Getting Information the Easy Way

You may have been following the Jack Anderson files story covered in the Chronicle of Higher Education. An essay in the Washington Post adds one academic’s experience being questioned by the FBI.

Mark Feldstein makes at least two interesting points. First, the government’s willingness to share information with the public is inversely correlated to their desire to obtain it from us; no surprise there. Second, the feebs could use a crash course in information literacy.

The agents said they are investigating espionage involving two indicted lobbyists for the pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and they wanted me to tell them the names of former Jack Anderson reporters who were pro-Israel in their views or who had pro-Israeli sources… I tried to explain to the agents why it was extremely unlikely there could be anything in our files relevant to their criminal case: Jack Anderson had been sick with Parkinson’s disease since 1986 and had done very little original investigative reporting after that.

If the agents had done even rudimentary research, they would have known that. The fact that they didn’t was disturbing, because it suggested that the bureau viewed reporters’ notes as the first stop in a criminal investigation rather than as a last step reluctantly taken only after all other avenues have failed. That’s the standard the FBI is supposed to use under Justice Department guidelines designed to protect media freedom.

Note to Special Agents everywhere: If information literacy isn’t part of the curriculum at the FBI Academy, just stop by a library. We’ll show you how it works. And you won’t even need a warrant.

And, You Thought It Was Just Us

It’s become pretty commonplace to discuss the pace of change in libraries and in the academic library profession – how quick it’s coming, how significant it is for us to manage effectively, etc. – so it’s nice (I suppose) to see that it’s not just us.

This morning’s IHE has an article on a new book on the faculty profession that “argues that we are experiencing ‘a revolution’ in academic life that will be equal in its lasting significance to such events as the importation of the research university model to the United States in the late 19th century or the “massification” of higher education after World War II.” Among the changes to the profession that the authors note are the recruitment and retention patterns, which, if memory serves, are among our “Top Issues,” as well.

For those who want the whole story, you can find The American Faculty: The Restructuring of Academic Work and Careers at your favorite vendor.

Talk of change has been popping up all over for 10 (20?) years in libraryland, but what this book should help us all to see is that talking about “change” is not simply a management fad, nor is it simply about innovations in technology. The library and the university are among the oldest and most stable social institutions the world has ever seen, and, for both, “the pace of change has accelerated dramatically.”

The question for all of us is how well we deal with it.

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.

    Comedies of Fair U$e at NYU

    There’s a very interesting conference starting today and continuing through the weekend at New York University on “The Comedies of Fair Use.” Not only does it feature Lawrence Lessig and Siva Vaidhyanathan, but Art Spiegelman, Jonathan Lethem, and lots of other interesting people will be there. A full schedule is available here.

    If you’re in the New York area, head downtown tonight for the opening… and be sure to take notes so you can send us a report.