ALA Candidates for President Launch Blogs

On the heels of the withering (and, some have argued, less than fully informed) critique of blogs by ALA President Michael Gorman, it is good to see that both current candidates for ALA President-Elect, Bill Crowe and Loriene Roy, have launched campaign blogs. After Gormangate, it is good to see current candidates embracing this emergent communications medium. Apparently. to paraphrase Pogo, we have met the Blog People, and they are us!

Will we see campaign blogs from current candidates for ACRL President-Elect? Only time will tell.

Perhaps they’d like to do a “guest post” here on ACRLog? We await the call.

Learning “the College Way”

Betsy Barefoot, senior scholar at the Policy Center on the First Year of College, argues in the Chronicle that for many first year students becoming comfortable in the library is a step toward being comfortable with college and its demands.

Although going to the library is usually part of childhood and adolescent memories for traditional students from relatively affluent families, it represents a new experience for many first-year students. I have found that some freshmen are afraid of the library, while others see it as a sort of museum — a place that belongs to the past, not the present.

She argues that it’s important for librarians to be involved with students, not just in a one-shot introduction to the library in a required first year seminar or composition course (which “may not transfer” to other courses) but from the start, during admissions tours and in planning the first year experience – and beyond.

The most effective way to ensure that first-year students become information literate is making library instruction an integral part of courses across the curriculum. That integration requires continuing and creative collaboration between librarians and professors.

None of which is a surprise to librarians, of course – but even librarians who work closely with faculty may not be involved in the planning that goes on for incoming students. Since Barefoot is well-respected in FYE circles, this essay may be a ticket to some of those conversations.

Just tell them “Betsy sent me.”

The I-School Speaks!

Students at the University of Washington Information School have started up a new podcast, InfoSpeak, which they cast as a “lyceum” for the Information Age (with extra credit for pulling the definition of lyceum from Wikipedia). The first episode finds my favorite textbook author, Joe Janes, expounding on “Google, Search Technology, and What It Means to be Human.” Loads of potential here.

Generation Disengaged

I’ll be curious to see what sort of reaction the article “A Very Long Disengagement” gets from Chronicle readers. Authored by Mark Bauerlein, a professor of English at Emory University, it appeared in the Chronicle Review two weeks ago (1/6/06). Although it tends to generalize, it does base most of its conclusions on reported survey data. Whether it’s comprehension or knowledge of history, the arts, literature, geography or politics, current college students are faring far more poorly than previous generations of students. The author lays the blame for this on the five hours per day typical students spend watching TV or DVDs, playing video games, web surfing, or listening to music. Bauerlein makes the case that students spend far less time on studying and assignments than in the past, and that they show less intellectual curiosity than previous generations. He states that every indicator suggests today’s students are every bit as intelligent, but their knowledge hasn’t kept pace. His reasoning for the change:

“…because of the new leisure habits of teens and young adults…the more time young adults devote to activities like sending e-mail messages, the less time they devote to books, the arts, politics, and their studies.”

And of libraries he observes:

“Walk through any university library, and at each computer station you will see a cheery or intent sophomore pounding out e-mail messages…Head up to the stacks and the aisles are as a quite as a morgue.”

Case in point about the generalizations. Certainly students are always checking e-mail or IMing, but that’s how they operate. It need not mean they are just taking up space. And the “empty stacks” imagery doesn’t describe my library. How about yours?

But from my perspective the most salient passage is his critique of higher education:

“All too eagerly, colleges augment the trend, handing out iPods and dignifying video games like Grand Theft Auto as worthy of study.”

I would argue that it is incumbent upon college and university faculty (with administrative support) to explore new instructional technologies, and determine how they might enhance teaching and learning through better student activation. But Bauerlein uses his comment to make a point worth considering. As librarians we ask why students prefer the research equivalent of the mass culture that Bauerlein points to as the culprit behind the detached and disengaged student. Why don’t these students embrace our library resources in the same way that Baurerlein wishes they would embrace liberal culture?

Bauerlein never quite provides an answer to that question, and perhaps there is no simple way of explaining it other than to point to societal preferences for the fast, easy, convenient, critical thought-free approach to information gathering. He asks if our efforts to appease students in the name of learning by pandering to their desire for pop distractions ultimately destroys the “middle ground between adolescent life and intellectual life”. Is it possible our academic libraries contribute to the declining knowledge base and intellectual curiosity of our students when in our effort to shield students from complexity we make things far too simple. Do we promote, as Bauerlein calls it, “the prolonged immaturity of our students.”? In the end it may be that Bauerlein’s worries (and my own) are not far off from those in the fifties who attacked rock music as a threat to end cultured society. It may just be a strong reaction to generational changes that will no doubt ultimately become as ingrained into society as rock music is today. But if Bauerlein is right and we are witnessing a true disengagement from intellectual life, isn’t it incumbent upon academic librarians to do more to work with faculty to challenge students and raise expectations for academic rigor.

Extra credit reading: An opinion piece that appeared in the Boston Globe on 1/12/06 by Michael Kryzanek titled “Dumbing Down A College Education” reflects on a recent study about the declining literacy of college students.