29 April 2010
Seems like digital natives want more tech support than they’re getting in an academic context. The quote that stood out for me:
While college students are adept at manipulating complex social-networking tools through their iPhones and BlackBerries, along with video and computer games, “they’re not nearly as proficient when it comes to using digital tools in a classroom setting; this turns the myth that we’re dealing with a whole generation of digital natives on its head,” said William Rieders, executive vice president of global new media for Cengage Learning.
This reminds me of all the debates surrounding nonnative speakers of English in academic contexts — specifically, how there’s a whole population that’s fluent in conversational English, but that doesn’t mean they’re conversant with academic English (in fact, their conversational fluency may mask real difficulty with the demands classes make upon English proficiency). Looks like the same thing here — because we see people who have these everyday, conversational uses of technology, we may overpresume their grasp of more sophisticated tech skills.
23 April 2010
I’ve been doing a final project for one of my classes which entails reading the entire xkcd archives, repeatedly, for homework (on which more later; yes, sometimes my life is awesome).
Today’s xkcd has the following alt text:
Telescopes and bathyscapes and sonar probes of Scottish lakes, Tacoma Narrows bridge collapse explained with abstract phase-space maps, some x-ray slides, a music score, Minard’s Napoleonic war: the most exciting new frontier is charting what’s already here.
(Emphasis mine.) I choose to treat this as a secret shout-out to librarians.
11 April 2010
I’m a fan of information kudzu: gloriously verdant growth and hybridization of the world’s ideas, even if it means we have to hack away the resulting infoglut a bit. (Maybe librarians aren’t sherpas so much as machete-wielding jungle guides? Do I get a machete when I graduate?) And I’m as much of a sucker for trackbacks as anyone else — I want you to quote and remix my work! And the folks at Creative Commons have made it so very easy to generate licenses (what a welcome change of pace from click-to-pretend-you’ve-read-this many-page EULAs); check out the new widget at right.
So let’s make this officially clear: you can quote me. You can mash this blog up. This blog officially participates in the user-generated-content revolution. Have fun!
8 April 2010
A while ago on Twitter I mentioned my plan for life these days: fail more intelligently, build stuff, kick ass. Today was a day of #3:
- I received a scholarship to attend the Association of College and Research Libraries’ New England Chapter conference (May 14). Already having problems deciding which sessions to attend, with multiple compelling ideas conflicting. I’m actually required to do some writeup for ACRL as part of the scholarship, so I expect to end up talking about it here later (as well as via @ThatAndromeda). I ❤ conferences. I am psyched.
- I’m giving this workshop on fun with WorldCat APIs at the Simmons GSLIS tech lab tomorrow from 1-2pm. And it’s signed up over capacity. And I overheard people talking about it today, including one who wasn’t signed up but wanted to go (which, of course, I enthusiastically encouraged him to do ;). And the OCLC Developer Network has picked this up and blogged it and tweeted it repeatedly. And here I thought this would be too arcane for many people to be interested. I may have to run it again.
- And apparently my name came up at a faculty meeting as an example of an intelligent, creative students.
- And I’m still feeling psyched about the paper I submitted to the LITA/Ex Libris student writing contest. And my fellow students seem pretty interested in it. I think I’ll turn it into a tech lab presentation, too. Apparently arcane topics are the way to go!
I am not usually the own-horn-tooting type — one of those stereotypical librarian habits we need to get over, I guess — but I am just rocking the professional identity today, and I had to dance about it :).
(Nice day for biking, too. That just makes everything better.)
6 April 2010
In case anyone wondered why I was so schmoopy with glee after meeting all these librarians at ALA Midwinter:
“In case you haven’t noticed, zombies are so hot right now. In movies and books, in flash mobs and on college campuses, even in social networking, they’re everywhere — shouldn’t they be @ your library, too?”
And there’s a genuine point in the original, zombielicious post about literacy and teaching and engagement.
I like geeks and all (I am a geek and all), but I don’t think “Geek the Library” really stands up to “Zombie the Library”. (Sorry, guys.)
(The post title, by the way, is the obligatory Jonathan Coulton reference.)
5 April 2010
I’m going to take a break from librarying for a moment to talk about basketball.
I’m a Morgantown girl born and raised, 17 years. When I was young my dad and I had season tickets to WVU men’s basketball. Of course it’s been a while, and I haven’t seen much basketball since, but I was utterly thrilled to see WVU in the Final Four. Not something, let’s say, that ever seemed likely back when I watched them live.
Well, we got totally dismantled in the game. And our big star did something awful to his knee, bad enough it hurt just to watch him writhing on the court. But none of that is quite why this Yahoo column, or this article out of Wheeling, had me on the verge of tears.
“West Virginia, usually near the top only in things like obesity and poverty, captured the attention of the nation in a positive way this time…”
When we’re in the news, it’s generally some totally ghastly story like today’s mine explosion (may they find the missing, and something console the families of the dead). Or it’s state corruption or it’s poor health or poor education. Something miserable.
