What’s up in library land? A bonus blog entry.

Hello, and welcome to the bonus blog entry for week 6 of SI 643!  One of the bloggers that I follow, Letters to a Young Librarian, has written about the recent libel lawsuit against Dale Askey by the Edward Mellen press. She has gathered a number of links to posts on the subject and, not wanting to be redundant where so much has already been written, has posted a humorous cartoon comparing the relationship between publishers and librarians to bears and (savage) chickens. I am always in favor of using funny comics to illustrate a point, so this was definitely a bonus.

The Gypsy Librarian used a recent blog post to review a book, namely How to Find Out Anything. It appears to be a good guide for beginners wanting to learn how to think like a researcher or effectively use Google’s advanced searching techniques. It does not have any information that would be new for librarians, but could potentially be useful to keep around to refresh one’s memory. More recently, the Gypsy Librarian has posted about books that he still needs to read in the hope that announcing this publicly will motivate him to take some action.

The Unquiet Librarian’s recent entry has a more professional flavor. In it she shares a recent presentation, Nurturing Lifelong Learning with Personal Learning Networks, that she gave at the Ohio eTech Conference 2013. While I was already aware of many of the platforms and websites used to share information, she does a nice job summarizing different kinds of learning networks. The Free Range Librarian also shares her recent conference-going experience: ALA Midwinter. The discussion and the food in Seattle were apparently both excellent.

Seeing these entries has somewhat helped me come to terms with the idea of being a blogger. So far, I feel that my entries have been very formal, although perhaps this is understandable given the pedagogical subject matter of our readings. The above examples, however, mix serious professional entries with fun observations. Will I ever be able to navigate between these two poles with the fluency of the above bloggers? Hopefully in due time.

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How do we know we’re teaching effectively?

This week’s readings (How People Learn by the National Research Council and Put Understanding First by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe) discuss teaching for meaning and transfer. According to Wiggins and McTighe, instruction too often focuses on acquisition of facts and skills rather than how to use these skills in multiple contexts, or transfer them. While learning facts and skills may be beneficial in the short term, on tests and quizzes, for example, learning in a vacuum defeats the purpose of long-term education. This also penalizes already lower-achieving students who have difficulty learning, because when there is no context to make material relevant to the students, there is little motivation to actively learn.

The majority of the readings for this class so far have been for educators, and as librarians-in-training, it has been our job to transfer readings for educators to be relevant in the context of librarianship. One advantage that librarians have over teachers in this regard is that the majority of our patrons are self-selecting, whereas K-12 students are required by law to attend classes. The advantage of this self-selection is that the majority of our patrons are motivated to be at the library. Our job differs from that of the teachers because we rarely impart the knowledge itself, but teach strategies for the acquisition of knowledge.

Wiggins and McTighe argue that teaching methods used in the classroom promote acquisition, meaning, and transfer. So which of these do librarians teach? We hope to teach transferrable knowledge, because that indicates that the patrons at the reference desk or a workshop have listened to and comprehended our words and successfully took the knowledge that we imparted to them by using it in a different context. With instruction seeming to overtake reference in importance in the minds of many professional librarians, we should certainly think about teaching for transference of knowledge. In some ways, reference librarianship, (especially ready reference questions like “What’s the capital of Minnesota?”), is similar to teaching for acquisition alone. We tell the patron the answer in one instant, and have no way of knowing if they will remember that piece of knowledge or even how they will use it. On the other hand, with workshops where we teach knowledge acquisition skills, we only can rely on the participant’s answers to questionnaires to determine how effective the workshops were. There is not the same concern with long-term development as there is with teachers who get to know their pupils over the course of an academic term.

Because I do not have experience teaching in a classroom setting, I have some difficulty seeing exactly how to transfer what I have learned from these readings to an academic library setting. In fact, How People Learn brings up a point that I think is interesting, namely that if knowledge is over-contextualized, there is less likelihood of knowledge transfer. For me, this may be the case with the Wiggins and McTighe reading. Conversely, How People Learn also argues that the more abstract that the information to be learned is, the more easily transferrable it is. It seems therefore that the best strategy to ensure that major concepts stick in the minds of learners is to teach abstract concepts and then provide several different examples of these concepts in action. I understand how our work in library instruction can support a thorough understanding of search strategies and even metacognition, but without steadily serving the same people, I am unsure of how we can effectively ensure comprehension when we may never see the same patron again.

