material and one that may have been slapped together by a dilettante. We need to be able to ascertain if we can rely on a site for our own scholarship and whether we should give credit toward a colleague’s tenure and promotion for a given site.

Gee, given that we’ve been evaluating and comparing websites and deciding which to highlight as useful ones for research for a couple of decades now . . . are we really incapable of making those choices without a disciplinary stamp of approval? And is peer review really so flawless that we need to replicate it for a new genre of scholarship? And what about all those sites that aren’t scholarly projects per se but are incredibly valuable – the Avalon Project, the Oyez site, or the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, for example? Should we doubt their value because they aren’t vetted by scholars in the manner of journal articles or university press titles?

The fact is, we work hard to develop in our students the capability of judging quality, not just relying on a peer review stamp of approval. I mean, honestly – if we told students any peer reviewed source is guaranteed to be of high quality we’d be doing them a disservice. So why do P&T committees want to have their critical work so oversimplified for them? Can’t they learn to rely on their own capacity for critical thinking, or is that just for students?

The fact is, these are two entirely separate issues. The quality of websites can be evaluated – and peers already do that. Whether academics are willing to broaden their notions of what counts as scholarship and to consider electronic projects as serious work is another matter altogether. Replicating a cumbersome print-based peer review mechanism, flaws and all, is not the solution. Doing the real work of evaluating a colleague’s scholarship – without relying on university presses and journals to do the vetting for them – is what’s called for. Oh, and a more imaginative and open-minded definition of what scholarship is.

I thought this playful version of Rodin’s The Thinker that I saw on the Washington University of St. Louis campus last week seemed somehow appropriate.

rabbit thinker

ADDITION: I just bumped into This is Scholarship – an interesting response to the MLA task force report that questioned the dependence on the monograph as proof of scholarship over at the InfoFetishist (where there’s a terrific list of things to read and think about).

So maybe, as an addendum to our efforts to encourage more responsible use of open access research opportunitiies, libraries could also help scholars at their institutions think more creatively about what counts as scholarship? Hey, we could at least buy them lunch and let them talk through the issues.

Play The Big Game At ALA In Anaheim

Sure, there is lots of game playing at ALA Annual, but now there’s a real game you can play – and if you like scavenger hunts – this one is for you. The game is for everyone attending the conference. It is called California Dreaming. Now, you can play the game individually, but apparently it works better if you get on a team. Here’s the good part. There’s an “academic librarian” team and it will compete against teams of school librarians, public librarians, special librarians, something called “Library Society of the World” (don’t ask) and students. C’mon. Do any of these other groups stand a chance against academic librarians? Of course not.

If you want to find out more about California Dreaming check out this blog post. You will get more details on how the game works, how to join a team and all that good stuff. And you thought that ALA in Anaheim wasn’t going to be fun. Guess you were wrong.

From Russia With Blog

Editor’s Note: Over the past few weeks I’ve engaged in correspondence with Ekaterina Efimova, a reference librarian at the Scientific Library of the Ural State University in Russia – and Russia’s first academic librarian blogger! She has been working as a professional librarian for 3 years. Katerina, as she refers to herself, first contacted me to request permission to translate one of my recent posts for her own blog titled The Library Bat. Apparently my post on the myth of the information literacy class was better received by our Russian colleagues than it was by ACRLog readers. I was intriguiged by Katherina’s interest in information literacy and blogging, so I asked her if she would be willing to share some of her thoughts about these topics so that we might learn a bit more about our Russian colleagues.

Katerina, could you please describe your university and the library.

Our university is one of the largest and oldest universities in Ekaterinburg. It is usually called a “classic” university, as almost all the sciences are taught here from nanotechnologies to religion studies. And of course our library on, one hand, has books and other resources to meet all the possible educational and scientific needs of our students, faculty and staff and, on the other hand, we try to implement the newest information technologies in our work to offer our users a wide range of services, such as ILL, computers, Internet access, wifi and more. Our library is subscribed to world famous databases, such as Elsevier, Ebsco Publishing, JSTOR, Springer Verlag, World Scientific Publishing and many others. Some information about our library you can see on our web site (in Russian only).

In Russian academic libraries do you have a job position for “Information Literacy Librarian” or “Instruction Librarian”?

Unfortunately, we don’t have such job positions. As a rule, the role of “instruction librarian” is usually played by reference librarians (bibliographers). I think it is not bad, as reference librarians usually know a lot about information resources and information retrieval.

Do you use ACRL’s Standards for Information Literacy in developing your learning goals or program outcomes or has a unique set of standards emerged for Russian academic libraries?

In our library we try to use the experience of our colleagues, but as far as I know, we don’t have a special standard for information literacy. We have chosen a set of skills and knowledge, that our students should learn. Every instruction librarian (I will call them this way here, though we don’t have such position, as I have stated above) writes his or her own course outline, depending on the amount of hours that is given for the course (from 4 to 30), the department (the information given to students of the History department will be different from that given to students of the Chemistry department), the students themselves (are they freshmen or graduates) and so on. But there are some mandatory elements: catalogues search (OPAC and card catalogue), citation rules, database and Internet search. I have developed my own course for the first year students of the PR Department, though it is not perfect, of course.

