Thursday, December 30, 2010

Information Literacy + Role-Playing Game = ILRPG?

The basic idea is this:
  • To develop (in my case, preferably an online) role playing game structure as one possible way for college students to explore and engage in the various aspects of the research and knowledge creation processes. 
  • To tap students' existing critical thinking and social networking skills to effectively interact with information and do research. 
  • To reward that learning process through a role-playing lens by allowing them to gain "experience points" and "level up their skills" and "gather loot" - and ideally, to do so collaboratively and competitively with their peers.
    via Flickr CC license, by Narisa
    This idea (which is not original by any stretch) is seeing light on my blog now due to several factors:
    1. I am an unabashed game geek. Not only am I a bit addicted to role playing video games, but I was an old-school AD&D and other pen and pencil RPG player way back in the early days of the genre.
    2. The growing popularity of online, socially networked RPG-style games like World of Warcraft, Farmville, etc.
    3. Growing evidence that integrating aspects of gaming into education, when done right, can be effective. Example studies.
    4. Rise of some (limited at present) tools that allow the creation of online games without necessarily needing hardcore programming skills, long term development time frames and large capital investments.
    5. Recent changes in my job responsibilities have allowed me the luxury of a few spare moments on most days to actually sit down and think theoretically and strategically about library instruction and information literacy (rather than spending every moment putting out fires and managing people).
    6. Most recently, reading this post, from the CUNY Games Network: Developmental Writing, the RPG
    Flick CC, by BCth
    Some very initial, pie-in-the-sky ideas along these lines:
    • A detective or P.I.-based game where each student mocks up their own avatar and takes on "cases" solo or in co-op or groups. They might then solve mysteries or cases that tasked them with locating specific pieces of evidence (facts) and piecing them together to make an arrest or conviction.
    • A cyberpunk game where each student is an underground resistance "information hacker" in a dystopian future where all information is controlled by some nefarious government. Their job is to find evidence of information tampering and put together that information in a way that will expose the truth to the repressed citizenry.
    • A medieval/fantasy setting where the student is a young knight, monk or scholar who must locate and convey knowledge and skills to his or her small fiefdom and citizenry in order to bring prosperity and technological advancements to the people and expand the borders of "civilization" or keep the monsters/villains of ignorance at bay.
    In each case, a player might create an avatar of some kind and get or choose stats, that might then influence what quests they would get. Upon completing missions/cases/quests they would level up their character and acquire experience points, choose better skills, weapons, trophies or spells (e.g., "Illuminate" or "Pick Lock" or "Smiting Hammer of Justice," and perhaps even the ability to form guilds or groups based around common interests or areas of study when they reach a certain experience level, which then might lead to the development of larger-scale quests that would require groups of people working simultaneously on multiple fronts to resolve.

    As I said above, this is all pie-in-the-sky unfinished ideas at present. I have no real data whether such a system could be effectively created (even on pen and paper), let alone implemented successfully to teach information literacy online. I think it's something worth further investigation on my part, though, to see where it takes me...

    Monday, December 20, 2010

    Thursday, November 4, 2010

    A Literacy of Change?

    This is something that has been brewing in the back of my mind for months, but it wasn't until a recent 2 day seminar I attended on management and leadership where it really gelled.

    The idea of change literacy.

    In the management seminar we talked a good deal about "managing change" and about how it really isn't possible to "motivate" people or get them to accept change, but instead we can work towards creating an environment where people can choose to be motivated, can choose to adapt to and even lead the way toward change.

    The same thing might be said for college students and all the various literacies and information skills we try to instill in them.  Most of us handle change of most kinds badly. It's instinctual to react negatively to change. Change requires thinking, it requires effort. It comes down to this: students might be more capable of navigating and effectively using the wide variety of information tools and types for the wide variety of purposes required of them in their academic and professional careers if they had a better handle on how to deal with change, or at the very least an understanding of how we instinctively react to change so that it can be counter balanced to achieve a goal.

    I've encountered so many students who are completely flustered and frustrated by the constantly fluctuating set of academic search tools and information platforms. When faced with a library database different that what we used in a workshop, or when faced with a different menu of options (of search terms, of search tools, of search or result options) students often panic and then flee to the familiar territory of Google.

    I have yet to do any research into the science and psychology of change and change management, but I suspect that if those of us dealing with teaching information and other literacies had a better understanding of how people react to change, we might be better equipped to instill in our students skills that will truly be lifelong, instead of just for the length of a specific class or academic career.

    Who knows, a focus on change literacy might even go a ways in helping citizens of  democracies more critically evaluate and react to the often empty and usually manipulative calls for generic "change" that seem to dominant our political arenas.

    This video is business and "change management" oriented and aimed at "futurists," but it's interesting:

    Tuesday, October 5, 2010

    Presentation skills in librarianship

    In the past several weeks I've done a handful of presentations or workshops for our faculty, staff and students. They all were at least moderately successful and I even got some compliments on my presentation style, including adjectives such as "verve," "passion," "commanding attention" and "impressive."  Let me be clear: I would not describe myself in those ways. I am a passable presenter on the few things (like my library!) I am knowledgeable about, but I'm far from a dynamic speaker.

    I think what may be happening here, at least in part, is a lowering of standards. We have probably all had to sit through at least a few boring presentations filled with text-heavy power point slides and an uninspired or overly nervous delivery. Perhaps so much so that when someone does something a little different, it "commands attention." But the norms and best practices for presentations are slowly changing. Watch most any TED Talk to see what I mean.

