Saturday, December 5, 2009

Doing Research and Publishing as a Librarian

The title above does not describe me. I have never done serious scholarly research nor have I ever had anything I've written officially "published" in print. Not even a book review. Sad, I know, especially when I compare myself to all the librarians I network with. Honestly I don't know how they get all that stuff done on a regular basis.

But then again, I have little incentive to publish. I am considered professional staff at my college. My performance program vaguely mentions "contribute to scholarly, professional and research publications within the college and externally," even though I am given absolutely zero support for actually doing any of that. My current everyday duties, projects and management responsibilities are really those of two separate full-time jobs. The idea that I have time (let alone funding or even encouragement) to do any sort of real research seems fanciful to me at the moment. Don't get me wrong, I present at (mostly regional) conferences on a regular basis (and do get financial support for that) and have a ton of ideas for research. But actually devoting time to creating the proper environment around a project so that we can properly set up and assess it is something that is rarely done here. It's not in our current "work culture" I guess you could say.

The idea of doing that on my own time is daunting as well. Outside of work and my lengthy commute, I get about 4-5 hours per weekday evening, tops, of awake time. Calculate in eating and walking the dog, socializing, and do the solo things I enjoy like working out, playing video games, reading for pleasure, etc., and I would have precious little time to do my own research. The bottom line is I'm selfish. I enjoy my down time and sacrificing some of it for something that I'm not required to do,nor can easily see a tangible benefit for (even though I know it's there) is a hard thing to build into my thinking, let alone follow through on in a sustained way.

Anytime I've brought up the idea of faculty status for the librarians (and the accompanying impetus for and support to publish), the notion has been met with blank stares or a quick change of topic by my superiors. My two librarian employees do not seem keen on the idea of having to publish either, so the faculty status idea is going nowhere anytime soon.

On the other hand, if I had real incentive to publish, I think I would relish the task. Am I sure? Nope. I'm certainly not a great deep thinker or theorist, although I've always been good at intuitively seeing bigger pictures and thinking strategically. But I'm really at my best when just plain doing, or solving immediate problems. Or trying to simplify processes or concepts or information structures into usable, everyday, graspable objects for our users. That stuff comes naturally to me; the added aspect of reflecting on and deconstructing and placing those things within larger, more rigorous research structures, does not.

So now I'm thinking that rather than undertake a lame New Rear's resolution to cut out something bad from my diet, yadda, yadda, yadda, I may instead set myself a goal of getting something published in the library literature. Any one of the many unique things I do on a regular basis working with our adult distance learners in an academic library without books is certain to have appeal somewhere if I can just get off my lazy butt and do it!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

SideWiki's Demon Soul

This post was prompted most directly by an excellent post from the scholarly kitchen on Google's newly launched and somewhat controversial SideWiki tool, as well as a recent video review I saw on a new RPG video game I ordered for my PlayStation 3 called Demon's Souls.

How the hell do these weird topics come together, you ask?

My answer is that both SideWiki and Demon's Souls are built around innovative and immersive systems of collaborative experience sharing. They also, in theory anyways, both have mechanisms in place to reward communally beneficial behavior and prevent abuse and manipulation by those who inevitably try to do so.

Some explanations are in order.

First, Demon's Souls. This has a cool feature built into it's very difficult role playing game design (you're meant to die a lot and need to do lots of trial and error to proceed through the levels, defeat bosses, etc.): the ability to leave messages, hints and advice within the game environment that any other players of the game can opt to view. Those that are found to be helpful are voted so (and I believe the people leaving helpful messages are also rewarded in-game via health increases) and remain in the system, those that aren't disappear quickly. In other words, a sort of wiki-like help system with built in rewards for beneficial behavior.

Google SideWiki is a Google Toolbar add-on that allows those using it to leave comments on any page on the web, see the comments that others have left on any page, and rate the helpfulness of others comments (you can also report spam comments). Google SideWiki claims to have an algorithm in place to automatically display the most relevant comments at the top.

In both cases, in one aspect at least, this is standard social media, user-driven design. Neither concept is totally original (for example Diigo has many of the same web page annotation features as SideWiki), but I believe they both hold great potential beyond that to transform how we interact and share experiences. Both transcend the single user or single site experience.

