Are Your Faculty “Library-Ready”?

Tomorrow’s Professor has posted a piece asking its faculty readers a very interesting question: Are You a 21st-Century, Library-Ready Instructor?.

Reading this piece took me back to my days in library school, during which I balanced my LIS studies (and work in the Indiana University Libraries) with my ongoing responsibilities as an instructor for the IU School of Education. I don’t know if I ever had a learning experience in any of my LIS classes as powerful as the one I had on the day that I watched my undergraduate teacher education students in the Education Library trying to conduct research for the paper I had assigned them. I had been giving that assignment for 4 years, and I thought I had honed it to crystal clarity. Watching my students struggle to define their research topics and to locate resources in the library, I realized that my “crystal clear” assignment was virtually opaque to the average undergraduate. Very humbling. I was not yet, evidence suggested, a “library-ready instructor” (I’m much better now, of course)!

Reading the discussion of faculty perceptions of information commons projects and other library renovations aimed at enhancing the library experience for contemporary undergraduates also reminded me strongly of debates we’ve had on our own campus, where, just as in this article, commitments to renovate and improve user space have dovetailed with a review of our serial allocations (the piece does not make the critical distinction between one-time money and serial commitments, but why nit-pick?). The authors suggestions about how to pitch the information commons as an opportunity for instructional innovation – one in which classroom faculty members and librarians can collaborate closely – were also very familiar, as they are very much like those we have used here at Kansas over the past 2 years to promote use of the Collaborative Learning Environment designed by a committee with representatives from the Libraries, IT, Instructional Development & Support, and the Center for Teaching Excellence (anyone who is interested in what that looks like, and who has access to ECAR publications, can find a short discussion of the CLE in the EDUCAUSE library).

“Is the library information commons a frill, or can it be an essential tool for teaching the 21st century learner?” The answer is, of course, that it can be an essential tool if classroom faculty and librarians work together to make sure that it is used that way, and this piece gives the reader a nice way of looking at things.

Do We Need Library 3.0?

Okay, so what does Library 2.0 really mean in practice? What are the bigger implications?

A dissenting opinion to Kevin Kelley’s “Scan this Book” article has been filed in the court of public opinion by the Wall Street Journal. Like John Updike, Lee Gomes thinks the idea of mixing commentary into works is a poor substitute for the kind of interactivity that traditionally happens between a book and its reader.

It is an odd state of affairs when books or movies need defending, especially when the replacement proffered by certain Web-oriented companies and their apologists is so dismally inferior: chunks and links and other bits of evidence of epidemic ADD. Reading some stray person’s comment on the text I happen to be reading is about as appealing as hearing what the people in the row behind me are saying about the movie I’m watching.

Apart from questioning the value of such remix culture, libraries need to grapple with some conflicting values that are heightened by technological opportunity. We think good sources have authority, but we hesitate to tell readers which are best (though we don’t mind putting best sellers and prize winners on our websites). We believe that it’s good to cite sources and share what we know; but we also believe what we read should be utterly private. We want to engage in social networking and empower our users, so we imitate Amazon and invite reader reviews; we also know such reviews can be manipulative and aren’t the same as carefully constructed reviews by experts. We love the idea of LibraryThing, but we are leery of storing patron reading records because we know everything you read could be used against you in a court of law. We like personalization, but when it’s done by computer, information on individuals is retained in ways that we have traditionally avoided – for good reason.

While librarians worry about Big Brother, legislators worry about the hypothetical Uncle Nasty. Legislation limiting social networking sites is protecting the baby by throwing it out its bathwater, its bathtub, and saying it must never, ever bathe, because … well, you have to get naked to take a bath and it might give somebody dirty thoughts. On the other hand, forcing ISPs to keep all records in case some of them include child pornography or tracking millions of phone records because some may be useful in prosecuting terrorists is a departure from interpretations of the fourth amendment that limit such searches to individuals for whom there is some evidence of involvement in criminal activity. Until now, the rest of us have had a reasonable expectation of privacy. To continue the (rather ridiculous) baby/bathwater metaphor, this is like making us all get naked to make sure none of us is concealing a weapon. If Uncle Nasty has a security clearance, he’s having a field day, but it’s making the rest of us mighty uncomfortable.

Libraries need to find an ethical way to let our patrons do the kinds of record keeping and sharing they find useful and even natural while making sure such activities either are protected or that users are fully informed about the privacy they are giving up and its potential consequences. Most of our discussions have been “get with the program or die” or “get with the program and our values die.”

