I Heart Librarians

If you’re feeling underappreciated, see this academic librarian love-fest in Inside Higher Ed. The author touches on the gendered nature of librarian work and wonders aloud about how men feel about being in a predominantly female profession. I’ve found that although male librarians often tell people they became librarians for the girly reason of “helping people,” the real reason is that they’re in it for the power. Who among us hasn’t felt the surge of testosterone after sitting at the reference desk, taking on all comers, and summoning up the skills to answer any question, from any discipline? Last night I answered a question about the ecology of the Pine Barrens. Now for a humanities librarian, that’s a rush.

Students and Information Technology

The 2005 Educause study of students and technology has similar findings as last year’s. Technology used in the classroom is valued first for convenience; students are much less likely to find it improves learning. They want it used, but in moderation. Online syllabi and course readings are highly regarded because hey, it’s convenient. But when it comes to student engagement with the course material? Technology is a wash.

Some interesting findings: students report using computers only 11-15 hours a week, with searching library databases at less than an hour (though it may be hard for them to know that’s what they’re doing, depending on how they get there). More students report using library resources to complete an assignment (88%) than to download music (75%) though nearly all students “surf” the web to support their coursework. By the way, the self-reported use of the library is up a bit from last year.

The author suggests technological fluency is necessary before students can become information literate and ends by recommending that schools should establish technology competency levels and build them into the curriculum. This, to me, seems far less important than doing the same for information literacy – particularly since the skill levels for basic computer use seem far more in place already than the ability to engage with ideas and articulate good questions, to read critically, to evaluate sources of information, and to use them well. Those skills, it seems to me, are also far more durable.

Since students no longer see “technology” as a separate category, but just a ubiquitious part of their lives, maybe we should do the same and think more about learning and less about the tools.

An addendum: Steven and I must have been blogging at the same time about the same report, and he beat me to it. Sorry for the double vision, folks. He has the advantage of living a time zone ahead of me.

New EDUCAUSE Study Shows Use Of Library Resources Increased

The EDUCAUSE Center for Applied Research (ECAR) made available its 2005 study on students and information technology. The primary findings relate to students’ preferences for the use of technology in their courses, and their is some good information about the impact of course management systems. While use of library resources is a lesser aspect of the study there is some data offered that I believe provides some cause for optimism among academic librarians.

While student use of the Internet to support coursework (again, no real way of knowing what “Internet” means for our students) is nearly universal at 98% reporting it, use of library resources to complete a course assignment comes in at a healthy 88%. Maybe the Internet is not eating our lunch after all. However, I would think the difference between freshman (86%) and seniors (89%) would be more significant owing to library instruction that occurs during the course of their education. Clearly we have more work to do.

Increases from 2004 in both the use of library resources for assignments (up 4%) and weekly hours spent using library resources (up 5.2% – but the majority report using library resources less than one hour per week overall in 2005) are a cause for optimism, and suggest that academic librarians’ efforts to promote user education and faculty collaboration may in fact be having a positive impact on student research. The report provides some concrete evidence to counter numerous mass media reports that students simply consult Internet search engines when doing their research. They may prefer to consult the Internet search engines first (anecdotal evidence only – not a part of the report), but they clearly do not use those resources exclusively.

Unsettling Categories

In the New York Times today, Edward Rothstein asks “If Books are on Google, Who Gains and Who Loses?” He points out that technology “doesn’t make things easy; it makes them unpredictable.”

He also mentions that the New York Public Library is sponsoring a smackdown this Thursday at 7 pm. If anyone is able to attend, please send us a report!