What Is The Value In An LIS Technology Course

As a part-time library science educator I pay attention to trends in LIS education. A notable one is the increase in courses that spend an entire semester introducing students to web 2.0 and other trend technologies. I ask ACRLog readers, many of whom are the future employers of LIS students, if this seems like a good idea to you. A typical LIS student gets to take 12 courses, maybe fewer if he or she receives field experience credit. What is the value for you in having your future employees spending 12 to 16 weeks learning how to create and use blogs, wikis, social networks and podcasts? This may be one of those “it depends” type questions as in it depends what is really being learned and how will it be applied in the workplace.

Now maybe I’m being narrow-minded here. Yes, right now these technologies are all the rage, and you could take the perspective that the courses are focusing on teaching students to be risk takers who can experiment, take chances, exploit new technology, etc. All good lessons indeed. But does that require a semester long course? Could a week dedicated to the topic of hot new technologies communicate the same information, especially in the context of a broader course about developing skills that will allow for constant adaptation to the latest technologies. Are there better ways to ingrain these desirable skills in our LIS students?

Personally, I’d much rather see more LIS programs introducing instructional design courses that would give students a far more powerful understanding of how and why to incorporate technology into practice – and knowing when it is and isn’t appropriate based on field assessment. This approach would be far more likely to give our future employees a theoretical foundation that informs their practice and pedagogy, and which provides them with a skill that can be applied to an endless number of technology innovations over the course of their careers. As the use of educational technology ramps up in higher education, those entering academic librarianship today need to think of themselves not simply as librarians using technology to promote information storage and retrieval, but as learning technologists who apply technology to help faculty and students achieve academic success.

The current web 2.0 technologies will no doubt be bypassed by disruptive new technologies before we know it, and then what will our library 2.0 savvy students be left with from these courses. Put another way, are you still using those skills you learned in that course you took on putting cd-roms and laserdisks to practice in libraries? On the other hand, I suspect you learned how to search DIALOG. As an academic librarian you probably don’t use that system anymore, but you do make regular use of all the skills you developed related to online information retrieval. It was the theory that informs your practice. Those are the types of courses we need, the ones that teach an understanding of the practice of academic librarianship that will be of value to students in a landscape of shifting technology and user expectations.

Takes More Than Blogs And Wikis To Build The Socially Networked Academic Library

It’s been two years since OCLC issued its Perceptions of Libraries and Information Resources report, and just over a year since the release of the subset of that report focusing on college students. Now OCLC delivers its latest survey report, Sharing, Privacy and Trust in Our Networked World. Was it worth the wait? While I think this latest report is not quite the blockbuster the last one was, it certainly is an informative document as it helps librarians to put the phenonmenon of the social web into perspective. It offers a different vision of what it means for a library to incorporate web 2.0 technologies, one that requires academic libraries to go beyond blogs, wikis and facebook profiles. It states:

We conceived of a social library as a library of traditional services enhanced by a set of social tools—wikis, blogs, mashups and podcasts. services, of course, user-friendly for sure and offering superior self-service. We were wrong.

Our view, after living with the data, struggling with the findings, listening to experts and creating our own social spaces, is quite different. Becoming engaged in the social Web is not about learning new services or mastering new technologies. To create a checklist of social tools for librarians to learn or to generate a “top ten” list of services to implement on the current library Web site would be shortsighted. Such lists exist. Resist the urge to use them. The social Web is not being built by augmenting traditional Web sites with new tools. And a social library will not be created by implementing a list of social software features on our current sites. The social Web is being created by opening the doors to the production of the Web, dismantling the current structures and inviting users in to create their content and establish new rules.

New rules? Are libraries ready for that? According to the survey respondents the answer is “probably not”. The vast majority of the respondents, more than 85%, see no reason for libraries to construct or sponsor social network sites (click on the thumbnail to view the chart).

Few respondents say they’d be likely to contribute to a library social site, view the content of others or even participate in a social site. We often look to OCLC for answers. I think the big question is “How do we get our users to contribute their content, to participate in the production process?” Not having read the report in great detail just yet (still waiting for my paper copy), I can’t say if the answers are in there. So far I have learned that the report authors believe “the new social library will be …messy. But mass participation and a little chaos often create exciting venues for collaboration, creativity, community building and transformation.” Perhaps there are no good solutions, and we just have to wade into the mess and figure out how to create the change that encourages more social participation in the academic library.

Mess aside, this report is valuable to academic librarians for the special appendix on “College Students in Our Networked Work.” OCLC surveyed 511 college students to gain insight into their socially networked lives. One surprise is that some college students have yet to explore social networking; only 56% reported using a social networking site. Is it possible the wording of the question gave inaccurate results? What if they asked “Do you use MySpace or Facebook” instead of referring to them as “social networks”. By comparison, 38% of the students reported using the library’s web site. (click on the thumbnail to view the chart)

We tend to think that every student spends hours a day on Facebook or MySpace, and perhaps that’s inaccurate. If you do want to reach students with web 2.0 technology – or provide them a venue for contributing content – you’d be far wiser to use YouTube than Flickr. Only 10% of the college respondents reported using Flickr, but 84% reported using YouTube. (click on the thumbnail to view the chart).

The report is also about privacy and trust in social web environments. While the report finds that college students are less likely than the general public to trust those they meet on social networks, I would have liked some information comparing trust levels of those encountered in networks and librarians encountered in academic libraries. Past reports have suggested that college students and others are more likely to trust people they meet online than institutional authority figures.

The latest OCLC survey report is available online for free downloading (in whole or by section) or a print copy can be ordered for a fee. Either way, take some time to look over the report, and then discuss it with colleagues. Any way you look at it, if the goal is to build a socially networked library that provides opportunities for the user community to participate and generate content we have much work to do. Perhaps of which the most challenging task will be giving our users a reason or rationale for doing so. Because according to the report, right now too few of them think the library has anything to do with or reason to be part of the socially networked web. Another powerful hurdle to overcome is the way the community identifies the library with the book – from their perspective that’s our brand whether we like it or not. So OCLC recommends that if you do build a social network or attempt to engage your community in a social network, the choice is about books. Do you want to leverage the book brand (e.g., book recommendations, book discussion groups, etc.) or do you want to defy the brand and attempt to establish a new one. If it’s the latter, the social network created by the library may be about many things of which the book is just a minor entity. It’s your call.

Credits: Many thanks to OCLC for allowing the reproduction of the charts and the link to the study. These materials are copyrighted 2007 by OCLC Online Computer Library Center, Inc. and are used with OCLC’s permission. I’d also like to thank Kenley Neufeld who first brought the report to my attention and shared some ideas and notes with me.