Tuesday, July 31, 2007

third space: libraries

At today's MLibrary 2.0 event on Gaming and Social Networking, Eli Neiburger described the library as the "third space" -- a place that is neither work nor home, and a place where people gather informally. Ann Arbor District Library has become a third space for teens in the city because of the gaming tournaments they hold, creative teen-focused events, and as evidenced by the massive crowd turnout this afternoon, hosting Harry and the Potters and Draco and the Malfoys for a parking lot rock concert.

He drew a lot of comparisons between the teens he works and plays with and the undergraduates that we serve at the academic library. While the public library has always had a mission of being that third space, the "people's university," it's only recently that academic libraries have had such a strong desire to become that third space as well. Coffee shops have sprung up on campuses everywhere; stacks have been cleared to make way for new study spaces; wireless computing is not a luxury or a bonus - it's taken for granted.

Lisa Hinchliffe of UIUC's Undergraduate Library also talks about academic libraries in this way. Having big collections and being a top-ten research library simply isn't enough anymore. If our target audience is the 18 - 22 crowd, we've got to do more than just have "stuff" -- we've got to be that third space.

UIUC's done a lot to do that. Lisa talks about the reasoning for installing a coffee shop in the undergraduate library. Students are going to need to take a break while studying. If they leave the library building to go somewhere for refreshment, then the chances of them coming back and finishing their work at the library is lessened. Having refreshments there in the building gives students a space to work hard, take a break, and then work hard once more.

I love this notion of third space, and it's easy to see how the concept has played out in my own life. When Stacey (my spouse) and I get bored, we usually spend a few hours at either the public library, Espresso Royale, or a bookstore. Unfortunately, the way we use these spaces is less social than the ideal third space -- we don't end up meeting new people or engaging with others in conversations. Rather, these spaces give us a chance to browse new books or read ones we already own (and getting our caffeine fix).

I also think of my father's Saturday breakfasts. Each Saturday, without having to call or plan, he can show up to John's Cafe in Garland, TX and expect to see a couple of his friends there. Discussions about vinyl, music, and peoples' record collections happen. While John's Cafe is by no means a general public's "third space," I imagine it fulfills that role for my dad and his friends.

What's needed is a combination of these two ideas. A place where people go and can get refreshed, and a place where people socialize. That's the ideal third space. Does UM have that in its libraries? I'm not sure it does... yet. Speaking only about the grad, people DO use it. There's never a shortage of patrons in our building. But we don't see the unexpected socializing and recreation that could be happening. Sure, on the eve of exams when everyone and their dogs are at the library, friends run in to each other, but it's not an everyday occurrence.

How do we turn an academic library buried beneath a history of being a quiet, reverent study space into a truly social third space? UIUC's using games. Aside from the cultural significance video games have had over the last few decades, they collect games to make connections to students. The coffee shop is another way.

When I asked Eli about the role librarians play in the shaping of a third space, he said we should not just be the keeper of the keys, but also participants. Even if it's just once, he said, when a librarian plays a round of Dance Dance Revolution, the librarian is part of the social and recreational life of the library and the people there.

That's appealing. And I think that the notion of a social space is appealing to our younger patrons as well. Not only can you study and use the resources of the library, but you can play, chat, eat, drink and enjoy just being at the library.

Providing games and beverages may seem like selling out or trying to compete with commercial establishments like coffee shops and bookstores, but if it's something our patrons need to do between spurts of studying (or they need these attractions to introduce them to the library in the first place), wouldn't providing these things really be supporting the way they learn and grow, not just play?

Bravo to our panelists for providing excellent, compelling arguments for thinking about these types of library services. In addition, I must give kudos to Lisa Hinchliffe who gave perhaps the only plausible explanation for academic libraries and librarians like me to play in Second Life: "Avatar-driven 3-D online worlds are not going away. Second Life and Linden Labs may not go on for ever, and there may not be a lot of people there now, but going there and figuring out what libraries can do in these environments will prepare us for when a world like this does become ubiquitous." Thanks. Once of the biggest criticisms I've had of spending time in Second Life has been the inability to identify a critical mass of UM students to work with; I think I've been too wrapped up in the present to consider the value of being in Second Life to future library work.

