Is your mom Mrs. Huxtable? My first information literacy memory

First a little background: I grew up in small town Indiana. My mom is Hispanic; my dad white.

It’s the mid-1980s. I’m in the second grade. I remember this event like it was yesterday: It turned out to be my first inkling of “information literacy” – although too young to know it – and the term itself wasn’t emphasized until 1989.

This is what happened: My mom came to visit me at school. After she left, one of my classmates asked me in all seriousness:

Is your mom Mrs. Huxtable?

Yes, Claire Huxtable. The mom from 1980s hit The Cosby Show.

As a second grader, I couldn’t define the word askance, but that was the look I had on my face.

Here’s how the conversation unfolded:

Me: Where did you hear that?

Him: Nowhere. I just thought that.

[Insert future librarian thinking: Where did he get his information from? Why hasn't he verified it?]

Me: You know that Mrs. Huxtable is just a character on The Cosby Show, right? She’s not a real person.

[Insert future librarian thinking: Why can't he distinguish between fiction and real-life?]

Him: Oh.

Me: You also know that Mrs. Huxtable is African-American, right? My mom is Mexican.

[Insert future librarian thinking: I want to go grab the shiny new World Book Encyclopedia off of the shelf. Why isn't he using prior knowledge as context? After all, I know he's eaten at my aunt's taco truck. Everyone in town knows it!]

Him: Oh. Ok.

Another classmate: “I heard your mom was Hawaiian.”

Me: [sigh]

Here’s my mom – mid-1980s (top) and Mrs. Huxtable, aka Phylicia Rashad (bottom). What do you think?

photo

“How Do You Get Students Excited About Searching?”

I was talking with a professor the other day and she asked me:

How do you get students excited about searching?

It reminded me of the old quote:

Librarians like to search. Everyone else likes to find.

I really had to think about this one. Maybe it’s that word: excite? I’m a librarian and I don’t think that searching is exciting. Sure it can occasionally be a fun detective hunt. Yes, it’s sometimes serendipitous…but often it’s just tedious–nothing I would generally categorize as exciting.

As an instruction librarian, am I failure in the classroom if I don’t think it’s my job to get students excited about searching? I don’t think so. You need to be cognizant that sometimes it just boils down to the professor’s assignment. Is the assignment exciting? Or is it just busy work? I’m more than happy to collaborate with faculty on assignment ideas, but at the end of the day, it’s the professor’s job to put the assignment together.

When it comes down to my teaching: I’m passionate about connecting people with information. The act (or art?) of searching is only one small part. My job is to get students pointed in the right direction, to de-mystify the research process a little, and to show them that it CAN be done! Let’s face it: the library is often the most itimidating building on campus. I’m here to make the library and the research process a little bit more relatable to students.

I show them the tools that will be most useful, make the connection in how these tools will help them succeed with their assignment, get them thinking about HOW and WHY they’re using this information, and get them using the tools right away. My mix of teaching is practical, personable, participatory, and slightly humorous.

I’m not here to do a song and dance razzle-dazzle routine on searching for information: “Try this ONE perfect search to find EVERYTHING on your topic. Look, it’s so EASY!” Students see right through that. I don’t do the “perfect” search because that’s not what students will encounter. I’m OK playing “stump the librarian” and having the students work with me on the problem. It makes you more authentic and approachable.

I’m a realist: Will they be excited? Chances are, no. But will they think the research process seems a little more doable and will they be willing to seek help? Yes.

What do you think? Is it our job to make searching exciting? I’d love to hear your thoughts or any tips and techniques that you’ve tried.

Big Data is Watching (or single women who are librarians and like cats)

As Facebook rolled out its Graph Search to users’ accounts, stories in the news media have been popping up about the outrageous things you can find (e.g, “married people who like prostitutes“) and–more importantly–how you can (try to) lock down your privacy settings. Gizmodo has a good overview on how to do this.

