Monthly Archives: July 2008

A Hybrid ALA For 2015

Like many ALA members I focus most of my participative energy on my division and section. Prior to the Annual Meeting in Anaheim I paid little attention to ALA’s exploration of e-participation. What I did learn at the conference is that an official Task Force on E-Participation has produced a report that makes recommendations to the association related to this issue.

Even though I had no access to that report or much in the way of information about this initiative I was invited to speak at the official ALA Forum on E-Participation, for no more than five minutes, about my experience with e-participation within ACRL. After delivering my remarks members of the audience, mostly ALA councilors, could comment (and unfortunately I wasn’t allowed to respond). I was surprised by the number of folks who had real concerns about opening up ALA to e-member participation. There are some hurdles to jump, but there are people who want to participate as e-members and we have the technology to make it possible. Does ALA have the will power to change? I wrapped up my 5 minutes by urging ALA to adopt its own “put-a-man-on-the-moon” initiative. I challenged ALA to become a totally hybrid organization by 2015. That means 50% regular member and 50% e-participation members, as well as a Conference that offer 50% of its programming to remote participatnts using distance learning or webcasting platforms.

Here’s a fact that must be faced. If the LIS program where I teach a course is at all indicative of where LIS education is at or where it is headed, we are largely talking about an e-learning environment. At Drexel University, where I teach a course (both online and F2F), currently 70% of the students are enrolled as online participants. So if ALA supports e-learning for our future librarians, why are we even discussing the feasibility of e-participation? If an electronic environment is good enough for learning to be a degree-bearing member of this profession at an ALA accredited program, why would it not be a good enough way to participate in the same organization?

Since his presidential initiatives webpage identifies “New technologies, new ways of communicating, open new opportunities for members to make the most of their ALA experience” as one of his top initiatives, I expect Jim Rettig, ALA president for 2008-2009 will move the association further along in the direction of making e-participation a reality for more ALA members. That could mean more virtual members on committees, ensuring ALA has the right technology to support robust virtual meetings, partnering with companies that can make ALA programs accessible to virtual participants, developing a sensible dues structure that makes virtual membership affordable and any number of strategies that can make ALA a truly hybrid association.

At the memberships meetings on e-participation individual commenters spoke on the need for keeping any and all meetings open and accessible to members (there seems to be a fear that virtual meetings will lead to more secrecy and lack of participation but my experience has been that e-meetings are more open and allow for greater attendance), expressed concerns that the technology will inhibit discussion and allow the more technology-adept participants to control discussions (again, if anything, my experience has been that attendees are much more likely to participate virtually – and let’s face it – strong personalities can easily control and influence F2F meetings), and shared fears that e-participation will lead to the demise of ALA.

I stand behind my statement that anything you can do in a F2F meeting you can do in a virtual meeting – including voting. Granted, we sacrifice non-verbal communication to some degree (with webcams we can support video participation), but both F2F and e-meetings have their tradeoffs (e.g., high cost of conference attendance versus ease and affordability of e-participation). My feeling is that if you look at the overall tradeoffs between a traditional F2F ALA and a 21st century hybrid ALA, I strongly believe every library worker has far more to gain from a hybrid ALA than he or she stands to lose from moving to an e-participation future.

ALA needs a BHAG (big hairy audacious goal) and the time is right for shifting directions to a hybrid association by 2015. When you examine all the factors that support e-participation – costs and hassle of air travel (sure to get even worse); rising costs of conference housing and meals; environmental impact of conference travel; waves of e-graduates from LIS programs – it looks more and more like the best decision. Of course, for 2015 the conference location is San Francisco, a city ALA has bypassed for many years. It may be hard to for ALA members to pass up a chance to go to San Francisco. But San Francisco or no, let’s hear it for “Hybrid by 2015”.

Learning from the Lunsfords’ “Mistakes”

A new national study on errors in student writing asks whether the top mistakes noted in previous studies have changed much in the digital era.

OMG! Turns out students aren’t making significantly more errors, rising from 2.11 mistakes per 100 words in a 1917 study to 2.45 in this 2006 data.

The big shift, though, is in what and how much students are writing. Compared to a similar study of first year writing conducted in 1986, papers are 2.5 times longer than they were twenty years ago. And the researched paper has edged out the personal narrative as the most common writing assignment. In 1986, over half of writing assignments were personal; now the most common assignments are researched argument or report, an argument with few or no sources, and close reading and analysis. The biggest single category is research-based, which accounts for 33% of the 877 writing samples used in the study.

Together, the two shifts are we have identified suggest that student writers today are tackling the kind of issues that require inquiry and investigation as well as reflection and that students are writing more than ever before.

This change leads to another kind of mistake. A large number of errors were in the use of sources, particularly in their documentation.

Such struggles seem to us a natural and necessary part of the practice that students must do to become familiar with, much less master, any one documentation style: after all, entering the conversation in a field, showing that you know the issues and have something to contribute to them, choosing among a huge range of possible sources, and using them to document the work related to any particular topic are not easy skills to develop, especially for novice writers.

Bottom line: We’re much more likely to have first year students who are asked to write from sources than twenty years ago, which in turn may suggest a greater commitment on the part of their instructors to information literacy, even if they’re teaching this kind of writing as a service to more advanced courses.

Non-hyper link: Andrea A. Lunsford and Karen J. Lunsford, “‘Mistakes are a Part of Life’: A National Comparative Study.” College Composition and Communication 59.4 (June 2008): 781-806.

It’s Because Of The Students

Stephanie asks a good question in her post. What the heck do faculty want from us librarians? Another good question is what do the faculty think of their students. Two Chronicle essays this week reveal quite different answers to that question, and what I find interesting is that these opinions come from two very different faculty members, one a fully tenured professor and the other an adjunct. But both seem to be asking themselves why they are working in academia.