In the case of SideWiki, instead of comments being relegated and controlled by the site owner, they are set free from those confines and placed over top of any individual site or page. There are lots of reasons to be distrustful of Google's ubiquitous and growing control of information through these kinds of initiatives (read the comments here for lots more on that, especially the concerns of site owners), but I want to instead look past that; focus on the positive potential it holds for library users, information literacy, and library instruction.

Examples of possible use:
  • As a library site owner I can place useful tips on how to navigate and find resources or do searching right on the pages where they'll have the most impact and without intruding on the precious real-estate of the actual page. From what I gather there is a way to identify yourself as the site owner (via some embedded code similar to Google Analytics) so that your comments appear at the top by default.
  • As an instructor, I could have an exercise, for example, where I ask students to find information on their topic within our site and on each page along the way, make a reflective comment on their choices and what worked or didn't work for them. I could take it a step further and have each student then go to the profile of a fellow student and follow their footsteps and make further comments on their comments, etc. I don't think this will work within secure pages, but as far as navigating our site to get to a specific search tool and get the students to think critically about their choices, this has potential.
  • As a distance learning student, I can potentially participate in a communal activity to share experiences and ideas with my peers and classmates. Building an online college community is one I'm especially interested in, since this is a large obstacle to overcome (and desire on the students' part, based on feedback the college has collected) for our institution.
Those are just a couple of ideas off the top of my head. The big question is whether will this tool survive the rigors of time, user adoption, and spammers and marketers? Having the Google brand behind it certainly helps. I'm looking at ways to experiment with it (and of course, with Google Wave if I ever get an invite!). If you have any ideas, let me know!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Google to Teach Library Search Techniques?

I am contemplating using this kind of thing as exercise or demo for my next batch of "Introduction to Searching" workshops (as well as for a self-paced information literacy tutorial we are revamping.

One of the connections I seek to make when teaching is the importance of early search strategy steps such as gathering a list of keywords and combining them in such a way that you get relevant results. In other words, "making the sale" to students to invest some time and thought into brainstorming/crafting a useful search strategy/search strings. I never use the term "Boolean," but I do talk about basic search techniques such as AND, OR, double quotes, etc.

Below are some screen shots of results from Google and ProQuest showing the differences between typing a whole search topic or sentence into a search box (which a lot of our students do) versus ones that have been more properly formatted so that a search tool will understand what you are looking for and hopefully give you more relevant results:

Google search 1 (unformatted): 3.9 million results

Google search 2 (formatted): 17,200 results

Library Database search 1 (unformatted): 14 results

Library database search 2 (formatted): 160 results:

The complexity arises in the contradiction that an unformatted Google search gets you way too many results, while an unformatted library database search will sometimes get you too few (if any) results or too many (i.e., EBSCO will default to their SmartText search if none are found). I'm not sure if taking the time to show these differences will make it more confusing or less for students as to why they should format their searches, especially since more and more vendors are making it possible to put in entire sentences and at least get some results...

Monday, September 21, 2009

Digest of Recent Useful Links for Library Instruction

Just a quickie list of some recent links from my Diigo account of tools/sites I think have some real or potential use for teacher librarians and or for library instruction:

Friday, September 18, 2009

Recording of Instructional Session

I recently did three in-person 50 minute instructional sessions for incoming BA nursing students and (without telling me until I arrived), one of those sessions was recorded and put into a fairly slick streaming media presentation format using Accordant. The side panel only includes rough screen shots, but next time I want to do a live screencast to go alongside video of me teaching. The room I was given was also not ideal: a tiny conference room with a giant, unmovable table in the middle, so the video angle isn't great (note: this may not work on some FireFox browsers without a plug-in, but works in IE just fine):

I cringe looking at myself in these kinds of things, and the last session I did went much smoother, but this turned out ok I guess.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Reading Habits Meme

Picked up via the Opinions of a Wolf blog, a reading habits meme:

Do you snack while you read? If so, favorite reading snack?

Not usually. Although I do enjoy sipping a beer or a glass of wine while reading sometimes.

Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of
writing in books horrify you?
The idea doesn't horrify me, but I tend not to do it simply because I like to lend books out to others and my own preference is to come at a story (whether book, movie, etc.) with a blank slate, with no foreknowledge of the details or detailed opinions from others on it.

