Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts

A Beloit Mindset Moment

As part of our Library event for incoming freshmen we organized a scavenger hunt. They are pretty popular right now, and putting one together takes some thought and effort. But we got the participants to get around the entire library, visit a few service areas, try our text-a-librarian and cell phone tour services, and overall it went pretty well. The students seemed to enjoy it, and we offered a few nice gifts. But clearly we aren’t able to completely put ourselves into the mindset of the college freshman, and as a result one student thought we had an unfair question. Seems we asked the students to record the name of a movie for which we have a poster hanging in our media services area. To find the right poster the students were told to look for Humphrey Bogart. According to this student, she had never heard of him – so how could she know who to look for (this is overlooking his name is on the poster in 12″ letters). My colleagues and I were a bit taken back by that – could you be 18 and not know Bogie? Then again, when the class of 2014 was born in 1992, he was already dead for 35 years. Next time, we’ll just go with the poster for the Creature From the Black Lagoon. Every college student knows that guy, right?

Here’s An Idea for an Experiment – No Academic Library for Two Years

I read an anecdote shared by a librarian from brand name, elite 4-year college, about a faculty member who said something along the lines of “Our students graduate and become incredibly successful. They haven’t had much research instruction, and they aren’t particularly good at conducting research, but they are successful. So if that’s the end outcome, why bother with the research instruction?” How do you respond to a comment like that? I’m not sure, but what concerns me is that the librarians will buy into that line of thinking, and just give up on instruction all together. Why bother if the students end up at Wall Street brokerage firms with six-figure incomes? Is that how we measure success? [quite possible the faculty member simply means “success” at whatever the students aspire to]

The next logical step from that line of thinking is why bother having a library at all? Just close the library and cancel all the subscriptions. Allow faculty to use the library budget to get personal subscriptions to the journals they want. Use library funds to buy every student an e-book reader with a quota of a few thousand dollars to buy whatever books and paywall content they want. If after two years of no library or librarians the results show that students still graduate and still become incredibly successful, that tells us that the library never made a difference in the first place – other then for faculty and administrators to gush about the library as the “heart of the institution” – and as a good stop on the campus tour. I wonder if it makes a difference that a faculty observation like this one comes from an elite, brand name institution where the students arrive with many lifestyle advantages that will contribute to their post-college success. What about the institutions, like Chicago State University, where student failure is the norm? I wonder what faculty there have to say about the need for research instruction? Do they have time to think about it at all?

What’s the Biggest Mistake You’ve Made As a Leader?

It’s a long road and hard work becoming an effective leader, whether you are responsible for the vision and direction of a library, a single unit or program within the library that needs leadership for it to survive, or leading your colleagues in an association effort. Along the way you’ll likely make some mistakes. Hopefully one of them one won’t be the “big mistake” that shatters your leadership potential. Best of all, if you are new on the leadership path – or if you’ve been traveling that path a long time – you can avoid the big mistake by studying the lessons learned by other leaders.

A good opportunity for that type of learning can be discovered from Harvard Business Review’s video piece on “the biggest mistake a leader can make” which features a mix of academics and executives sharing what he or she thinks is that biggest mistake. Here’s a quick list of what I gleaned from each expert – but watch the video – it’s just over 7 minutes – there’s more good advice to be had there:

* Putting self-interest before the interests of the organization – leadership is about responsibility for the staff and stakeholders and putting yourself ahead of them is a fatal error.

* Betraying trust – if you fail here nothing else matters.

* Being certain – once you think you know how it all works there is reluctance to change; great leaders understand the power of uncertainty.

* Not living up to values – if you espouse values and fail to live up up to them you will rapidly be found out by followers.

* Overly enamored with vision – becoming single minded and obsessed with a vision makes a leader blind to other opportunities and possibilities.

* Personal arrogance or hubris – confuses the success of the organization with his or her individual persona; leads to the making of huge mistakes.

* Acting too fast – leaders need to step back and think before they act, and seek out advice from subordinates; re-think the vision/plan and then act.

* Failure to be consistent – followers need to know their leaders are authentic and predictable; if you are pleasant one day and a monster the next it destroys trust.

* Lack of self-reflection – leaders need to constantly review their own behavior and honestly contemplate what affect they have on others; good leaders are self-aware, learn from their mistakes and improve.