    I've been lucky enough to be at a point in my career where I've gained a bit of mastery over my chosen professional field (librarianship) and have, over the years, overcome my fear of public speaking. When you've gone through some of the massive life changes I have, you tend to stop worrying overly about what others think of you. In other words, it helped me build up some self-confidence. Being an effective presenter is something that comes with practice and necessity

    As a result, I've been able to overcome my reliance on power point slides and, whenever possible, don't use them at all. If I do use them, I go with less words and more imagery as a re-reinforcement of what I'm saying (and I do intentionally try to project passion when I speak/present/teach), rather than a reminder to myself of what I'm "supposed to say."

    via Flickr cc, by Elizabethdunn
    The bottom line to me is that most audiences/students/listeners can tell when you're reading from your notes or a script (or from rote memory), or when you don't care about what you're speaking about. When they realize this? zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...

    Having said that, perhaps we as a profession need to focus more on teaching library students (and new librarians) "non-traditional" presentation skills (which also goes hand-in-hand with instruction skills and being "authentic").  These are the kinds of essential skills that can be brought to bear on almost any aspect of the profession; especially for getting the attention of your constituencies or getting your point of view/goal across to whatever audience you find yourself in front of at any time.

    Librarianship, for the most part, is not for the shy or timid. It is a service profession that requires confidence and the ability to communicate effectively. This latter is boiler plate language on almost all library (and probably many non-library) job postings these days. Is it overlooked or downplayed during the interview process, or is it just one of those intangibles that is hard to screen for? I suspect a little of both, perhaps.

    If you want to read up on some presentation skills, I recommend Presentation Zen as a blog to start with. Tons of practical, but well presented and contextualized tips there!

    Monday, September 27, 2010

    Meat Locker #1: Roadkill Retread

    I've decided to do a regular column about my (and my teammates) experiences in roller derby, which I'm calling "The Meat Locker."

    Yes, I know about the derogatory alternative use of this phrase, but I'll be damned if I'll let a few misogynistic douches who might use it that way own the term. 

    Anyways, some details: I'm "Roadkill" - current fresh meat for The Hellions of Troy roller derby league. I've been on skates for a total of about 2 months. Before that, I skated maybe 2-3 times in my life.  Needless to say, in the first couple practices I was a bit unsteady on my (rented) wheels. I fell down A LOT, and I think that may have played a part in the meat name I was given... :-)

    I can say this with authority: confidence plays a HUGE roll in how you do in practice. If you're new to skating or even just to roller derby, most of the positions and drills will feel very awkward at first. You are using muscles that most other sports just don't use. I run on a regular basis and am in decent shape overall, but I was (and still am, only less so) totally out of derby shape!  Did I say I fell A LOT yet? :-)

    But I believed in myself; I knew with practice and hard work, I'd pick it up evetually. The coaches and vets are also very supportive, so that helped! So my "game" has seen vast improvements. I still have a long ways to go, but I'll get there.

    My hope is to bring some of the excitement I feel in playing this sport to these posts, so I hope you'll follow along. Lots more to come about the game, the struggles and strategy, the after-parties, and I also plan to snag some of my fellow meat for interviews and their own thoughts. Stay tuned!

    Wednesday, September 15, 2010

    Newest Playthings

    Pressed for time this week, so a quick list of the newest toys/tools that I've taken at least a passing fancy to:

    • Greplin: it's a personal search engine for your social networks and email! You can search all your GMail, GCal, twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook posts, Dropbox and Evernote (this one req's a Pro acct tho) items at once.
    • Weebly: for creating a quick, professional looking site in a flash. I used it to create a "Save the Date" page that includes an embedded Xtranormal video on it for an upcoming conference I am helping put together.
    • Dragon Age: Origins: one of the best RPG video games ever made. I bought this for the PC a while back but got distracted and didn't get far into it. Now that my PS3 and Wii are gone via a recent burglary of my apartment, I have more time to go back to PC games (silver lining)! This is a must play for any fantasy RPG or D&D fan (but get the PC version rather than the console, if possible).

      Thursday, September 9, 2010

      New Podcast: The WGIL Room

      Two super-smart fellow SUNY librarians, and myself have started a regular podcast called "The WGIL Room," where we discuss issues surrounding library instruction, information literacy and emerging technologies. I just launched the blog for it yesterday, so take a look, give it a listen, subscribe (iTunesU hopefully also coming), and tell us what you think of it (bearing in mind it's a work in progress!):

      The WGIL Room podcast

      Wednesday, September 8, 2010

      Learning Pains

      1. via Flickr CC license, by the Comic Shop
      2. via Flickr CC license, by Gomisan

      For the last 90 days or so I've been immersing myself in the world of roller derby via twice a week, increasingly more physically and mentally intense, basic skills practices. During this time as Hellions of Troy "fresh meat," I've come to realize how effortless many of the veteran derby girls make the sport look. The reality is that each and every one of them has poured volumes of sweat and hard work into first learning the basics (it's far more than just knowing how to skate around), and then getting comfortable with a fairly high level of strategic thinking on top of the physical effort required to be successful in actual bouts. In short, I've been working my ass off and I still have a long way to go before I get into bouts! But to me, the effort, and the camaraderie I am experiencing with my fellow fresh meat as we struggle together, is half the fun!

      To relate this back to libraries:
      This is probably my curmudgeonly, old school self talking here, but in some respects, many new (and even veteran) college students seem to have a misconception about the level of effort needed to learn and do effective research (if they even recognize that they need to learn in the first place). The Google and Smartphone Age we're currently living through (and just now, Google's Instant Search feature is launching!) has, I believe, helped add to the mass-illusion that all information is at our fingertips and that one can somehow magically translate this into real learning and knowledge with little struggle or critical thinking. Not to say that Google and smartphones aren't great tools or that older generations didn't arrive at college with similar slacker attitudes and misconceptions.

