Reliability of a source is not binary

A few of us at mpow have been talking about ways to put more “science” into library science, mostly in the context of using more robust research methods to study user behavior and assess library services. With that in mind, Lane Wilkinson’s recent post on using Bayesian inference to understand how users contextualize the credibility of an information source strikes me as a particularly useful thought experiment (if not an actual research agenda… which you should totally do, Lane!). There is one insight in particular that caught my attention:

“Values like credibility, reliability, or trustworthiness are not binary; they exist on a continuum between 0 and 100%. We need to stop asking ‘is this source reliable?’ and start asking ‘how reliable is this source given what it is reporting?'”

If there is one thing I could help our students to understand right now, this would be it. Perhaps simply framing the question of credibility in this way is enough to inspire them to be more critical of what they read via their everyday information consumption. One can hope.

Truth with a capital “t”

So long as we rely on code and algorithms to locate information, there will always be the hurdle of implicit bias. The same can be said of relying on humans.

“As long as Google has a commercial interest in appearing omniscient, it probably won’t work to improve knowledge panel transparency. That burden will fall instead to people like Taraborelli and nonprofits like the Wikimedia Foundation, which is working on an open-license, machine-readable knowledge base that will both source all of its statements and accommodate conflicting sources.”

The burden also falls to librarians and educators to teach the skills necessary for being a critical reader-researcher.

A formal ACRL document

The ACRL Board wants to make it clear that the Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education is “a formal ACRL document” and that a decision on what to do with the previous standards will be discussed at the 2016 Annual ALA Conference.

I am admittedly a fan of the new framework: not so much of its content but its form. However, I’m still not sure what we mean when we say that it will be “a living document.” Will the threshold concepts be expanded as libraries research and publish new information about their use? Will we add additional concepts to the original list? I understand the need for standards, especially in our current assessment-driven higher ed environment, but I don’t believe we should let another decade go by before we revisit how we as a profession define info lit.

Still, I am happy to know that many, many people far more experienced and intelligent than me are working on and thinking about these issues.

Standards, anyone?

Is anyone else anxiously awaiting the draft report of the new information literacy standards from ACRL? I’ve probably checked the website 20 times in the past month. Seriously.

The latest issue of Communications in Information Literacy devoted an entire issue to changing standards. Notably, the articles discuss two concepts essential to understanding the new standards (we are told): metaliteracy and threshold concepts.

It’s been over a decade since the standards were first published. A decade from now in all likelihood we will be in the same place, but between now and then is a good time to reenergize the discussion.

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?

Jenkins on transmedia storytelling

Yesterday, Henry Jenkins posted a follow-up to his Comic-Con discussion of transmedia storytelling (video above), which he defines as: “a process where integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience.” He differentiates this from other transmedia activities like transmedia branding or transmedia activism. “Ideally,” he says, “each medium makes it own unique contribution to the unfolding of the story.”

This immediately reminded me of something we do in libraries, museums and archives (LAM) all the time: the exhibit. The LAM exhibit can exist across multiple platforms (display case, print publication, website) and utilizes a variety of formats (books, artifacts, still and moving images, digital interactive maps). Back in 2003, the Brooklyn Public Library and the Brooklyn Historical Society created a project entitled “Worklore: Brooklyn Voices Speak,” an exploration of the working class in Brooklyn from the 18th to 20th century. The collaboration included a traveling exhibit, public program and lectures, curriculum guides for elementary students, an online exhibit that included narratives and oral histories, and an online game called “Can You Make Ends Meet in Brooklyn” in the Early 1990s?” that allowed players to choose a type of work and see how those consequences played out in terms of personal finances (unfortunately, the website does not appear to be active any longer).

Creating a LAM exhibit that exists across different media is a similar activity to transmedia storytelling, but it comes at the story from a different angle. Rather than creating or extending a story, LAM exhibits attempt to recreate a narrative of cultural experience told through the perspective of people and objects that made up that narrative. The content of these exhibits serve some of the same functions outlined by Jenkins by offering a backstory, mapping a world, providing other character’s perspectives on the action, and by deepening audience engagement.

For librarians and instructors, the discourse surrounding transmedia could not be more relevant to the work we do. We seek to engage students in thinking about the ways in which the nature of information is changed as it moves from one platform to the next, how the choice to present information in one medium to the exclusion of others affects how we interpret it, and how we can convey meaning through these actions.

It doesn’t appear that we’ve fully agreed upon a definition for transmedia, but that shouldn’t stop us from using the term and discussing it. I recommend following Jenkins’s writings if you are interested in such things. His posts never disappoint.

What are your thoughts on transmedia storytelling? How do we do it? Are we doing it right? I’m especially interested in hearing about ways you’ve integrated it into instruction… but it’s the comments so do what you will 😉

What if you could design your own information literacy course?

This morning, the USC librarians had an all-hands-on-deck meeting to discuss the results of a recent survey and our new strategic plan. Toward the end, one of our Library IT staff (who, let me tell you, is the coolest guy) said he had seen the Libraries mentioned in the platform statements of the Student Government candidates. Moreover, he had noticed that the students wanted more 2-credit courses and he said this would be a great opportunity for the Libraries to create semester-long Information Literacy course.

I couldn’t agree more. And this got me thinking: what would this course look like? Would it be interdisciplinary or a broad overview? How would it differ from a full, 3-credit course? I haven’t completely fleshed out these thoughts but I wanted to get some of them out there and hear what you think.

The course that I have in mind would be called “Information Architecture.” The objective of the course would be to introduce students to the information ecosystem of the 21st century and teach them the skills necessary to succeed (however we choose to define that) in an information-rich environment. Here’s a basic breakdown of the course:

Unit 1: Introduction. Covers: what we define as information, how we encounter it in daily life, how we choose to divide it (work vs. play), and the importance of access.

Unit 2: Information Organization and Structure. Covers: Types of information systems, how to navigate specific systems, how info is organized in these systems and implications of such organization.

Unit 3: Basic research skills. Covers: Types of information sources, database searching, using controlled vocabulary and folksonomies, personal information management.

Unit 4: Production of Information. Covers: history of publishing and dissemination, current formal and informal methods of production.

Unit 5: Medium and Message. Covers: how medium affects message, politics of choosing one over another, implication of transferring between media.

Unit 6: Ethics of Information. Covers: Proprietary information, open access, copyright, intellectual property, and proper vs. improper use of information. (big section!)

Unit 7: Advanced research skills. Covers:  Types of information resources for specific subjects, human and institutional resources, archives.

Unit 8: Final project focus.

The course would offer students (undergraduates) two tracks: (1) general research skills and (2) topic-specific skills. Depending on the student’s major and academic year, she could be assigned (or choose) either Track 1 or Track 2. Track 1 (general research skills) would be geared toward undeclared majors and 1st-2nd years. Track 2 (topic-specific skills) would be geared toward declared majors and 3rd-4th years.

Both tracks would require keeping a weekly log (written, typed, blogged, recorded, etc.) of experiences (problems, feelings, successes) encountered while doing research. The final project would include a reflection paper (or other format) and a brief annotated bibliography consisting of a variety of sources. Those on Track 1 would select a topic of their choice on which to focus their research. Track 2 students would connect their research to their declared major. Both tracks would be encouraged to use coursework in another class as a guide (per instructor’s approval).

I won’t go into more detail than that. I’m still trying to work out what is the essential content of the course (so much to teach and the time so precious!). Of course, I would work in digital technologies, collaborative work, self-assessment and peer-feedback, but the critical thing is that it integrates with other courses. What do you think? Does your university teach a semester-long IL course? Is it successful? Tell me about it in the comments!