Monday, February 17, 2014

Taking the Next Step

For many students, the jump from High School to College can be a real challenge for a variety of reasons. Many of these reasons are ones that our institutions tend to focus on, like whether a student is a first-generation college student, financial barriers that might interfere with a student being able to afford to go to college, and what factors affect a student's ability to come to campus and to keep moving forward towards a degree or certificate. We talk about student success and rightfully emphasize what we are trying to do to help our students be successful in college, and try to assess if our activities are helping to support that goal.

Less often discussed in the rarified air of Federal and State education policy are questions concerning how students adjust to the different expectations regarding how students acquire information in their new environment and how they manage, utilize, and synthesize information to apply to more the more demanding college environment. Lots of faculty and librarians have anecdotal  evidence to support the idea that this area is important and underappreciated, especially those folks who teach Freshman-level courses that have any sort of research element. There is an unfortunate trend in Education circles (well, in society as a whole) to make assumptions about the technology skills of our students based on no particular factual evidence. Most typically, those assumptions tend to inflate student skills, and to presume that mastering one skill (like using Facebook or the newest social media tool of the moment)is easily and commonly transferred to all other online skills and compentencies.

Sigh. Facepalm.

Here is a link to a new study [in PDF format] that, while small scale at this point, has some interesting things to say about difficulties that students face in acquiring and processing information that is relevant and useful to them as they transition from high school assignments (and library resources) to college assignments (and library resources).
I think it is very interesting to note the results of this study, especially as it relates to students who had limited or no appreciable library instructional presence while in high school. A lot of K-12 school districts have tended to view libraries and library staff as expendable resources, to be jettisoned temporarily (or permanently) when budgetary pressures have threatened operational staff. The importance of libraries, led by appropriately credentialed and experienced librarians as part of a school's instructional presence, simply cannot be overstated.

The study's first recommendation should come as no surprise to those of us in higher education:

Recommendation #1:
Building bridges between high school and college libraries
We were struck by freshmen in our sample that thought they were at a disadvantage with research from the
start. When professors assigned college research assignments, many of these students said they had no clue
about where to begin. It was not that they were not good at research — they were entirely new to library research. In particular, these first - term students had little experience with research in high school libraries. Moreover, they had written so few high school research papers they had a very limited understanding of what the research process entails and how libraries could best help them. For example, some freshmen we interviewed were surprised to learn help was available to them from reference librarians just by asking. Others
thought that everything a library owned was online so going to the academic library on campus was not necessary. Misconceptions like these about libraries are likely to perpetuate as long as school libraries are underfunded, do not hire full time professional teacher -.librarians, and, in some cases, are decommissioned.
We believe it is imperative for higher education librarians and educators to recognize the plight of
school libraries — and the widespread impact it is having. Many US school libraries from kindergarten to high 
school are fighting for their survival: From 2007 to 2011, the number of employed school teacher -librarians
in the US decreased more rapidly than other type of school staff.
In California’s school libraries, the books on school library shelves were published 10
years ago, on average, and have little value to students working on assignments.
The decline of school libraries and librarians is not only an issue for K-12 education — it needs to be
recognized as an issue affecting higher education issue, too. More bridges need to be built between high
school and college and university libraries, educators, and administrators. How can college - bound
high school students be better prepared for what to expect from college - level research? What existing collaborative efforts between high school and college and universities can be shared as a basis of replication? There is much to be gained from establishing an ongoing dialog and formal relationships between high school teacher - librarians and academic librarians as well as staff in first - year experience programs and faculty who teach first -year students.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Academic Library Nightmares [part one of a very irregular series]

Contrary to popular belief (well, at least as reported by CNN), life is not all beer and skittles for those who work in the library world. Every type of library has its own set of issues, of course; some of these issues overlap (like ebooks and declining demand for print resources, and demonstrating the library's continued relevance in times when competition for funding is anywhere from difficult to cut-throat), and some of them are unique to certain types of libraries.

Take your academic library, for example. Many larger academic libraries across the country (and the world) have serious space issues - specifically, they have collections that are really too large for them to house while simultaneously making new spaces for learning commons, instructional spaces, meeting and study rooms, computer support services, and other services and/or features that are desirable for students and faculty. Some libraries have gotten VERY creative in the attempt to keep their collections handy. Some libraries (including my undergrad alma mater) have installed robotic storage units where materials can be stored in a climate-controlled environment that can be quite compact and housed onsite to add to the convenience factor. But this is pretty expensive, and most universities don't have that kind of money laying around for such a purpose.