      But I wonder how many students, at any educational level, are told (or given the opportunity to discuss the possibility) that they will need to work hard and think hard about how to get comfortable doing academic and professional level research? I run into too many students unwilling or unable to grasp the concept that good research is hard work (especially at first), for me to believe many are.  Research is far more involved than doing a simple book report, or typing in your research question in a Google search box, downloading some results and writing a paper from that and a textbook.

      Can we, as librarians, help instill in our users a sense of pride in learning information and digital literacy skills, without scaring them off  into the often misinformed, commercially-biased arms of total Google and FOX News reliance? Can we as academic librarians help build communities of "fresh meat" information literacy learners that will help and support each other to ensure they all succeed? This is something I need to think long and hard about myself...

      Thursday, September 2, 2010

      Fitting In or Being Tied? (A Rant)

      Below are some member comments excerpted from the excellent ACRL report, Futures Thinking for Academic Librarians: Higher Education in 2025.

      I agree with almost everything that is said in this quote except for it's underlying argument that we need to ensure our place in academia; that we need to make sure librarians "fit" into the learning process:
      Libraries will need to reconsider what their relevance is in the research process. We need to start considering what our ‘deeper meaning’ is to researchers to ensure that we fit into this new model. I feel strongly that we will have a role - it will look different from our role now, and we need to be careful not to cling to past practice for nostalgic reasons. (in response to the prospect of open peer-review becoming a norm, p. 10)
      If we are at the point where we need to justify our existence, is it already too late? Isn't there a danger, when our focus is on justifying our existence and changing primarily for the sake of ensuring our existence, of losing touch with our core values and mission, in the process?  I certainly don't have the answers, but I would argue academic librarians for the most part already fit and will continue to evolve their role, along with the rest of academia, as we've been doing for more than a century. Instead, we need to do a better job of collaborating with and promoting our skills and value within academia (note: there are other quotes scattered within this report that argue this same point).

      Another quote in response to an increase in non-traditional students:
      This scenario gives libraries an opportunity to play a larger role in the teaching function of the academy. We have a lot to offer the changing face of the university. (p. 12)
      By the way, the description of a non-traditional learning model in this section is almost exactly the same as the current model/mission at MPOW (SUNY Empire State College Mission Statement).

      Again, I agree with the message here. However, working at an institution at the cutting edge of this non-traditional learning model, I can state there is a danger that the crucial role of the librarian in the learning process will be forgotten or tossed aside. I hope this is only a function of MPOW, as there has never been a traditional bricks and mortar library here. But the low perception of our value here (we are mostly considered IT staff with no faculty status and can't even have the word "librarian" in our official title) does make me a bit nervous for the profession in the distance learning arena. Librarians here have always lived inside the often isolating cocoon of IT, and the fact that we have no building and no books, perhaps prejudices our faculty and administration to assume the online library and the teaching of information literacy skills somehow just run themselves.

      Recently, in meeting with my nursing faculty (they are the best!), one noted that some faculty in other disciplines seemed to have no idea that there were only three of us serving the entire college. To put that in perspective, we are three FT librarians serving approximately 20,000 non-traditional students and more than a thousand faculty!

      Tuesday, August 3, 2010

      Fresh Meat and the Creative Commons

      Being a newly minted "fresh meat" roller derby girl, I was proud to receive my temporary meat name last night. The only rule of thumb for a meat name is that it be meat-based (or, for vegetarians, meat substitute based). Can you guess my meat name from this photo?

      via Flickr Creative Commons license, by Lady/Bird
      Anyways, when searching for a pic for this post, I thought I might make sure I'm up to date on my knowledge of copyright and use of others' creative property. Just like plagiarism of text, you cannot just grab any image from the web and use it for your own web site, blog or even power point presentation without permission. Copyright rules apply. Luckily, there is a wealth of material available that has been given some variation of a Creative Commons license. The photo above was found using the Flickr Advanced Search and checking the box for limiting the search to Creative Commons work (Google Images probably has a similar search limiter). If you upload your own pictures to Flickr, you also have the option of designating them as creative commons works, so that others might reuse or adapt it, as I've done above.

      To learn more about using images and Creative Commons:

      Next time you post a blog or create content, think about sprucing it up with some visual Creative Commons flair!

      Monday, August 2, 2010

      The Problem with Community Q&A Services and FAQs

      Briefly: more often than not, people do not have a clear idea what they need or how to ask for it. 

      So my response to the recent resurgence of online community Q&A services, like Facebook is trying, is that they are probably doomed to failure. Not to say there's no place for such services. I think, especially within niche communities, they serve an invaluable source of support and information. But it takes training and experience to be able to guide most general information seekers to uncover what they really need. In my opinion, this cannot be effectively accomplished, beyond rudimentary questions (which can mostly be answered by simply "Googling it" anyways), by anonymous voluntary answerer's or by reams of FAQs.

      These are skills that trained librarians and other specialty service personnel do best through what we in the library world call the "reference interview." It is a give and take; a negotiation; and a teachable moment. So I'll be watching Facebook's efforts in this area. I don't think the service (or others like it) are any sort of threat to libraries, especially if we continue to get the word out about our value and skills. Granted the library profession still has lots of room for improvement in that department.