I also want to applaud Lisa for her slides detailing good qualities for librarians in leadership roles: be passionate and be compassionate. Bravo!!

Thanks also to all the MLibrary 2.0 planning committee that put this stuff together. I really enjoyed it!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

social capital / social networking

When I began library school a few years ago, I remember reading "Bowling Alone" by Robert Putnam and then then chapter about libraries in his follow-up book, "Better Together." The whole notion of social capital was intriguing -- relationships have real economic worth. Have an emergency and need someone to watch the kids? If you have trusted neighbors and family friends nearby, they will be willing to take them while you take care of business. It's a real value. Going on a two-week vacation? Across-the-hall neighbors can watch the cats instead of a $12-a-visit stranger or an even more expensive stay at a kitty kennel.

When Putnam wrote his books, massive social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook weren't part of the equation. How would these new tools sit with Putnam? I keep thinking of the relationships I've developed as a result of Facebook and MySpace. Twice at ALA last month I spotted people I had as Facebook friends and had conversations with them (Hi, Stephanie, Ken!). While I doubt I could ask either of them to watch my cats, I'm considering the new social capital that I have.

Ken's given me some frank and honest feedback about the numerous experiments he's tried with electronic and digital outreach to his students. This makes me a more informed librarian.
Stephanie posts incredibly interesting insights over at her blog CogSci Librarian, which I would have never discovered had we not conversed on Facebook.

I've taken some pretty crummy workshops and paid for it, both with wasted cash and wasted time. But the things I've learned from colleagues online are invaluable, and free! These relationships are new social capital.

As I've mentioned before on this blog, social networks, in the many attempts I've given, have not proven a worthwhile first-contact outreach tool. As a way to maintain communication with students you've already met, they're great. But when you shift the focus away from student-librarian interaction, professional networking is facilitated by these tools. ACRL provides a lot of opportunities at conferences to get to know people, but those opportunities are few and far between. Facebook is a great way to make new connections with colleagues around the country.

Building social capital isn't limited to professional network building, though -- students need social capital too. Whether it's online or in person, knowing a librarian by name brings all of the skills and experience of librarians into students' lives. Why plagiarize when someone you know, a librarian, can help you find, use and cite sources for you paper? A librarian's help is free, and you know just who to ask.

Social capital is just another way to think about the benefits librarians can provide students. However, thinking about social capital helps us think about those benefits in terms of real economic and academic value. How can we leverage this notion into marketing campaigns and outreach? Can we have fliers that extol our money-saving and time-saving services? "Why spend hours searching the web? Get help in minutes from a librarian!" "Don't buy that book! Check it out at the library!" "Found an article online, but it costs $24.95? Check to see if the library's bought it for you!" (This last question comes to mind because of Google's News Archive search -- many of the articles in the archive are accessible through library collections, but they require purchase through Google's service)

I unno. It's Saturday. Tomorrow I'm going to Cedar Point ("The Roller Coaster Capital of the World!"), so my stomache may be churning for a few days. No more posts for a bit. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts in comments and e-mail.


Friday, July 27, 2007

flesh and blood librarian

On the bus today, someone had a t-shirt that read: "I don't know what I think until I see what I say." Absolutely! I gave a presentation for a job a couple of days ago, and in making it and talking about it, I realized a few things about some of the marketing materials we have here at Michigan.

I'm one of the few librarians.. hmm.. thinking about it, maybe the only.. who's not too shy to put his face up on the LCD screens we have in our main reference area. I've got a slide (see image here -- click for enlargement) that I made with Comic Life (it came with my Mac). In it, I depict myself as a superhero of sorts, rushing to the aid of frazzled researches lost in the stacks.

What I thought about as I made my presentation was its effectiveness. These slides play on screen adjacent to the reference desk. Whenever I work, I almost always notice someone look at the slide, then look at me, then the slide again. They're always a little amused that there I am, a real person, a real librarian, at the desk. A superhero in the flesh!

I also recalled something written by one of my library school professors. In research, she discovered that patrons who know any librarian by name are "far more likely to think highly of the library as an important information source..." (Durrance, 1995).

I'm thinking now, as I sit at the desk looking at me, the slide, then me again, that it's a form of introduction. They know who I am, what I do, and I'm not just some picture on an advertisement. I'm a flesh and blood librarian.