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Unlocking Standards of Expertise

This week’s readings dovetail nicely with my very first post on this blog. They focus primarily on formative assessment in education and designing educational spaces. Both readings focus on mindfulness in instruction, both in taking a holistic view of educational spaces and instilling mindfulness in students through formative, rather than summative, assessments. In this post, I will consider how these readings relate to library instruction in an academic setting.

 

In the National Research Council’s How People Learn, the four major learning environments are defined as learner-centered, knowledge-centered, assessment-centered, and community-centered. It is difficult to categorize academic libraries as just one of these learning environments, although some elements of these environments exist in most libraries. The learner-centered environment, also referred to as a “culturally responsive” teaching style is perhaps best reflected in library reference services. In these instances, the teacher builds on “the conceptual and cultural knowledge that students bring with them.” This is an obvious function of the reference interview, wherein it is important for the librarian to gauge the patron’s baseline level of knowledge and work from there. In library instruction, this is a bit more difficult due to the heterogeneous nature of patrons. In my experience, online instructional materials such as screencasts often assume a minimal level of previous knowledge. This brings up an interesting question: in our efforts to be egalitarian with instructional materials, are we potentially losing patrons who have already attained proficiency in their given area of interest? Would they have used our services in the first place?

 

The knowledge-centered environment is focused on building true understanding of the curriculum that the learner can then transfer to others. I believe that all conscientious librarians are concerned with passing along genuine knowledge, and view the attainment of knowledge as a multi-faceted thing rather than “a rutted course.” In practice, academic librarians often assist patrons who need additional information to help with a class. We should therefore be well aware of the potential shortcomings of traditional instruction and be innovative in creating instructional materials that pass along knowledge. After all, what would be the point of creating instructional materials that didn’t?

 

Assessment-centered environments are concerned with assessing whether students have learned from the materials. This may be one category in which libraries lag behind classroom instruction. Those who enter the library do so of their own accord, and their research efforts are largely self-directed. They may receive instruction from librarians if they seek it out, but they are not obligated to learn the materials in the same way they are in a course for which they are being graded. While tutorials and instructional sessions that I have participated in often ask for feedback to judge whether they were helpful, they are more concerned with assessing the effectiveness of the librarians and their instruction than what the patron learned.

 

Libraries are certainly community-centered in the macro sense: our holdings are determined by the demands of our users. The University of Michigan has a large heterogeneous collection because it serves a large heterogeneous academic community. This is great for the patrons, but the heterogeneity of community expectations within the library can at times be confusing. We have, for example quiet areas, areas for socializing, areas to eat, areas where no food is allowed, cutting edge technology, rare papyrus, the list goes on. At times it seems that we librarians try to be everything to everybody, and while this is not necessarily a bad thing to strive for it is, of course, impossible.

 

D. Royce Sadler’s Formative assessment and the design of instructional systems reminded me of this year’s Quasi-Con put on by the ALA Student Chapter at the University of Michigan. The article defines feedback as (I’m paraphrasing) informing the user about the gap between their knowledge and the desired level of knowledge in the hope that this information will be used to bridge said gap. The theme of Quasi-con 2013 was “minding the gap,” and this article made me think of the gap as the space between being a novice and an expert. As facilitators of expertise, we strive to help patrons make this transition, but this article points out that mindful self-assessment on the part of the learner is essential to achieve expertise. This “subsidiary awareness” is a character of virtuosity, and it is important for us to develop an intuitive grasp of how we interact with our patrons if we hope to become expert librarians.