      Friday, July 30, 2010

      Library Day(s) in the Life, Round 5

      I've been busy tweeting all week for this (mostly so I'd remember what I did), so  wanted to have a nice write up summary of my week. Time, however, has failed me and as I look at my tweets, I am uninspired to write up a simple summary. So instead, I just encourage you to view my #libday5 tweets if you have an interest in the doings of an academic, online distance librarian and assistant director. My day is probably very unique to where I work (for one, we have no books and no library building!), but for the most part, I do love it!

      Update 9/2/10: I forgot that Twitter Searches don't include older tweets, so I've changed the links to my #libday5 stream above to run through - they should now include all my tweets from last week.

      Wednesday, July 28, 2010

      Blog Name Change


      If you didn't know already, I have been maintaining a now mostly dormant personal blog, The Disobedient Librarian. Time constraints are forcing me to close down that other blog (although I'll keep the content there and link to it) and, since I like that name better, switch the name of this blog to that.  I'll also probably be mixing in some more personal interest stuff on this blog now, such as occasional transgender issues.

      Hope I don't confuse or turn off too many people (i.e., the ones of loyal readers that subscribe to this blog)!

      Monday, July 26, 2010

      Roller Jammin'

      An online librarian friend from GA, upon hearing that I was joining the new meat ranks of a local Roller Derby league (I don't get a meat name until after 3 practices), asked "You too? What is it with librarians and roller derby?"

      Indeed, I know of at least 2 or 3 other librarians who roll (such as the awesome Jan Dawson). I also hear there is another librarian in my league, although I haven't met her yet.

      But before I get ahead of myself: at this point, I can barely skate! I am in good jogging shape, but roller derby uses a whole different set of muscles. As with most new adventures/experiences, I'm sure this will give me further insight into my teaching and learning skills.

      Anyways, I came away from the recruitment practice night feeling good (although sweating profusely) and promptly ordered some gear online. Once I make a decision to do something, I'm usually all in. I'm looking forward to learning about the sport and hopefully eventually (after a minimum of 3 months of 2-3x practices a week, and passing some skills tests) getting into a bout!

      Friday, July 16, 2010

      Instructional Roleplaying Idea: Stone Age Hunter

      A thought popped into my head a few minutes ago and I'm now (perhaps unwisely) setting down those half-baked initial thoughts here.

      We 're in the process of overhauling our out-dated self-paced information literacy online course. I'm not doing the day-to-day work, but am giving feedback regularly, in an attempt to keep the project on an even keel and give it my thoughts as far as two skills I do relatively well in: student-centered instruction/design and strategic thinking. My focus has been on suggesting ways to streamline things (keeping the jargon to a minimum, basing the content on real world experiences that students can relate to), making sure content addresses multiple learning styles and is as interactive as possible (given no access to programming or visual design skills), and that a coherent narrative and design flow is maintained. We are using WordPress for the new site (the current one resides in Lotus Notes and is almost totally text-based).

      My current thoughts are on the best way to get students thinking critically about the steps in the research process; how to get them invested in the entire process at the outset; interested in exploring the details, or at least open to the idea. Currently, we've got the research steps labeled simply (which is good), but broadly and rather generically (each category contains multiple subsections):
      • Develop a Topic
      • Strategize
      • Search
      • Evaluate
      • Cite
      My concern is: will students gain anything from these labels? Will they be able to connect those labels to the more concrete steps outlined within each of them? If not, is there a better way to "brand" the research process within this site so it has more a visceral impact?

      So my half-baked idea is this: turn the research process into a role-playing scenario where the student becomes a stone age hunter seeking to feed his or her family. The steps in the research process would then become the steps needed for the student to hunt and kill a stone age creature, such as a mastodon. The alternate labels I came up with were:
      • Seek populated hunting grounds (topic creation)
      • Coordinate the attack  (strategize)
      • The Hunt (search)
      • Take the best cuts of meat (evaluate)
      • Honor the animal's spirit  (cite)
      I know this metaphor could use lots of work (perhaps there might be a "gatherers" metaphor to mine from this, too, for the vegetarians?) and I'm not even certain it would resonate with anyone, but in spare moments, I'll see if this path bears any fruit. Going a couple steps further, I could see, for example, this kind of thing being a cool setting for an instructional role-playing game (IRPG?). Your thoughts?

      Thursday, July 15, 2010

      The Gentle Art of Teachable Moments

      I hope by now that most librarians have come to realize we all do instruction. Some of us in formal learning situations, but all of us in various informal ways.  Is this kind of worldview of the profession taught or discussed in LIS schools, I wonder? It certainly wasn't when I went in the late 90's and I suspect it still isn't.

      In reality, every single interaction we have with students, faculty, patrons, colleagues, administrators, what have you, is a potential teachable moment. Using those teachable moments effectively is not a skill that can be quantified or taught. Rather, it is an art form that has to be felt instinctively (but grows with experience), and acted upon confidently.

      The real artistry of our profession comes in recognizing when and how much teaching can be injected into any interaction. The reality, at least in my dealings with adult distance learners, is that knowing when and how much "providing the fish" versus "teaching them to fish" to use is extremely tricky. Give out too much fish and you've missed the teachable moment and perhaps harmed the ability of that person to improve their own information skills in the longer term. But you can go overboard with the teaching part, too. Some people don't have the time or inclination or have the current frame of mind to want to learn in that specific moment. Trying to inject too much teaching into those interactions can turn the person off to using library services at all.

      One of the John Henry's of the librarian twitterati (I mean that in a good way!), Andy Woodworth (@wawoodworth), posts an excellent periodic twitter poll and recently asked what librarians thought the number one quality of library staff should be. There were a ton of great answers to that poll question. My answer is: the ability to effectively recognize and act upon teachable moments. Everything else we do successfully, in my humble opinion, can flow from that crucial skill.