I wonder how much something like this can develop a relationship with our patrons. Do all these people walking through our reference area feel like this building is theirs? Even those that do, do they feel that the librarians here are 'their' librarians? Approaching the desk where some stranger sits is intimidating.

But what about approaching a superhero?

I've never been terribly shy when it comes to the camera. Putting that slide up was a little out of my comfort zone because no one else had their picture up there. I definitely got some playful ribbing from my colleagues when it was new. But, I think it's been worth it -- it connects the services we offer to human beings behind it. For those patrons that prefer to deal with people, not phone numbers, or e-mail addresses, or web forms, but actual flesh and blood people, this could be a nice way of making that connection.


Durrance, J.C. (1995). "Factors that influence reference success: What makes questioners willing to return?" Reference Librarian (49/50), pp. 243-65.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Magical Maladies?

Ok. Short post. Perhaps someone else already knew about this, but I'm discovering it for the first time... go to PubMed, search for Hogwarts. Result #3 is particularly convincing.

Friday, July 13, 2007

cognitive development: the missing link

I've always been amazed by the work of cognitive psychologists. Through experimentation, carefully crafted and executed methods, their work gives us insight into the human mind. For those of us in the business of education, including librarians, knowing and understanding how the mind works gives us some guidance for the ways we shape our interactions with students and the academic and social environments we create for them.

What got me thinking about cognitive psychologists is an column in the latest issue of RUSQ titled, "Cognitive Development: The Missing Link in Teaching Information Literacy Skills". Here, the authors (and I'm a little confused at who actually wrote this piece -- it says Rebecca Jackson as he guest columnist, and Lori Arp and Beth S. Woodward are editors) map the ACRL Information Literacy Standards to levels of cognitive development written about by William Perry and others.

The article presents an excellent review of literature about cognitive development and its relationship to information literacy and student-library interactions. In many cases, freshmen enter college in a stage of development described as dualistic: there are rights and wrongs, and that is it. There are Authorities who are always right, and those that hold other positions are wrong. By the end of a four-year program, students have generally progressed into a mode described as multiplicity -- there are still right and wrong answers, but not everything is necessarily known yet. Still, though, there is an ultimate truth.

What students often cannot grasp, even upon graduation, is the relativistic level of development. In this stage, students realize that answers to questions largely depend on context, and there may not be a be-all end-all right and wrong answer. Solutions can be on a scale of grays as opposed to strictly black and white.

This sheds some light on some of the struggles I had with students who came to see me in one-on-one appointments. Last semester, I helped many students find articles for their annotated bibliographies for a COMM 101 class - a freshman-level class on mass media. Many were discouraged when, even with a librarians help, they were unable to find that one, perfect article that supported their ideas. The notion that they would have to piece together multiple articles and synthesize them into new knowledge (or at least demonstrate an understanding of the varied perspectives in the articles) is a task that can only be accomplished by those who understand that knowledge is contextual and relative.

If my freshmen are still in the dualistic stage, then they believe that there is one singular way to argue a topic. For example, one of the topics a student came to me was about reality television and its popularity. She wanted to write a paper explaining that this popularity was due to audience members seeing reflections of themselves on television. When we explored the literature, she quickly became discouraged when our search results didn't 'hit the nail on the head'.

After reading this article from RUSQ, I imagine she was looking for confirmation of her own thoughts.
In Perry’s dualism, students see the world as either good or bad, right or wrong, black or white. Authorities (with a capital A) have all the answers; if they do not, either they are not legitimate Authorities, or the answers are only temporarily unknown. Students believe that there are right answers for every question. They will only look for information that agrees with their beliefs. At early stages of dualism, students simply ignore uncertainty or place it in the “others” category: us/others.
Despite turning up many articles on reality television and its representation of various cultures and groups of people, she may have been feeling at a loss because we couldn't find an article echoing her hypothesis. She wasn't ready, cognitively, to process the varied articles we got and use them to support an argument. She also wasn't ready to change her opinion and let it develop as she read and searched.

Thinking about it, she may have also been frustrated with me. I couldn't come up with the 'perfect search' to find what she knew had to be out there. In fact, she even said, "Someone has got to have written about this!" suggesting that she thought the answer, confirmation of her hypothesis, was in existence.