How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears? Laying the book flat open?
I have a few random objects I use, such as an Animatrix patch I got somewhere, a joker playing card, and I think an old monopoly $100 bill somewhere...

Fiction, Non-fiction, or both?
I prefer fiction (science fiction, comics and graphic novels specifically), but delve into classic and modern fiction or interesting non-fiction on occasion.

Hard copy or audiobooks?
Hard copy. When listening, I prefer loud, fast music and doing something else (like driving or housework or working out).

Are you a person who tends to read to the end of chapters, or are you
able to put a book down at any point
I read every night before bed so I can put a book down at any point. I suspect though that most, like me, prefer to stop at chapter ends.

If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop to look it up right away?
I used to do this a lot more, but nowadays I can usually get a meaning from the context.

What are you currently reading?
The Diamond Age: Neal Stephenson

Ultra: The Luna Brothers

What is the last book you bought?
Ultra: The Luna Brothers

Are you the type of person that only reads one book at a time or can
you read more than one at a time?
I usually have one novel, one graphic novel and one comic going at the same time, but rarely have more than one of each going at any one time. If I'm reading something that isn't grabbing me enough I just put it aside for another time and move onto the next one from my "on deck" shelf.

Do you have a favorite time of day and/or place to read?
My fave place is on a hot sunny day (or morning) at the beach or at a quiet park.

Do you prefer series books or stand alone books?
Doesn't matter to me as long as they have compelling stories, although to me there are few series that can stay fresh and compelling after more than a couple titles.

Is there a specific book or author that you find yourself recommending over and over?
Neal Stephenson and William Gibson I recommend all the time, even to non sci-fi fans because their stuff is just that good. Watership Down is my fave title of all time and something that everyone should read as an adult.

How do you organize your books? (By genre, title, author’s last name, etc.?)
I organize by author last name, although I separate out (mostly due to space) my "on deck," reference, poetry, science fiction and graphic novel collections into their own shelves.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Use of Analogy in Instruction

I got to thinking about my use of analogies for library instruction recently; as a way to relate info lit concepts to student experiences. I need to do this more often (another way ACRL Immersion had an effect on me).

Here are two I use, in brief (keep in mind I teach adult learners, so the analogies reflect that):
  1. Information evaluation is skill you already possess. E.g: How many of you go grocery shopping? When buying milk or a piece of meat, what do you look at before buying? Expiration date, brand, price, nutrition information, right? No one really had to teach you that skill. You just don't want to end up with spoiled food. Same thing applies to information. You just need to think a little more deliberately about it at first and then you'll start doing it naturally and make sure you don't include any rotten or spoiled pieces of information in your paper! (handout related to this)
  2. Research requires planning and adaptation. If you've ever put together or even attended a dinner party, birthday party, shower, or wedding, you probably know that at least in part, a failed party was due to poor or non-existent planning, or perhaps too rigid a plan, right? If some thought wasn't put into what supplies and entertainment and floor planning was needed, or if some flexibility wasn't intentionally built into a party plan, allowing for things to change if needed, disaster can easily follow. The same thing applies to doing a research assignment. Your professors can spot a poorly planned paper from a mile away and your grade will often reflect that. So I'm here to tell you, start thinking strategically about your research assignments in advance. What information do you need? When can I devote time to doing that research? But also think of doing research as a loose plan that can and often does need adjustment. If your original research topic or thesis doesn't fit what you're finding when you start searching and reading the literature, think about adapting your topic. If your search strategy isn't finding any relevant information, think about adapting your search strategy. Am I using the most effective search terms? Have I combined those terms in a way the tool I'm using can understand?

What analogies do you use?

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Wonder Wheel

While I'm on a roll (2 posts within 24 hrs!) and talking about Google, I thought I'd talk a little about another recently launched Google product called Wonder Wheel. It's a new (and kind of buried) feature for Google Search (and I'm unclear if it's available to everyone by default yet or not) that I think has some potential use for our students and for information literacy instruction.

You can read about what this tool is, step-by-step, here and here. Basically, it's a visual keyword map/thesaurus, which allows you to drill down into specific aspects of a topic; to explore the relationships between terms. When you click on a related or sub-term, it shows you new results based on that new term. Below is a screen capture I did for "drug abuse." (a topic I use a lot for instruction exercises).

