Sweaty Guy Goes to Work for the Times

Drinking lots of coffee and reading the New York Times is one of my favorite Sunday morning rituals. (I live in a part of the country where that’s the only day you can get the Times delivered.) But lately it’s a pleasure partially spoiled by the full-page ad that appears every week in the op-ed section. Dressed fashionably in black, with a bright orange Gothic T logo, it seems to be a hip new incarnation of the famous “sweaty-guy” from the Questia ads.

College students, meet your new research assistant.

Looking for help with that research paper? Find it at TimesSelect, the premium service at nytimes.com. With Times Select, you’ll get access to 25 years of articles from the Times – articles on politics, history, science, art, business, sports, and just about any other subject you’re assigned. And TimesSelect also offers e-mail alerts whenever a new article on your topic appears.

How many ways can the New York Times sell itself to the same student? At my library we get the paper, the microfilm, the LexisNexis version, the Proquest version AND the Student Senate sponsors a newspaper program for a once-a-year student fee … and still students will say, glumly, at the reference desk “I found a great story in the New York Times but they wanted money for it, so . . . can you help me find something else?”

We’ve been activists about making scholarship freely available on the Web, but we aren’t doing a very good job of making sure people know they have free access to the same resources that they are being enticed to pay for through the Internet. Just don’t wait for the New York Times or any other publisher to point it out. As Lawrence Lessig joked last November at the NYPL’s “Battle of the Books” event, when someone pointed out that people who discover books via the Google library project might avoid buying them by going to the library, “This is den of piracy, right here – the library.” Why stop at selling the library an exhorbitantly expensive institutional subscription when you can keep selling the same content to the same market multiple times?

The only good news about this pitch is that most students are too savvy to imagine they could use one newspaper as their only source for papers in history, science, or politics.

And we can rest assured the Sweaty Guy finished his paper, graduated, and got a good job with the Newspaper of Record.

Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts

  • When “Good Enough” Isn’t
  • One of the things I like about blogging for ACRLog is that I get to share some of my favorite writers and their columns with the readers – especially when they can add interesting perspectives to our understanding of higher education. One of the columns I’ve been following for a number of years is The Irascible Professor. The IP (really Dr. Mark Shapiro) works at Krispy Kreme University somewhere in California. This week’s installment features a guest column titled “Just Tell Me I’m Wonderful and Give Me An A“. The author describes the difficulty in delivering constructive criticism to students who’ve been handed “A”s in most of their college courses even though their writing (and no doubt research skills to match) is atrocious. There have been a number of articles in the library literature, on issues related to student research skills, that suggest librarians should be satisfied when student research is just “good enough.” I suppose the problem with “good enough”, as this column suggests, is that it’s relative. When students finally confront a professor that does not accept “good enough” and who sets higher expectations for research, it can cause students to react badly. If we consider ourselves teachers, then perhaps we – and our faculty colleagues – ought to pay more attention to raising our expectations for student research rather than allowing them to settle for good enough.

  • What Can We Learn From An MTV Study
  • Last week MTV released a study titled “Just Cause.” This study explores youth activism and what factors motivate students to engage in social causes. Since the study examines the behavior of youth ages 12 through 24, I thought there might be something there that could shed some light on how academic librarians might improve their ability to connect with students. It is important to pay attention to demographic and behavioral studies of our primary user community. So what did I learn (I browsed through the complete 81 page version of the report)? For one thing, within this population segment there are several subgroups identified by names such as “candy strippers”, “teacher’s pet”, “watchers” and “growers”. The data tables may be worth a look if you want to learn more about sources of influence and factors that motivate students to volunteer in communities. But overall, I didn’t see anything of a truly revealing nature in this report. But it does show that a segment within the younger generation does seek out volunteer opportunities and service to their community. How might we tap into the passion for activism that is found in the younger generation? Are there ways in which academic librarians could support student involvement in their communities? It’s something worth thinking about.

  • Libraries Losing To Google On The Comic Page
  • You know that Google has truly permeated popular culture when it’s the subject of a Family Circus cartoon. In Friday’s strip (4/28 – unfortunately not on the web) Billy’s doing some research and claims “It’s easier to Google people than to find them in an encyclopedia” – and that’s while the Mom is holding the encyclopedia volume. Hardly a ringing endorsement for traditional research tools I’d say. I guess this proves Billy is a Millennial. Well, we can only hope in a future strip Dolly will have some words of wisdom about doing research the old fashioned way.

    But Google’s presence in the comics didn’t stop there. The very next day (Sat. 4/29), in Overboard, Louie and Raymond – two dogs for those who don’t follow this strip about goofy pirates – are Googling “dirty pictures” on their laptop computer. So I thought it was bad enough that Billy Googles for his homework, but then I find out that even dogs that live on a pirate ship are using Google for their research.