How can we work with students that are not yet ready to think about searching in flexible, 'relativistic' ways?

One successful interaction I had may be an option. As I worked with a student on her topic about depictions of women in advertising in the 1950s, we shifted our topic to match the articles that we were finding. While we didn't find much about her initial topic (how women's lives were shaped by advertisements), we did start seeing many articles about body image. We then expanded our search to include other decades, and she decided upon writing about how depictions of women's bodies have changed over the years, culminating in a description of Dove's "real women" campaign.

I think she left happy because we did find articles that supported a thesis. They were there, available, and obviously a 'right' way to go because there were articles about it, satisfying the need for a 'right' answer.

However, over the course of the semester, she no doubt started to develop a little more as she read -- comparing and contrasting the viewpoints in the articles themselves. I don't think I sabotaged a change to learn how incomplete human knowledge is -- she'll learn that as she goes through college -- but I did get her to a stage where she felt comfortable.

The ACRL Information Literacy Standards are noble goals, but this scenario illustrates how some of them require students to be more developed cognitively than they are:
For instance, Standard One, outcome 1.f. specifies that the information literate student “recognizes that existing information can be combined with original thought, experimentation, and/or analysis to produce new information.” The discovery that the student makes his own knowledge is one that comes at the Relativistic position.
We can't expect students to be okay with getting results tangential to their search topics. We must understand why they are always looking for that 'perfect' article that sums up their ideas perfectly. We must try to think about this when were serve our students. If we do want to help them develop, we should be explicit about how they can combine thoughts and ideas in article to support their own thoughts and ideas. We must do so in a concrete way, and always realize that when they check the "scholarly" limiter in a database, to them it may mean, "These articles represent 'right' ideas," not "These articles probably come with a lot of supporting evidence and reasoning."

Yay, RUSQ! Great article!

That said, it take a great deal of time and patience and the ability to listen to, observe, and diagnose student actions and responses to determine if they fit the characteristics of any given stage. It is reminiscent of the kinds of experiences my wife, a social work student, encounters while at her field placement during therapy sessions.

Hmm.. The librarian as information therapist... I like!

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Facebook’s Librarian App & Office 2007

Facebook's "Librarian" Application

I kinda like the new "Librarian" app over at Facebook. By recognizing which university a student is associated with, this tool can bring resources, tools, and help available. I think I like it mainly because there's the "Send a Message to Your Librarian" feature, which starts a new Facebook message to the institution's librarian (this does pose some problem – which one of us is "the" librarian? At the moment, it's our web guru / genius Ken Varnum – others have already suggested finding ways to allow this tool to have multiple librarians behind the "message a librarian" tool… not sure how you would go about doing that).

Why do I kinda like it?

I wasn't sure Facebook was a great place to do outreach. Getting an unsolicited message from a librarian might seem like an invasion of privacy, or at least an invasion of a social sphere, for students. For the same reason many wouldn't want their parents on Facebook, students probably don't want to "friend" a librarian either. When Donna Hayward and I polled students on librarians in Facebook, half said, "I use it all the time! It would be incredibly convenient" and the other half said, "That's creepy." A proactive, outreach mission in Facebook risks alienating students that are of a "that's creepy" opinion. However, by facilitating student-initiated communication, we may be able to reach more students using this tool. At worst, we'll get in touch with those that want us there and be ignored by those that don't.

The Librarian tool facilitates this communication. "Ask a Librarian" starts a Facebook message to the user designated as "the" librarian for the student's institution. It makes us appear available to receiving messages (because we opted-in to participating in the "Librarian" tool) and it requires students to initiate the conversation.

Why only kinda?

This still doesn't address anything I said in my last post: why would students add a "Librarian" application in the first place? Do they know what kinds of questions would be appropriate for the "Ask a Librarian" link? I don't think so. But I think that it provide a space to do so – the main "Librarian" page is horribly ugly right now, with link images surrounded by a big blue border. The icons are a little silly. I'd like to see us come up with some good information for that page besides links to our catalog, databases, and "Ask a Librarian." What could we put there that would let students know what we do?

Then, how do we get students to add the "Librarian" application? A flyer that asks, "Research paper due? Add the Librarian app for help!" That would probably be a good idea. But with any effort, no one approach is going to reach everyone we need to reach.