So is Facebook’s Graph Search a warm, fuzzy place to find out about other co-workers who might like bicycling and hiking, like I do? Or is it a stalker-ish search engine that uses your precious personal data and likes? Well, it’s a bit of both.

TechNewsDaily points out:

You can run. You can hide. But you still won’t be safe from Facebook’s Graph Search.

Librarians, school media specialists, and information professionals should play a role in educating their users on social media and privacy. But we all need to pay attention to what we post. Case in point, I did an off-the-wall “stereotypical” librarian search for: Single women who are librarians and like cats.

To my surprise, there were actual search results [note: I'm not saying it's wrong to be a single librarian that likes cats. It's just amazing to see how narrow I can make the data]:

Facebook Graph Search: single women who are librarians and like cats

I don’t know about you, but I find the search results creepy. I also wonder about some of the negative connotations people might draw from these search results. As an example, I picked my area: Green Bay, Wisconsin. Here’s a search for: People who live in Green Bay, Wisconsin and that like getting drunk.

Facebook Graph Search: people who live in Green Bay, Wisconsin and that like getting drunk

So much of the information that people think is private, is actually not. Now, I’m not part of the tin foil hat brigade, nor am I advocating for a Puritan-ization of social media–but I do think everyone needs to take a second look at the information they share, educate themselves on privacy issues, and keep vigilant in an ever changing information landscape.

“I Didn’t Know I Could Use the Library!” Meeting the Needs of Students Online

I’m at WILU 2013 – Workshop for Instruction in Library Use – a Canadian information literacy conference in Fredericton, New Brunswick: a great opportunity to network with librarians north of the border – or “south of the border” to them! I presented a session about implementing library services to online students:

“I Didn’t Know I Could Use the Library!” Meeting the Needs of Students Online

Session Description:
What do you do with students you rarely see in the library? University of Wisconsin-Green Bay has a growing online student population. Reaching these students can be challenging. Many still view the library as just a brick-and-mortar building, and not an online 24/7 resource. Librarians conducted an assessment of online students to investigate their needs. This session will focus on the assessment results and the information literacy outreach plan put into place. It will highlight several initiatives, including the embedded librarian program, faculty-librarian collaboration, marketing efforts, and learning tools geared towards online students. Based on feedback from students and faculty, an increase in reference questions, as well as high usage statistics from librarian-created tutorials and discussion boards, the outreach plan is working. Come and learn about these best practices for online learners and share your ideas, as well.

Here are some of the assessment tools, resources, guides, and tips mentioned in my presentation:

Bringing the Annotated Bibliography into the 21st Century: Using a LibGuide as an Assignment

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I’m a LibGuides aficionado. Students love them. Professors love them. It’s a great way to package only the most relevant library and research-related content and tie it directly to an assignment or course. Professors can then link to it from their course management system (e.g., Blackboard, Moodle, D2L) in an environment where students spend most of their online “academic” time anyway.

This semester I taught a course for my institution’s Information and Computing Sciences department: Information Science 410: Advanced Information Problems. This course takes a problem/solution oriented approach to a complicated issue – in our case, gun control – and examines the maze of information related to it.

As a librarian, I thought the best thing to do was to put together a LibGuide to direct students to good information. But then I thought, “Hey, these are information science students…let’s put them to work!” Because the course spends time on evaluating information, a course LibGuide project was a perfect opportunity for students to demonstrate their skills.

Using our gun control issue, students worked in teams to evaluate the best library databases for the topic, and gathered relevant books, websites, government information, and video. I taught them how to use the LibGuides system and gave an overview of “model” LibGuides. Each group was provided with a LibGuide shell. Students had “collaborator” access to the LibGuide allowing them to add content and edit the design.

After each group submitted their LibGuide, I had a panel of library staff evaluate them. We selected the “winning” LibGuide to be published on our site. The end result?: a non-biased and informational guide on a popular and controversial issue that can be used by all students on our campus to gather academic information.

The project gives students practice at evaluating and curating information. The LibGuide, combined with a written assignment where students explain their information selection brings the time honored annotated bibliography into the 21st century. It’s something that academic librarians should market to professors as an assignment that demonstrates critical thinking and evaluative skills.

