2007 Sanford Pinot Noir (Santa Rita Hills, CA)

We picked up a bottle of this wine on our trip to Santa Barbara this time last year (where we got engaged!). The bottle has aged nicely since then. On the nose, powerful suggestions of fruit, black cherry, spice (oregano?). On the palette, very smooth with light tannins, smoke, oak, and a bundle of fruit (think grape to the second power). Medium bodied and worth every penny ($40).

Humanism and libraries by A. Cossette

A few weeks ago, Wayne Bivens-Tatum posted his thoughts on André Cossette’s Humanism and Libraries; an essay on the philosophy of librarianship, published by Library Juice Press and translated by Rory Litwin. His remarks prompted me to immediately order the book and read it through. I found Cossette’s discussion of librarianship thought-provoking and, given the work’s historical context, a bit quaint. While I also disagreed with certain claims made in the book, the issues raised are important questions that librarians should occasionally ask themselves as individuals and as institutions: namely, what do I do and why do I do it?

Cossette begins by delineating the difference between librarianship as philosophy and librarianship as science. He makes positive arguments for both perspectives but strongly favors the philosophical approach. He argues that creating a unified philosophy of librarianship will bring “faith and certitude” to our actions, inspire professional unity, and give librarians a raison d’etre, a meta-purpose for what they do.

He argues that up until that point (at the time, he is writing at the University of Montreal in 1976), librarianship, especially in the United States, had been to focused on the pragmatic aspects of the profession and lacked a strong desire for or practice of reflection. As a result, there is no one who could clearly say what a philosophy of librarianship should be. Of course, Cossette provides a response, saying that a unified philosophy should include a definition of librarianship, a statement of its goals, and a study of its relationship to other disciplines.

He defines librarianship as “the art and science of the acquisition, preservation, organization, and retrieval of written and audiovisual records with the aim of assuring a maximum of information access for the human community” (p.33). He argues that it is both a science, in that it has both an object of study and a method, and a humanistic endeavor, in that it is artistic at the level of individual execution/expertize. It chooses as its subject human beings, information, and the interaction between them.

Cossette calls for a move from subordination to autonomy, especially in the realm of academic and school libraries. On the one hand, he states that the perception of libraries as “services” has hindered their ability to define what they do and why. On the other hand, he acknowledges that libraries are part of the community which they support, though not epistemologically determined by them. This part was particularly salient:

“The educational sphere does not determine the aims of academic libraries, but does exercise a certain influence on many of its processes. The academic or school library pursues the common goals of all libraries: the maximal diffusion of bibliographic resources; in the educational sphere, these resources are selected and dealt with according to the needs of a specific scholarly clientele, which has their own specific information needs”(p.53).

And here is where Cossette tells us what he really feels. He argues that the primary aims of libraries is not preservation and is certainly not education. He even goes so far as to say that the main reason why academic librarians think of themselves as educators is due to a sense of inferiority in relation to faculty (or, in the least, a realization of who gets paid more). I cannot speak for what the situation was in the late 1970s, but in our post-internet era, I would argue that Cossette would have a very different view in 2010.

For one, technology has created a void where there was once a select few who could effectively navigate the information pathways of indexes, bibliographies, and publication lists. Simply put, it is much easier to find some information on a subject these days. Fact-finding in particular is a much easier, more accessible task. But with this ease and influx of information comes the difficulty of wading through the flood and of determining what information is valid. The void created by the introduction of the internet and automation needs to be filled with educators who specialize in information literacy and critical skills. While the role of educator may have been debatable at one time, it is no longer. It is essential.

Essential to what? In the definition of librarianship presented above, I believe Cossette neglects one important aspect: our moral obligation to help information seekers find the best ways to use the information they need. This requires knowing how to discuss and illustrate information literacy and critical thinking skills. It does not require that we be “elitists” of information; we can acknowledge that all information is useful in some way, regardless of its source. But we should be able to show users how certain types or sources of information may be better suited to their specific tasks. This is our moral obligation, the human side to our science and art.

Perhaps one of the main reasons there isn’t a unified philosophy of librarianship is the need for uniformity itself. Is it really possible to define all libraries according to a single idea? Is there something essential about libraries that cuts across all types of libraries from public to academic, from school to special? Personally, I much prefer the idea of having a shared set of values, like those defined by ALA, which vary in importance from one institution to another but are nonetheless an essential part of their reason for being. Preservation may very well be one library’s primary purpose, that doesn’t mean they possess less “library-ness” than a public library who’s primary purpose is to provide access.

I recommend reading Cossette’s work. It is brief and thought provoking and despite some shortcomings (see Wayne’s post for more information), reflecting upon the ideas expressed therein would be worth the time of any librarian (or, like me, librarian-to-be).

Innovative info-lit instruction

For one of my MLIS courses, I’ve been researching information literacy instruction methods. I’ve come across a number of activities that I found to be unique, inspiring, or innovative (even thrilling!). Here is a summary of the practical approaches to IL that caught my eye. If you have any “tricks of the trade” that you think are unique or worthy of note, please share in the comments!

Social Tagging as Metaphor for Subject Headings

Both Luo (2010) and Maggio (2010) discuss using social tagging practices to illustrate the concept of subject headings in library catalogs and databases. By illustrating how tagging structures work and how using them can be beneficial to research, instructors can show students how to use subject headings in the library catalog. Even though the formation of a controlled vocabulary for a database differs from the way folksonomies are created, instructors can use this difference to discuss the benefits and drawbacks of each system.

Luo, L. (2010). Web 2.0 integration in information literacy instruction : an overview. Journal of Academic Librarianship, 36(1), 32-40.

Maggio, L. A., Bresnahan, M., Flynn, D. B., & Harzbecker, J. (2009). A case study: using social tagging to engage students in learning Medical Subject Headings. Journal of the Medical Library Association, 97(2), 77-83.

Collaboration and Reflection

Jacobs & Jacobs (2009) discuss a concept that is not new but deeply effective and deserves mentioning. As part of a collaboration between an information literacy librarian and a professor of composition and rhetoric, the Composition Program at University of Windsor developed a writing project that built the research and reflection aspects of writing a paper into the requirements of the assignment. As a result, more emphasis was shifted toward the process of research as opposed to the results. Constant feedback from the writing instructor and the librarian enriched the process.

Jacobs, H., & Jacobs, D. (2009). Transforming  the one-shot library session into pedagogical collaboration: information literacy and the English composition class. Reference & User Services Quarterly, 49(1), 72-82.

Related: Christopher C. & Cmor, D. (2009). Blogging toward information literacy: engaging students and facilitating peer learning. Reference Services Review, 37(4), 395-407.


The University of Michigan developed a game, The Defense of Hidgeon, that tested the information retrieval skills of student players. The game is set in the 14th century and players had to use their knowledge of library resources and searching skills to navigate through a plague-ridden landscape. The object of the game is to become the “Lord Researcher” for Duke Jerome. The overarching storyline kept students engaged and the repetitive nature of some of the tasks reinforced good info seeking habits.

Markey, K., Swanson, F., Jenkins, A., Jennings, B., St. Jean, B., Rosenberg, V., Yao, X., et al. (2008). Engaging undergraduates in research through storytelling and gaming strategy : final report to the Delmas Foundation. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan, School of Information. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/2027.42/58630

Related: Clyde, J. & Thomas, C. (2008). Building an information literacy first-person shooter. Reference Services Review, 36(4), 366-380.

Research Project Survival

Librarians at the University of Purdue worked with Resident Assistants to bring instruction classes into the dormitories in an informal, nonthreatening way. RAs helped to promote the sessions and food was provided. The 45 minutes sessions centered around “5 tips for better research.” The weekend sessions (held when the dining halls were closed) were some the most popular sessions. RAs turned out to be a great resource for marketing the sessions.

Riehle, C. F. (2009). Librarians in the hall: instructional outreach in campus residences. College & Undergraduate Libraries, 16(2/3), 107-21.

One-Off Games

The following ideas come from a book that I was lucky to come across while searching for something else. The Library Instruction Cookbook is published by ACRL and provides a rich source of IL activities. (Be warned, the book is hokey… nonetheless, it’s a resource I wouldn’t want to be without if I’m ever at a loss for ideas.)

Boolean Simon Says

The concept is simple: use participants to physically illustrate concepts of Boolean operators. For example, ask all the students with brown hair to stand. Then ask all students with brown hair AND brown eyes to stand. So and and so forth with OR and NOT. It’s a simple and easy way to “wake people up” early in the morning. (Note: as an instructor, be aware of any students with physical disabilities and adapt accordingly)

Search Engines in a Can

Gather a set of cans of varying sizes and label them with the names of difference databases or search engines according to relative size. For example, the largest one could be Google and the smaller ones could be Proquest, Factiva, etc. Put items in the cans representative of the types of documents/artifacts that you would find by searching those databases. Have fun with the Google can by including a LOT of various items (“porn” is a popular artifact). The idea is to illustrate the concepts of recall and precision in information retrieval.


Just like the board game of the same name, illustrate the technique of keyword mapping by having students locate articles on a particular topic but restrict them from using the words used to describe the topic. For example, if a student is assigned “rates of obesity among adolescents”, they have to use search terms other than those in the description. This can help students understand that the search process is just as organic and iterative as the writing process itself.

Sittler, R. L., & Cook, D. (Eds.). (2009). The Library Instruction Cookbook. Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries.

So what are your ideas?

(UPDATE: I just came across the latest post from In the Library with the Lead Pipe which discusses integrating critical thinking into the instruction process. I recommend reading that post as well.)

Robert Pinsky on poetry

In Democracy, Culture and the Voice of Poetry, Robert Pinsky posits that poetry, namely of the American poet, exists and struggles between the polarities of total undifferentiation and total fragmentation, between the colon (as in “colonial”) and the cult, between the social experiences of embarrassment and abandonment, and between the individual and the masses. Toward the middle of this tiny treatise, he brings it all together to say the following. I was struck by the simple beauty of this line:

“Poetry as breath penetrates to where the body recognizes the stirring of meaning.” (p.45)

I love the idea of poetry as existing on the cusp of something even more intangible than meaning itself: an awareness of possibility. I’ve been working on a research guide for a presentation that Pinsky will be making at USC next month, hence the reason for picking up this book (but do I need a reason?). I’ve also been reading Thousand of Broadways: Dreams and Nightmare of the American Small Town, which I recommend, if anything, for its discussion of American cinema.

Browsing the stacks is myth

“Although today’s academic library users may feel that browsing is an ancient scholarly right, the practice is in fact no older than the baby-boomer faculty who so often lead the charge to keep books on campus.”

Source: American Libraries

Authority in undergraduate research

As a student of medieval studies, the concept of authority is never far from my thoughts; it pervades every decision I make from choosing the next book to read to deciding which recipe to use for goulash. Add to that a year+ of MLIS education and I can follow the footprints of auctoritas with eyes closed. However, for many undergraduates, the concept of authority is more fleeting, more difficult to put a finger on; or, at least, it seems that way to us (the “professionals”). How do undergraduates approach the concept of authority in research? As I’ve been looking over the literature, this is what I’ve found:


1. Authority matters but ease of access matters even more

Metz (2006) points out that students easily recognize the difference between using scholarly and non-scholarly resources. McClure & Kellian (2009) also found that students recognize that certain sources of information are more authoritative that others. So why, as they also show, do students have a tendency to miss important indicators of bias and lack of objectivity in [primarily web-based] sources and use them in their research? As both Metz and McClure & Kellian conclude, ease of access trumps the more authoritative source. Resources that are easy to use and easy to find, as long as they meet certain minimum requirements (see Tsai-Youn), are far preferable to more authoritative resources.

2. Scope is not as important as coverage
In much the same vein, resources that have a dense coverage of a particular topic as opposed to a broad coverage, are considered by undergraduates to be more authoritative (Tsai-Youn, 2004). For example, a web site that has graphical or statistical data, a list of external websites that also cover the subject, or other additional information that continues to narrow in on the topic is often considered by undergraduates to be a better resource than a web site that covers a wide range of issues or discussions about the topic. In short, density wins over breadth.
3. Authority doesn’t mean what it used to when you’re on the web
When students examine web resources for authority, they look at a number of aspects including top-level domain (.edu vs. .com) and web site design. If a web site doesn’t look professional, if it looks like something created in the late 1990s, students consider this to be less authoritative. Some undergraduates have difficulty articulating authority (at least in their papers) in the traditional sense and often misinterpret advocacy sites as authoritative sources (McClure & Kellian, 2009). In one example from Tsai-Youn’s research, students examined a site that “looked” like a scholarly article but did not list an author. They deemed this to be an authoritative source. If a website has citations or links to fact-checking resources, this also increases the students’ perception of a site’s authority.
4. We need a new way to evaluate authority

Dahl (2009) calls for new methods for evaluating resources on the web. The metrics for determining authority (as well as accuracy, coverage, and objectivity) simply do not apply in the same way as they do for print materials. This is not to say that they matter less, only that we cannot use the same lens through which to examine them. We need to teach students how to understand sources in the context with which they appear (as best as possible) and how to use critical thinking skills to evaluate authority.


1. Teach students to “follow the links”. Aggregated information obscures the source and authority/bias can be hard to determine if you don’t know where information originated. There’s nothing wrong with using web resources and finding the source is usually only a few clicks away.

2. Use aspects that are already important (web site design, top-level domain) to explore issues of authority and bias. If we know that students are already attuned to these, use them as springboards for examining what makes a site more authoritative or what aspects betray an author’s bias.

3. Illustrate how some sources of information are more efficient or higher quality than others. Teach students to instinctively click over to the “about” page of any web site and examine how information for the site was gathered. Talk with students about how articles are selected for journals, how journals are selected for databases, how databases are selected by the library and compare that to other aggregating services.

4. Reevaluate student perception and interpretations of print resources. Is it merely convenience and deadlines that keep them away from the stacks? We know that ease of access is a significant factor in student selection of resources, but is it the only factor? Has our approach to information on the web changed the way we perceive and interpret information in print? For example, a web site with too many ads can lower its perceived level of authority. Does the same apply to a magazine or journal? (American Libraries has a lot of ads but I still consider it to be a valid authority)

Some thoughts as I wander through these materials. As a student in an MLIS program, I am in the unique position to both consider and use these practices in my daily research. Any conclusions I come to affect my own interpretation of authority, especially in regard to web-based resources.


Dahl, Candice. (2009). Undergraduate research in the public domain: the evaluation of non-academic sources online. Reference Services Review, 37(2), 155-163.

McClure, R., & Kellian, C. (2009). How do you know that? An investigation of student research practices in the digital age. portal: Libraries and the Academy, 9(1), 115-133.

Metz, R.M. (2006), “Conducting online research: undergraduate preferences of source”, MSLS thesis, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC.

Tsai-Youn, Hung. (2004). Undergraduate students’ evaluation criteria when using web resources for class papers. Journal of Educational Media & Library Science, 42(1), 1-12.

My information management

During the week, I spend approximately 13 hours online each day. On the weekends, it’s slightly less than that. Being a full time library cataloger and a full time graduate student in an online program comes with some considerable drawbacks, not the least of which is finding ways to organize all the data that I collect and interact with on a daily basis. Here’s how I do it:

Online Storage

Since most of my digital experiences happen online, I store most of my data in the cloud.

Bookmarks (Websites)

Anything I come across online that I think is worthy of coming back to later is stored using Delicious. This usually includes root level domains of websites or major directories within websites. Rarely, I will save blog posts or articles here, though the more “academic” in nature, the more likely I am to save it in Zotero instead (see below). I’ve synced my Delicious bookmarks with all my Firefox browsers so they are immediately accessible and a new site can be added and tagged in seconds.


I’ve migrated all my contact information to Google contacts: phone numbers, emails, mailing addresses. With the exception of mailing out wedding invites, every time I need an address or phone number, I’m usually out of the house. So I’ve synced my Google contacts to my ipod touch and stored them locally so they are always available even without a connection.


I practice a mix of GTD and Inbox Zero methodologies. This requires (1) action-based labels and (2) smart use of filters. Basically, everything that comes into my mailbox is tagged and marked for (a) needs action, (b) read and review, © notifications, or (d) trash. So depending on who the email comes from, whether or not I’m the only person in the To: line, what words are in the subject, etc., each email gets moved to a certain place and I deal with each batch as time permits. By the end of every day, my email box is always empty. I save whatever I would be sad to loose and delete everything else (which makes future searching much more efficient).

Current Notes

I just started using Evernote to collect my ideas, clippings, and drafts for blogging projects (for this site and my library blog). Evernote allows you to import any type of note (text, image, pdf, whatever) and it will index any text (even text in images). I then tag all my notes based on the context in which I want to consider it in the future (e.g. read and review, potential posts, reading notes, tumblr blog, iav blog, etc.). Essentially, this is my pile of research notes, ideas, drafts.


For any article that I plan to cite in future writings or research, I store the citation in Zotero, a Firefox plugin that will store all the bibliographic data locally and on a server. I can then cut and paste the citations into documents using any of the usual formats (APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.). Keeping all these together and separate from my delicious bookmarks lets me know what I’ve cited in other papers, when I accessed the articles, and in what context I used them (based on any tags or notes I added).


I’m a huge fan of the GTD methodology which stresses the importance of context over priority when deciding on task management. I use Remember the Milk to create lists of tasks based on project-type (research paper, home repair, blog work) and context (online, errand, at work, at home). RTM also allows me to assign due dates, repeating tasks, durations, and more. Using these tags, I can create smart lists such as: a list of any tasks that are time sensitive, can be done at home, and in under 20 minutes… a great way to decide what to do when you’ve got a few minutes to waste before going to see a movie.


I also use RTM to store all my simple lists such as: (1) CDs I want to check out, (2) things I need to buy, (3) gift ideas, etc.

Local Storage

Most of the files I store on my local drives are archived items: things I don’t plan to access anytime in the 6-12 months (or ever again). This includes old research papers, pictures, raw data from financial statements, etc. Nonetheless, the information is important, so I have a regular backup schedule that utilizes SyncBack to save specific folders to an external drive and Dropbox to save specific folders to a server.

Monthly: music and pictures. These items don’t change often and I rarely add a lot of new content to their folders so at worst if I loose a month of data, it isn’t that much. These files are backed up to the external drive.

Weekly: archived documents. I set up a document folder for any files I am no longer working on or don’t plan to work on in the next 6 months. These are backed up to the external drive.

Daily: Anything I am currently working on is stored in my DropBox folder which instantaneously syncs those files anytime a change is made to the file (i.e. you hit the save button). So all of my current school projects are stored here. These files are synced to a server online so I can access them from any computer.

Online data: Additionally, there is some online data that I save to my local drive, such as financial statements and my blog XML files. These files are archived in my documents folder and are additionally backed up to the external drive weekly.

You gotta have a system and this is mine. What’s your system for managing all your data?

Current research: March 2010

Luo, Lili. (2010). Web 2.0 integration in information literacy instruction: an overview. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 36(1), 32-40.

Dr. Luo, assistant professor at San Jose State University, examines the ways in which librarians employ Web 2.0 technologies in instruction courses. Using survey results from 50 respondents, she identified three primary uses: (1) to organize and manage course-related materials for personal use; (2) to facilitate the delivery of content to students; and (3) to illustrate information literacy concepts. Luo additionally discusses how librarians use blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, YouTube, and bibliographic tools. There were two examples of Web 2.0 uses that struck me as innovative. In one example, a librarian developed a wiki for each instruction session. Students were able to log in throughout the semester to access handouts, powerpoints, and find contact info for the librarian that taught the class. In the other example, the photo tagging feature of Facebook was used to illustrate subject headings in the catalog. I find this to be a brilliant way of illustrating how to effectively search a catalog with controlled vocabulary and to explore some of the advantages and disadvantages of arranging information in this way. Of particular note for those who think all millennials are technophiles, Luo notes that some students see these tools as “toys” and either don’t take them seriously or don’t possess the technical knowledge to use them.

Smith, Debbi & Oliva, Victor. (2010). Becoming a renaissance reference librarian in academe : attitudes toward generalist and subject specific reference and related profession development. Reference Services Review, 38(1), 125-151.

Smith & Oliva surveyed reference librarians from institutions ranging in size, location, and budget. Some of those surveyed were full-time reference librarians and others did reference part-time or in addition to their primary duties. Smith & Oliva found that overall, reference librarians prefer being generalists rather than specialists and that the skills associated with reference interviews are more important than specific subject knowledge. Most surveyed feel that advanced degrees are not helpful and there is a distinct difference between getting an advanced degree to deepen subject knowledge and getting training for reference in a particular subject area. Regarding professional development, most librarians self-educate by reading news, professional journals, browsing reference collection, meeting with teaching faculty, reading core journals, watching educational TV programs, etc. Those who did these things more frequently were more comfortable at the reference desk.