In my leadership positions I’ve made any number of these mistakes at one time or another; you can only hope to learn from a bad experience. But I’ve worked very hard never to betray trust, and I think that would be the ultimate leadership mistake. What about you? What is the biggest mistake you’ve made as a leader, what big mistake have you seen a leader make or which one on this list is the worst sin for you?

Some Writing Advice Worth Your Attention

I hope your regular reading regimen includes the Chronicle. If I had to guess I’d say it’s the most read non-library publication for the typical academic librarian. I’m also guessing many academic librarians will only go and read a Chronicle article or essay if someone else tells them they should go read it. As an academic librarian blogger I try to avoid leaning too heavily on the Chronicle or Inside Higher Ed as a source. It would be all to easy to do that – and then I’d just end up writing about whatever other librarians are already reading and discussing anyway – not too challenging or exciting.

But this essay on improving your writing gave some good advice, and as an academic librarian blogger one thing in particular resonated with me. Number nine on the list of ten reads: Your most profound thoughts are often wrong. That’s a profound thought right there. I often find myself second guessing many of my blog posts because I question if I’m making sense or effectively communicating my message. Then again I’ll go ahead and post them anyway thinking I’ve come up with something profound only to realize it wasn’t something all that great and that it didn’t make anyone think twice anyway. There’s been talk of the death of blogging for years now. But blogs persist even though many librarians show a preference for sharing their thoughts – as much as that is possible – with a facebook or twitter update. Perhaps in those mediums, since what’s written quickly passes on and fades, there’s not much need to think about whether what’s being written is profound or possibly wrong. With 140 characters, it may not matter much. An exception – when a simple tweet sets off a strong reaction with a blogger. So even though there’s a good chance my profound thoughts are wrong I’ll likely continue to share some of them with you. One of the best things about blogging at ACRLog is receiving comments that help me to re-think what I thought was profound and become more clear about my thinking and writing. Not an easy task.

Latest NCES Data Shows Little IL Progress

In a post from August 2008 I shared some data straight out of a report titled Academic Libraries 2006 that presents tabulations for the 2006 Academic Libraries Survey (ALS) conducted by the United States Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). The data related to the percentage of libraries reporting information literacy activities was underwhelming when one considers all of the attention our profession places on and puts into information literacy and library instruction initiatives. For the fall of 2006, there were far too few institutions reporting that information literacy was a part of the institutional mission or had been incorporated into the strategic plan. So I was curious when I saw the latest Academic Libraries 2008: First Look report that presents tabulations from 2008. How did we do? Was there an increase in reported information literacy activity between 2006 and 2008?

There was some change all right, but not in the right direction. Here are the same five data items identified in the NCES Survey related to information literacy:

1. defined information literacy or information literate student
2. incorporated information literacy into institution’s mission
3. incorporated information literacy into institution’s strategic plan
4. has institution-wide committee to implement strategic plan for information literacy
5. strategic plan formally recognizes the library’s role in information literacy instruction

Here at the corresponding percentages for each of those five items for 2006 versus 2008:

1. 48.4——————————- 1. 46.3
2. 34.3——————————–2. 32.5
3. 30.4——————————–3. 30.3
4. 17.6——————————–4. 17.8
5. 24.8——————————–5. 24.2

So there was either decline or no significant change. That’s quite puzzling and somewhat disturbing. Here we are two years later and academic librarians’ efforts to advance the integration of information literacy into our institutions appear to be backsliding. Maybe we need to discount the data item number two above. How many academic institutions are going to incorporate something about information literacy into their mission statements? I wouldn’t even expect my own institution to do that. And what about the incorporation of information literacy into the strategic plan. At my own institution an early draft of a new strategic plan written this year included some text about the importance of the library for supporting research – nothing about information literacy. But even that minimal language was dropped in a later version. So getting the institution to incorporate information literacy into the strategic plan is no easy task. I would expect number 4 to be higher though. Here is an objective worth working towards. And rather than ask about integration of information literacy into the strategic plan or mission, why not change that to integration into a curriculum plan for core education. I think more academic libraries could report that their institution’s plan for general education or liberal education does discuss information literacy as does the one at my institution.