The solution increasing adopted by a number of these libraries is off-site storage - a location owned by the university or perhaps rented or leased where excess collections can be stored. These sites are accessible by library staff so that the volumes can be retrieved when patrons need them, but they are not always facilities that are really designed for the purpose. Most are quite well done, but there are always concerns about what might happen to the library's resources if there is a problem with the space. Since the Library, much less the College/University may not own the space, then everyone involved is hoping that nothing goes wrong, and is thinking about what could go wrong and how they would deal with it.

Unfortunately, the University of Missouri has had one of the nightmare scenarios come to pass. While the exact cause has not been announced, one of the storage facilities that the Library uses has been infested with mold that has affected some 600,000 volumes in storage. Anyone who has had to deal with a mold infestation can tell you just how insidious mold can be, and mold really does not play well with books. The good news is that there are processes that can remove mold from print material, the bad news is that it is not always possible (depending on the condition of the item) and that it is certainly not free. While an estimated cleanup cost of $3 per volume sounds pretty reasonable to you and me, it means that MU would have to come up with $1.8 MILLION dollars to try to treat all of the volumes - and as just about any library director will tell you, most of us don't just happen to have that money lying around in case of such contingencies. So they will have the completely unenviable choice of deciding what portion of the collection they want to try to salvage and which will have to be written off (barring an influx of funds to address the situation). My deepest sympathies go out to the Director and staff at MU; no matter what they do, chances are pretty good that SOMEONE in the long list of stakeholders is not going to be happy with the choices that get made.

OK, I can sense that Gentle Reader is not exactly quaking in their boots and nervously eyeing the walls right now. Go ahead, be complacent. Just hope that someone else has been thinking of what to do if disaster strikes, whether it is a very large insurance policy or a commitment from their institution to invest in climate-controlled space to house one of the largest single investments that any academic institution makes over its ongoing existence. And no, I don't mean the football team.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Community Colleges, Completion Rates, and Bad Craziness

Talk to a person who works in community colleges about their  institutions and the challenges they face, and you will probably get an earful. Most of us love working where we are (if not in the institutional sense, then at least in the Community Cellege - vs. 4-Year institution spectrum).  But we get a lot of attention, rightly or wrongly, for things like completion rates, retention rates, persistence, and whatever other standard gets added to our plate of outcomes to be held accountible for. And in an era of performance-based funding, the disconnect between externally-based definitions and the realities that we work with are serious and somewhat staggering.

Don't get me wrong - accountibility is fine. Showing that what we do makes a positive contribution to people and the society that they live in  is a good thing, and we have different ways of providing that information. The problem comes in creating working definitions for the standards we are to be held to. We are all about helping our students succeed - but not just by the strict definition that the government imposes.

Here is an article from Inside Higher Education that, on the surface, points out a specific challenge that many CC students face - but uses some of those "artificial", externally-imposed terms to determine success and failure. Read the article - but also be sure to read the comments AFTER the article. Comments are sometimes launching points for folks with some "interesting" ideas, but several of these ask COMPLETELY legitimate questions about the article, its premise and assumptions, that folks should definitely consider.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Truth is always the first casuality...

Making no judgements on the Federal Government shutdown (more accurately, making plenty of judgements but keeping them off this blog). But by way of reporting what has been slowly trickling out through various news sites: federally-funded websites that are either dark or not being updated due to the shutdown.

The Wired Campus blog on the Chronicle of Higher Education's website features an article that discusses this in a little more detail. The link should be good for a while, but I am also posting the text below. I may have to take this text down, so if you don't see it after this, then I've gotten a takedown notice. I am giving them full credit, but you never know...

