What Google Teaches

Pamela Martin, in her article “Google as teacher” in February 2006 College and Research Libraries News contends that Google teaches its users to only look at the first page of results, to have difficulty broadening searches, and to feel stupid if they can’t find information quickly. In The World is Flat, Tom Friedman contends that Google is a flattening force in that it enables more people to find information for themselves (instead of going through an intermediary like a librarian) by “just Googling it.” I feel Google has impacted reference work by making the questions we get more difficult. Students now go to a librarian when their first pass through Google doesn’t work or they need more or different information. Recently I’ve been frustrated in that when I show students really good reference books, they just treat them as if they don’t exist. I have trouble understanding this. The book is here, it has really good information, you are right here, why don’t you look at this book? Does Google also teach that print reference books are somehow bad or unnecessary?

Yet Another Leadership Development Opportunity

If you’re not already planning to attend the Frye Leadership Institute or the ACRL/Harvard Leadership Institute, you may be interested by the newest entrant in the field, the Peabody College Academic Library Leadership Institute to be held for the first time this summer at Vanderbilt University.

The latest collaboration between Patricia Senn Breivik and E. Gordon Gee, who brought us the landmark Information Literacy: Revolution in the Library almost 20 years ago, the Institute promises to explore “new roles for libraries that may emerge from [the broader context of higher education] to support the goals and priorities of the parent institution. ”

Also interesting is Vanderbilt’s challenge to other leadership development programs:

“The focus on understanding leadership and the external environment, coupled with an in depth understanding of the higher education context of libraries, distinguishes Vanderbilt’s institute from others, which emphasize management skills and the internal library organization.”

Wow – anyone from Harvard or EDUCAUSE want to reply to that one?

Without taking anything away from what will undoubtedly be an excellent program at Vanderbilt, it seems a bit unfair to suggest that some of their competitors in an increasingly busy “summer institute” market aren’t also taking a broad view of the role of the library leader as educational leader.

One thing that did disappoint me in reading the program overview is that, despite the presence of Breivik and one of her colleagues on the National Forum on Information Literacy on the faculty, I didn’t see information literacy noted as a curricular area for discussion. Topics such as strategic planning, human resource development, and fund development are common fare among many library leadership development programs and it would have been nice to see this program stake out some new territory by including a clear focus on the place of the library in the teaching and learning landscape on campus.

Start your engines because applications are due March 1st!

Top Trends in Public Services

Also at the Heads of Public Services Discussion Group that Steven mentioned was the following listing of “Top Trends in Public Services”:

*Institutional Repositories
*Marketing/Promotion of Services
*Recruitment of Staff
*Scholarly Communications
*Providing Seamless Services from the Desktop
*Staff Training and Development
*Trends and Directions in IT
*University Partnerships Between Librarians and the Faculty
*Services to Alumni/Donors
*”With Google, I don’t need you anymore”
*”Integrating Library Resources into Course Management Systems”
*Learning Communities in the Libraries

Now, if you read these like I do, you’ll see that several of these are not actually “trends,” but “issues” or “problems” (how is “space” a trend, for example?). So, for what it’s worth, I offer the following as a start at re-envisioning some of these issues as actual trends. I trust others to add to and edit my list (disclaimer: some of these may overlap; this is a moving target and I am writing off the top of my head):

*Collaborating Across Campus – not only with members of the classroom faculty, but with student affairs educators, coaches, student clubs, faculty development experts, and others. Learning occurs in a variety of venues other than the classroom, and we must be creative and entrepreneurial if we are to demonstrate how we can collaborate with colleagues across the learning landscape in an effort to keep library public services at the heart of the university.

*Meeting Users Where They Live – whether the discussion is integration of library services and resources into course management systems, campus portals, social networking sites (e.g., FaceBook), residence halls, student clubs, athletic events, or departmental meetings, the message is the same – to keep the “library brand” at the forefront of user consciousness in an increasingly crowded information environment, we need to be in the places – physical and virtual – that they already frequent. This trend has significant implications for the skill set required of public services librarians and the ways in which central library services need to be configured to interact with IT environments outside the library. Also included in this trend would be the increasing collaboration between libraries and others in the creation of new learning spaces (both inside and outside library buildings).

*Deploying Expertise – as various trends conspire to make information and instructional services increasingly important across campus, while digital delivery of content conspires to reduce gate counts, we will have to be (say it again!) creative and entrepreneurial about developing structures that support the deployment and diffusion of professional expertise from the library across campus. Public services will revolve around providing faculty development programs, train-the-trainers models and materials, and a dedication to outreach to defined communities of users. As information literacy becomes an increasingly important part of lifelong learning, those of us in public institutions will be increasingly called upon to partner with colleagues in the community, including public and school librarians, to form one hub of the information literate community.

*Committing to Continuing Professional Education – not only do we have to integrate lively professional development programs into the library, but we have to build connections between in-house programs and campus programs, which might be housed in Human Resources, the Center for Teaching, Instructional Media, or elsewhere. Moreover, library leaders need to create systems that actually encourage (allow?) librarians and library staff to take advantage of these programs and that recognize and reward individual commitment to professional development.

