26 September 2007

Injecting Information

The ever-wise and excellent question-asker, Jeff Rutenbeck, brought up, what I think, is the essence of the the information literacy question: how can we inject information literacy into the daily lives of our students? How can we illustrate to them that information literacy is not just about school.

As always, Jeff makes my mind go a million miles a minute.

This is where most discussions about information literacy seem to go awry. What is information literacy? What are the skills that we are teaching students supposed to do for them in the long run? Let me set the stage with a question I was asked by a student the other day. They asked me why I advocate for them to use the databases when those databases won't be available to them once they leave college?

This is a good question.

My answer: I ask you to use databases in college because I want you to use the information that is most appopriate for your needs and situation. And in college, that means information from scholarly resources.

The first part of the answer is the important part here, though. Information literacy should not be another name for library instruction. It also should not be strictly understood as a research process. Information literacy is understanding what information you require given your situation and the purpose of that information's use. That is the true role of a librarian: to help a patron figure out those questions and then guide them to the best and most appropriate resource.

To return to the initial question, I am going to respond with how NOT to approach it. We are not going to successfully instill information literacy skills into our students lives by making it about databases or citations. The way to inject (good choice of words) that into students' daily lives is to make them see that the skills you apply to getting dressed to go to a party are much the same as you would use to select a website. What are they doing at this party? Who is going to be there? Is it dressy? Is it a pool party? Do I need to bring anything?

I'm purposely trying to sound a little hokey but my point is not hokey at all. We all use information literacy skills in our lives already. Shouldn't we be trying to make that clear to students? Shouldn't we be bringing it down to the daily level and then show them how at college, their daily level requires a certain kind of resource with a specific purpose?

I think Jeff's question and the questions surrounding information literacy echo another important issue that is often asked: what do librarians do? At times, I am not sure that librarians always know what we do. Information literacy is a perfect example of how librarians are trying to be many things to many people. We are trying to be teachers, to be educators, to be gatekeepers, to be technologists, to be generalists. What is it that we, as a profession, want to be first and foremost?

18 September 2007

2.0 in the classroom: future teachers give me some ideas

Last Friday, I joined an education professor at Champlain for his "Integrating Technology in the Classroom" course to discuss what 2.0 technologies we are using at the library, the challenges and benefits of 2.0, etc.

One word for how the classes went: AWESOME.

I went to both sections of the course and started the discussion off my showing the class the library website. I gave them a little context by asking them what they thought of when they thought about librarians. Buns, glasses, shsh-ing. That school of thought tends to represent the library as a temple. But 2.0 brings the library out into the world wide open. It allows the library to integrate patrons' information needs with service and resources. The best example of this is Chat. We know students are IM-ing all the time and so we are available through IM to chat with them about their questions.

This was a perfect segway into Facebook. I wanted to find out from students what their thoughts were about having a librarian in Facebook. Would they friend me? Their responses were fascinating! At first glance, they said, "Yeah, we'd friend you." But then their professor asked them to think about it as future teachers: would they want to have their students able to see their Facebook page? Now is this really a fair comparison...probably not. As a librarian, I wouldn't use my Facebook page as they use theirs. And I said that. No matter. Their song changed. They unilaterally agreed that they wanted a space of their own where they didn't have to work about a teacher or a librarian seeing their life. Privacy settings of not.

This also brought up an interesting question about when to turn off. When do you, as an educator, get to be you and not an educator? And how does that fit into 2.0 technology. Some people stay connected all the time but others, such as the Sheck, like to sign off and have some Sheck time.

The idea of time management was an important one in the class. Especially when we talked about maintaining these cool technologies. We looked at the MIC's flickr show. Yes, the tag cloud has a lot of possibilities for increased usability and gives the library props in the coolness category. But it is a lot of work on top of cataloging, on top of reference, on top of collection development, on top of faculty senate, on top of blogging, on top of IM-ing...everything takes time. And you have to decide before you implement any new idea, 2.0 or old school, whether you have the time to maintain it. That is a tough one for the Sheck to always come clean about because I do like to wear my super-hero costume and pretend I can do everything. But that is not always so and we all have to realize that.

But back to the students. A few things I loved about what they said:
1. Use blogs to communicate with parents about what kids did in school today. Wow. What a great way to keep parents in the loop. I hope my future child's teacher does something cool like that.
2. They were genuinely concerned about the role of technology in their classroom. "Is it," they asked, "the role of the teacher to teach students technology? Or is that something that should be left in the home?" They also talked about the digital divide: what about kids who don't have access to technology outside of the classrrom. Both of these are intensely important and complex issues. And their professor and I made clear to them that there is not an answer for that.

I can understand it from their point of view. As future teachers, they wonder if they will be mandated to include this "stuff" in their classrooms. Some of them seemed to think that they should be focusing on curriculum rather than technology. But, I said, if you do have students who lack access, your inclusion of technology in the classroom might be the only way they can bridge the gap. And, is it realistic in today's world to assume that technology is something that can just be picked up somewhere?