There doesn't appear to be a way to make custom "Librarian" pages. One of the tools my students like is the course-specific research and resource guides. If I could make something like this fit into Facebook, link to it from both the main "Librarian" app page and from my profile, I'd be ecstatic. As it stands now, I don't think you can do that.

Office 2007

I am a little geeked out about Office 2007. I like the new Office 2007 for a number of reasons, all having to do with Word 2007's new look, new organization and new features:

  • Bibliographic management built-in

    Haven't played around with it in full yet, and I doubt there's an 'import' feature, but the fact that citing sources and bibliography creation are built into this word processor makes me very excited. Many times, students don't know that they're plagiarizing. There's a lack of understanding about what needs to be cited, how to cite it, and how to synthesize information rather than regurgitating it. By including bibliography tools that ask the questions, "Who wrote that? Where'd you get it from?" (these are the blanks you fill out when adding a new reference), Word is encouraging proper citation. Way to go!

  • Styles more visible

    When I teach Word for dissertation, a large portion of the class is devoted to understanding and using Styles. Now, Styles is a prominent part of the new 'ribbon' navigation system. Instead of being buried behind menus and formatting palettes, there they are! So hard to avoid seeing! There's also several sets of predefined styles, giving people who don't know about modifying styles an opportunity to use them with a variety of looks and feels.

  • Integration with Blogger??

    So, I'm actually writing this post with Word 2007. In addition to starting a "New Blank Document…", I can also do a "New Blog Post…". This is the result of that feature. I like that I don't have to log in to Blogger, plus, I can see so much more of what I'm writing with this. Word also corrects my typos. Thanks!


Sunday, July 1, 2007

inpirational librarianship?

I imagine someone, somewhere, and soon, is going to write about how library services could be pushed to the iPhone crowd. After all, it didn't take long for UIUC to respond to Brian Mathew's call for a Facebook Library Search feature (and then in the subsequent weeks, UM added one as well). It took a little longer, but there are some really awesome Firefox plug-ins for library work -- my favorite being LibX.

But, as always, will people use these tools? These tools still require users to have some sort of knowledge of what information is in a library, what a library is for, and what librarians do. Consider this: does the typical college freshman actually know what a librarian does? Does a typical college senior? Or are our range of skills, in their minds, limited to shelving and meticulously organizing books?

We can make tools that exploit the resources of libraries and we can put ourselves out where users are, but unless they know what we do and why they should need to consult libraries in the first place, is anyone, besides us librarians, going to get truly excited about these new tools we make?

EDIT: Innovation in using new technology and new communication methods is awesome. Many (maybe most) students know how to use these tools already: IM, social networking sites, cell phone messaging... what I'm trying to ask here really is this -- do students know why to use these services, or when? If they get crappy results searching Google and Wikipedia for information, do they think "I'll go ask a librarian"? If they don't do that, I'm not sure they'll think "I'll go ask a librarian on Facebook", or "I'll text my librarian." When they see signs or flyers for our IM service and we say, "You can add us as a buddy", to me, it's not a question if they can or not -- it's if they understand what good can come of doing that.

Face to face, earnest interaction is one way of communicating our purpose -- I'm sure there are ways to do it through technology as well, but how? Maybe the answer is as simple as a flyer that shouts, "THIS IS WHAT A LIBRARIAN CAN DO FOR YOU" -- online, does this take the form of a Facebook advertisement flyer?

I don't question the effectiveness of digital reference and the new tools' usability. I question the ways (or ways we don't) communicate the purpose of our tools and of ourselves. I'm not challenging any current efforts at all -- I want these new tools to be used, and this post is more about finding ways to motivate a library-student connection.

Hmm. So, I'm still sold that this kind of outreach effort is best done face-to-face. It's gotten me thinking about the ways we try to do this now: we take part in student orientations, we do bibliographic instruction sessions, we post fliers around the library and around campus advertising reference services. But what do we actually do when we get a chance to communicate with our students in this way?

I think the answer that would best serve our users is a simple one that many of us may not think about: be sincere. I think back to may days teaching high school sophomores labeled "at-risk". I had a lot of success working with these kids. I never had the same behavior problems these students' other teachers had with them. I don't think it was because I had excellent classroom management skills... I didn't. I was new, and played it by ear, mostly.