*Scholarly Communications – It’s Not Just for Collections Folks Anymore – early discussions of the scholarly communication crisis were led by leaders in collection development (serials pricing) and digital initiatives (institutional repositories), but a knowledge of scholarly communications issues and options is increasingly required of all public services librarians. Building instructional and outreach programs that encompass information literacy and scholarly communication expertise is going to be increasingly expected of large libraries, and supporting this diffusion of expertise will be as great a challenge as was the diffusion of expertise regarding the World Wide Web a decade ago.

*Providing Seamless Services at the Desktop – this one was right on, except they forgot to mention mobile technology. Providing services solely to the desktop is “so 2001”!

*Accountability – whether the discussion is assessment of user perceptions (LIBQUAL+) or assessment of student learning (SAILS, ETS), libraries (like our colleagues across campus) are increasingly being asked to demonstrate their value to the core missions of the campus and to demonstrate attentiveness to “consumer concerns.” Not only does this imperative have significant implications for allocation of professional time (i.e., an assessment program does not run itself), but also leads us toward a dynamic view of public services in which some traditional services – if little used – may be de-emphasized, while emergent services may require greater time and effort.

That’s enough for now, and this post is way too long. I’ve gone out of my way not to provide rankings, but you may wish to argue for one or the other (or something new) as part of a Top 5.

Oh, and one more major trend – in my library, our instruction statistics are up almost 100% since 2000. In my last library, the jump was closer to 160% over the same period. That’s a major trend with implications for recruitment, professional and continuing education, expectations and annual review of library staff, allocation of professional time, use of non-MLS professionals and para-professionals, the place of the library as an instructional center on campus, and, literally, perceptions of the professional role of the academic librarian on campus.

Get Ready For Another Great Debate

If you attended the ALA conference in Toronto in 2003, and many librarians chose not to, perhaps you had the good fortune to attend “The Great Debate.” This program featured a group of librarians engaging in a formal debate about the future of the library building. One team argued that academic institutions no longer needed physical library facilities while the other team made its case for the necessity of the library as physical place. I don’t think either team converted anyone in the audience, but it was a fun and thought provoking event.

Well it appears the success of that session was not lost on the committee responsible for planning the ACRL President’s Program for ALA’s 2006 conference in New Orleans. They’ve chosen the debate format for the program. The actual title of the program will be: The Emperor Has No Clothes: Be It Resolved That Information Literacy is a Fad and Waste of Librarian Time and Talent.

The debate will be moderated by James Neal, Vice President for Information Services and University Librarian, Columbia University. One debating team is composed of Stanley Wilder, Associate Dean in the Library, University of Rochester, and Jeff Rutenbeck, Associate Professor and Director Digital Media Studies, University of Denver. The other team is composed of Julie B. Todaro, Dean, Library Services, Austin Community College, and Gary P. Radford, Professor of Communication Studies, Fairleigh Dickinson University. Think you can guess which team will be arguing that information literacy is a waste of time?

Here’s the advance description of the program:

Two teams will debate the relevance of information literacy as we know it. Is information literacy a concept created by academic librarians to make themselves more relevant to the curriculum or is it one of our most important roles? Is information literacy critical thinking in disguise or is there a real body of knowledge to be communicated? Does civil society’s dependence on life-long learners require the acquisition of information literacy skills? Can libraries justify the expenditures they’ve made on teaching information literacy or do the data suggest otherwise? This debate will test our assumptions and beliefs about a core element of the academic librarians’ role in the educational process.

I suppose ACRL members could debate among themselves the value of this program. For one thing, it seems an odd choice of topic for an organization for which information literacy is an established priority. Perhaps it is beneficial for an organization to have its core values questioned from time to time in order to confirm whether or not those values still make sense for the organization and its constituency. I think we all know in advance that if the “it’s a waste of time” team wins the debate it’s highly unlikely to affect ACRL’s commitment to information literacy. But perhaps a bit of controversy will make some good food for thought.

It also seems this issue, when Wilder’s Chronicle Review piece (“Information Literacy Makes All The Wrong Assumptions”) first appeared, received a reasonable vetting from folks such as Esther Grassian , various bloggers, on discussion lists, and at regional academic library conferences. Does the issue need to be rehashed? Actually the debate format as proposed may add to our understanding of and own thinking of the value of information literacy by polarizing the issues and forcing us to take one side or the other. Imagine there is no middle ground. Where do you stand? Adding faculty members to the debate teams should also give us better insight into their perspectives on information literacy. It may help us to communicate with faculty on our own campuses, both those who support and oppose (or are indifferent to) information literacy.

The bottom line is that this debate, not unlike the one held in Toronto, is unlikely to change the position of any librarian that attends. But I think it has symbolic value as a forum in which we can reaffirm that information literacy is an important component of education at every level. Whichever side you may take in this debate it will certainly present a fun opportunity to come out and cheer for your team or howl in derision at their opponents. I plan to be there.