      Wednesday, July 7, 2010

      Semantic Web or Romantic Dream?

      First, if you haven't done so, watch this excellent short film by Kate Ray, which looks at the concept of the semantic web and interviews leading thinkers in the field such as Tim Berners-Lee, Clay Shirky, etc:
      The skeptics section really struck a chord for me in this way: is the idea of a semantic web even possible without the benefactors of it (people) giving up a ton of privacy control? Facebook's recent highly controversial privacy policy changes can be viewed as an early but misguided attempt to harness some of the ideas of a semantic web. At least some of their aim, beyond the primary one of making more money, was probably to deliver a more personalized experience to their users by mining their habits and likes (via targeted ads, etc.). Will successful tools arise from this idea that don't either start or develop into commercial, for-profit undertakings? And if not, then do we really expect semantic web tools to actually understand our wants and needs on the fly, without having and sharing those habits with others?

      I guess the next question that arises from this is, and to me the one that most closely associates with my own interests and the profession of librarians: do people have anywhere near the information and privacy literacy skills to understand these issues and the possible consequences of not paying attention to the security and privacy of their own information and information habits? Do they even have the skills necessary today? I would argue no, and that for any kind of significant semantic web concept to succeed, that literacy piece needs to be addressed in a serious way.

      What say you?

      Thursday, June 24, 2010

      Stuff I've been playing with recently

      Things at MPOW have been very, very chaotic and busy these past couple of months and will probably continue to be through the summer. Here is a short list of some tech I've been experimenting with or implementing recently for various projects:
      • LibraryH3lp: this is our replacement for Meebo for chat reference (which is now our main avenue of reference interaction). It is cheap and several steps above meebo as far as flexibility, functionality and stability. Any library doing their own chat reference should look at this. 
      • WizHelp: great web-based tool for screen sharing and taking (or giving) control of a screen from someone else. Going to use this for online research assistance program. 
      • Setster: the scheduling piece to our research assistance program. It lets you easily create a site and set an online schedule and generate code to display a schedule widget on any web page. Basic functions & limited scheduling are free, but for some uses and functions you need to subscribe.The best thing about this tool is that it removes time slots that have already been reserved automatically.
      • Wallwisher: in a low effort effort to gather feedback from our users, I've put a link to one of these on our home page. It is basically an online post-it note board. Users post simple text notes (anonymously by default) onto a shared web space. The notes can then be moved around, group into categories, etc. I thought it might be a low-barrier, fun way to gather some open-ended feedback on our services and web site. Needs more promotion.
      • VoiceThread: this is more a theoretical thing. I've been thinking a lot lately about ways to pull students into the online library. One idea I had was to use VoiceThread (or similar platform) to build an online book and video discussion club. For example, we subscribe to Films on Demand, so it might be cool to pick out a good documentary from our collection and see if we can get students and faculty to participate in watching it and creating a multimedia discussion across the college community about the issues involved. A similar thing might be done with an e-book from our collections.
      • Prezi: dynamic presentation tool. This is (so far) a failure for me. For my last presentation (SUNYLA 2010: Marketing Library Services at a Distance), I tried, but failed, to convert my presentation ideas into this medium. Part of the problem was my material (lots of images, sequential) and part was just my limited thinking patterns: I'm just not used to thinking of my presentations in ways that play to Prezi's strengths (in my view, it's real strength is showing scale). I'll try again, but was a little frustrated with this tool on my first try.

        Friday, May 28, 2010

        My Android Apps

        Needing a break from a busy Friday, I decided to throw out a quick list of my favorite Android apps that I use frequently on my Nexus One. I think just about all of these are free or at least have free versions (some of the games, especially, have limited free versions):

        Communication & Productivity:
        • AppBrain: find & sync your apps on the web (also great backup of all your apps)
        • Gmail - functional e-mail app
        • gTasks: simple offline tasks app that syncs with Google Tasks
        • SMS Unread Count: visual display to check unread text messages
        • Google Voice: listen or read your voice mails
        • Google Maps: excellent GPS nav tool. Used extensively at recent trip to DC
        • Foursquare: my fave location-based app! Earn badges & mayorships!
        • Twidroid Twitter (official app) - better Twitter app than Seesmic in my opinion
        • Voice Recorder - simple but effective way to record audio (i.e., thoughts, discussions)
        Information & Social:

        • NPR News - listen or read latest NPR stories
        • The Weather Channel - I can quickly access weather for 3 locations I frequent.
        • NewsRob: a bare bones Google Reader app.
        • RunKeeper: track your exercise! Works with my phone's GPS & GMaps to log my walks, runs and cycling treks and outputs calories burned & other data.
        • Diigo Bookmarks: instant access to all my bookmarks!
        • Facebook
        • Yelp: get user reviews of restaurants, pubs, what have you on the fly
        • Aldiko Book Reader: A must-have! Good selection of books, too.
        • Dolphin Browser HD : until Chrome or Firefox versions launch for Android, this is the best one available. It's fast and reliable with minimal bells and whistles.
        • CallFilter - block unwanted calls
        • Lookout Mobile Security - anti-virus & data backup
        • Dock Simulator: home or car dock for time, alarm clock, etc.
        • Dropbox: file storage - can sync files with other computers
        • Adobe Reader: read PDF files
        • BarCode Scanner: scan any barcode with your camera to get info on it
        • Tricorder: for your inner Trekkie! A working Tricorder app, including the classic beeps! This one has fascinated my friends the most!
        Games (note: I have a preference for tower defense games on this platform - if that isn't your thing, you can probably skip this section):
        Other apps of note I haven't used as much yet: Google Goggles (augmented reality app),  Pandora Radio, Meebo IM, WordPress, Tuner - gStrings (chromatic tuner), and Last.FM.

