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?