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Information Literacy in Academic Libraries

It is widely accepted among librarians and library students that instruction in information literacy is a necessary skill for professional librarians. Instruction has become an ever-larger part of a librarian’s job, supplementing and in some cases, overtaking reference. While this is not a brand new development, we are still somewhat in a “testing the waters” period wherein librarians take on responsibilities that used to be the purview of professors and teaching assistants.

Carolyn Carpan’s 2010 article, Library Services in the Age of Google: Introducing Information Literacy 2.0, argues that social media platforms, primarily used to promote library services, could also be utilized for collaboration with faculty. The author sees this as catching up to the demands of students, increasingly tech-savvy digital natives. They have an expectation of instant access to knowledge and are less likely to use the library if there is a long time commitment required to access information. The article argues that we do not want to categorically discount websites like Wikipedia and YouTube, but teach students how to evaluate these sources. The hope is that by sharing our skills in the classroom, we create a generation of expert researchers. This viewpoint is certainly embraced at UMSI, but effective implementation of information literacy instruction is not always simple.

Jo Henry’s Academic Library Liaison Programs: Four Case Studies compares liaison librarians at four academic libraries. While the four academic libraries are all at different-sized universities, librarians in three of the four institutions find in-person communication to be most effective when teaching information literacy (the fourth had no preference). This makes me wonder about the overall effectiveness of screencasts and Libguides. While they are a great resource for people who are unable to meet in-person with a librarian, are they good enough to be a replacement for in person instruction? According to this case study, instruction is somewhat similar to reference in the sense that in-person interactions are generally regarded as more effective. It is also interesting that of these libraries, only one required subject specialization for a librarian to be a department liaison. Perhaps subject specialization is not necessary, however, merely the ability to research, a cornerstone of the profession.

Adriene Lim’s The Readability of Information Literacy Content on Academic Library Web Sites has us consider an important and often overlooked aspect of web-based information literacy resources: comprehensibility. This case study examines instructional content on the web at several urban universities in the United States. The study finds that first-generation students in particular are at a disadvantage when it comes to preparedness for college-level reading and research, and incomprehensible library guides were at best unhelpful and at worst harmful. I am concerned that those without resources are less able to adapt to rapidly changing learning environments. Is there a way for us to utilize these exciting new resources without further widening the digital divide?

The rapid rate of change in information technology makes it an exciting time to be an information professional. I believe that it is necessary for librarians to be acquainted with advances in information technology, but we must always consider our patrons first and foremost. For some, being connected to a library on multiple social media platforms is an exciting way to learn. For others, it is a barrier to be overcome. I am not suggesting that we stop trying to keep up with technological advances, but that we must be mindful of how we implement information literacy instruction without leaving people behind.

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Systematic Instruction through ADDIE

In this week’s reading, we learned about ADDIE, a concept in library instructional design and an acronym for Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation. In reading about this method, it occurred to me that reference and instruction, while often bundled together in librarian job descriptions, are different ways of achieving the same result: educating the patron (or, to connect to my previous post, expertise facilitation). I thought about this because of the on-the-fly nature of reference interactions, where as a librarian you wait for patrons to come to you, not knowing exactly what their questions will be, and attempt to answer them with little preparation. In the beginning this can be an awkward process, fumbling about for the right resource while the patron is in front of you until, through repeated and successes and failures at the reference desk, the librarian becomes a more confident and competent seeker of knowledge. ADDIE stresses the importance of adequate preparation to ensure that library instruction is effective and worthwhile. Library instruction is, in this case, more goal-oriented and more in-depth than reference. In order to be a well-rounded librarian, one must be able to both prepare workshops and classes for specific audiences, and to be prepared to answer questions with little preparation.

 

In the Yelinek reading, the authors discuss the creation of an online tutorial to teach students how to use Adobe Captivate. This example shows the ADDIE system being used to create an effective tutorial. The authors’ “first task was to learn as much as [they] could about the learners and the material the tutorial was to cover,” in other words, conducting an analysis.  In my opinion, analysis is the most important part of instruction. Asking oneself why an instruction module is necessary for a particular audience and what exactly it is that this audience needs to learn should, in theory, ultimately produce better instruction. It was through analysis that the authors were able to design the tutorial in a manner catered to their students: namely that it adhered to instructional theories and followed a Missouri curriculum provider’s educational requirements. Finally, the evaluation step was necessary to determine the effectiveness of their work, what resonated with their users, and what could be improved. For the authors of the Yelinek reading, using a strategy similar to ADDIE appeared to be effective.