        Monday, April 19, 2010

        My Computers in Libraries 2010 Backchannel Notes

        I spent this past week in Alexandria, VA at Computers in Libraries 2010. It was one of the better conferences I've been to in a while. Mostly because it's one of the first times, outside SUNYLA, where I've felt confident enough to really network and meet people.  I also got to spend time with some awesome relatives who live in McLean, VA that I don't get to see very often. Finally, and most importantly, because this conference gathers together many smart people with the same sort interests as me:

        "emerging technology" and ("library services" or "information literacy" or transliteracy)

        My notes from the 4 days of the conference (including a day of preconference workshops) primarily consisted of a large number of tweets.  I've gathered these tweets together below and got rid of some of my shorthand and added to them for clarity:

        Day 1, Preconference Workshops:

        [I took 2 preconference sessions (Embedding Libraries in Learning, and Website Usability) that were very informative. In the former, we discussed strategies (from the managing director of the Harvard Business School Library) to undertake sustainable strategic shifts via planning and design thinking. This has given me pause to consider how much the librarians at MPOW don't yet know about what Deb Wallace described as the "learning landscape" (all the elements that fill in the context of learning and teaching, such as the tenure process, curriculum design, etc.). Knowledge of these processes is crucial to bringing library services into better alignment with that landscape, the college mission, and learning outcomes.

        On the Usability side, I am convinced more than ever that the library must soon undertake a usability study of our extensive library website and online resources. Our online presence is our library! Without understanding how our students and faculty use it, we cannot make effective design changes and service innovations. That session provided me with some really helpful guidelines and techniques that should allow us to undertake such a project with limited funds and staffing.]

        Integrating Libraries in Learning: Creating Sustainable Strategic Shifts: Deb Wallace (Harvard Business School)
        • excellent discussion: collaboration, curriculum design, strategic shits, design thinking
        • strategic shifts take time - make your plan and its trajectory transparent
        • shifts: e.g., a chart/matrix that shows how all the parts fit together and are effected. Visual communication!
        • spend time making sure you have all the necessary capabilities to get from plan to goals: project management framework.
        • they created marketing materials & info to make sale to faculty: case-based structure (i.e., fit the information and communication style to a structure faculty are familiar with)
        • 1st step/goal: understand the learning landscape: librarians sit in classes, talk with faculty, students & staff to understand
        • provide visualized models of services/info products available to faculty (faculty love the models!)
        • use faculty materials when developing content (helps get buy-in). HBS: entrepreneurship = action ; 10% of librarian time / week spent on professional development (formalized)
        • manage faculty expectations - lay out plan components, position them as tools to make doing the work easier
        My "real" notes:
        • Most important: know the learning landscape (context): how does tenure and curriculum design work at your institution. Design thinking. 
        • We need a mission: “research support curriculum” - keep strategy focused: less is more. Align to larger org goals. Idea: “research services” instead of “reference services”  
        • HBR library created a matrix to plan out (and communicate clearly to library staff and other impacted parties) their plans and targets for strategic shifts (develop this idea for us!!!). Charts changes over several years.
        Innovation = ideas
        challenges: resources/funding, time, commitment and energy, creativity and inspiration. Approach: clear vision, strategic plan, phases (feasibility study, pilots), org structure and culture.

        Entrepreneurs = action :

        • risk takers
        • curious learners
        • self confident & tenacious
        • sense of urgency
        • less concerned with status
        • problem solvers
        • optimistic
        • sense of purpose
        Service Design components:

        • learning landscapes
        • opportunity analysis (strategy alignment)
        • services description: benefit/needs met, development milestones
        • critical success factors: what capabilities (human & material) are needed
        • measurement and eval

        Website Usability, Amanda Etches-Johnson (McMaster University Library)

        • iterative design instead of redesign (e.g., look at Amazon changes over time - they keep key functions in relatively same spots)
        • **best web design is showing as little design as possible to users #simplicity
        • whimsy design: intersection between surprise ("oh, that is cool") and clarity
        • when doing card sorting w/ users, host only 1 user at a time to avoid "group think"

        More "real" notes:

        6 Usability Tips:

        • scannable
        • concise, short URLs
        • ** iterative changes ** - don't redesign, maintain some structure if possible
        • match labels & pages
        • appearance matters: simplicity: try to display as little “design” as possible to users
        • watch people use your site!!!

        AB Testing technique: get 3 ppl to test 2 altenative options

        Some testing tools:

        • Be willing to forget current site (e.g. workflow, structure, etc.)
        • Gather planners
        • Determine audience (personas)
        • Assess & rank needs (card sort)
        • Compare personas
        • Outline steps
        Personas exercise:
        1. 15 things user needs to do
        2. $100: divide the money between the tasks (how much value does each task get?)
        3. Card sorts: a) open: already defined tasks – categorize them  b) closed: already have main categories: see where users put tasks in that structure
        4. with users: only have one user at a time
        5. also have librarians do it: compare users vs librarian outcomes (often very different and can be used to reduce objections to changes?)
        • Mental Models: Young
        • Don't Make Me Think: Krug
        • The User is Always Right  (working w/ personas)
        • Letting Go of the Words: Redish
        • The Non-Designers Design Book
        • Elements of User Experience: Garrett

        Day 2, Conference Sessions:
        Information Fluency Strategies & Practices
        Libraries & Transliteracy
        Website Redesign: Two Case Studies
        Gen X Librarians: Leading from the Middle
        Digital Managers Sound Off

