Libraries and the First Amendment

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At ALA this year I went to a presentation about Libraries and the First Amendment, given by the McCormick Freedom Museum in Chicago. The presenter said that when he gives presentations about the first amendment, he often asks audiences who can name the five freedoms guaranteed under the first amendment. He also asks who can name the five main characters on the Simpsons. Rather shockingly, many more people can answer the second question. (The librarians in attendance did not seem to have a problem naming the five freedoms. The presenter did not ask us to name the Simpsons characters).

The Freedom Museum has a very nice and informative website devoted to educating Americans about freedom and the first amendment. The interactive exhibit on Libraries and the First Amendment allows viewers to vote on issues, and leave their comments. I particularly liked the map showing where censorship challenges have happened around the country.

Yes, I can name the five freedoms: speech, religion, press, petition, assembly. And the five Simpsons characters are Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie.


Hoax Web Sites

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After briefly discussing web site evaluation, I showed a class of first-year psychology students the Havidol site and asked them what they thought of it. This site is a very slick-looking promotion for a drug for the treatment of Dysphoric Social Attention Consumption Deficit Anxiety Disorder (DSACDAD) that provides a "greatly improved sense of well-being and the ability to enjoy the challenges of our high-paced culture."

None of the students really understood that this site is a hoax, although one students suggested it was a "scam" designed to take your money. The Havidol site does offer T-shirts and other items for sale, but clicking these items takes you to the web page of the artist who designed Havidol, so the site doesn't really take your money.

I then encouraged the students to go into ProQuest and do a search for Havidol, which brings up several articles describing the site and the artist who created it as a way to poke fun at the pharmaceutical industry. I hope that this exercise reinforced the notion of verifying information that seems questionable by checking other sources.

I also showed the students, a hoax site also created by an artist that many librarians have been using for years as part of web evaluation instruction. This site is so professional and convincing that you almost believe it, at the same time that you know it's impossible.

Both these sites are colorful, entertaining, and more than a little weird. Looking at the sites seemed to engage the students somewhat after a long hour or so of me talking about database searching and the other usual important but rather dry elements of library instruction. I'm not sure the students completely understood my purpose in showing them these sites, but I hope they at least came away with the idea that things, particularly things on the web, are not always what they seem to be.

Learning Design Summer Camp 08

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During the Learning Design Summer Camp the past few days there were lots of tips about creative ways of using technology. One of the best tips I got was from Stevie in her presentation on delicious and flickr, about searching flickr for photos that have Creative Commons licenses and using the photos in teaching materials. I frequently try to incorporate visual elements in to print or web-based teaching materials, but I hadn't thought of flickr as a source.

I also got some ideas for using blogs as professional development tools. I liked Cole's suggestion about using the tags on your blog to pull together information about presentations, conferences etc. when it's time for annual evaluations. There are lots of innovative ways of using blogs, but you can also just use a blog as a blog: a record of your ideas, accomplishments, and activities that you can easily go back to and sort through. And of course blog posts can turn into future presentations, articles, discussions....

Children's Literature at ALA

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One of the best programs I went to at ALA in Anaheim was on children's literature, "Beyond Frog and Toad: Transitional Books for Children." Although I am no longer a children's librarian, I'm still a part-time Education librarian, as well as a parent and children's book lover, so an indulgence in a program on one of my favorite topics seemed appropriate.

The whole notion of "transitional" books (that is, books for kids who have outgrown easy readers but are not quite ready for longer Harry-Potter style novels) is relatively new; according to one of the program presenters, Andrea Zevenbergen, a reading specialist, the first transitional book was The Stories Julian Tells, published in 1981. This book was enormously popular with the kids I worked with in a lower-income, mostly African-American neighborhood. Like many transitional books, Julian is about the everyday things kids are interested in, friends, family, school, siblings.

Transitional books are not just for kids who've recently left Frog and Toad behind. My own 9-year-old daughter, who is a fairly good reader and able to read Harry Potter, loves the Owen Foote books by Stephanie Greene. Some of her other favorites are the Time Warp Trio series by Jon Scieszka (who, incidentally, has probably done more than anyone to inspire boys to read) and Stink: The Incredible Shrinking Kid by Megan McDonald.

I've always been of the mind that children should (and will) read what they enjoy, regardless of whether it's considered "great literature" or whether it's for the "right" age group. I've seen kids who struggle with reading come back to the library again and again because they found an author or series that captured their imaginations.