In effect, this is very similar to tools such as VisualThesaurus, but more practical from the student perspective (because it is integrated into Google!). This kind of tool, properly taught within the context of information evaluation and basic discipline terminology (because I'm assuming Wonder Wheel terms displayed are based not on any controlled or discipline-related terminology), could be useful for information literacy instruction in helping students overcome the all too common issues of paper topic narrowing and finding a usable place to start getting a handle on the terminology surrounding that topic.

If only it was integrated into Google Scholar and Google Books! Hopefully that will come in time, and not get spoiled by the inevitable monetization of the product via paid placement, etc..

Friday, May 29, 2009

Quick Thoughts on Google Wave

I haven't posted on here in ages. Seems recent personal events (I'm single for the 1st time in years) and my dual twitter and gaming addictions have seriously eroded my blogging output!

Anyways, some brief, initial thoughts on Google's recently announced Wave product. It has generated a decent amount of blogosphere chatter already and I imagine that once a public version is launched and developers start cranking out apps from it, there will be much more discussion and argument about how we communicate, collaborate and socialize online and how this does or doesn't change things. I suspect that this tool won't be an end-all-be-all, paradigm-changing product, even on a par with Twitter, but it may mark the beginning of a shift away from what has now been several decades of "traditional" email communication, and in my scifi-addled mind, move us one more tiny step towards a less-nefarious version of a Borg-like collective intelligence.

From a library standpoint, this sort of path may further muddle (but I hope in the end, after unavoidable growing pains, help us overcome) already seriously backwards and muddied online intellectual property and copyright issues and laws. Where we will end up is anyone's guess, but I'm excited to see the discussions that grow out of all this.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Amazon Censors LGBT Books

I thought this issue was important enough, and certainly relevant to librarians, that I'm reposting from my other, personal blog:

The recent and on-going imbroglio over Amazon's seemingly intentional censorship of LGBT books (despite their claims denying it) got me thinking: what else might the mega-information companies (Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, our Government, the telecoms, etc.) that we all now pretty much depend on, be influencing/censoring/favoring based on political/social/religious beliefs, that we don't even know about yet?

Kind of scary, isn't it?

On the other hand, the fact that this Amazon thing (which I won't discuss, as far more knowledgeable people than me have done that already here, here & here) was caught so early and then publicized so widely and loudly by the blogosphere as to make Amazon rethink their stance, gives me hope that there is power in the collective citizen potential of web 2.0 (and beyond) technologies.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Info Lit on the Rise at MPOW!

Fact: the level of student information literacy skills at MPOW is scarily low, in just about every measurable facet. Don't get me wrong, there are many very smart and very talented and very motivated students here, they just aren't directed (i.e., forced) towards learning opportunities in this area. This is to be expected, I suppose, when talking about working adult, distance learners, many of whom haven't been near a library or a research paper beyond the high school level in decades, if ever. They are juggling work, family and school responsibilities, so participation in strictly-voluntary online info lit instruction sessions can only have limited reach, even if we had a giant marketing budget and the active support of all our faculty (which we don't).

There is no requirement for students to get any sort of information literacy or library instruction; not even a library orientation (granted, we don't have a physical library, so it would be a virtual orientation). There is an optional Info Lit course, but it is not taught by a librarian and the content, from what I can tell, is not tied into our resources or current learning theory much at all. Since all classes (there are hundreds) are either entirely online, or blended at our regional locations, and there are only 3 FT librarians on staff (none at any of the regional locations), delivery of course-level instruction is virtually impossible. Instead, in theory, a watered-down and generalized Gen. Ed. "information management" requirement is "infused" into the curriculum. Whether these requirements, let alone a more rigorous set of skills as outlined in ACRL standards, are given much consideration in the instructional design process is up for debate.

A few months ago I participated in an assessment of our Information Management rubric using a sampling of papers provided to us from various classes. Of the 100 or so papers that I assessed, only about 2 or 3 (that's not a typo!) cited any sort of peer-reviewed source or even anything from any of our library databases. Many (far too many) cited only the textbook and or a couple of dubious-quality web pages. Even then many facts were not cited and the citations included often followed no formatting style. I was thoroughly disheartened/disillusioned/frightened after this experience and I made it clear (as the only librarian serving on that assessment team) that we needed to address this asap.