        • use instructional portfolios for critical thinking
        • information fluency is critical thinking and evaluation: higher order skills
        • 61 second timer: "Ask Us" IM widget pops up for users who linger on web pages
        • twitter moment for audience: wonder if display of student tweets as backchannel distracts or focuses their attention?
        • diigo assignment: find main theme and highlight it in the document via Diigo sticky notes: instills knowledge of peer review, critical thinking, reflection

        • screensharing done via yuuguu (we are using Dimdim)
        • #transliteracy  wonder if it's better to use new term (transliteracy) or redefine old to encompass 21st century skills (information literacy)?
        • transliteracy is not a destination; its an ability to adapt
        • transliteracy as new 3 R's: essential educational & lifelong learning skills
        • @buffyjhamilton  is fab speaker, thinker
        • some IT dept's go into siege mode w/ all free stuff now available to all of us; spotlight is on them to keep up with/support all this? they're not used to it
        • An idea: an iTunes-like genius bar for library research? Put in your needs and a couple of sources you've already found and it recommends similar tools/resources. Who wants to call Apple and get on this? :-)
        • accessibility: Firesizer, etc
        • usability in site redesign: if possible do it repeatedly, continuously
        • Drupal used as content management system; they use 30 diff erent Drupal modules!
        • Gen X session with my Immersion peep Karen Sobel
        • Gen X'ers are a transition, bridge generation: web and social technology bridge between Boomers and Millennials (who've grown up with all this), etc

        Day 3:
        Training in the Cloud, or Mobile Labs!
        Virtual Learning and Training: From Classrooms to Communities
        Instructional Technology: It's a Team Thing

        • 30 boxes or Doodle for scheduling
        • virtual learning with Meredith Farkas and Joan Petit starting in 5 min
        • virtual learning: participation, wisdom of crowds, social constructivism
        • learning management systems are too structured
        • uses Drupal front page to display student content & discussions
        • each student gets own space via blogs; good community building; they feel connected
        • Cairo project: blogging forces reflective learning; participation; debate
        • problems w repressive culture; blogs had accidental free speech learn effect? Tres cool!
        • almost failed w blogs: overwhelming technology at first, getting librarian buy-in: meant more work for librarians
        • student love of blogging saved project; assessed via a final assignment: how did they feel about blogs?
        • students should have feeling of owning the learning space - YES!!!
        • they did a staff environmental scan: what skills can we tap, what do we need to accomplish goals?
        • chart/matrix of project's low/high impact x low/high effort
        • use "collabratories"
        • team: flexibility is key; innovation important too
        • presentation style used (2 at mic for some) reinforces their "team approach" message
        • if you make something cool, strive to make it available to all for re-purposing
        • Libraries and Transliteracy Group on Facebook 
        • Participated in my 1st live T is for Training podcast (ep. 44) over audio (have done it via chat before)
        • theme I've taken away so far: fearless, continual innovation

        Day 4:

        Persuasion, Influence and Innovative Ideas
        From Podcasts to Blogs and Beyond!
        Ebooks: Landscape and Implications

        • your ideas = change for others; change is scary for most unless there's something in it 4 them: 2 make sale on idea: clarify that
        • you must divest organization of some services in order to add new services
        • every organization has naysayers and yaysayers; sometimes we need to just let the 16% of staff who can be considered laggards go [technology adoption lifecycle]: they may not change
        • influence: competence + clarity + relationships
        • in podcasting session w/ @butternutsquash  and @jazzmodeus
        • podcasts: RSS + mp3 (many people use the term more broadly, such as with YouTube videos, but to be precise, the RSS part is important - i.e., you're not "casting" it anywhere if users can't get hooked via an RSS feed subscription)
        • podcasts = serials ; YouTube video or audio = monograph (a metaphor used to describe difference to librarians not familiar with podcasting)
        • podcasts: blue snow portable microphone for recording in 360 deg; free audio tool: audacity (or garageband for Mac users)
        • podcasts: put some creative commons music at beginning and end: makes it slicker: easy to do
        • **podcasting best practices**: keep it short, never read from a script (audience can always tell if you do), 2 or more people talking, having a conversation, is better (conversation makes it much more listenable)
        • use podcast as pre-assignment for one-shot sessions (work with faculty to assign it?)
        • marketing podcasts is key, use some humor if possible, partner w/ Marketing dept?, track subscribers; put into iTunesU
        • podcasts: informal, conversational: Adventures in Library Instruction: best podcast around (along w T is for Training)!
        • collaboration tools for podcasters at a distance: skype, Blogspot, Audacity, Internet Archive, Feedburner, DropBox, iTunes
        • podcast uses in libraries: teaching, orientation/tours, service promotion, archive events, booktalks
        • @librarianbyday  (& others) say ipad may be ebook game changer.
        • @jasongriffey  via video recording showing off ipad
        • @griffey predicts publishers will eventually come around on DRM-less content [I have my doubts about that]
        Overall, I loved this conference and will certainly go again next year. But as others have commented, it was really at lobby-con and through other informal conversations over meals and events that I learned the most. Thanks go out to all the CiL and LSW vets and my formerly know-online-only peeps who made me feel so welcome!