Academic librarians still have their work cut out for them when it comes to institutional recognition of the value of information literacy. Beyond that, what can the Academic Report 2008 tell us about our performance and contributions to the academic community? Not much. But here are some comparative numbers that may interest you:

Total Circulation-144,119,450(06)–138,102,762(08) 4.175 % decrease

Interlibrary Loan-10,801,531(06)—-11,095,168(08) 2.718 % increase

Returnables – 8.676 % increase
Non-Returnables – 5.265 % decrease

Gate Counts–18,765,712(06)——20,274,423(08) 8.04 % increase

Reference Transactions–1,100,863(06)—1,079,770 1.916 % decrease

Presentations–471,089(06)—-498,337(08) 5.784 % increase

E-Books–64,365,781(06)—–102,502,182(08) 59.249 % increase

FTE Librarians—26,469(06)—–27,030(08) 2.119 % increase

You can find more of these data items in the full report, and it’s not too difficult to toggle back and forth between the 2006 and 2008 reports to see where the differences are. As the representative items offered here suggest there hasn’t been much significant change over the two year period, excepting a big increase in the number of e-books. Without doing any sort of detailed analysis it looks to me like academic libraries are holding their own. There’s nothing here to suggest the academic community is abandoning their libraries. Circulation and reference are down a bit, but ILL is still busy, more people are visiting the building and despite the anaemic indicators for information literacy, the number of instruction sessions (included in “presentations” I take it) continues to increase.

I hope that the folks who construct the NCES survey instrument for academic libraries will give more thought to what type of questions would give us a better picture of the status of information literacy integration into the institutional curriculum rather than the mission or strategic plan. I see they do include a group of academic librarians in the development of the report. Perhaps for their next meeting they’ll put this issue on the agenda.

Sudden Thoughts And Second Thoughts

What About That Other Academic Librarianship Journal

If you asked most academic librarians to name “the” scholarly journal for academic librarians I believe you’d get one of three responses: College & Research Libraries; Journal of Academic Librarianship; and portal: Libraries and the Academy. Those are probably the top three, but does that show our American bias? I’m probably guilty of this myself because I never really even considered the New Review of Academic Librarianship, which has some pretty interesting articles. In this issue I came across a good article by Derik Law titled “Academic Digital Libraries of the Future: An Environment Scan” – well worth reading. I hope you’ll expand your academic library journal horizons and take a look at an issue of New Review of Academic Librarianship.

Listen to My Podcast with Sarah Long

If you like ACRLog you’ll probably like this podcast I did with Sarah Long. You might be surprised to find out which one of my ACRLog posts caught her attention – and why. Then we got into a conversation about different blog posts, and Sarah asks me about the inspiration for the posts. It’s a pretty good conversation – and Sarah thinks I’ve got talent. She is a very nice person – and a darn good podcast interviewer!

Looking for the NEXT BIG THING

Do you ever think about the next big thing? Will it be Google Wave? The Semantic Web? The Apple Tablet? A communication device implanted in your body? And wouldn’t you like to get your hands on it, and be the first person in academic libraryland to put it to some good use? I suppose we’re all wondering what the next big thing is, and how we can find out about it – and possibly make some use out of it. That’s why I enjoyed this post I found over at the blog Not Just Admissions. It makes me realize that librarians aren’t the only ones in higher education that are always on the lookout for the next big thing. It’s a fun post with a point, and perhaps the most important one is that a good idea can come from anywhere in your organization.

What Are You Planning for National Information Literacy Month

It’s about time. I may be wrong with my date here (and I’m sure a librarian will correct me) but I believe information literacy dates back to the 1970s – I’m vaguely thinking the term information literacy was coined in 1974. That makes me ask how come it took so darn long for a president to declare National Information Literacy Month. This calls for a celebration of some sort. Perhaps a party in the library with lots of cake. Maybe a banner in the library instruction room. I just wonder if getting its own month means that information literacy is finally an acceptable term – or do we have to keep coming up with ways to talk about information literacy without having to actually use or say “information literacy.”