    Not that I’ve got anything against Google but you might think that the library would eventually get some good publicity in the comics. Not so. The last library sighting I recall is from that Zits strip from a few weeks ago in which Jeremy is doing some history research on the computer while his mother remininces about going to the library. After he finishes his research in several seconds (also a Millennial) Jeremy says “Wait, you went to a library?”. Again, hardly a ringing endorsement.

    So even in the world of comics Google is getting all the attention, while libraries are getting dissed. I can only imagine what sort of impact this is having on all the impressionable youth who turn to the comics for their reading pleasure.

  • Will Just Keep An Eye On Second Life For Now
  • I read the BusinessWeek article on Second Life with great interest. It’s an interesting concept, and seems to be a logical next step in the wave of social community development taking place on the web. When you join Second Life you can, as the article says “roam endless landscapes and cityscapes, chat with friends, create virtual homes on plots of imaginary land, and conduct real business.” You had to know that some librarians would try to get involved in this, and it appears a group has already created a library for this virtual world. I’m not quite sure I get it yet, but perhaps this is part of the “be where the users are” movement. For now I’ll just keep an eye on this one. I think we’ve still got plenty of work to do in our “first life”, especially when many of our students are turning to Internet search engines for their assignment-based research. Let’s do our best to connect with them in local places and virtual learning spaces before we broaden our reach into new virtual worlds beyond our academic communities.

    Sure I’d Attend The ACRL Virtual Conference – If It Was Free

    How many ACRL members share this sentiment? I raise this question because of a comment submitted to a previous post about the ACRL virtual conference, asking if any thought has been given to making the ACRL Virtual Conference a free event. And that’s a good point to raise. After all, there are a fair number of free web conferencing opportunities being promoted throughout the year. Why does ACRL charge a fee to attend the conference? Is this just another way that ALA tries to vacuum money out of its members’ wallets (or conference budget line)? Honestly, I have no intimate knowledge about the economics of the ACRL conference, so I don’t have a good answer to the question.

    I do know that putting on a virtual conference has costs attached. The organization that provides the conferencing infrastructure has expenses, and ACRL can’t expect to use their (in this case, The Learning Times Network) resources for free during a two-day conference. We couldn’t expect to use the New Orleans Convention Center for free, could we? I’m sure there were other costs as well. Perhaps ACRL could do more to find sponsors who would support the cost of the virtual conference, allowing them to lower the registration fee. On the other hand, I think there may be some positive outcomes because ACRL does charge a fee for their Virtual Conference. Consider the following:

  • ACRL supports great programs and benefits for members. There are scholarships, such as those that allow many younger members to attend the national conference for the first time. There are grants, such as those that allow sections and regional chapters to offer special programming to their members. These benefits have costs associated with them, and I’m quite sure that any revenues from a Virtual Conference help to support these activities.
  • Virtual conferences should be more intimate. I like that I’m not a tiny dot in a huge auditorium with hundreds or thousands of folks. As a virtual presenter I find that when the number of attendees gets too large (nice that lots of folks wanted to hear my presentation, but…) we lose some of the intimacy of our learning space. With just 50 to 100 attendees there are ample opportunities for active participation, and for engagment between speakers and attendees – and among the attendees themselves. I felt that many of the sessions were more like classrooms in which I was listening to a lecturer, and then engaging in a discussion with classmates (many of us attended the same sessions during the conference so we got to know each other just a bit). That’s the intimacy I’m talking about. You don’t need to have a PhD in economics to figure out what impact making the conference free will have on attendence. Say so long to small crowds and intimate sessions. It’s something you rarely get at a national F2F conference, and I’d hate to lose it in the virtual space. Please don’t interpret this as as an elistist or exclusionist statement, but if a registration fee keeps the number of attendees present at a number that makes for a better virtual learning experience I don’t think that’s such a bad thing.

    What if ACRL did make the virtual conference free? Would you register? I think more members certainly would. And would they show up? When any program or event is free those who registered have less of a commitment to attend, and I do believe that virtual conferences require a certain commitment factor. By commitment I mean making sure you have taken the time to test your PC before the conference to make sure it works and you are ready to log in the day of the first program. I mean investing in a microphone so you can participate more fully. I mean clearing your calendar so you’ll be free all day to log in to conference sessions. If the attitude’s going to be “maybe I’ll give this a try the day of the conference” it’s not going to work well for you, the presenter or other attendees. To my way of thinking, having a registration fee in place helps to ensure those who attend are seriously interested and have made a commitment. That’s going to make it a better conference experience all participants.