Take a look at the discussion over on Library Juice and give it some thought. We surely can come up with a way to do what libraries do best – share – while staying true to our values. But it won’t happen until we think through all the implications with our patrons.

And Speaking Of Citations And Citing

I applaud the Chronicle of Higher Education for their article in this week’s issue about citation (personal bibliographic management (PBM)) software because I think it will help to make more faculty aware of these products and their availability from the campus library. In turn, the more that faculty are aware of products such as EndNote and RefWorks (both mentioned prominently in the article) the better they can communicate their availability to students. I think the academic library community knows how much time PBM software can save our faculty and students, but because they require a bit of a learning curve (much less so for the very basic features of RW) EndNote and RefWorks can be a bit of a hard sell. This article, even though it offers some negative reactions to PBM software, will likely help to promote usage among our communities.

That said I would have liked to seen the following points made or issues raised in the same article:

  • It’s an unfortunate omission to not point out that quite a few library aggregator databases allow PBM software users to directly (with a click or two) export their citations. This saves enormous time in not having to retype citations, not to mention that the records can then be easily edited to include additional content.
  • The issue of whether or not PBM is overkill for undergraduates is raised. I tend to agree that it is likely to be overkill for most undergrads, with the possible exception of an honors student that is likely to be spending more extensive time on a thesis paper. Most undergrads jump from topic to topic with their papers, using few citations in most, so having the database functionality of PBM software is hardly of use to them. It’s unlikely they’ll need to accumulate a large number of citations on any one topic, and the ability to store, search, and retrieve citations as needed is certainly a powerful feature of PBM software.
  • With respect to undergrads the article could have asked an academic librarian to point out that aggregator databases (e.g., ProQuest and EBSCO) now offer the ability to cite references retreived in the databases in one of several major formats. Knowing how to format citations in these databases, and having faculty who can show students how it is done, would likely meet the needs of most undergrads.
  • Finally, related to any discussion of PBM is the issue of whether academic librarians should be spending time teaching students the arcane rules of and inconsistencies among formatting styles, or just be getting them to use the tools that will format the citations for them. I definitely favor just showing students how to use the formatting tools, but there are those that argue that learning how to format citations from scratch is good for undergrads because it will help them to avoid plagiarism, better understand the components of a citation, and make them upstanding citizens. It certainly would have been interesting to add this perspective to the discussion, but perhaps it deserves its own article.
  • Don’t be Fooled by the Factor

    Today’s Wall Street Journal (free) has a good overview of the many techniques that scientific journals can use to manipulate their impact factor, such as blatantly asking authors to cite more studies the journal has already published to limiting citations to outside journals. Thomson Scientific is releasing new impact factors this month, and it’s important to not be too slavish in basing collection develoment decisions on impact factors, as well as to remember that it’s not only Google that can manipulate what knowledge rises to the top.

    For a recent stinging rebuke of citation citing in the humanities, see Harvard University Press executive editor Lindsay Waters’ Lure of the List ($) in the Chronicle. Waters takes the journal Critical Inquiry to task for using “very likely bogus social-science tools” and substituting “accounting methods for critical judgment” in order to rank the most important literary theorists.

    More On Learning What Users Really Want

    Previously ACRLog has discussed the use of new methods to better understand our users and what they really need – as opposed to what we think they need. The use of ethnographic research for this purpose was reported in the computer industry and in a library. Last week’s issue of BusinessWeek featured an article titled “The Science of Desire” about the growth of ethnography in the corporate world. As one expert put it, “Ethnography has escaped from academia, where it has been held hostage.” The article profiles a variety of firms that are using ethnography to study their customers and then use what is learned to improve existing products or develop new ones. From the article:

    The beauty of ethnography, say its proponents, is that it provides a richer understanding of consumers than does traditional research. Yes, companies are still using focus groups, surveys, and demographic data to glean insights into the consumer’s mind. But closely observing people where they live and work, say executives, allows companies to zero in on their customers’ unarticulated desires.

    You might not get that excited reading about a company that used ethnography to perfect a tool to help consumers do a better job of clearning their bathroom, but with so many companies – and service industries such as hotels – using ethnography to transform how they think about their users and develop services for them – it might get you thinking that ethnography might just be a powerful tool for improving how academic libraries deliver resources and services to their user communities.