And what it comes down to is this. When you say you’re from West Virginia — if you’re very lucky, you’re talking to a college sports fan, who knows WVU or Marshall. Or maybe someone who’s driven through sometime, I-68 or something, and knows that you’re from the most beautiful place on earth. Good chance, though, that you get someone all excited because they have a cousin in Richmond. (I’ve never been to Richmond. I have only a vague idea where it is. In Virginia. A state which we seceded from. In 1863. FYI.) More likely you get some kind of incest joke.
Which — in case you somehow did not know this? — is not funny. It’s inherently not funny. But mostly it’s not funny when you hear it time after time. When the message you get, from the media, from practically anyone you talk to outside of your state, is that the only thing West Virginia is good for is tragedy and insult. If I tell people I’m from Massachusetts, they might think I’m a godless commie, but they might also think I’m educated or cultured or what-have-you. People may assume limits on my morals if I come from Massachusetts, they may assume my cultural perspective, but they never assume limits on my potential. But I tell people I’m from West Virginia and…and am grateful if they know it is a state.
And this is why I stayed up too late watching the game, all to its bitter end, and still get teary-eyed thinking about it. Because for once, for once, my state is on the national scene for a reason that is wholly good. For once people look at us and see something to cheer for. (For once, we look at ourselves and see something to cheer for. Because, sad to say, no one puts limits on West Virginians’ potential so severely as we ourselves do…)
You probably haven’t been to my hometown. So, just so you know: We were profiled by NPR for having had the lowest unemployment rate in the country recently. We have, of course, a sizable university, which filled my childhood with viola lessons, community orchestra, volunteer chemistry research, famous guest speakers, touring musicals all summer (as well as basketball). We have our very own monorail — no, really — driverless electric cars which show up on command and handle much of the students’ transit needs, as well as many residents’. (We have a bus system, too, for all you public transit fans.) We have one of my favorite indie coffeehouses ever, which has been thriving since I was in high school, and doesn’t just cater to students or musicians or stay-at-home moms or retirees or businesspeople, but everybody. We have a bike path and a Japanese restaurant I still get intense cravings for a few times a year. And it really, truly is the most beautiful state in the world. The green and hills and rolling lushness get into your bloodstream and define what land is supposed to be and I love my adopted city but sometimes I look around and feel lonely for the hills; everything is flat and desolate, not half green enough. Missing the way that land should be.
If I were from any other state, would I feel the need to write an apologia for it? But then again, would you know enough I didn’t have to?
30 March 2010
I finally figured out why my overall ILL experience has left an unpleasant taste in my mouth.
So, a large fraction of the ILL requests I issue get shot down for reasons I find incomprehensible. (A reason is always given — it’s just clearly couched in a culture or policy I have no exposure to, so it feels totally arbitrary to me.)
But what is not given is a next step. OK, so you won’t give me this book because it’s too new and for some reason that’s a problem — so ask me, “Would you like to reissue this request in 3 months?” And give me a one-click way to do that. I interact with ILL solely by computer, and computers are awesome at keeping track of that in a way I am not.[*]
Even a link to more explanation, context that makes the explanation comprehensible, would be nice. But really…it’s like spellcheck. It’s like what we kept talking about in my library software class last term — user requests should not fail. If they searched for something with no hits, you should look for spelling mistakes and ask “did you mean…?”, or give them some kind of suggestion for the closest match you can find — some way of continuing the search, of feeling like you tried to help, something other than a blank wall of electrons. Some next step.
ILL rejections don’t give me next steps. (Or they do, and apparently not prominently enough for me to remember.) And that’s just frustrating.
[*] Actually, these days, a lot of the magic of the library experience for me is getting unexpected presents from past-me. Past-me sees some book she wants to read, say, Checklist Manifesto (after seeing Atul Gawande speak at ALA Midwinter), or Girl with a Dragon Tattoo (after seeing Bohyun Kim and pretty much the entire internet rave about it), and drops a request. There are a million holds on the first returned copy, so I forget, but the computer doesn’t, and a month or two later I get an email saying that this book I have totally forgotten I wanted to read, this present from past-me and the library, has arrived! It makes me feel all warm and happy.
23 March 2010
Hey, I finally figured out that thing about citation styles that annoys me. Basically, it’s FRBR.
Let me back up a moment. Back when electronic content was starting to explode, lots of citation styles were getting all persnickety about how to cite the electronic vs. the paper version of different things, and which database it came from, and all this crud. And I was thinking, why? Do I care? Does it really matter where I found an article? What possible way does its provenance matter to my argument?
In other words, I’m really not interested in item- or manifestation-level citations. The kind of arguments I make — the kind of arguments people in most disciplines, I think, make — are expression-level, caring only about the content in question and not the particular form in which it’s realized.
