Thursday, October 29, 2009

Library Photos

Life at the community college library continues as normal, replete with all the usual challenges. I had planned on writing about The Student Research Process (or lack thereof) this week, but as I've been taking a lot of amateurish photographs of the library building recently, I thought I'd share some of those instead, alla flickr:

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

GUI Design Thoughts

Blackwood woods, on Wednesday

It's a short post this week: I'm feeling swamped.

When I do a lot of library instruction, I repeatedly return to this thought: Many computing activities try to mimic a physical environment.

Think the floppy disc icon = Save:



Think file folders for organization:




Think journal articles: our online bibliographic databases often display journal articles by (unintentionally?) making reference to the paper version of the journal. Paper is still the standard. But why do we need page numbers when Ctrl+F exists, for example?

Also, is continuously referring to a different format effective? At times it is sort of nice to have a physical representation to refer to. When I am in front of a class explaining what a journal is, I sometimes show students a printed journal. But does this get to the heart of scholarly communication? Is pointing to a physical object that an increasing number of students have never seen the best way to teach them about the relevance of scholarly publishing?

We are now working with students who have perhaps always done research at least partially online. I wonder how many of them have ever interacted with printed magazines and newspapers. While it's true that not everything is available full-text online, increasing numbers of items are born digital. It seems unfortunate to have to tether the digital objects to a frame of reference that in the future may no longer exist. But maybe this is a natural consequence of living in a transitional time.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

How Much Should I Worry about the Student Sleeping in the Back?

yellow flower whose name I don't know, in bloom right now

Well, the semester (and thus library instruction) is again in full swing. This means I am as likely to be found in front of a class as at the reference desk right now.

I notice a few things have changed since I last thought about how to teach effectively:

(1) I no longer assume students know what I'm talking about. I don't assume they know what a catalog is & what it's doing when they click 'search', I don't assume they know what books (particularly academic titles) are all about, I don't assume they know what a journal is, or know the meaning of the word 'periodical'. (In fact, strong majorities in BIO1 classes told me with a show of hands that they did not know what a journal was.) I try to define my terms as much as possible while still getting to the point of the lesson, but this leads to (2) me talking for a lot longer -- it's suddenly easy to go for 45 minutes without interruption. I wonder if this is good for the students, and in fact I have noticed a few of them falling asleep. And so I go back to being conflicted over (3) how I can make the material interesting to them. Moreover, how much energy should I spend worrying about this?

Begin rant / These are adult college students, and they have the responsibility to sit up and pay attention, and if they choose not to do this, how is it my fault if they decide to go to sleep? School -- even college -- is by its very nature boring for some students, and for every one student who is snoozing, there are 15 who are wide awake and attentive. Why should I grease the squeaky wheels by dumbing down my lesson with fireworks displays? I have no idea why they are sleeping -- maybe they are working three jobs, maybe the room is too hot, maybe they were kept up all night by screaming children, or maybe they really do not want to be in college. I usually only see them once, in a single class, which is not enough time to try and understand what is going on with them & what learning style will best work for them. / End rant

In an ideal world, of course, we would all be able to create learning experiences like this one:

I assume this video was meant to show a novel approach to changing people's behavior (while promoting fitness or decreasing energy consumption?). But really, how I can I make using library databases -- even taking into consideration all my enthusiasm and confidence that they are magical -- into an experience similar to this? Modify them into a first-person shooter game? I'm going to need some serious programming skills for that one.

Then again, if you asked the people who participated in the video above, I wonder what they would say they learned? Did they learn that using the stairs makes them fit and healthy? Did they begin to understand how much more energy the escalator uses than the stairs? No, they learned that they could play music on this set of stairs. Although perhaps the use of that staircase increased, those same people might well have kept using the escalator everywhere else -- i.e. where the steps had not been turned into musical keys.

The problem is, work is not always fun. Work is sometimes work. And isn't being able to successfully do something that is not particularly fun a valuable skill? Or, should we be encouraging the ability to constantly turn work into something fun?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Creating, Maintaining, and Sharing Personal Libraries

purple sweetgum leaf

I've been pondering how personal collections (libraries) are changing, and I think it comes down to sharing: It used to be more difficult to share items from a personal collection because of concerns about loss or damage. Now, however, with digital copies and high-speed networks, sharing your collection can be much easier.

So, what does this mean for public & institutional libraries? If folks are now able to share easily amongst themselves, what purpose do we have? Are we providing resources for those who do not participate in those sharing networks for one reason or other? Are we exposing people to new resources that they might not have encountered in their networks? More importantly, are librarians part of these networks? I believe librarians now have the responsibility not just to keep up with, collect, and maintain materials, but also to disseminate them by engaging in networks.

Unfortunately, many (I hesitate to say most) people do not consider the organization of their collections terribly important. For a lot of people it slides to the bottom of their priorities list. In librarian terms, this means the metadata is often a mess.

To put this in more concrete terms, I can think of a number of tools I use to organize my own personal libraries: delicious to organize my collection of web sites, Visual Bookshelf to organize my leisure reading, zotero to organize my scholarly projects and citations, iTunes to organize my music, etc. But I don't know of one tool that brings my collections together, lets me connect to people I know, and allows me to share all that information. Is it Ning? FriendFeed? Where is the one tool or set of standards to support this? Maybe an important component of information literacy (which is now getting attention from the president) is exactly how we should all be creating, maintaining, and sharing our personal collections.