When I tell other adults that I'm a librarian, they often tell me they don't read much, but think that they "should." Reading shouldn't be a chore that's supposed to be good for you, like eating kashi. If kids (and adults) don't love reading, maybe their reading the wrong things.

A great website for more information about transitional books is the Gryphon Award page, sponsored by the Center for Children's Books.

The Frog and Toad presentation and handouts are available on the ALA Wiki under Saturday June 28, 4 pm programs.

New MLA Style

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The new third edition of the MLA Style Manual and Guide to Scholarly Publishing recommends a number of changes to MLA citation style, particularly for electronic resources. Like the new APA guidelines, MLA no longer distinguishes between journals paginated by volume and journals paginated by issue. It's now much simpler to explain to students: Include the volume and issue when available for all journals, electronic and print.

The other changes are more involved. MLA now recommends including the "medium of publication"  (i.e., print, web) for all entries. This translates into "medium of reception" for multimedia materials (radio, television, film). The most radical change is the recommendation to eliminate all URLs from entries for electronic resources, except when "the reader probably cannot locate the source without it."

MLA's rationale for this change is that URLs may not be particularly useful; they change quickly, and the user's access may depend on subscriptions, etc. MLA suggests that the reader can more easily find the source by searching for the title or other information rather than by typing (or mis-typing) the URL into a browser.

The new guidelines for citing articles from subscription databases seem to me to be more straightforward. MLA recommends including the title of the database, the medium of publication consulted (web), and the date of access, following the basic publication info. This seems much simpler, and more intuitive, than the old way, which included the name of the institution from which the database was accessed, and the URL of the service (i.e. The URL of the service is really no use to anyone since the article must be accessed through an institution with a subscription, and always seemed to me like another mysterious and possibly pointless detail to explain to students.

Including the name of the database is still a bit tricky, since students may use a multi-search service to find their articles, and really have no idea which database the article came from. Anyway, The reader could more easily find the article by using citation linker, or looking up the journal name in the library's e-journal list.

But, on the whole, these new guidelines should simplify the citation process, and the process of teaching citations, for students and librarians. The elimination of URLs is surprising, and may be confusing to students who were trained the old way. Of course, individual instructors may choose to require the URLs for open web sources, so they can easily check the sources if their students are submitting papers electronically.

More info about the new guidelines and examples will be available on the Libraries MLA Quick Citation Guide when I have updated it.

Example of citation for an article from ProQuest using the new guidelines:

Poe, Marshall. "The Hive." Atlantic Monthly Sept. 2006: 86-95. ProQuest. Web. 7 July 2008.


Citations "R" Fun

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Remember typing a paper on a typewriter and trying to fit a footnote at the bottom of the page? Or typing your bibliography and realizing the references were out of order? Obviously, we've come a long way.

There are many useful web-based tools that can help you create and manage citations. There are some very good sites that give detailed guidance on creating bibliographies and in-text citations in a variety of styles. My favorite is Research and Documentation Online by Diana Hacker, created by Bedford St. Martin's. This site has probably more information than you ever wanted about citations, but it's all presented in a student-friendly way. The site even includes sample papers in a variety of styles.

Students who only need to include a few citations may not need to explore the details on the Hacker site, and may be happy with a quick guide like the ones created by Library Learning Services for APA and MLA styles. Another site students love is Knight Cite, created by a student at Calvin College. Students tend to dislike the details of creating citations and making sure every period is in place. Knight Cite will generate the citations for them in several citation styles, provided they input the proper information.

There are also some new social-bookmarking style sites that allow the user to quickly capture bibliographic data from online journal articles, databases, and book sites like Amazon and store them online (mentioned recently in an article by Tina Hertel in the April 2008 PaLA Bulletin). Like delicious and other social bookmarking sites, these programs, such as Connotea and CiteULike, allow users to share their libraries and see what other users have collected. These sites don't actually create bibliographies; you can export your citations to a citation management  program such as Endnote to create your reference list.

For more information about full-blown web-based bibliographic management programs, see my posts on Zotero and Refworks.

Does all this mean the end of print-based citation manuals? It certainly means they'll get less usage. Citation management programs are wonderful, but they're only as good as the data entered into them. Students should be encouraged to check their citations, but they can probably do that using one of the online style guides mentioned above, rather than dragging out the print manual.

Digital Picture Books

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I came across a couple sites recently that allow you to read digital picture books online, clicking through the book page by page. Of course, it's not quite the same as reading a real picture book, but the graphics are quite nice and you get a feel for the book. Then you can decide whether to buy the real thing.

These sites are a boon to librarians who select children's books (the paper kind) because you can see how the artwork and text work together, and get a sense of how the book would work in a group story time setting. I guess you could project the digital book onto a screen from a computer and read along as you click, but something would be lost...

International Children’s Digital Library

A virtual library of children's books in a host of languages from around the world.

Readers can rate the books, make comments, share books, and create a
bookshelf. Lookybook got a positive review in Publisher's Weekly.

Zotero and the research process

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Zotero is a great tool for citation management, and for teaching students the research process. Zotero doesn't just manage citations and create bibliographies, it allows users to create tags, take snapshots of webpages, and write notes attached to each source. Note-taking is part of the research process that students may find cumbersome and may be tempted to skip altogether, but Zotero builds note-taking into the whole process. You can even organize your notes and print them out.

Beginning researchers often write their paper based on their own thoughts and experiences, then find some sources and include them in the bibliography. They may not understand how the sources fit in with the writing and research process; they may not read the sources carefully, or at all. Zotero encourages users to read their sources online (avoiding printing charges), and make notes as they read right on the same screen.

I was a little daunted a first by Zotero's busy homepage, and by the three-paneled window Zotero uses to organize its functions. But once I started using it, everything fell into place.

Library jargon

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Like most professions, librarianship is jargon-heavy. Who outside the library field knows what we mean by bibliographic control, or LC subject heading? Library jargon poses particular problems for international students whose first language is not English. Many of the terms we use frequently in our instruction sessions have multiple meanings. A citation can be what you get for a parking violation, abstract is a kind of art, and a journal is similar to a diary. I frequently get questions from students wondering if the books listed in our catalog under "Holdings" are on hold.

Even native speaking students may not know what we mean by these terms. I think we should try to make our website and our publications as jargon-free as possible. In class, if I use a term I think the students may not know, particularly with international students, I give a quick definition.

I've also tried giving students a set of index cards with library terms printed on them, and another set with definitions. With a partner or in a small group students match the terms with the definitions. There are also some free sites you can use to create virtual flashcards and vocabulary games. I've created some library vocabulary card sets using Quizlet and Study Stack.

You can see my library jargon tag cloud here:
jargon tag cloud.ppt

Digital immigrants don't have far to travel

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I’ve heard the term “digital natives” bandied about quite a bit in higher education lately, as well as its counterpart, “digital immigrants.” The cut-off date for those with “native status” seems to be a birthdate of 1982 or later. As someone born long before 1982, I don’t feel like an immigrant in a digital world. I have a blog (obviously), a facebook page, and a flickr account. I use IM, iGoogle, and delicious on a regular basis. And many of my colleagues, regardless of their birthdates, use these tools in their daily lives.

I’m not particularly technically inclined. I’ve been known to have trouble putting a cassette in a tape player properly (thank goodness for MP-3 players). But the beauty of the Web 2.0 tools is that anyone can figure out how to use them in seconds. If you can click a mouse you can create a blog. If you can type, you can send IMs. It seems to me that “technology fluency” (since we’re going, for the moment, with the “immigration” theme), is more dependent on attitude and inclination than on ability.

Are college students today really that different from college students from any other era? Has the structure of their brains really been altered from years of video games and YouTube? Of course, they think anyone over 25 doesn’t understand their generation, but didn’t you think the same thing? When my daughter hits puberty in a few years she’ll probably think I’m just as old-fashioned and clueless as I thought my parents were. They thought you had to wait until marriage to have sex, for heaven’s sake!

I’ve worked a lot with what I guess we must now call “geographic immigrants,” and many of them have been through incredible struggles. They left their native countries, often not by choice but out of necessity, and arrived in a foreign land where they knew no one and couldn’t speak the language. I can’t compare my experience as a “digital immigrant” with theirs. Like most people who didn’t grow up with computers, I just sat down and figured it out.

In 1994, following a short-lived flurry of media attention focused on Generation X, Russell Baker wrote a piece in The New York Times questioning the whole idea of labeling generations (April 16, 1994, p. 21). He said, and I quote: “…isn’t it time to hang up the generations? Dividing people into generations can help a reader of the Old Testament keep track of the story, but who needs to distinguish, say, the beat generation from the hippie generation?”

About Me

      I am a reference and instruction librarian at Penn State University Libraries in Library Learning Services and Education and Behavioral Sciences.       

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