What are your thoughts on the degree of influence that American IL has had on the Russian librarian’s understanding of IL programs?

Well, I cannot speak for the whole Russian librarianship, but US resources influenced me much. When I started teaching IL about three years ago, I studied ALA’s standards, different resources devoted to IL, read articles. A lot of information for my lectures and workshops I’ve got from my american colleagues. Maybe I was wrong and I should have searched better for Russian materials, but I (and my students) like the results.

Would you say that there is an established information literacy movement in Russian academic institutions or is this something fairly new that your academic librarians are just becoming aware of?

Well, I don’t think that information literacy is something new for us. In Russia it is called “information culture”. I may be wrong, but I think that the information literacy (or culture) movement in Russia has started about 10 years ago. N. I. Gendina is one of the leading scholar, who develops these ideas in Russia. But it seems to me that IL is known mostly to librarians, and not to the teachers at schools or IHEs, or common people. I’ve seached “information literacy” and “information culture” on Russian Wikipedia (I personally like this resource) and found our that there is no information on both these terms. To my mind, it is a vivid characteristic of undevelopment and uncertainty of IL notion in Russia.

How much do your faculty know about information literacy?

Maybe they have heard this notion. For me it is rather difficult to assess their literacy level. The faculty members, like librarians, are very different in age and research experience. Some of them are afraid of computers, some are advanced computer and Internet users. Of course we don’t teach computer skills, but we arrange meetings with faculty to tell them about library news, new databases or books, and give workshops.

How would you describe their state of knowledge or concern with student use of Google, Wikipedia, plagiarism.

It also depends upon a faculty member. Some will be satisfied with a ready-made work, downloaded completely from the Internet, the other will not allow to use Internet resources at all. Of course we have some “advanced” faculty, but the majority thinks that either “Internet is evil”, or “everything can be found in the Internet”.

Are they ready or open to collaborating with academic librarians to improve student research skills?

The classes in information literacy are taught at most of our departments. Some in administration do their best to organize such classes. Sometimes even faculty members ask us to conduct a class in information retrieval or to select some resources on a particular topic and to tell their students.
More often faculty members aks us to help them with their personal research. We help them to find relevant information, correct the citations, give advices for independent search. And of course very often students come with such words: Professor XXX told me to come to you. She/he said you could help me. And we do our best.
What are your thoughts on how American and Russian academic librarians could work together to improve our international collaboration and sharing of ideas? Can we overcome the language barrier?

I am for collaboration with both my hands! Sharing experience is always good. I know in some aspects Russian libraries lag far behind, but still we are eager to learn, and I am sure we can teach something useful. I think there are lots of possible ways: international conferences and workshops (e.g annual conference in Sudak, ScienceOnline etc.), international programs such as Fulbright or Edmund Muskie programs (btw, this fall I go to USA for a year thanks to Fulbright Faculty development Program). We also can establish individual contacts (through blogs of social networks). Of course the language barrier is a great problem, very few Russian librarians can easily communicate in English. But still if there is only one person in a Russian library, who has a good command of English, some interaction is possible (I am an unassuming result of it).

I know you read quite a few of our American librarian blogs. What are some of your favorites? Are these blogs widely read by your colleagues or as Russia’s first academic librarian blogger are you trying to create more awareness?

Yes, I have to read a lot blogs on library topics just to be well informed about what is happening around the world, or I’ll better say – over the ocean. It is difficult to chose the favorite. I like David Lee King’s blog, Annoyed Librarian, Digital Reference, L-net: Oregon libraries network blogs, ACRLog and many others. I also like LISNews much. I don’t know if my colleagues read them, it is rather difficult to “force” them to read and comment on Russian library blogs. The main reasons, to my mind, are 1. Very few librarians know English language, 2. Even less librarians know what a blog is or don’t want to waste time on such unimportant or silly things. That is why I try to share the news or ideas I’ve read in blogs, sometimes making translations, sometimes – on our meetings, or even in private conversations.

Finally, tell us a bit about your blog and what you try to accomplish? Are you focusing on any particular topic, such as information literacy? Do you think more Russian academic librarians will start their own blogs soon?

Well, my blog “Library Bat” or “Мышь библиотечная” in Russian, is relatively young – it is about 1.5 years old. At first I was blogging in English, but very quickly switched to Russian as I think it is more important and essential. I am not focusing on a special topic. I think that the Russian biblioblogosphere is too undeveloped for single-topic blogs. I try to tell about everything connected with libraries and books, do a lot of translations. Maybe some day I will make a blog, devoted to virtual reference services – my mostly loved library issue nowadays after library blogs. If to speak about the future of library blogging, it seems optimistic to me. Last summer I have written an article for InfoBib about Russian library blogs. The amount of blogs has grown three times since, but the problems still exist.

Many thanks to Katerina for sharing this information. I would have many more questions for her about academic librarianship in Russia but our space is limited. If you’d like to contact Katerina do so through her profile at Facebook or Library 2.0 profile.