Federal Web Sites Go Dark Amid Shutdown

October 2, 2013, 3:32 pm

Washington — The budget impasse that brought nonessential operations of the federal government to a halt on Tuesday also had a major impact on Web sites used by many educators, researchers, and students.
The shutdown, which triggered furloughs for approximately 800,000 federal workers and the closing of offices, research labs, and national parks across the country, is expected to affect colleges, students, and academic scientists only minimally at first.
But already some education-related Web sites and resource portals run by the government and frequently used by people in academe have been left unmanned, and will not be updated until members of Congress and President Obama resolve their differences on federal spending.
The U.S. Department of Education, which said in a memorandum it would furlough “over 90 percent of its total staff level” for the first week of the shutdown, posted a message on its Web site warning that its activities have been “curtailed.”
“During the shutdown, information at may not be up to date, transactions submitted via might not be processed, and the agency may not be able to respond to inquiries until appropriations are enacted,” the message says.
Visitors can still navigate the site, but there is a single site update since Tuesday. It reads: “Government Shutdown.” The department’s Twitter handle, @usedgov, has suspended tweeting during the shutdown, and the National Center for Education Statistics has also stopped updating its site.
The department’s grants-management system, G-5, is at least partly operational. Grantees can still expect automated grants-related transactions, including the drawdown of funds, according to a message on the site. Transactions that require work by department employees will not be completed during the shutdown, and visitors are being directed to check the site for updates.
The National Science Foundation’s Web site and its sister sites, FastLane and, are inaccessible “until further notice,” according to a message posted on Tuesday. The foundation’s message includes specific instructions for things like the publication of new grant opportunities, which have been suspended. Contractors will be notified whether they will be expected to continue work, and no new contracts will be issued, the message says.
The Web site, which is operated by the Department of Health and Human Services and serves as the portal for more than 1,000 grant programs in 26 federal agencies, will remain operational but with “reduced federal support-staff presence,” according to a message posted in red on the site.
A message on the Federal Student Aid Web site states that officials expect “there will be limited impact to the federal student aid application (FAFSA) process, to the delivery of federal student aid, or to the federal student loan repayment functions.”
The National Institutes of Health, the largest source of funds for medical research in the world, alerted visitors to its Web site that information “may not be up to date,” and that “transactions submitted via the Web site may not be processed.” NIH officials may not be able to respond to inquiries until appropriations are enacted, the message says. Visitors are being directed to for updates on the resumption of normal government operations.
The shutdown has closed the Library of Congress, and its Web site is inaccessible.
“Due to the temporary shutdown of the federal government, the Library of Congress is closed to the public and researchers beginning Oct. 1, 2013 until further notice,” a message on the site reads.
The legislative-information Web sites and are still accessible.
Government data troves such as the Census Bureau and the Bureaus of Labor Statistics and of Economic Analysis have also stopped releasing most new data reports, according to the Pew Research Center.
A brief shutdown would have a minimal impact on colleges, educators, and researchers who receive money from the federal government, according to a contingency plan issued by the Education Department. But a long-term interruption could result in serious setbacks to research and services.

PS - a link to another article from Inside Higher Education on the same subject...

Friday, September 6, 2013

In Which Rumors of Our Death Have Been Somewhat Exaggerated...

Sorry about that, folks. Life has a way of getting in the way of your activities, and a LOT of changes have been happening in the Library since February, especially with staff:

- Charlotte, our Acquisitions Assistant for many years and a Circulation Assistant before that, retired at the end of May, and her position has been temporarily frozen due to budget issues;
- Kelly, a relatively recent hire as a Circulation Assistant, moved to another position on campus, and HER position was frozen as well;
- Tim, our Information Services Librarian for the last 10 years, left in June to move to Chicago (ok, the burbs), get married, and took another position;
- We have been down two part-time positions in Circulation due to departures and a reorganization

So as you can see, things have been a little crazy here in recent months.

I am very very pleased to announce that the Information Services Librarian position was filled at the beginning of August by Ms. Sarah Hill. Sarah comes to us with 13 years of professional experience at the Paris Cooperative High School Library, where she was VERY active in committees for both the Illinois School Library Media Association (ISLMA) and the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) on the national level. Sarah is extremely knowledgeable in the YA literature scene, and also has written and presented on technology, Library 2.0, and information Literacy in various venues. We are very fortunate to have added her experience and expertise to our library. She can be reached at extension 5440 in the Library, and via email at shill (at) Welcome, Sarah!!

We are beginning to see some glimpses of other staffing help on the horizon. We have hired two new part-time staff members who will be starting next week. As to other staff, time will tell - as the year progresses and budgetary situations become clearer, I hope we will be able to fill some of our other vacancies as well.

In the meantime - welcome back for a new semester at Lake Land College. Come and visit the Library and see what we have to offer you, whether student, faculty member, staff or administrator, or community resident. You are most welcome here!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Boston [NOT a library-related post]

This is a library blog. I typically confine myself to library or library-related issues. And I will have one of those later this week or early next, on our migration to our new automation system and how that is working out.

But this is real life, and sometimes things happen in the world that just make you feel like you have to say SOMETHING. Yesterday's events in Boston are, for me anyway, one of those. I didn't know anyone running there in the Marathon, I have never visited Boston (much to my shame), and I don't know anyone directly impacted by yesterday's events. Except, of course, that they affect ALL of us in one way or another. Maybe it is a sense of felling a little less safe, or wondering who or what group is responsible for this and how far it will drive people to take actions that may or may not make us any safer in any real sense. Maybe it is just a need to try to remember that "the bad guys" are not a majority of the world's populace, no matter how many ways we seem to find (as human beings) to misunderstand each other and do things that cause other people pain and suffering. I saw a lot of news accounts last night, and some of "the usual suspects" pointing fingers at "the usual suspects".