A little more background: the college was chartered without a physical library (we started out in the 70's as a correspondence college), and the online library is managed by the office of Ed Tech (which is itself viewed with disdain by some faculty). I think librarians here have always been viewed as 2nd class citizens by both the faculty and the administration, and the idea of faculty status is greeted mostly with silence. When I started 5 years ago, the library consisted of myself and the library manager. There was (and never had been) any direct library instruction offered to students (except what could be done via phone and email reference interactions). A limited amount of instruction was aimed at faculty, with the idea, I suppose, that faculty would then incorporate these skills into their instructional design and or pass it along to students in other ways. In addition, tutorials were placed on the website, and a flash-based orientation to the library was buried in a CD about technology at the college, and given to all new students.

Two years ago we did break through the barrier a little when I was tasked with designing and coordinating a pilot program of online, hands-on basic skills workshops for students who can drive into one of our regional centers, in cooperation with a cadre of newly hired, front-line academic support directors (who do have faculty status). Keep in mind also that instruction is not a primary part of my performance program and I had little teaching or instructional design experience at that point (and I still have a ton to learn!).

It appears the assessment outcomes, and the constant pleading from the librarians has had an impact. We have been doing the online workshops for students for more than a year (and now offer a version that students can participate in directly from home) and I got some hints from my boss that I should start investigating the possibility of designing a credit course of some kind.

So things are looking up in the information literacy biz here, thankfully. And hopefully after I come back from the Info Lit Immersion program this summer, I'll be brimming with great ideas and a solid theoretical foundation on which to build a more in-depth and innovative info lit program.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Virtual, Collaborative Info Lit Instruction at the Consortial Level?

As I sit here at 4am Saturday morning , insomnia stubbornly staving off slumber, I thought I'd take a stab at reviving this blog with a random thought.

I've been using an online, synchronous classroom tool called Elluminate Live! Academic for a while now to teach simple one or two hour, hands-on, voluntary workshops, both to students who can come into our participating regional computer labs located throughout the state (each regional center is semi-autonomous & not every one participates in this program for reasons I have yet to figure out, but most likely territorial), and directly to students at their home computers. The program has mostly been a success so far (the @Home version is still in pilot phase), although not without a few hiccups along the way.

I should mention that Elluminate is also tentatively (there are many administrators and faculty who have a hard time with this kind of technology, and many centers and units do not yet have the equipment or technical support know-how to use it effectively) being used throughout our geographically dispersed college centers and units as a means of convening virtual meetings, and by the language faculty as a way of doing live language speaking exercises with their students.

In addition, I've also offered up our library's Elluminate room as a means of holding meetings for the SUNYLA instructional subcommittee I sit on. I have also suggested that SUNYLA, SUNYConnect (the body that purchases library resources for use by all SUNY institutions) or even SUNY as a whole, think about purchasing a consortia-wide subscription to this product or something similar for use by libraries, faculty and administrators.

I view such an initiative as a parallel to today's economic crisis and Obama's stimulus plan. We need to spend money up front to save money in the long run and make things run smoother. On the financial side, a consortial-wide subscription would allow us to negotiate a large discount, as well as save everyone who serves on various SUNY- or SUNYLA-wide bodies tons of money on travel and lodging.

On the academic side, it could potentially open up a whole new avenue for collaboration. For example, I could see interested instructional librarians coordinating on planning, delivering and assessing a suite of workshops targeting many kinds of information literacy skills to students (and faculty) at various levels of experience. With the ability to team-teach (and offer a great way to mentor & train new or even still-in-school instructional librarians) and offer exponentially expanded instructional opportunities across institutions as well as to students regardless of physical location, this could have a major impact on the acquisition of basic information literacy skills, which I would guess continues to be a major concern at all institutions.

Alas, whether a large and varied consortia like SUNY can ever come to a consensus on what product to purchase, how to pay for it, and how to administer it, let alone whether it's worth the price up front to do it, is a challenge far beyond my meager strategic experiences. But I think it's certainly worth looking at.