    Perhaps ACRL could make some of the poster sessions and a selected presentation archive or two available for free after the conference. Not only would this be a great gesture for the members who didn’t attend, for whatever reason, but it might encourage them to do so in the future after getting a taste of virtual conferencing. I’m sure there are going to be many free virtual webcast events throughout the year, such as those offered by the Blended Librarians Online Learning Community, OPAL, Web Junction, SirsiDynix, and others. If you try them and find virtual conferencing is a form of professional development that appeals to you, give some thought to registering for a fee-based, more intensive experience like ACRL’s virtual conference. I think you would find it to be a great value for money considering how much you can learn right at your desktop. And speaking of great value, there are several presentations and poster sessions that I can choose from to use for staff development (ACRL is fine if you use your conference registration to log in and share a session with others – up to a year after the conference – but it’s not kosher to pass your conference login account to others to use as they wish). As an administrator how much might you spend sending staff to F2F conferences and workshops to get the same level of training. From that perspective the registration fee is an even better value.

  • Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts

    I will readily admit that I’m lifting this title from one of the great all-time sports columnists, Bill Lyon, who not long ago retired after writing for the Philadelphia Inquirer for many years. Published every couple of Saturdays, “Sudden Thoughts and Second Thoughts” was something to look forward to, as it provided a delectable mix of miscellaneous observations and reactions. I hope he won’t mind me using it. Here are a few I had recently:

  • Infolust
  • A couple of bloggers mentioned the April 2006 briefing from TrendWatching.com about “Infolust“. It’s a good read, so take a look if you haven’t yet. Your comments on this piece will be appreciated as I’d like to know what other academic librarians are thinking. See if “Infolust” doesn’t describe some of the research behavior you see at your library. The question – or challenge – for academic librarians is how do we respond to users driven by Infolust. While Infolust is certainly about instant information gratification, one observation I make is that Infolust is also about power and empowerment – making users feel empowered. Can academic libraries somehow tap into the user’s Infolust so that we can develop within them an appreciation of satisfying one’s Infolust in the library’s information environment? I know what you’re thinking. The instant gratification factor is not there. But wouldn’t having the ability to master more sophisticated information tools – especially when they can enable you to kick butt on academic research assignments – offer a form of information gratification. That’s something worth thinking about.

  • Microsoft Academic Search
  • There was a fair amount of blogging and discussion list chatter last week about Microsoft’s big news – a new Academic Search engine. Microsoft will be going head-to-head with Google Scholar. I think I’ve seen no less than five or six librarian bloggers giving their personal reviews, but if you want the basic facts go to Resourceshelf. Since more than a few academic libraries have invested resources in creating connections from within Google Scholar, will they seek to do the same with Academic Search – or choose one over the other? On their well-placed link for librarians Microsoft wastes no time pushing for open URL link resolver connections from within Academic Search. Although the content is rather limited right now, there’s a lot to like. If you haven’t done so yet, take a closer look this week.

  • Who’s a Self-Promoter
  • Just because you blog, does that make you a self-promoter? What about publishing an article in a library journal? Are you just communicating ideas or research with colleagues, or are you out to be an “A-list” academic librarian? These are some of the questions raised by a blog post by Walt Crawford last week. Apparently he had some concerns about a reference to “movers and shakers” (LJ’s annual collection) made by The Shifted Librarian. I won’t rehash what created a fair amount of commentary; you can read Walt’s post for that – which will give you a better sense of why I’m writing about self-promotion. From my perspective the vast majority of academic librarians who simply publish, present, or blog are not self-promoters. If you’re good, others will know it and that may result in some unintended recognition. I think that’s how most folks end up as LJ Movers & Shakers. And like every award handed out in libraryland, there are many deserving folks who are not recognized. So I just linked to a post I wrote a while ago. Am I self-promoting my own writing? What if I link to an article I wrote in a journal? I think I’m just trying to get you read something related to the conversation. You may think I’m trying to broaden my personal sphere of influence. Certainly we all occasionally see evidence of shameless self-promotion in an attempt to obtain speaking engagements, requests to contribute articles, or to broaden one’s reputation in the profession. We have to accept it will happen, and live and let live. If you have a good idea or something worth communicating, share it with ACRLog (like Brian Mathews did – which garnered a few mentions in the LISblogoverse). Don’t let concerns about being accused of shameless self-promotion keep you from communicating ideas or news that could benefit your colleagues. I think most academic librarians have the good sense to know where the line is between enthusiasm for sharing ideas and shameless self-promotion – and to avoid crossing it.