LibGuide link: http://libguides.uwgb.edu/guns

LibGuides – What to Call Them?

Like a lot of libraries, we use the popular LibGuides program from Springshare. First purchased in 2009, our stats have increased greatly each year: from 3,506 hits in 2009-2010, to over 44,000 hits in 2011-2012. LibGuides are popular with both students and faculty–even getting to the point of students asking us, “Why isn’t there a guide for my other class?” — “Tell your professor to talk to us!”  we say…

One issue the library staff has dealt with is terminology. Among the librarians, we use the term “LibGuides”–but we avoid using the term when branding the resource to students and faculty. On our website, we simply label them as “Guides.” However, after completing a user survey of our library services, resources, and website, several respondents reported being unsure of terminology–and what exactly a “Guide” entailed–was it for a specific class, or a broad subject area?

Curious to see how other library websites have termed their LibGuides, I posted a survey to ILI-L (the instruction/information literacy discussion list) to find out. I had 130 respondents. Here are the results:

What Do You Call the LibGuides Link on Your Library's Website?

The term “Research Guides” was, by far, the number one choice. It also matched the preferred term of students in a survey done by Mark Aaron Polger, “Student Preferences in Library Website Vocabulary” published in Library Practice and Philosophy, 2011:

Excerpt: A survey of 300 college students asked, “What term on the library website do your prefer if you need help with research?”

  • 36% chose “Research Guides”
  • 20% chose “Resources by Subject”
  • 18% chose “Research Help”
  • 16% chose “Library Guides”
  • 10% chose “Subject Guides”

After getting feedback from our own students, we decided to change the link name to “Research Guides” – after all, the resource is there for the students. We want them to know what it is–and to use it.

10 Library Terms for High School Students

Library Terms for High School Students

I created a library guide for our College Credit in High School students–these are students in high school who take university classes at their local Wisconsin high school. The program provides a head start for college-bound students. Classes run the gamut from English composition, to psychology, communication, chemistry, and Spanish.

Several of the classes involve a research component, where students begin that very first “real” college-level research assignment. These classes often make a field trip to the library where we work with the students and teachers in introducing them to some of our library’s resources. We often get questions about terminology: “What’s that?” “What does this mean?” So, I began to brainstorm some different library terms I thought our students should know–especially as they prepare for their first academic library visit. These are terms they might encounter in our library, or see on the website, catalog, and databases. The terms are also ones that I frequently use in information literacy sessions.

Here are the 10 library terms for high school students:

  1. Abstract - a brief summary of a book or article. Quickly reading an abstract will help you decide if you would like to get the full article or book.
  2. Bibliography - a list of books, articles, and other materials that are cited by the source you are looking at. Also known as a works cited list, or a references list.
  3. Call Number - Each book in our library has a call number–a series of numbers and letters that help you locate the book. When searching for a book in the library’s catalog, remember to write down or print out the call number. Call numbers are organized by subject, so books on the same topic will be shelved next to one another.
  4. Catalog - the online system that lists all of the books, media, and other materials in our library’s collection. To search the catalog, click on the the Books & Media tab on the Cofrin Library homepage.
  5. Citation - brief information about a source, such as a book or article. It usually lists the author, title of the book (or name of the magazine, journal or newspaper), title of the article (if applicable), publication date or year, pages numbers (if applicable), and publisher (if applicable).
  6. Database - a collection of articles from newspapers, magazines, and journals. To search for articles in Cofrin Library’s databases, use the Articles tab on the Cofrin Library homepage or click on the Databases by Subject link.
  7. Find-It button – When searching in the library’s databases for articles, you will often see the “Find It” button. If the article is not available in full-text in the database, you can click on the “Find It” button to see if the article is available online in a different database, or order a copy of it for free through our interlibrary loan service.
  8. Full-Text - When searching in the library’s database for articles, you will often see a link that says “full text” (sometimes marked as PDF Full Text or HTML Full Text). This means that the article is available online in the database. Clicking on the “full text” link will take you to the article where you can read it on your computer, print it out, download it, or email it to yourself. If the article is not available in “full text,” you can click on the Find-It button.
  9. Peer Reviewed - A scholarly material based on original research. It is often a scholarly journal article. Not a magazine or newspaper article. It is a material that is written by an expert in a field (e.g., doctor, scientist, professor). Generally, peer reviewed materials are fairly lengthy and text-heavy. Peer Reviewed materials always cite their sources, so you will usually see a bibliography with it. Sometimes, peer reviewed materials are referred to as: scholarlyacademic, or refereed.
  10. Stacks - This is the area where the books are shelved. In Cofrin Library, the book stacks are on the 5th and 6th floors of the library. Books with call numbers A-P are shelved on the 6th floor. Books with call numbers Q-Z are shelved on the 5th floor.

The terms I picked were specifically designed to be ones that students would encounter using my library’s resources–so they may not necessarily be the 10 terms you would pick. I looked at the assignments and then looked at our library’s physical layout, along with our online resources to pick these terms.

I avoided some terms that others might argue for inclusion: subject headings, ISBN, Boolean operators, reference, reserves come to mind. These just don’t fit the scope of the students’ assignments.

So what do you think: Am I missing any big ones here? What would you have included? Feel free to share.

ALA Poster Session – Assessment into Action: Meeting the Needs of Adult Learners

Here is the online version of my poster session for the ALA Annual Conference in Anaheim. My topic is academic libraries and adult learners:

Assessment into Action: Meeting the Needs of Adult Learners
What do you do with students you rarely see in the library? University of Wisconsin-Green Bay has a growing adult learner population, most of which take classes solely online. Reaching these students can be challenging. Librarians conducted an assessment of adult students to investigate their needs. This poster session will focus on the assessment results and the outreach plan put into place. It will highlight several initiatives, including librarian-faculty collaboration with introductory courses, the embedded librarian program, and the targeting of library services to adult students. It will also address using data to argue for increased budgetary support and collaboration with offices outside the library. Based on preliminary feedback from students and faculty, an increase in reference questions, as well as high usage statistics from librarian-created tutorials and discussion boards, the outreach plan is working. The poster session will include charts of the assessment data, handouts of the assessment tool, teaching and marketing materials (LibGuide, tutorials, newsletters), and photographs of embedded librarian best practices.

Materials:
Embedded Librarian Tips (PDF)
Library Survey for Adult Degree Students (PDF)
Library Survey for Adult Degree Faculty (PDF)
Adult Degree Library Guide for Students (Libguide)
Adult Degree Library Guide for Faculty & Staff (Libguide)
Adult Degree Library Welcome Video (YouTube)

Poster:

Introduction

Introduction

Assessment, Outreach Plan

Assessment, Outreach Plan

Embedded Librarian Program

Embedded Librarian Program

Promoting Services, Advocating for Support

Promoting Services, Advocating for Support

Creating Current Events Guides

It’s been too long since my last blog post. Too many projects!

Well, I thought I’d blog about one of those projects: I’ve worked on creating research guides at my library that focus on current events. So far, I’ve done guides on the Occupy Movement, the 10th Anniversary of 9/11, and the killing of Osama bin Laden. It’s a good way to:

  • direct patrons to trustworthy information (e.g., the Wikipedia page for Occupy Wall Street is tagged for a “neutrality” check)
  • promote the library’s digital resources
  • spotlight books in the collection, and
  • demonstrate that the library is at the forefront of the ever-changing information environment

We use the popular LibGuides program at my institution. It’s easy to create individual guides and you have some flexibility for organizing your content. Of course, you could always create a simple webpage, too.