And then, this morning, I saw this Facebook posting from Patton Oswalt [Wikipedia entry here, in case you have never heard of him], which said what I wanted to say so much better than I would have done. WARNING - it DOES contain an f-bomb, just one, right up front. So if you have sensitivities to the use of that word, then don't read any further.


Still with me? Then I am guessing that either your curiousity is piqued or that you aren't too fussed over a random f-bomb. So here is Patton Oswald's Facebook post from yesterday:

Patton Oswalt · 222,563 like this (as of this AM)

  • Boston. Fucking horrible.

    I remember, when 9/11 went down, my reaction was, "Well, I've had it with humanity."

    But I was wrong. I don't know what's going to be revealed to be behind all of this mayhem. One human insect or a poisonous mass of broken sociopaths.

    But here's what I DO know. If it's one person or a HUNDRED people, that number is not even a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percent of the population on this planet. You watch the videos of the carnage and there are people running TOWARDS the destruction to help out. (Thanks FAKE Gallery founder and owner Paul Kozlowski for pointing this out to me). This is a giant planet and we're lucky to live on it but there are prices and penalties incurred for the daily miracle of existence. One of them is, every once in awhile, the wiring of a tiny sliver of the species gets snarled and they're pointed towards darkness.

    But the vast majority stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evil doers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak. This is beyond religion or creed or nation. We would not be here if humanity were inherently evil. We'd have eaten ourselves alive long ago.

    So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, "The good outnumber you, and we always will."

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Onward, Through the Information Fog?

The Lake Land College Library,  like most academic libraries, has a nice selection of databases that provide access to a lot of information. From peer-reviewed academic journals to popular magazines to newspapers and newsletters, and from high-end subject encyclopedias to resume-writing guides and test-preparation books, we have it.  All told, probably 25,000 periodicals of one stripe or another and another 1250 online book titles. They are there, not quite 24/7/365 (there are always maintenance periods when one service or another is down), and they are accessible from just about anywhere our students, faculty, and staff are (as long as they have an internet connection).

When we offer library instruction, and when we talk to our patrons one-on-one, we do our best to make sure that they know that these resources exist. More to the point, they are there to make sure that our students have plenty of high-quality, legitimate academic sources available to support their research needs. And they are used - at least the statistics that we can access tell us how many full-text articles  are retrieved and how many searches are conducted each month.

Are we satisfied with that? NO. To that end, we will soon be featuring a new service on our website  (truth be told, it is there already, just a little hidden)  that can search across the contents of many - but not all - of our databases at once in much the same way as Google searches the open Internet. The new service, called Summon, is an attempt to make it even easier to access this information while giving our patrons an experience that is more like searching Google. Only instead of millions of results of questionable quality, users can search a far more quality-controlled set of resources. It should be ready for prime time quite soon now.

Yet this is not without its shortcomings. By offering services like Summon, do we do a disservice to our users by not trying to teach them how to use the individual services and databases that make up our electronic resources? We are an academic institution, and teaching - particularly the skills we librarians call information literacy - should be as much a part of a student's education here as their Comp, Speech, or Math classes. Some would argue that our professional responsibility is to avoid "shortcuts" and teach the searching and critical-thinking skills that can be applied across a variety of information sources throughout a person's lifetime. Others will say, not without justification, the oft-quoted adage that "librarians like to search - patrons like to find", and that anything we can do to make our resources more accessible to as many of our users as possible is a GOOD THING.

I don't believe that it needs to be a black and white dichotomy; there is room for both approaches. I believe that students should receive a foundation of knowledge that prepares them to be good searchers and to understand what they are seeing and how to evaluate its appropriateness and quality. I believe that should apply across ALL disciplines. And it is a plain fact that, as a patron's research needs become more specialized, they should understand how to use the major tools in their subject area. Someone writing a paper on bipolar disorder should be searching in Psych Articles, not Bloom's Literary Reference. And someone needing information on automobile repair would be best served by using Automobile Repair Reference Center, not the Oxford English Dictionary. At the same time, given that most students at the freshman and sophomore level are still writing on general topics for many of their classes, and our ultimate goal is to get them to be able to access and utilize the Library's resources, then it becomes more difficult to justify forcing students to jump through OUR particular set of hoops to obtain what they are looking for.  We have 40+ databases, with probably 15 different searching interfaces. Is it reasonable to demand that students learn every one of these to meet their basic information needs? How many is enough, and how many is too much?

So onward we go, moving forward in a new direction. Is it the right direction? Time will tell. The only certainty in the world is that nothing is certain. Just keep swimming...