IL Course Credit Does Not Equal Credibility

I can’t argue with many of the points William Badke makes in his infolitland column in the November/December 2008 issue of Online (subscription required) titled “Ten Reasons to Teach Information Literacy for Credit.” All of Badke’s ten reasons will gain full support from any information literacy advocate. Everything from driving students to higher quality information resources to creating greater awareness about library e-resources to providing authentic learning opportunities and even the value of our old friend lifelong learning – it’s all good. I only have two issues with Badke’s article. First, with most of his points he’s preaching to the choir. Faculty and administrators are the ones who need to hear his arguments, and not too many of them read Online. Second, I’m not convinced that creating for-credit information literacy courses or modules is going to achieve our end goal – integrating information literacy into and across the curriculum. Done right, information literacy can be credible – no credits necessary.

There are two basic models for delivering information literacy; compartmentalized and distributed. My reading of the information literacy research suggests the distributed model, in which information literacy is integrated into courses across many disciplines and spread throughout the student’s academic career – starting with freshman reading/writing courses and ending in the capstone – has proven effectiveness. Badke may disagree with that observation because he writes that his courses “lead to consistent and and relatively permanent attainment of both knowledge and skills that match the ACRL standards for information literacy.” If he’s getting successful results that’s great, but I’m not sure it can be generalized to compartmentalized approaches to information literacy. The true power of the curriculum-integrated distributed model is its direct relevance to the student’s disciplinary work. Whether he or she is an english or business major, what they are learning about research skills is directly connected to their assignments – not ones constructed by librarians outside the subject major. The great challenge of the distributed model is that creating a successful initiative can take years, lots of effort and will have difficulty suceeding without significant faculty collaboration – particularly in the area of designing appropriate assignments.

The compartmentalized model is more typically the standalone for-credit course. Logistically it can be a bit more complicated to build it into the academic schedule; at large institutions it is also a challenge to have enough librarians available to teach all the sections needed for hundreds of students. But the dedicated information literacy course clearly gives librarians more control over the content and much more student time is devoted to developing information literacy skills. The real challenge is whether it’s required or not. From his article I take it that Badke’s institution has a three-credit IL course, but that it’s not required. He refers to the experience of a student who took the course and one who didn’t. If the course is not required just exactly what makes us think students will rush to register for it? Another downside to the credit-bearing IL course is that once it’s over it’s over. The problems come when faculty point to the course and develop a “the librarians teach information literacy in their credit course so the students learn everything about it there – I don’t need to deal with it” mentality. So students get some authentic learning in the librarian’s course, but then there’s little in the way of reinforcement in their disciplinary courses. Faculty just ingnore information literacy. It then becomes an awkward appendage to the curriculum which some students take, other don’t and for which faculty take no responsibility.

Why the assumption that information needs to be taught for credit to give it credibility? I think what Badke is suggesting is that faculty will buy into the idea of information literacy as a legitimate academic subject only if we can convince the curriculum committee members to allow us to teach it as a full credit-bearing course. For one thing, you could get your way and have an information literacy course for credit, and still have faculty who scoff at the idea of giving academic credit for an information literacy course. In fact, they may grow even more resentful about information literacy as a stand-alone course because it means there are fewer credits students can apply to courses in their discipline. So I’m reluctant to believe there is a connection between credit and credibility. If credibility is what we seek it may be better to pay attention to what David Watt had to say about the faculty view of information literacy. His point was that if we want faculty to really respect what information literacy is all about – and Badke does an outstanding job of presenting the case for why it is critical to student academic success – it may be best to focus on the hope of faculty for their students rather than trying to sell them on the merits of information literacy programs. By focusing on our common goals for student academic success, and through collaboration in and out of the classroom, I think we’ll make more progress with faculty. I don’t really care whether a faculty member thinks information literacy is a credible academic subject. As long as he or she is allowing me to participate in their course to integrate research skill building and weave it course assignments, then all that matters is that together we are enabling students to achieve designated information literacy learning outcomes.

Let’s not forget that higher education is expensive. Students and their parents may question, justifiably so, spending what could be the equivalent of thousands of dollars on a library research course. I’m not saying I don’t think it’s valuable. I’m just questioning how it will be perceived by important constituents. So let’s avoid getting into that debate. Let’s instead concentrate our efforts on integrating information literacy skill building into the existing course structure, and over time create a learning environment in which faculty can accept responsibility for information literacy education. My long-term version for information literacy is that it will not need to be a course or a module or anything else that is distinct from what students are otherwise doing in their coursework. It should be as transparent to the student as possible. A student would never be in a situation where he or she is given the option to learn how to be information literate – or needs to make a choice about taking a for-credit research course – or worse being forced to expend valuable course credits on such a course. Rather, it is just simply an integral component of what they learn in their courses – and faculty are largely the ones communicating the knowledge and skills.