Prescott, M.K. & Veldof, J. (2010). A process approach to defining services for undergraduates. portal: Libraries and the Academy, 10(1), 29-56.

Focus groups and surveys were used to determine what services were most important to users. The responses focused on access: namely, that is should be centralized, convenient, personalized, and easy to use. What was most interesting to me was the fact that the biggest challenges for undergraduates are: (1) work/life/school balance; (2) lack of study space; (3) lack of awareness of services available to them. Knowing this, how can academic libraries adapt their services to meet the needs of their users (especially with #1)? The most important take-away from this study is the strategic process the authors describe: it is iterative, reflective, and cautious. There is a constant give and take between the priorities as determined by the planning group and the priorities determined by surveying users and stakeholders. It shows the benefits of constant reassessment at each stage of the strategic planning process.

Keeping up to date

One of the ways I keep myself up to date with research in academic libraries and reference services is by regularly browsing over the articles published in a handful of journals. If something catches my eye, I download a copy to my “read and review” file in Evernote (or just the link) to look over when I have a free moment during breaks at work or on the weekends. There are eight journals that I regularly peruse, including:

Reference Services Review
College & Research Libraries
American Libraries
Journal of Academic Librarianship
The Library Quarterly
portal: Libraries & the Academy
First Monday
New Review of Academic Librarianship

Not all of these are published monthly, so in any given month there are usually only 2-4 that have new issues. I don’t always get around to reading everything that I download, but browsing over the headlines at least keeps me in the loop. It’s a good practice develop. To wit, in a recent Reference Services Review article on the practices of reference librarians,  Smith & Oliva (2010) point out that while habitually reading professional journals does not necessarily make one a better librarian, it does increase one’s level of comfort when dealing with reference questions (see what I did there? =). I’m sure these findings are applicable to most areas of librarianship.

All this leads me to say: I’m going to make it a point to regularly post comments/synopses of my readings partly as a self-motivator but also in an attempt to share with others what I find to be the most valuable pieces of current research. I hope you, dear reader, will find the information useful as well.

Smith, D. & Oliva, V. (2010). Becoming a renaissance reference librarian in academe : attitudes toward generalist and subject specific reference and related profession development. Reference Services Review 38(1), 125-151.

The web is not a library

Kent Anderson at the Scholarly Kitchen has a post this morning on Google’s business model and its influence on the web as an organizer of information. He brings up a number of important questions that deserve rumination, including: is Google’s ad-based business model really the most natural model for the web? are digital [organizing] systems sufficient compared to more intuitive human models?

I allowed Kent to lead me until I can to this paragraph:

Because Google’s reputation is that it has been able to organize the world’s information, it’s tempting to think there’s a system in the digital realm that can actually do this. But the fact is, Google is a pretty limited organizational system. For instance, I can’t drag all the files I find in a search onto my hard drive. I can’t be sure the search results a week from now will be the same as those I’ll get today. I can’t compare one page to another within the system.

There are two inherent biases present in these statements that I often hear in speaking with people in the print publishing field. First, that one would WANT to drag all the files in a search to one’s hard-drive is a ridiculous scenario given the amount of information on the web. But let’s assume you queried the web so succinctly that you found 30 perfect results, you COULD get those to your hard drive via RSS or “save page”, but that’s not the point. Information on the web is more fluid than print media, it can change, grow, adapt, and improve itself (or fizzle away). Its complex structure exists thinly spread across space and time and is affected by those two forces.

Second, considering the billions of web pages that exist on the internet, Google does a pretty good job of using what metadata exists to organize item in terms of search query. And that’s where it’s strength lies: not in organizing the web from the top down (like Yahoo directories), but from the bottom up. The web, in its amorphous state, remains so until acted upon by your query and Google’s (or any search engine’s) algorithm. It is organization, just not the type that people of the old media are used to (some librarians included).

Otherwise, it’s an article worth reading if you have a moment.