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.

Weather Report: Blustery Air Coming Down from the Taiga

The Taiga Forum, a group of associate deans/directors/AULs from large academic libraries that “challenges the traditional boundaries of libraries,” has released their 2011 list of “Provocative Statements.” These statements are meant to, in their words, “provoke conversation rather than attempt to predict the future.” However, Barbara Fister notes in an excellent commentary in Library Journal that:

“there’s a subtle difference between being ‘provocative’ and merely ‘provoking.’ These statements do provoke, but not always constructively.”

The Taiga group, a title sounding more in common with the NRDC or other environmental groups, is named for the coniferous forest region between the tundra and deciduous forests–I looked this up in my “ample” free time as I’m not supposed to have a job anymore–at least according to one of their 2006 predictions: Reference…librarians will no longer exist. The track record for the 2006 predictions, which should have come into being now 5 years later, is not exactly “spot on.” Jenica Rogers provides an good overview of this.

So, looking at the 20011 list of statements, what do we have coming our way in academic libraryland?

1. Organizational Structures Flatten
Why not start by eliminating the Associate Dean/Director/AUL positions? I kid! I kid!

2. Radical Cooperation
Highly possible, especially in larger cities with multiple universities. I could also see outsourcing of processing (cataloging, acquisitions)–not that I’m in favor of it. I wonder what sort of restrictions vendors will place on libraries wanting to collaborate for purchases. And will any $$$ be saved in the long run?

3. Collaborative Space Partners
This is not new. Libraries have already been doing this! Smart libraries have already incorporated writing centers, tutoring centers, instructional technology help, multimedia labs, etc. into their spaces. “One stop shopping” is beneficial for all constituents: students, faculty, and the library.

4. Books as Decor
Really? This is what was discussed? Time to turn off the HGTV.

5. No More Collection Building
Our collections represent our constituents. Collection building will continue–maybe not at the pace it has, but it will continue. Our faculty would not approve of not building the collection.

6. New Model of Liaison Librarianship
I can see the usefulness of a position like this–and many libraries now devote time to institutional repositories. I’m a little concerned about being in “research data management” – is this something we’d be doing for our faculty? Sounds like something a Grad Asst. or TA should be doing.

7. Staff Reallocation, Elimination, and Re-training
I agree with one of the comments–does sound awfully Orwellian. Good libraries have always been re-assessing what they do and adapting their services to meet the needs of their users. Please do not make it sound like you’re sending me off Guantanamo.

8. Library in the Cloud
With the exception of printed books in the library, most services are already “in the cloud” – databases, online requests, research help, etc… What’s the big deal?

9. Boutique Services
What exactly counts as a “boutique service”? Doesn’t the idea of #6 count a “boutique service”?

10. Oversupply of MLSs
Too many MLSs and not enough jobs. I’ve been hearing this since library school in the early 2000s. Tell me something new.

Library Instruction: No More Lecturing, No More ‘Death by PowerPoint’

How do you ‘connect’ in the classroom? I can remember some of my first library instruction sessions I taught back when I was a newbie librarian. Those sessions were, in a word, boring. It involved “Death by PowerPoint” screen shots of canned searches from the library catalog and databases. The students didn’t even have computers to follow along. They didn’t want to be there, and neither did I.

However, I gradually improved and then became quite comfortable with library instruction. Gone were the PowerPoints of canned searches (hey, it’s actually fun when the librarian fails during live database searches!). I liked asking students for their research topics and using those as search examples. It’s stump-the-librarian time! A new computer lab allowed for more interaction and hands-on training. I also began to diverge from lecturing for a majority of the class time. Turn the students loose, walk around, and conduct mini “research” sessions as you go. I began to see information literacy as my favorite part of the job.

Now when I meet with first-year or introductory courses for library instruction, I start with an activity to help connect with the students, set the stage for what we’re going to cover, and to actually show them that they do possess some of the skills we’re going to use. If I’m remembering correctly, the activity I use was originally posted on the ILI-L discussion list. If you’re the librarian who originally posted it, let me know, so I can give you credit. A co-worker (the awesome Debbie Campbell at Millikin University) and I tweaked it for use in our classes.

Here’s the activity:

On a whiteboard, I write out: Where does information come from? (in general, not just for assignments/class projects)

Students inevitably answer things such as: books, Internet, journals, magazines, newspapers, Google, Facebook, cell phone, TV, people, etc…
We discuss that information comes from a variety of sources.

Then I ask: What do you want your information to be like?

Popular answers are usually: truthful, accurate, authoritative, easy to understand, quick to find, brief (short).
Then I emphasize using authoritative and accurate information. And although it’s nice if the information is “short,” that might not always be the case with the research process. But I point out that we’re here to help them navigate through it!

The last question I ask is: What do you want that information to do for you?

Popular answers include: give me examples, give me ideas, help support my opinion, make my writing better, get me a good grade.
I point out that these are all good examples. Then I make the case that they use the skills of finding and evaluating information everyday (You just showed me up on the board!) and that they just need to take those skills and apply it to the library’s resources.

In total, the activity takes around 5 minutes, but helps get students thinking about the information they use, or are about to use. Then I segue into a demo of the library’s resources applicable to their assignment. I also show them how to get to the LibGuide that I have designed for their class. Don’t throw the kitchen sink at them!  The demo/search examples lasts around 15-20 minutes, and the remainder of the class time is given to the students to do their own research. I supplement the individual research time with a search strategy handout (example I used at SNHU). I rove around the room while the students do their research and complete the handout.

I’d be interested in hearing from other library people on what they like to do in library instruction sessions!

Where does information come from?

Brainstorming with students