That's where I am, three days later. I can't let go of that idea: that we see technology as this "other thing" rather than as something important and that needs to be taught and viewed critically. If we don't put that kind of critical thought into it, if we don't educate our children in how to use technology responsibly, how can we be surprised when they don't use it responsibly? This is more than information literacy, or at least how IL is talked about in libraries.

More on this in future posts...it is a lot to think about and I want to reflect on it some more. But what a good class, huh? I love students. I love how they make me think!

12 September 2007


I was saddened yesterday to see the commemoration of September 11th buried, so to speak, beneath articles on Iraq in the New York Times. But when my eye wandered beneath the fold, virtually mind you, I saw this piece about an exhibition at the New York Historical Society.

If you've never been to the New York Historical Society, right next to the Museum of Natural History in New York, it is an impressive place. Having seen a few exhibitions there, this one seems quite different. The rows of the photos, hung by binder clips, with no frames, with no pomp and circumstance, is a very different approach for them. But, as the article correctly points out, it is most appropriate for this exhibition. Wandering through the photos on line is slightly discombobulating, as I imagine it was to wander through New York on and around September 11th. But I can only imagine...

And I am embarrassed that I didn't do anything to commemorate Sept. 11th at our library. Being in the second week of classes and feeling overwhelmed by all the projects, meetings, changes in the schedules...still, it's not an excuse. And I guess I want to say the same thing to the New York Times: where is the remembrance? Where are our priorities? I don't often write about politics here and I don't think I am writing about politics now. It is not about politics. It is about people. It is about community.

I am teaching a senior seminar this semester on Technology and Society and my students are spending a lot of time mulling over how different their lives would be without the digital technology we have come to depend on. I sit here wondering if we spent less time attached to our computers, our ipods, our cell phones, would we have more connection to remembering something like 9/11? Has an event like this been lost to our memory because it is not being flashed in front of our screens?

I'm not sure. I know that there are projects out there trying to remind us of the changes in our world. This exhibit is one example, the September Project is another. But since I don't own a television, I was curious as to what happened last night in the mainstream. So I just went over to NBC Nightly News' website. And again, I had to go beneath the proverbial fold. But I did find this one piece, by a producer on NBC. And it reminded me of why I am here, in the blogosphere. It is because we are individuals, making our way in the world. And whether or not the mainstream media does what I think it should, it doesn't matter. This, this post, is my remembering September 11th. This post is my promise to myself to never forget.

06 September 2007

Commoncraft Strikes Again!

Two new videos appeared on YouTube from my favorite folks over at the CommonCraft Show. As you may know from previous postings, I really appreciate Lee Lefevre's ability to break down technologies for the inexperienced or uncomfortable user. I am hoping to use his videos in a Technology Forum for Faculty to explain 2.0 technologies that are often thrown around but not often explained. His emphasis on applicability, HOW to use the technology in real life, is especially appropriate to coping with Faculty resistance to technology.
Or, as he points out in his description through YouTube, "We made this video for people who wonder why social networking sites are so popular. We think one reason is because they help to solve a real world problem."

Once again, the value of YouTube, 2.0, and making clear explanations about what technology is and why it can help us in our everyday lives!

04 September 2007

Insanely Busy and Insanely Great

School started today and getting the Library ready for the influx of 475 new first years as well as returning students, new faculty, new deans, and new adjuncts has been a whirlwind. But the results are outstanding. Largely this is due to our library crew embracing and taking technology to a whole new level. We are starting out the year with a series of new initiatives that are pretty cool. Here are some of the highlights:
1. We have started using wikis to create subject guides. What a relief! You can actually update and modify the pages to accomodate instructor's needs, students' feedback and new additions to the collection. Awesome and very well received. Hopefully they will be very used.
2. We are trying chat reference. We've held back from chat in the past because we are such a small staff but with more of our students going abroad and a new librarian in the mix, we thought it was time to give it a go. More on that as the school year progresses...it's hard to know how that's working on day 1.
3. We are blogging. I wish my co-workers were a little more active in posting but we are maintaining a library blog to highlight events at the library but also things the librarians think are cool. (Oh, there are so many). And hey, if you are checking that out, you will deja vu this post.
4. We are tracking reference questions using a free, online tool from zoho. We just stareted it today but it was so much easier to keep track of questions. We kept the screen open and the form is easy to fill out and WHAM, we've got improved data on reference.
5. We have been spending most of the summer adding our newest additions to the collection into Flickr. This is my personal pet project and it has been a lot more work than I thought it would be but if I can devote the time to tagging in it as much as I would like, I think it will be a cool way for faculty to share books with one another, comment, suggest other books, and get to know our collection better, which is changing rapidly.

I have to give credit to my co-workers (and I don't think they are even reading this). Some of them are more resistant to technology than others but they have shrugged off their reticence in favor of experimentation. Not all of these initiatives will be successful in the long term but by trying them out, the Library is leading the way on our campus for innovation in technology. And that is where the library needs to be, at our school and I bet at many others. We are giving it a go and I am so proud to work somewhere that is willing to take that chance. It's a great way to kick off the school year: invigorated, excited, and trying new things. It might make me insanely busy, but it feels insanely great.