Some afternoon sessions (ALA 2014)

Lots of walking between south and north halls on Saturday afternoon . . .

Libraries in the Course Mgmt System: Best Practices and New Directions

The presenters started projects in order to get beyond the reactive, one-by-one approach of asking faculty (or waiting for faculty to ask) about getting library content into the course website.  Speakers from Univ of South Florida and Minnesota – they’ve both completed projects for automatically putting relevant library resources into course websites.  At USF, they created a table (which they update every semester, and claim it’s not that hard) which they can use with the CMS, so that every single course gets  the best option among:  the course specific research guide, a subject specific research guide, or a general library web page (which I think they said they made in wordpress) into each and every course website.  The approach at MN was for engineering/science courses, but followed the same basic idea — resources, chat-with-a-librarian, etc.  The speakers made the point that once you get the process going, it’s not hard to maintain, semester after semester.  I think this is a beginning, but my thoughts revolve currently about how to be more integrated into the curriculum.  Although we can count clicks (who used the stuff we made available thru courses) in this approach, it seems like we ought to be thinking of a more “learning-centered” approach,using the course mgmt system to help students learn how to get work done.

The strategic planning session I headed for next was cancelled but it was good exercise walking the entire length of the LV convention center.

New Directions for Data Visualization in Library Public Services

First speaker was Angela Zoss, Duke, who has established a pretty strong program in helping her community learn about and use data visualization tools.  Given that there is no centralized clientele or disciplinary cluster with “obvious” customers — Zoss figured out who the players on campus were and what they were about. Her representation of campus folks who were playing in this area was so clear, that you could visualize the kinds of services she would want to offer, the role she could play.  Her services were in the expected areas – workshops, consultations, research guides, and help via a lab.  She showed some of the software applications, including Tableau, that  students can use.

NCSUThe second speaker was from NCSU, and showed several examples of members of the campus community using their data visualization room.

Discussion Group for Heads of Public Services – Major issues

The first topic of discussion was whether library structures have adapted in the ways they need to, given changes in the outside world.  The facilitator quoted Chris Argyris’ theory of double-loop learning, which I first encountered last year when we had our own Penn professor,  Alan Barstow, talk to Dept Heads about learning organizations.  Hierarchy and command and control issues were discussed.

Along with Argyris, these readings came up:

  • Megan Hodge, When Library Workers Expand their Horizons, So Do Libraries. Am Lib, 3/10/14
  • Cheryl LaGuardia, Organizations, See How They Run, LJ 5/15/14
  • John Lubans’ book – Leading From the Middle and other Contrarian Essays on Library Leadership,  June 2010

The second discussion topic was about innovative ways of providing reference services.  Quite a few people mentioned the increased use of undergraduates and why this was a good idea (e.g., many questions do not require the expertise of a subject librarian, we want the subject experts to spend their time working at things with greater impact, etc.)   Depending on the physical set-up there were various models.   One setup described in the discussion is one I’ve seen used a couple different ways – the librarians work in highly visible consultation areas (glass-wall small offices) in the reference area, with the student assistants out front handling the triage.   Librarians aren’t so much shifted hour by hour, those are their offices or they are the spots where they park for the day to work.  Shifts and engaged liaisons are problematic — obviously, shifts make librarians less flexible.   Not surprising, a model that seemed to be very popular is that of the information commons which includes the full suite of student support (writing center, tech help, etc), with the bulk of help being provided by research consultants who are themselves students.  In one instance of this model, students are able to make short appointments with librarians by an online scheduler which is integrated with librarian calendars (busy times are automatically blocked off!  no maintaining multiple calendars!).  The student research consultants sound like the “learning community model” we have been trying to develop.  (They had about 200 applicants and hired 30 student research consultants.  They did not involve the liaisons in hiring, it was handled by head of instruction and head of reference.  These folks were very committed to this model and had lots of good things to say about how interactive and energetic their reference commons had become.)  Several other librarians mentioned similar efforts in various flavors, including a few which were mature enough that the students themselves were doing the training of the new student workers.  Again, like our program, one person mentioned that staff were learning how to do instruction better by working with students and particularly by watching how students wrote their own training materials…. My takeaway from this discussion was not that there are libraries trying really amazingly different things, but that more successful efforts resulted from a good mix of  culture/leadership support/space configuration/hearts&minds.

Threshold Concepts

OK, honestly I don’t remember when I attended this workshop but it was one of the hallelujah moments of the conference for me.  It’s not so much any particular point that was made — it’s the strong and swelling chorus of voices saying that we ought to be teaching for critical thinking and not for checklists.  Evaluating resources is not a superficial process of looking at author, date, etc etc etc.  We ought to be teaching the kind of underlying concepts that help people develop the intuitions they need to figure out each new tool/resource/interface, rather than teaching the mechanics of interfaces.  This was great affirmation for me, and is a trend that is mirrored, I believe, in the astonishing number of job postings across academic libraries for instructional designers.  Why?  because we will need instructional design skills to intertwine teaching info lit threshold concepts with the learning goals that faculty have already fleshed out.

The threshold concept folks have a critique of the old ACRL info literacy standards that I find very compelling, and have influenced the new draft framework, at the same time recognizing where threshold concepts don;t reach all aspects of library skills teaching and learning.  Threshold concepts for information literacy will be emerging through research and discussion for some time — remember, this is just a model that’s being constructed.  But they are likely to include concepts such as “scholarship is a conversation” and “Format as a Process.”  In the second one, the idea is not to train students to think peer reviewed=scholarly=safe-to-believe, but to understand that there are processes, business models, social conventions and practices behind the production of an information source, and that the context in which you might use it matters to the evaluation.

They say that one function of a threshold concept makes tacit disciplinary or professional knowledge explicit.  I have said this a different way, coming from some coursework in learning science:  novices approach research differently than experts do, and we want to help novices work more like experts.  A good researcher is not one who knows all the latest interfaces – you could be a great researcher without that.  But you have to know how the landscape is put together, how scholarly knowledge is created and accumulates, in order to begin doing research like an expert.  This is the reason my colleagues hear me yacking away all the time about metacognition — new knowledge is often an explicit understanding that you can verbalize, and over time it becomes second nature.  By the time you’ve become an expert, you often aren’t as good at explaining what you do as someone who is newer to the task.  We need to help students surface the wrong ideas they have about the landscape (everything is a “website”) so they can be replaced by threshold concepts that will help them decode what they are seeing.

How will we actually accomplish this kind of teaching and learning?  Well, we won’t do it by tweaking the one-shot session.  That is geared toward mechanics and procedural training, and allows for little else, in my opinion.  I also hear the old saw “Well, we can only do what the faculty want.”  Unless and until we develop instructional design capacity and are able to have discourse with faculty that demonstrates to them the value we can contribute to their learning outcomes, yes, they will relegate us to teaching the latest interface.

If you want to delve into the original learning science theorists of threshold concepts as a model, the key names are Jan Meyer and Ray Land.



Most interesting conversation – ArchiveIt.  It helps you easily grab and organize web sites as something to archive.  Talked to the rep (who said they have had conversations with Annenberg researchers) about using it in a researcher context.  A tradeoff – the ease of capturing and managing the “raw data” of websites, and the long terms issues with maintaining it (ArchiveIt is licensed, and the cost seems to be proportional to storage) and the content is stored in what are called “work” files, an open standards format (I think) but you need to license the reader….

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