Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Library Advantage

Starting to look a tiny bit like autumn

Before I'm miscast as the idiot who thinks there is no good information on the open web, I want to clarify something: When I'm thinking about information here, I'm referring to information relevant to research papers or projects in higher education. So, NOT information about how to put Linux on your machine, or how to diagnose your car trouble, or the name of that actress from that one movie. And I know, I know, a lot of academic information is appearing freely online, right next to the advertisements for deodorant and a free cruise.  

What I'm frustrated by right now is that real expertise can be difficult to untangle from the huge mass of random/partisan information you find when you're searching everything under the sun related to, for example, 'outsourcing' (a research paper topic I encountered this past week). 

Mostly, I'm annoyed by the fact that an academic library can be a FANTASTIC filter for a lot of junk floating around on the open web. The tradeoff, however, is that you have to know what you're doing when you use the library, and do it thoughtfully and deliberately. And I think for the most part this sends students back to google, to pound away fruitlessly for a few hours before feeling satisfied with a couple of semi-dubious sites.

Libraries are to the point where they should be hyping themselves as shortcuts in the research process, but somehow they are not, and instead they are often only used when instructors require it from their students. Why is this acceptable? 

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Books were easier (in terms of information literacy)

Exhibit 1: The microfilm reader.

So, I consider myself a realist when it comes to the ease and efficiency of technology's role in locating information. Then again, I find myself in the classroom with the group of digital natives who perhaps didn't grow up with books or access to a good library. They have little history with print, and so they don't know to demand content that is edited and fact-checked. They arrive at college supremely confident in their ability to find information quickly online, and it comes as an unwelcome shock to hear that they really should think critically about the 'information' they find there.

How much easier my job would have been with books! Instead I drone on about how to find articles in library databases, and how and why those articles are probably going to make their instructors happier than the ones they find on wikipedia. The word 'journal' means very little without a paper precedent to point to, and why should they use these 'journal' things when it's easier and faster to find an article online that's just brimming with truthiness?

I think information literacy is going to be an ever-expanding responsibility for librarians in the coming years. I'm glad to say my library seems really attuned to this, and I'm proud to be on the front lines as a Reference and Instruction Librarian. The glaring challenge, of course, is how in the world to reach these students.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Computers and Fun

(Library and Learning Resources Center at Camden CC)

I know there has been a lot of discussion and head-shaking at how thoughtless and self-absorbed the younger generation in America is, but I don't think it's all bleak, particularly when it comes to relations with technology. I've written before about how I think my attitude, for example, toward computing is different from the generation ahead of me, and I wonder if this has anything to do with it:

My relationship with computers has been heavily influenced by growing up with them as a child at home. They were fun. I could play games on them, draw/paint with them, and later talk to friends using them. Computers for me weren't part of the drudgery of workplace automation, and my use of them wasn't something my employer enforced. Perhaps more importantly, they were not introduced to me as part of working life.

I find this has affected my attitude toward computing when I use one for work: I have comparatively high expectations of what technology should be able to do for me, and what I should be allowed to do using a computer. The computer, if not a friend, is at least a friendly presence that exists to help me -- rather than a combatant in a never-ending wrestling match, for example.

Whoever's grand idea this was, it worked. You can complain about facebook and idiot culture on the web, but it's when people personally adopt a technology that they are effectively able to work with it on the job.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Online Education and the Web Mentality

(I'm still trying to figure out what is inside the Communication Closet: The door is locked.)

Just a short post this week, as it's an unformed thought: I've been wondering if instruction librarians were some of the first in libraryland to realize the social potentials of the Web.

Here's what I mean: So much of what makes getting online useful (and fun) has to do with sharing and communicating, but many applications are built with an individual user in mind rather than many connected users who are talking to each other. The web is about connecting and sharing, and not about secrecy and single-mindedness -- that's why it's called the web rather than solitary confinement.

Again, this is unformed, but this is occurring to me because one of the most obvious uses for the web -- teaching and learning in an academic setting -- is frequently made difficult by tools created by those not fully taking advantage of the web mentality. I think this explains why online course management systems and online library resources can be so clunky: it's because those who created them were not really thinking about the web way of doing things, and instead were just thinking about how to put the way things were always done online. For anyone who's still with me here, I do think this is changing -- I think libraries and pedagogy are catching up with the way people really function online, rather than reflecting the old structures. None too soon.

Monday, September 1, 2008

The Challenge of Average

(I saw this chalked near my office -- it reads "I used to be for the people, but the people let me down!" I wonder who wrote it?)

So I was going to write a gushing piece about the Nursing students I encountered at Camden CC this week: I am really excited to be working with this group, in part because they uniformly seem so motivated and excited to be in their program and to use the library. But then on Opening Day, our president Ray Yannuzzi talked about what it means to work at a community college, and how we should work with the students we have in our classrooms rather than the students we wish we had. (Of course a great many community college students are very bright -- don't get me wrong!) But since then I've been thinking about how many 'average' students probably blow off or disregard the library. That is to say, the average community college student is not a Nursing student -- she/he is not necessarily going to come to the library on the first day and get a library card and ask about our services. 

So, how to reach those average students? It would be easy to give up on them and figure it's their loss, but that's not fair. It's the library's job to assist people, and if they don't know why the library is important and useful it's the librarian's job to enlighten them. I'm still puzzling out how exactly to do this in my role as an instruction librarian. How can I make the library relevant to those identified as The Dumbest Generation? I'm having grand visions of exciting multi-media presentations that will knock their socks off and make them come running to the library, but is that going to work? When it comes down to it, the academic library is generally a serious place for serious endeavors, which seems anathema to what will keep their attention. And I'm not doing them any favors by only showing them the sides of the library that are 'entertaining.'  

I don't have any answers yet. If I come up with anything brilliant, I'll post it here (-: