April 2008 Archives

Last night, I was at a meeting for our LEAP speech/writing Pride instructors.  In attendance were experienced, terrific English 15 and CAS 100 instructors, sharing their teaching plans for the upcoming summer session, as well as some of their past experiences.

I was a little surprised when one of my favorite grad students got up in front of the group and stated that he discourages his students from using CQ Researcher as a source.  Or Opposing Viewpoints. and NO Wikipedia whatsoever. (maybe that last one wasn't such a surprise.)

His very valid point was that students are increasingly having more and more trouble evaluating sources, and especially evaluating and accessing the 'source within a source.'  If a CQ Researcher report cites information from a Newsweek article, the student has trouble parsing it out, and simply says, "According to CQ Researcher..."

The same problem exists with Wikipedia (and, I am assuming, the Viewpoints essays featured in the Opposing Viewpoints database.)  While Wikipedia may not be an authoritative source, the sources cited within the articles often are.  Yet students not only lack the skills to find these sources, they cannot see these sources as separate from the primary Wikipedia article.

I think the problem is that the playing field has become muddied.  Back in the dark ages when I was using the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature for my freshman comp class, a source was a source.  A published, vetted source was just that, whether it was an article, a book, etc...  Wikipedia, Youtube, blogs, Flickr and more have brought an onslaught of unvetted and sometimes (perhaps more often that not) unauthoritative sources to our users.  The job of weeding out the good from within the bad has become even more overwhelming.

The question is, how do we teach our students to do this, without locking them out of a variety of sources relevant to their daily lives and perhaps their research?  The Washington Post article, Truth Can You Handle It? cuts to the core of this issue.

The essential question the article asks is, "For the Google generation, what happens to the concepts of truth and knowledge in a user-generated world of information saturation?"  An ACRLog post goes on to discuss this, and how libraries (and librarians) play into this crucial lack of skills.

I appreciated being a part of this discussion last night.  It reminded me that the issues of evaluating information go far beyond the one-shot library session, and impact instructors as well as students.  This summer, I'm going to try to embed more evaluative skills in my instruction, and reprise an exercise I did last year on locating cited sources with Wikipedia articles.

P.S.  The quote in the title of this post is from the WaPo article and is in reference to students' information seeking skills today.

Why I Blog

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At our recent Libraries Promotion & Tenure workshop, we discussed new forms of scholarly communication, including blogging.  It was an interesting discussion on blogging, youtube and more in academia, blogs as publications, and the perceived positives and negatives of blogging your research.

During the session, one person asked the very pertinent question, "Why would you waste your time blogging when you could put that energy into writing articles?" Or something to that effect.  Point taken, milady.

That comment in particular made me think about why I blog, what the benefits are, and why I recommend other academic librarians consider blogging more often.

And here, friends, on the almost 11 month anniversary of my blog (now why couldn't I have saved this post until my blog's one year birthday!) are my reasons:

My blog is a notetaking mechanism and idea farm for my research

This is the primary use of my blog-- a place for my notes and ideas.  How many times have you read a thought-provoking aritcle (especially one relevant to your research) but neglected to write those ideas down? 
Because I can remember essentially, nothing, I use my blog for this purpose.  I'm also careful to tag all of my entries intuitively, so that when I begin work on my portion of our Facebook article, for example, I can easily pull up every entry I've made relevant to that topic.  Using this in tandem with del.icio.us is invaluable as far as organizing my research ideas, notes and sources.

--My blog is an outlet for publicizing new projects, publications and presentations
We are all very humble and want to only be recognized when others seek us out.  But really, it is time for that type of thinking to end.  I am always eternally grateful when I come upon someone who has nicely (and recently) organized and made available their newest efforts. 
Personally, I believe that a blog can work in tandem with your online portfolio to achieve this.  Post the new publication in your portfolio, link to it (and talk a little bit about it) in your blog.  And don't forget to publicize your new blog content in Facebook or elsewhere.  I'm always grateful to hear about new content and ideas.  Don't underestimate your colleagues' interest in learning more about what you've been working on.

--My blog can function as a space for community discussion
In a large academic library, blogs can provide opportune spaces for discussion and idea sharing on specific topics.   It's always great to see new posts in local Libraries blogs--consider it a way of virtually catching up on what your colleagues (so close yet so far away) are doing.
I've also learned that my blog can also function as a space for a larger discussion than I possibly anticipated.  Did I ever think that vendors would post or email responses to specific blog entries that mention their products?  I'm naive, I guess.  The positive side of this is that I've been able to establish a collaborative relationship with one vendor in particular to consult on product improvements.  This never would have happened without a blog.

--My blog encourages me to write on a regular basis
Not as regularly as I'd like, perhaps, but it's a start.  This is also why I use a blog over Twitter.  Is there even such a thing as editing and rewriting a Twitter post?

--My blog helps me pull together multiple, disparate views on a specific issue, for later use
Here are a few examples of posts where I've done this.  These are always the toughest posts to write, but are the ones I return to most frequently when I'm working on a related presentation/publication, or are even trying to help someone else find multiple sources at once.  I've emailed many of my blog posts (the recent Zotero/Endnote/Refworks post is an example) to others looking for a collection of information in a specific area.  It's a nice archive to easily pull from for later use.

--My blog is a forum for reflections on teaching, research and service
I took some of my reflective posts on teaching out of this blog and into my new portfolio.  Doing this, I re-read some of my posts, and was grateful that I had a view into what I was thinking even six or eight otherwise inaccessible months ago.  I've never been a diary keeper, and this is the closest and most useful approximation I've had to this type of content.