I think it was that I was sincere. And I made this 100% clear to students on day 1 of my classes. Instead of laying out classroom rules or coving the scope of what I was going to teach them, I spent the first minutes of my class trying to convey my sincerity to the students:

"I am here to help you learn. It's my firm belief that you can succeed -- I'm not here to give you grades, tell you that you're stupid -- I'm here to figure out where you're at right now, and take you to a new place. I am trying my hardest, and I expect the same from you. I don't want you to give up. I want you to tell me when your brain gets tired, and I want you to tell me when I'm not making any sense. If you're not learning, I am not teaching you well enough. If you're not getting it, stop me, and tell me I'm not teaching it right. Every single one of you can learn -- everyone can learn -- even the hardest stuff. It's my responsibility to teach you well, and I want to know when I'm not doing that."

I did take a risk with these kids. I made myself vulnerable, letting them know that if they weren't getting it, and they were trying, then there's something wrong with the way I'm teaching it, not with they way their brain learned.

During my time with these students, they did tell me when they weren't getting it. They did tell me I wasn't teaching them right, and I did change teaching strategies, I did find other ways to teach certain topics when they gave me that feedback. And I did find a way to teach them, and they did learn.

How can we do the same kind of thing in librarianship? When we have a captive audience in a course-integrated instruction session, or when we have a group of freshman at an orientation session, how will we spend our time communicating our sincerity? How do we communicate what we do, and our genuine offer to help throughout their academic careers?

I don't think it's hard. It has a lot to do with having a public service mentality and a sincere desire to help. I don't think you can fake it. Luz Mangurian, at ACRL a few months ago, talked about the neurobiology behind a smile: you use a different part of your brain to genuinely smile than you do to fake smile (e.g. for a picture, or for your boss, ha!). The causes you to use different muscles to smile, and people can tell when you're not smiling genuinely.

I don't think you can fake sincerity either, unless you're a trained actor. You won't be able to communicate a librarian's purpose if you don't buy into it yourself.

So, when you do get that audience with students, spend some time talking about your job, what you want to do, and what students should expect from you. Be sincere. Be genuine. Be passionate to the point of tearing up. I get this way a lot, because I start to tear up when I am having a hard time saying what I want to say exactly how I want it said. I start to tear up when the words themselves can't possibly communicate the emotion behind them.

That's what happens to me in the classroom. That's what happens to be when I talk about librarianship with students.

Spend a few minutes at the beginning of a session talking about librarianship, and why you love librarianship. Be honest -- my introduction would go something like this:

"I'm Eric, your librarian. I'm here to talk about finding articles for your upcoming assignment, but I'd like to talk briefly about what I can do for you besides that. Sure, I can help you find articles -- you could probably find enough articles plugging in some keywords into Google Scholar. But the reason I became a librarian was because I wanted to help people like you do more, and just as easily. I want to help you do more than just find 6 articles -- I want to be able to help you make sense of the things you find. I want to help you deal with those times that you can't find enough, or the things you're finding aren't 'just right'. After this class, because I can't talk with each of you individually about your topics in this introductory session, I invite you to get in touch with me via e-mail, Facebook, phone, in person -- whatever -- about your topic. We can talk about your topic, take a look at what kind of articles are out there, and if we don't find the exact things you're looking for, we can talk about where to go from there. I can help you narrow or expand your topic based on what's available. I can help you find those gems that Google Scholar won't dig up -- those articles that make writing your papers much easier. I can also help you take a look at the results you get and like, and discuss with you how to piece those articles together. That's what a librarian does -- that's what I do -- and I really want your papers to rock -- if we sit down together and you leave still confused about what you're going to write and which articles you're going to use, that I haven't done my job properly. Part of this involves your brain too -- I can't tell what you're thinking and where you want to go with this paper if you don't talk with me about your ideas, your thoughts. So if we do get together -- let's work together at knocking out an awesome paper."

It takes a few minutes. You will have disinterested, disengaged students, but deep down, even those students that are just trying to get by will be intrigued at the thought of producing something they can be proud of.

Librarianship -- and any other educational position -- requires us to be a little inspirational. I'm not afraid of that. Are you?