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Monthly Archives: February 2012

Using social networks for research: an ebrary study

ebrary recently published the 2011 results of their second Global Student E-book Survey, which includes a special addendum on student use of social media in academic research. Of those who responded, 41.3% said they use social media for research or study purposes. When asked why not, students gave a variety of answers, including: social media is for fun; the information is unreliable; not applicable to non-group research; a distraction. Other interesting results:

    • Over 69% said they were “likely” or “very likely” to use social media it to connect with other students with similar academic interests.
    • More than half (57.1%) said they were ”likely” or “very likely” to pose research questions to peers, but fewer than half (33.1%) were ”likely” or “very likely” to pose research questions to librarians.
    • When asked about the use of social media sites for specific purposes (question 26), Facebook was used for most activities, except “pos[ing] a research question to your librarian.”

Question 28 is particularly illuminating (“What research capabilities would you like to see in a social media site?”) and provides some direction for IHEs developing or enhancing their course management systems. Based on my reading of the data (and in conjunction with results from question 25), here are four recommendations:

    1. Develop systems that allow students to create groups based on academic (or pseudo-academic) interests. (This can also be an opportunity for librarians to connect with students).
    2. Develop systems that allow students to pull data to/from other social networks but that keep those networks separate (e.g. share an article from CMS to Twitter or vice versa with showing my Twitter handle or CMS ID).
    3. Develop systems with a variety of collaboration tools, esp. file sharing and documents editing.
    4. Links to features in other electronic resources: e.g. TOC notifications, impact factors of articles, saved searches, bookmarks.

I’m not opposed to course management systems and, in fact, find them to be quite useful for organizing coursework and connecting users in a class. Given that the majority of research happens in digital spaces, it makes sense for IHEs to create platforms that allow seamless transitions between research and collaboration. ebrary’s survey seems to indicate that popular social networks fall short of providing users with collaborative research space. We have an opportunity, here, people.

A mistake worth making

This morning, I thought I would try something different in my “Using Library Resources” class. In the past, students seemed reluctant to ask questions. I had been told by my more experienced colleagues to expect this, but I’m just not convinced this is business-as-usual. Perhaps it’s me; perhaps it’s the fact that I only teach 9 am classes. Whatever the cause, I wanted to generate more inquiry.

So I decided to give PollEverywhere a try. I set up a poll that I kept live throughout the entire session where students could submit free-form questions. I gave the students the URL and told them to ask questions at any time. I planned to go over all of them at the end…

Except there were no questions.

So I moved on to my closing statements. At the end of class, after the students filled out the evaluation sheets (What did you learn? What are you still unsure about?), there were two very good questions. Why didn’t these students ask me about this before they left?

In retrospect, introducing the poll at the beginning of class was not the best approach. It gave the impression early on that we didn’t have time for questions (there was a lot to go over) and probably precluded the students’ impulse to ask me anything.  But through the evaluation, I learned that there were questions and aspects of library research that I didn’t explain clearly for at least two students.

Instead, I should have set aside 5 minutes at the end of class and then prompted the students to submit questions via the poll site. I could then quickly assess the most important topics and address them as time permitted. It would also have allowed me to clear up any misunderstanding before the students filled out the evaluation forms, rather than after.

So next time, I’ll try that instead. It was a mistake, but one worth making.

How do you define reference?

I’ve been thinking about the definition of reference. In fact, I was asked to define reference services at MPOW for a task force charged with determine ways to increase “discoverability” of library services. We ultimately defined reference as:

“mediated information seeking which
 utilizes the expertise of librarians to connect users with library 
resources. This includes both formal and informal reference transactions, especially those which teach users how to analyze and assess the value of 
information, its accuracy, and its appropriate use.”

This came out of various discussions about RUSA’s definition and one offered in Rosemarie Riechel’s book on youth reference services (I especially like the phrase “mediated seeking”). But why this particular definition? Why these choices of words?

I wanted to accomplish two things with this definition. First, I wanted to define reference services more holistically, not as a technical act but as a philosophy of service. To wit: providing reference should establish, build upon, and leverage the relationship between us and our users (“mediated information seeking”) and between our users and information (“connect users with library resources”).