        Wednesday, March 31, 2010

        Response to SUNY's Strategic Plan draft

        SUNY has just put out a draft Strategic Plan, and as long-time library advocate Bill Drew rightly points out, there is not a single mention of libraries or librarians in it. As such, here is the hastily written response I sent to the Strategic Planning team's call for feedback:

        Dear SUNY Strategic Plan team,

        As a librarian for the last seven years in the SUNY system, it is disheartening to read through the SUNY Strategic Plan document, with it's emphasis on the "knowledge economy," "core values" and on creating "involved citizens", and not see a single reference to the contributions and value of SUNY libraries and librarians. In my view, the ongoing fight to improve "information literacy" (the ability to effectively interact with information, in any form, to solve needs or problems) lies at the core of all these SUNY values. The basic ability to find, evaluate and synthesize information is one of the key structures that allows a knowledge economy to flourish, and these abilities are what librarians fight to instill in our students every day. Indeed, librarians could be viewed as essential in the struggle to have a more informed and effective citizenry in any democracy. I believe SUNY libraries have a role to play in this plan, and request their voices be added to this document. Thank you for your time and consideration.

        Wednesday, March 3, 2010

        The Power of Failure and Argument

        Most of us are, by nature, upbringing and education, reticent to examine our failures or engage in vigorous exchange of differing points of view or ideas.

        On the argument side, this can be termed brainstorming, discussion, argument; depends on your point of view and communication preferences.  If nothing else, our political leaders and media pundits, and their constant squabbles, reinforce this reticence to embrace failure or regard arguments as a beneficial mechanism to getting things done.

        But research shows these mechanisms can actually be very powerful tools for developing critical thinking skills, learning in general, and getting things done. Two recent blog articles discuss these issues in terms far more eloquent (and researched) than I could even attempt:
        I think both these excellent articles reinforce a theme that has been building in a few corners of the library world (see the 3/12 T is for Training podcast, and posts in the LSW FriendFeed): a call to engage in more examination and analysis of our failures as library professionals and institutions, especially at conferences and other professional development venues. I also think they hold great untapped potential as mechanisms for information literacy instruction and general training. Students who are not afraid to fail and learn from those failures probably make better critical choices in the long run, and become better researchers. If nothing else, they are probably more willing to ask us for help when they need it!

        Saturday, January 9, 2010

        How I Became a Librarian (addendum)

        After re-reading the last post I wrote, it occurred to me this morning that while all of that is true, it wasn't until I actively engaged the library community via social media and my local associations (after having time to establish myself at MPOW), that I truly became a librarian. I think before that I was just sort of going through the motions. Unsure of myself and uncertain if the profession was truly my calling. Certainly, I had my own issues I was struggling with (coming to terms with my trans-ness and then legally and socially changing my gender was a full-time job that took years!), but it was only when I was able to make connections and share ideas and experiences with librarians beyond those I work with on a daily basis, via twitter and friendfeed and SUNYLA, that I was able to get a real sense of the scope and infinite possibilities of the profession. That, and realizing many others were struggling with some of the same professional issues I was, such as how to bring about organizational change, integrate emerging technologies and get the concepts and dire need for more/better information literacy integration into the minds of the organization's faculty and academic leaders.

        Many of the diverse librarians I have met online, and hearing about the amazing work they do, have provided me lofty goals to try and meet for myself. While I haven't met most of them face to face yet (alas, damn limited travel budgets!), I consider many of them to be great role models and thank them all for helping me truly become a librarian!

        Friday, January 8, 2010

        Secret Origins of the Disobedient Librarian (How I became a librarian)

        I've been meaning to write this post for a while now, ever since the "How I became a librarian" meme surfaced months ago. Here's my simplistic timeline that only vaguely answers that question.

        Dana's Evolutionary Librarian Timeline:
        • Lives cloistered life of shy junior & senior high school student who does lots of reading and has aspirations of becoming a science fiction and historical fiction writer
        • 1987-1991: lazy college student, specializing in drinking games and killing brain cells and doing a minimum amount of work; drops creative writing (and very briefly, secondary ed) aspirations after 1st semester; remains undecided, unfocused and unmotivated until senior year
        • 1991: graduates from SUNY Geneseo with a history degree, focusing on European  history with aim of going on to graduate school
        • 1991-1994: as her only real "skill," she works in various restaurants (sometimes 2 at once) as line cook/kitchen manager (despite having a lifelong hatred of the restaurant business cultivated from having a chef as a father); 2 quickly aborted stabs at history grad classes sour her to grad school in general
        • 1993-1994: gets into volunteer work in Pittsburgh: Literacy Council and Goodwill (sorting donated books)
        • Spring of 1994: Goodwill book sorting program run by volunteer librarian; awareness of "librarian" as actual profession awakens her to possibility of finding career she actually likes, one of top library schools (ranked #2 in US at the time) happens to be in same city!
        • Summer of 1994: takes first library class: Cataloging! Takes PT job as library page (and maintains part-time kitchen mngr job, while taking classes PT)
        • 1996: switches to FT classes and takes internship at academic ref desk; solidifies her focus on reference services
        • 1997: graduates from the University of Pittsburgh with her MLS!!!
        • 1997-1998: burns quickly through several part-time, unsatisfactory entry-level library jobs
        • 1998: unwisely moves to Austin, TX for the sake of a relationship (which quickly dissolves); takes PT job at a UT library as "library assistant"
        • 1998-2002: moves to Baltimore and takes job as "information specialist" with start-up web company that provides info/research services to academia and research orgs
        • 2002: downsizing and general dissatisfaction with job, despite promotion, prompts her to move back to area of origin in upstate NY with no job and little money; takes crappy PT library job at a "college" located in a mall.
        • 2003-present: lands job at current location; grows up a bit (but not too much); takes on growing responsibilities; transitions at work; learns to love profession and job; innovates and pushes for change and gets several promotions over the years, despite a lack of diplomacy and social graces; finally gains confidence in herself as person and professional