In my current events guides, I generally try to provide the following information:

  • Brief intro to the topic
  • Latest headlines (RSS feed via Google News or Yahoo News)
  • News & Media sources
  • Embedded Video (e.g., PBS Video–particularly Frontline and News Hour clips, C-SPAN Video Library, and CBS News allows embedding of its individual news clips)
  • Background Info (e.g., CQ Researcher database articles)
  • Catalog search & a few selected book titles on the topic
  • List of relevant databases to search for articles on the topic
  • Suggested keywords/search terms
  • Primary sources

Once you have the guide published, make sure and provide a direct link from your library homepage, and promote it on the library’s blog, Facebook, and Twitter accounts. If particularly pertinent, send out an email or contact individual faculty members/teachers.

There are lots of great examples of libraries that have put together current events guides. Here are a few select ones:

Know of a good current events guide? Share it here!

If It Looks Boring, It’s Probably Scholarly

For first-year college students–and many beyond the first year as well–the concept of using a scholarly journal is new. At the reference desk, I often get questions as to whether something is “scholarly” or not. It doesn’t help that professors use interchangeable terms for the same thing: scholarly, peer-reviewed, refereed, academic. No wonder students are confused!

In the “olden” days of library research, it was pretty simple. Students would come into the library and grab a journal, magazine, or newspaper off of the shelf. They could hold the periodical in hand, flip through it, and get a good idea of its contents. Now with online databases, this is not always possible–and if it is, it’s not intuitive. You are often staring at one article on your computer screen. As libraries continue to cancel print subscriptions, online access will not only be the primary way students access content (as has been the case for the last decade), but the only way.

Teaching Strategy
When I teach information literacy sessions, I often go through the different types of periodicals (scholarly, trade, magazines, newspapers). This is especially true if the professor has limits on what students can or cannot use. In some classes, no magazine or newspaper articles are allowed.

This week I did an information literacy session where scholarly journals, specialized magazines and trade publications were OK to use, but the professor did not want students using general interest magazines (Newsweek, Time, etc…). The students’ assignment was to take the issue of teen pregnancy, examine the causes, and develop a list of solutions.

To help students understand the different types of articles, I passed out this handout:

Is it a Magazine or a Journal?

Then, since the students were all studying the same topic (teenage pregnancy), I gathered five different articles from the databases and passed them out to students. I put the students into groups and asked them to do two things:

  1. Figure out which category each article belonged to: scholarly, trade, magazines, newspapers
  2. Rate the articles (on scale of 1 to 5) in terms of how useful it would be for the assignment

The five articles I choose, included:

  1. Scholarly journal article on sexual and reproductive rights of pregnant Ecuadorian teenage girls (Demonstrates narrowed focus of scholarly articles. Not useful for students’ assignment since it focuses on Ecuador).
  2. Scholarly journal article that evaluates an “abstinence-plus” sex education curriculum (Useful because it discusses one possible solution for teen pregnancy).
  3. Trade publication for social workers that provided statistics on teen pregnancy in the U.S. and tips for working with pregnant teens (Useful because it provides good statistics and background information).
  4. Magazine article published in The American Conservative about MTV’s 16 and Pregnant program (Specialized magazines were OK to use, but this one had political bias that should be avoided).
  5. Newspaper article from The Washington Post about a government sex ed program (Good basic info on a government program, but students not allowed to use newspaper articles).

Also, a little humor can go a long way in getting your points across to students (e.g.):

  1. “If it looks boring, it’s probably a scholarly journal.” Students laugh, and then you can emphasize that although they “look” boring, they often have the best information.
  2. “Attractive people–and politicians–appear on the cover of magazines. Ugly people appear on the covers of trade publications.” (As I hold up a copy of Library Journal–ouch!). But it emphasizes that trade publications are geared towards people in a specific job or industry.

I give students a few minutes to examine the articles and then we have a discussion on the different types of articles and I ask them which ones they think would be most useful for their assignment. I’ve done this activity in many sessions and it usually goes over well. I think it’s important that students know how to identify the types of sources they need before they actually start searching. From there, we delve into the library databases and I get fewer questions like, “What kind of article is this?” A win-win for students and the librarian.