Secondly, I wanted to highlight that reference requires unique skills and highlights the specialization of librarians (“expertise of librarians”): we are more than just “human googlers.” We learn to rely as much on non-verbal queues as verbal ones. We understand the nuances of human information behavior, especially in research environments, and we are able to respond with timely and appropriate resources.

As a task force, we struggled with defining the scope of reference. We considered everything from directional questions at the ref desk to curriculum-wide information literacy instruction. However, reference shouldn’t be equated with public services. It is an instructional activity, either formal or informal, that (ideally) teaches each user about the role of information in (1) her life; (2) her work; and (3) in society. Additionally, I intentionally left out any mention of technology or format (e.g. email, chat, phone, etc.). The definition is format agnostic and is applicable to any situation in which librarians, information, and users come together.

Admittedly, the definition’s scope is broad. Reference can occur anywhere within the library system, both physically and virtually. It is more than just the public face of the library: it is the personal face and the point at which human relationships develop. Accordingly, with the recommendations of the task force, I hope we can unify the libraries’ approach to reference through assessment, standardization, innovation, and leadership.

Though I won’t be present when our recs are presented to the administration, I’m looking forward to hearing the response.

Creating an alternative to the traditional textbook

It wasn’t so long ago that I was a college student, so when I read about ways that colleges are trying to overcome the woes of unwieldy (and often drab) textbooks, the student in me perks up. According to the Chronicle, Temple University is about to begin a second round of pilot testing digital alternatives to the traditional textbook:

The pilot project gave 11 faculty members $1,000 each to create a digital alternative to a traditional textbook. To enliven their students’ reading, the instructors pulled together primary-source documents and material culled from library archives. […] The Temple program mirrors a similar effort announced at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in December.

I don’t remember the details of a single textbook that I used as an undergrad, but I do remember the hand-curated course packets that a small handful of my profs put together. Not only do these leverage library resources (and with digitization, special collections), but they add a personal touch to instruction, as if to say, “What we read and discuss in this class is important to me so I’ve taken the time to pull this material together for you.”

You can find more info on the project at Temple’s website.

Why is a raven like a writing desk?

“Because it can produce a few notes, though they are very flat; and it is nevar put with the wrong end in front.”

“Preface” to the Eighty-Sixth Thousand of the 6/- Edition of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Ed. Roger Lancelyn Green. New York: Oxford UP, 1971.

Making more makers

What role should 21st century colleges have in helping students to develop hands-on, manual skills? That is the question Scott Carlson asks in this week’s Chronicle Review. At a time when “sustainability” is not just a way of acting ethically but a popularized lifestyle choice, it’s easy to see the appeal of this type of instruction.

One passage in particular caught my attention. Drawn together by a common interest and a human desire to be makers, students at the University of Vermont formed their own artisan guilds:

L. Pearson King, a junior environmental-studies major, taught his peers how to carve spoons in a woodworking guild last year. “It’s kind of trivial, but it’s also cathartic and kind of fun,” he says of the project, and the students in his group were immensely proud of their work. “To be active in the creation of an item forms a completely different relationship with that item.”

Maybe there is something to the guild approach that libraries can build off of. While information literacy is not as necessary to human survival as being able to build shelter or cook food (pending the zombie apocalypse), it is still a vital skill for 21st century life. For universities that do not have information literacy instruction (ILI) built into the curriculum, librarians have constantly struggled to find ways not only to integrate ILI, but to assess it. If your only interaction with a student is the one-off, how do you know if it sticks?

Could the library be a catalyst for “information guilds” or “technology guilds”? : groups of students that come together over a shared interest to get their hands dirty with information and to build [digital] objects. Could the library be an instigator for hacker co-ops, infonistas, techno-mavens, and virtual gurus?

The first objection that comes to my mind is “There’s no need for it.” But isn’t there? How many students come to us frustrated with an inability to even conduct simple research tasks? How many more students never approach us because they don’t know where to begin?

As someone who can’t tell a circular saw from Adam, I can relate to the frustration of not knowing where to start due to a lack of what is actually very basic knowledge. Guilds like the ones formed by the Vermont students inspire just enough confidence and self-awareness to initiate the process of making. As librarians, are we in a position to inspire these types of groups with a focus on information and technology? How do we begin?