It reminds me of some of the discussion at The Past’s Digital Presence about the Google Books digitization, which went off in the opposite direction — that, by treating books solely in terms of their intellectual content and treating physical distinctions among items as irrelevant or uninteresting, Google Books was stripping out a vital part of the historical record. And that’s true, too — there are kinds of scholarship for which you need to see how history has nicked and scratched a particular object. There are kinds of scholarship where subtle differences among versions are important. And for those kinds of scholarship, we need both access (one of those distinct advantages of libraries, by the way) and citation with fine levels of granularity. Even in everyday but monograph-heavy scholarship, where we’re going to be citing page numbers, we need enough edition-specific description to contextualize that (except where there are discipline-specific conventions for avoiding that — yay, classics!).
But most of the papers I’ve written? I’m reading journal articles, and it really does not matter where I accessed them. So, dear citation formats of the world, thank you for noticing, and chilling the heck out a bit about this.
(Why, yes, my entire life has been eaten lately by putting together a paper for the LITA/Ex Libris student writing contest…it’s a good thing I didn’t realize in advance that “3000-5000 words” meant I would be writing a 20-page paper in the scraps of time during the 2 weeks when my daughter, presently on spring break, was asleep! Because, I mean, that’s impossible, and if I’d known it was impossible…
…oh hell, I would’ve done it anyway.)
12 March 2010
Well there’s a statement that underscores the serials crisis:
At the high end, the Association of Research Libraries, representing the top 122 research libraries in North America, reports that its members have been forced to cut six percent of their subscriptions since the late 1980s, and that figure was only kept that small by chopping 26 percent off their book budgets during the same period.
(Willinsky J. (2003) The Nine Flavours of Open Access Scholarly Publishing. J Postgrad Med, 49:263-7.
(This post, btw, brought to you by open access publishing! I could’ve read the article without it — scholarly database access ftw — but I couldn’t have linked you to it.)
(Also: one of the recurring thoughts i have is about the different ways that debates about library budgets, resources, collection decisions, etc. play out in different disciplines — having seriously studied both math at an engineering school and classics at a liberal arts school I cannot fail to be aware that there are dramatically different assumptions and scholarly use patterns. And does this not underscore how the serials crisis differently affects different disciplines, when journal prices (driven by STEM fields) cut into monographs (crucial for humanities)? I say this not to make trouble for STEM, which I dearly love, but to emphasize that there are social justice and digital divide questions here, even inside one university, one library.)
9 March 2010
Doing reading for my academic libraries class last night I had one of those blinding-flash moments and though, OK, now I get what the Information Commons idea is for. It’s for everyone’s favorite ongoing conversation, marketing the library — but not in the sense of getting people in the door because you have comfy chairs and coffee.
What it is, is…
Academic libraries are next to useless if they model themselves as sources of fact. The world is full of sources of fact, or at least satisfice-y factiness, and lots of them are free and easy; you can get them on a whim and on your couch. And if I need more depth, and lazy is better for me than free, I can one-click on Amazon and get it next day via Prime (or, if I owned an ereader, instantly). And yet, as Andy just said, “most talks about the library budget are controlled by the things we buy“.
The things we buy — a place where libraries have less and less comparative advantage.
But academic libraries are great as guides through a process. There are all kinds of facts and “facts” and books out there on the intarwubs, but if I don’t know how to construct a good search? or evaluate the trustworthiness and utility of materials I find? or identify materials best suited to a particular kind of paper or research project? or select tools for manipulating and presenting that information? Or if, purely hypothetically, I have never had to write a research paper before college and suddenly I have a 25-page term paper due and I have literally no idea how to organize an argument that size in my head and keep track of all my notes? Woo, that’s hard to google for.
The model of the information commons in the article I was reading was — not just comfy chairs and ready availability of technology, although that’s part of it — but staffing by cross-functional teams who are able to help people with all phases of their research process (including, possibly, partnerships with the writing center, the computer help desk, et cetera…). It’s a physical and conceptual model that makes the library a potential partner across all phases of, say, writing a term paper — not just the first step where you’re looking for sources.
And this is what gets back to marketing. Libraries have to be understood, by the world at large, on a broader basis than “the things we buy”, or there really is little point to library funding. There are lots of ways to buy stuff. But a physical and conceptual model which facilitates collaboration across all phases of the research process, which embeds help where and when patrons need it, gets the point across that libraries are about process and partnership. And that, my friends, I cannot order overnight, not even if Amazon had Optimus Prime.
Right. I get that now. Information commons: a good thing. And not just because I really, really like coffee.
 Beagle, Donald. (2002, September). “Extending the Information Commons: From Instructional Testbed to Internet2.” The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 28, pp. 287-296.
 OK, not just in that sense.
 In practice what I will do is not know librarians are useful for this, put it off until 24 hours before it’s due, blitz through whatever happens to be not checked out from the library at that point, get two hours of sleep, and make it work. Hey, kids: don’t take me as a model of study skills. Please. (I’m better now.)