The tenured professor of history is sick of his students and writes:

My main problem, which becomes less tolerable with every passing year, is the students. My best are mediocre. The worst are semiliterate. Grading a stack of exams or papers is a painful experience.

Having already gained tenure and full professor status the dilemma here is what to do next. That’s why he points out that one of his favorite songs is The Clash tune “Should I Stay Or Should I Go”. The author readily admits that many struggling academic historians would give anything to be in his place, but that doesn’t make him feel any better about his situation.

The adjunct has a completely different problem – and a different outlook:

Here, then, is what I have learned about being an adjunct faculty member. The classroom experience is wonderful. Students are still interested in learning, and some are truly remarkable people. My interaction with them has been everything I had hoped for and more.

What makes academia so frustrating for the adjunct isn’t the students. It’s her dean and full-time faculty colleagues. They hardly know she’s alive and certainly do nothing to make her a welcome member of the department or make her adjunct role any easier in terms of administrative matters.

I’m not exactly sure what to conclude from these two very different perspectives on interacting with students but it does make me think about Stephanie’s question, and what it is that faculty think of librarians, what they want from us and how we can best be of help to them. Back in my days as a higher education administration graduate student I recall my professor who described the faculty in terms of “their unique dualism”. He referred to the faculty having dual loyalties to their institution and to their discipline, and that for many faculty the loyalty to the discipline was far stronger. Perhaps the other way to perceive that dualism is in the relationship with others, such as students and librarians. On one hand the students are at the core of the institution and should be the primary concern of faculty, but over time some faculty, such as our history professor, can come to have great disdain for their students. That must no doubt cause immense internal conflict.

So I wonder if faculty have a dualistic view of us academic librarians. Do they perceive us as incredibly helpful, intellectually beneficial colleagues or are we seen as contemptible, made-obsolete-by-the-Internet support staff who simply suck up resources that could otherwise be spent on the faculty? I guess we won’t know the answer until a faculty member assumes a pseudonym and does a Chronicle tell-all about their relationship with librarians. But to answer Stephanie’s question, let’s assume it’s the former rather than the latter and concentrate our efforts on doing all that we can to make the work of faculty easier for them so that they can spend more time on their students and research and less time navigating the labyrinth of information resources we’ve created. It may also be helpful to segment the faculty. They don’t all think or see their work in the same way as illustrated by our two Chronicle essays, so why treat them all the same way. Perhaps the safest approach is to assume all faculty have a WIIFM perspective and operate on the assumption that everything we do should make clear to our faculty what’s in it for them.

Let’s hope that the next time Stephanie scours the faculty blogoverse for signs of “here’s what I want from my librarian” she finds some better information for us – or any signs that they think about us at all.

What Do Faculty Want from Librarians?

It’s official: I am now the librarian for psychology at the University of Connecticut, in addition to my responsibilities of working with folks in communication sciences. I’ve recently met with the chair of the department, who wanted to know what I “might be able to do to help psychology.” I know generally what he’s asking, so I have made copies of emails to the communication department touting my services, last year’s presentation to communication graduate students, and printouts of UConn’s web pages for psychology (databases recent books & faculty publications).

But the question got me thinking: what do faculty and academic deans want from academic librarians? I spend a lot of time thinking about what undergraduate and graduate students want – and can handle – from the library, but this question shifted my focus to faculty and department chairs.

I turned to my trusty Google Custom Search Engine, which searches over 30 faculty blogs and searched the word “librarian.” I found very few results; a blog commenter who said his parents were both librarians, and a couple of entries from Janet D. Stemwedel over at Adventures in Ethics and Science … because she’s linking to my e-buddy John Dupuis’ blog Confessions of a Science Librarian. A search on the word “library” returned more results, but they still weren’t relevant. PhDinHistory blogger Sterling Fluharty wrote an intriguing post about a year ago called Why History PhD Students Should Learn to Think Like Reference Librarians; although this is interesting, it’s more about making students independent of librarians rather than talking about what services they’d like to see from librarians. There was one post that, while it doesn’t answer the question, does nicely promote the library to new undergraduates: “[C]ollege libraries normally have professional librarians. These are people who are experts at finding information for you. Ask them if you need something. They can often find what you want even if that particular library doesn’t stock it.” Yay! Thanks to Astroprof for that nice shout out at “How to be an effective college student.”

Still, there’s very little from the horse’s mouth (as it were) about what faculty want from librarians. I think what they want includes:

  • Effective, efficient, and non-intrusive instruction for their students (graduate and undergraduate) on how to make good use of library resources. They don’t want students to use Google, but they also don’t want to give us much classroom time.
  • Easy access to identifying and getting full-text of relevant, important articles in their field. Perhaps also how to find out who’s cited them (or their colleagues, if they are on a tenure or promotion committee) – but they don’t want this finding to take too much time.
  • The ability to manage citations efficiently and effectively, and from multiple locations, for their own articles and for those they are co-authoring. But they don’t want to spend too much time on this.

Once we’ve identified these tasks, how can we best a) tell faculty that these are our simple goals and b) teach them these tasks in a manner they will understand? Lisa Hinchliffe blogs in The Librarians are Everywhere: “the best opportunities to connect with faculty come from seeing them at meetings, events, presentations” where informal conversations can take place. I’ve written about holding academic office hours, which is good for informally meeting both students and faculty.

But back to my chair’s question: what can the librarian do to help the department? I’m stumped for a “sound bite” sized answer. I guess it really boils down to telling them what I’ve said in this post, using language that faculty understand (which is pretty much the same as library language that undergraduates understand…), and then being where they are, talking to them informally, sending out short emails which point them to this or that nifty, time-saving resource.

Librarian blog readers, what can you do to help your department?