Whichever side of this fence you sit on I would commend Badke’s article to you. It reminds us why information literacy is so important to our students and our future role in higher education. I imagine that as a profession we will continue to debate the best ways to accomplish our common goals for information literacy.

No Wonder Students Think It’s A Waste Of Time

Would you voluntarily submit to being instructed about a topic where you already consider yourself to qualify as an expert in that subject matter? If you did – or were forced to – you would probably find it incredibly boring or tune it out all together. Well, a new report may help to explain why some students react this way to the academic library’s information literacy education program. The annual ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology is a good indicator of the state of college students’ application of technology. The report provides insight into our students technology tools and their skill and comfort levels with different types of technology, and their preferences for learning technologies. The 2008 Study contains information of interest to academic librarians.

There’s a lot to learn from this document. For example, despite claims that students seeking information go everywhere but the library website, the ECAR Study suggests that’s not the case. In fact, there were three technologies that were most frequently used by many respondents. Two were spreadsheets and presentation software. The third was the library website. An average of 68% of students reported accessing the library website during the semester. That sounds encouraging, but without knowing more about what they are accessing the library website for I would withhold my excitement. Are we talking about just using the library catalog? Does that mean just going to the library home page to click on a link to a database? At what level of engagement are the students using the library’s website? Table 4-4 on page 47 tells us what Internet and technology activity in which students report they are engaged. Social networking sites and course management systems are heavily used (in the 80% range), contributing to blogs and wikis is less popular (in the 30% range) and virtual world activity is still quite low at only an 8% participation rate. That may help us make better sense of how we can get the most out of “being where the students are”.

In 2007 I wrote an article about what I called IAKT – I Already Know This – Syndrome [see: Stop IAKT Syndrome with Student Live Search Demos. Reference Services Review 35(1): 98-108, 2007.] At the time my IAKT theory was based mostly on my own observations and other anecdotal evidence. Now this ECAR report suggests there’s more to IAKT Syndrome than I thought. Here’s why. Students were asked to rate themselves when it comes to having the ability to search the Internet effectively and efficiently. I was not surprised to read that 80% of students stated they were effective and efficient Internet searchers. Almost half (46%) rate themselves very skilled and another third rate themselves as experts. These results held up through all age, gender and major groups. Now, does any librarian who has recently led an instruction session agree with this? When you see students working on search exercises in your instruction sessions would you agree that 80% of them are effective and efficient. They are if you ask them to find a list of green vegetables. But put their own research assignment in front of them and ask them to find a few scholarly articles – they’re not quite as good at that. As the report states:

Many educators believe that students’ perceptions about their net savviness are questionable. It is a do-it-yourself approach to information literacy; students rely on peers rather than library staff or faculty. And students may have excessive confidence because they are unaware of the complexities involved.

Well put! So is it any wonder that students tune out library instruction – if they attend these sessions at all. If they think they are already an expert or searching at a very skilled level why bother listening to some librarian drone on about boolean search operators. So what do we do about that? Obviously we should do all we can to get the students activated and involved in their own learning, make learning how to research as practice based as possible, and as I advocated in my IAKT article, challenge the students by having them share their search “expertise” with their fellow students. I’m not going to go on about what to do as you can read the vast number of articles in which academic librarians have shared their best techniques for engaged student instruction. In fact, figure 5-4 on page 66 reports that 80% of students like to learn with technology by running Internet searches or through programs they can control (video games, simulations, etc.). Great! That tells us something about the way they like to learn – lots of hands-on involvement. Now if we can just convince them that what we have to share is a technology worth learning.

I will just add that, as always, it’s crucial to get faculty involved. Surely they can’t believe that 80% of their students are great online researchers, and maybe we ought to share these ECAR results with them. They might just thank us for giving them a laugh. But once the laughter subsides let’s get down to brass tacks and collaboratively figure out how to, as the quote above suggests, help our students truly master the inherent complexities of academic research.