And there you have it--my blogging manifesto, if you will.
It's been far too long since I visited the toblog folder!  Let's get started:

iGoogle opens up a sandbox for OpenSocial developers.
  It was anticipated that Google would begin to combine OpenSocial with iGoogle.  I agree with Google Operating System's hope that this new component will not be intrusively integrated into iGoogle, one of my very favorite web tools.

Google is searching the invisible web (via the Librarianinblack).
  Very interesting---all the critical comments on the announcement aside).  Rebecca and I used to teach an Advanced Google Searching class where the sole construct was helping users understand the visible vs. invisible web.  And the difference between the two was primarily that Google did not index the contents of databases driven by form queries (i.e., the invisible web).  Things change.  Personally, I can't wait for the day when I can search for clothing and shoes via Google and come up with more than links to Bizrate pages.

7 Tips for Making the Most of your RSS Reader.  I just taught my last RSS/Alerts class of the semester, and I wish I had seen this post prior to that!  A nifty list of ways to maximize your reading and sharing of must-reads.


I've blogged previously about my experiences using and teaching Zotero, a citation management tool that as a Firefox plugin, resides entirely in the browser.  Simply put, I love Zotero, and am especially interested in promoting it as a tool for one-click capturing on all sorts of web-based information, images and more.

I participated in an ETS-led Zotero Hot Team last fall/winter, and the resulting 7 Things You Need to Know About Zotero white paper is now up.  This document nicely encapsulates the current capabilities and future promise that Zotero offers.

Facebook App Survey Launch

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As I speak (er, write) the Facebook application survey is being emailed to nearly 600 students.  It's always scary sending out mass emails (I use WorldMerge to send personalized, bulk messages).  There's that moment of panic when you wonder if the survey link is broken, or there's a fatal typo in the email...  Always, the worries.

Emily Rimland, Chris Stubbs and I have been working on this project since last fall.  The survey is directed primarily towards the students who installed the Libraries Facebook application during the Fall 2007 Open House.  Fast forward 6 1/2 months, and we have a survey designed to find out how students are using the app (and if, indeed, they are using it at all); what students expect from educational applications on Facebook (or the social web in general) and ideas for future iterations of the app.  In short, we want to maximize the utility of this app for students needs.

There are few publications or presentations out there studying Social web applications and libraries (ok, there are none--yet!), and the three of us are very excited to share our findings.

Updated to add:  The survey has been out for about 7 hours, and we have 50 respondents so far!


My new portfolio

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On Thursday, Loanne and I are presenting a session on ePortfolios at the Libraries' Promotion & Tenure Workshop. During the session, I'm going to demo my sparklin' new online portfolio (built on the Blogs at Penn State MT4 platform).

If you want an advance peek, here's it is! I've tried hard to to integrate content (expecially multimedia) with narrative and reflections in a relatively static environment.  And of course, I could not have built this portfolio at all without Carla's terrific initial idea and Brad K.'s amazing help.

I think it is a good example of 1) how a portfolio can blend all areas of librarianship, including research and service, and 2) how the Blogs platform can be used to publish more static content.

Take a look, and let me know what you think!

CIL From Afar

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I am enjoying reading the session recaps and tweets from Computers in Libraries 2008.  Binky and Emily are there presenting on the Research JumpStart.  Their session today was huge--Em estimated over 500 attendees!  Woo! (Em, post that picture of the audience!)  Congratulations, guys!

One of the best parts of participating in CIL (even from afar) is seeing other librarians' reactions to our new interface.  I'm really looking forward to hearing what Binky and Emily heard from everyone in attendance. 

Two blogs covering the session (RSS4Lib & bibliosk8) raised an interesting point, questioning our use of Widgetbox to host the JumpStart widgets

Here's a quote from Bibliosk8:
"A product like WidgetBox allows a non-programmer to create widgets easily — powerful. I have some concern about free 3rd party apps. In particular, their business model. If you can sign up for WidgetBox and use it for free, what happens to your page if they go belly up, their grant money dries up, or whatever? Since the widgets actually require that company’s servers to function, it seems to me that may be in a less-than-great position."

I agree.  Widgetbox has been good to us as an interim solution, but it can't be a permanent tool.  We have always felt that we need to host the tools that we create locally (or through providers that we have some investment in or relative control over).   Now it's time to move forward with this plan.

Congrats again, Emily & Binky!  It is really cool that you shared the JumpStart with such a huge audience today!  I think the attendee feedback (both immediate and eventual) will be very helpful to us as we continue to develop the  JumpStart interface.

Updated to add:  Rudibrarian weighed in on the Research JumpStart too, with a reminder that when using third-party tools to create library resources, we need to hold students' digital privacy as a primary consideration.  As he says, "le sigh." 

We have work ahead of us to do on our interface this summer.
Elizabeth Pyatt offered up a nice recap of Lawrence Lessig's TLT Symposium Keynote, stating: 

"Interestingly this merger of the channels (professional and amateur) has led to another common academic complaint - the need for students to develop the information literacy skills to distinguish the good stuff from the schlock. Sometimes it all connects in ways we never expected..."

And over at ACRLog, Melissa Mallon recapped the very first ACRL Springboard Event, noting that:
"Jenkins stressed the need for librarians to act as information facilitators rather than curators of collections (we ought to market ourselves, as a cartoon he displayed so aptly put it, as “human search engines”)."

I wish I hadn't missed these.  Lots of food for thought about the future of content creation and the role of libraries and librarians in this process.

And, as the Science Librarian pointed out, both of these presentations (which he, unlike me, managed to get to) incorporated Soulja Boy.  Yet another reason to be sad I wasn't there!