Go To The Academic Library For A No-Tech Assignment

This may be just one more sign that some faculty still have a disconnect with what’s happening in a 21st century academic library. While reviewing the transcript from this week’s Chronicle Brown Bag Live Discussion session with teaching expert Barbara Gross Davis I was drawn to one exchange about teaching with technology. Davis gave a good response that properly indicated there are many contemporary teaching approaches that do not involve technology. But when she provided some examples she said:

There are many other areas that don’t necessarily involve technology that are influencing how people teach, such as formative/early feedback, classroom assessment,learning in groups even in large classes, library based research assignments, and so on.

Now I know that instructors can design library based research assignments that don’t involve technology – if they think carefully about the design – but in an increasingly confusing world of digital information retrieval it would seem that faculty would want to design library based research assignments that help students develop or fine tune their skills in using information technologies. Even if an instructor wanted students to only use no-tech books in their assignment or some printed primary research material, the students would still likely need to use OPAC technology to find them in the library.

So I find it just mildly disturbing that a recognized educational expert may still be thinking that the academic library is equated with non-technology-based learning methods. I’d actually like to see academic librarians doing more to promote the library’s digital collections to faculty as instructional technologies because they do have a role to play in helping students learn course content. And I’d venture to say that the vast majority of library instruction that takes place at our institutions either focuses on or includes some discussion or application of library technology tools. I’m not suggesting that Davis would have our students return to doing all their library research with pencil and paper, but in a Google/Wikipedia dominated research landscape no instructor should ignore an opportunity to expose their students to the library’s high quality digital research environment – and while they’re at it – show the students how to use library technology to find those old no-tech books.

This Brainstorm Could Be Good For You

Though I suspect it didn’t have the desired outcome, I’m still glad I made the effort to expose ACRLog readers to some faculty blogs in parts one and two of the Carnival of the Professoriate. I’d still like to think that academic librarians can benefit from occasional reading of faculty blogs. But if faculty blogs, at least the ones I mentioned, fail to capture your attention or otherwise enlighten you then perhaps Brainstorm will be more to your liking.

I just started subscribing to this feed a short while ago as it’s a fairly new blog. It’s a group blog that includes some well recognized thought leaders in academia, a mix of professors and higher education analysts. In fact, if you regularly read the Chronicle of Higher Education Review section, then you’ll recognize the contributors. Their past essays have appeared in the Review, and now they are writing commentary for this Chronicle sponsored blog. So you can imagine that the conversations can provide some valuable insight into and perspectives on change in higher education.

Changes such as the growing first-year college dropout rate. Mark Bauerlein, professor of English at Emory University, examines the issue in a recent post in which he considers the connection between reading and academic success. Bauelein writes “Statistics from the Department of Education make the correlation between reading for pleasure and academic achievement crystal clear (see this document, pp.50-55). The more kids read on their own—anything, that is, not just classics and books—the better they do in class.” There’s a real problem when 25% freshmen in 2005 reported doing no reading in their senior year of high school.

Though we may have no immediate solutions, as academic librarians we can’t help but think there might be things we could do to encourage reading in and outside of the classrom. Our libraries have collections of great leisure reading and the latest fiction. We offer bookclubs and book talks. Even inviting video games and game competitions, no doubt a factor in the decline of book reading (especially for males), in to the library could allow non-readers to potentially connect with books of value. In a time when academic libraries need to do all they can to promote retention, perhaps something as simple as helping to increase reading – something so central to the library’s existence – can allow us to play a more significant role in helping students achieve academic success.

So if faculty blogs weren’t to your taste, perhaps a little “Brainstorm” may be just the thing to get you to pay more attention to what’s happening in higher education.

Whatever You Think Of Carlson, You’ll Miss Him

He’s not an academic librarian, but he is well known in our community. And it’s likely that something he has written at one time or another has probably annoyed or pissed you off. But I don’t doubt that you will miss what Scott Carlson, the Chronicle of Higher Education’s library beat reporter for many years, writes about academic libraries now that he is moving on to a new beat at the Chronicle. According to Mr. Carlson (that’s how the Chronicle would refer to him), in his new role he’ll be reporting on sustainability issues, particularly as they relate to architecture, facilities, grounds, energy, and so on. He’ll also help coordinate sustainability coverage in research, activism, and curriculum throughout the paper.

A search of the full text of the Chronicle in LexisNexis (byline (carlson) and publication(chronicle) and atleast5(librar!)) indicates that Mr. Carlson produced approximately 80 articles about academic libraries over the past seven years. Perhaps one of the most memorable of them is “The Deserted Library” (11/01) in which he profiled the declining use of the academic library building. I can recall few other articles in any publication that generated such an outpouring of furor and debate on the library discussion lists (no blogging back then). But Mr. Carlson returned to the topic a few years later with a much more positive report on how thoughtful renovations to the academic library vastly increased our contribution to the institution (9/05). He called on us to question our sacred cows in articles that asked if we still needed books or reference desks. He frequently profiled academic librarians pushing the technology frontier or challenging the profession’s accepted traditions. And if you received a voice message or e-mail from Mr. Carlson, your pulse probably quickened a few beats. “Carlson wants to talk to me?” you probably thought to yourself with some mixture of anticipation and worry over whether he’d quote you in his article and what he’d actually write if he did.

I suppose in some ways we academic librarians maintained a symbiotic relationship with Mr. Carlson. He needed us and our libraries as material and interviewees for his reports. We needed him to serve as our conduit to the vast Chronicle readership, primarily our faculty and top administrators, to bring to their attention our accomplishments and challenges. I suspect that we got more out of the relationship. So while Mr. Carlson is not one of us, I would venture to say that many of us consider him a respected colleague. I think we will miss what he writes about academic libraries.

So Mr. Carlson, we wish you well on your new beat. Bring on Andrea Foster who will do her best to fill your large shoes.