 

One qualm that I have with the stated objectives of using ADDIE is that it is a “plug and play” system, utilizing “models that instructors can plug in to other workshops.” To my understanding, this is only true in the broadest sense of being mindful of how your instructional materials will work. A system that asks you to research how your audience interacts with specific educational resources seems to demand a narrow focus that does not easily transfer between educational sessions. This would work if you were always creating instructional resources for the same group of people, but in a place like the University of Michigan Library, the audience of library users is so heterogeneous that providing similar instruction to different subgroups would ultimately be doing one of these subgroups a disservice. In a case where a tutorial is intended for a broad audience, conducting an in-depth analysis seems like a less valuable use of one’s time than it would be in creating resources for a smaller group. Overall, I think that ADDIE provides librarians with a useful set of standards for providing library instruction. In order to be effective, however, it demands that instruction be tailored to smaller groups in order to best serve them.

On a meta-blogging note, there is a part of me that feels that this entry is somewhat disjointed, that each paragraph discusses a different idea and could perhaps be its own entry. I admit that I am a somewhat inexperienced blogger, and am never quite sure what kind of tone to use in these entries. Any advice you may have about this would be welcome.

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Librarians as Facilitators of Expertise

What I find interesting about librarianship is that we must become experts in facilitating expertise. As learning systems become increasingly complex, our profession becomes ever more relevant. A major point in the National Research Council’s How People Learn is that emerging technologies are increasingly utilized to “guide and enhance” learning. While there was never one clear path to expertise, the proliferation of emerging technologies means that there are more ways than ever before for individuals to become experts on a given subject. This provides more opportunities for the average user, but the abundance of choices can also be overwhelming. It is our job to help the user navigate the jungle of information out there and thrive in a world where the “skill demands for work have increased dramatically.”

How People Learn discusses pedagogy in the context of teachers, particularly in a K-12 setting. Library instruction takes place over a much shorter time period, however, which is exactly why expertise is important. In order to quickly diagnose a patron’s needs, a librarian must demonstrate fluency, and perhaps even virtuosity, in their profession to use effectively their knowledge of the collections and find useful resources for a patron. The readings point out that experts do not know all the answers, but know how to find the answers. They are better equipped to find answers within their given areas of expertise, but problem solving strategies can be transferred to assist in learning topics outside their comfort zones. While knowledge of the collection is important, it would be ridiculous to expect a librarian to know their entire collection down to the individual item. In a place like the University of Michigan Library, where I work, there are millions of items. While a computer may be able to quickly scan a list of millions of items to see if they match certain criteria, this is impossible for a human. However, an expert librarian is more effective than a computer because once they know their collections, they can use their understanding of the collections to find the best materials for patrons. Understanding (which computers do not possess) is an integral part of expertise, and it is through coming to understand people’s interactions with learning materials and how certain materials are more helpful than others that expert librarians are made.

The idea that librarians must be expert facilitators of learning is borne out by the ALA’s list of core competencies. A large part of librarianship is the organization of informational resources, and because organizing information to be easily accessible is an important component of expertise, librarians provide a model of information organization that can be mimicked by budding experts building their own mental libraries. This is also true of reference services, where librarians must quickly ascertain a patron’s needs and skill level to find appropriate materials for them. An expert must be able to take a long-term view of what kinds of results their actions will be. In my area of interest, map and GIS librarianship, an expert librarian must have sufficient knowledge of emerging technologies to integrate those technologies into current and future services. In other words, the advanced librarian should be able to ascertain how change affects a given situation, and take advantage of the positive aspects of that change.

Our ultimate goal as facilitators of expertise should be that whoever comes to us for help, whether they are absolute beginners or experts, should leave a meeting with a librarian with more expertise than when they came to us.

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