September 19, 2011

Research as conversation: Critical thinking and affect
For a quick lunchbreak post...

I was catching up on recent On the Media podcasts and a particular segment on publishing, scientific journals, and retractions really caught my eye... well, ear.

Brooke Gladstone was interviewing Ivan Oranksy about issues surrounding retractions and their effect on the scientific community and its publications ("Ivan Oransky is a doctor, the executive director of Reuters Health and founder, along with Adam Marcus, of Retraction Watch, a blog that scours scientific journals for retractions and investigates the stories behind them"). I thought this would be interesting for information literacy purposes, and what I especially thought was of particular significance was:
[LAUGHS] Having covered the medical research business so closely and of these retractions, what do you think about the state of scientific journals and the way that scientists communicate with each other before all of that stuff gets communicated to the rest of us?
When you look at a paper, there's a kind of finality to it. It’s, look, here it is. It's something you can almost frame and put on your wall or, in this case, on your CV.
If you were to say, look, here's what we found so far, and let us open up the data for you, let us show it to you, which would have probably prevented some really high profile cases from going as far as they did, if you treat that as a process and say this is how science works, nothing is final, we’re just getting there.
So papers are artificial endings to a process that doesn’t end.
Absolutely. When you actually look at the process of how science works, there aren't that many eureka moments. And when you learn the most is when you’ve actually made a mistake or tried something that didn't work. And if we start using that narrative and don't have to end it
This really drives home the concept that research is a conversation and can teach students that publications, while they should have some authority, are not always 100% accurate nor final. Other researchers will respond and the conversation will continue. This helps students learn that they should always have a critical eye, and not only that, but it helps them better understand how to write a research paper themselves: that it should be their ideas responding to the research they read, and not just a summary or a personal opinion piece with nothing to substantiate that opinion. Explaining research as a conversation (and as non-linear) can also tie in to Kuhlthau's Information Search Process [PDF] (which I also wrote about here, examining if the ISP is still relevant today through participating in the Sheffield iSchool Journal Club). Students seeing that researchers make mistakes -- and even they have struggles and can get frustrated -- can make the research process seem more human and relatable.

July 25, 2011

Make it happen with mentorship
After asking a librarian friend for his opinion on something, I got thinking about the importance of having mentors and a support network. Starting out as a new librarian can feel pretty chaotic at first, whether it's navigating a job search, navigating a new job, or getting more involved in professional associations and publishing. From what I've noticed, it seems librarians with more experience are often pretty open to mentoring a new librarian, but you don't want to just assume that anyone is willing to be a mentor. Some workplaces have formal mentorship programs in place, where others have nothing of the sort and you are essentially on your own. In either situation, it's still really beneficial to have a connection with an outside mentor. And if possible, not just one mentor, but mentors.

I feel like I've been extremely fortunate in my friends and contacts where I have someone(s) to turn to when I'm unsure of something, stressed out, or just have some good libraryland-related news to share that my non-librarian friends might not understand what the big deal is. A mentor doesn't have to be a great deal older than you to be effective: my ACRL Instruction Section mentor is only a few years older than me, but she can really relate to questions I ask and has a specific interest in early career issues. That's not to say a librarian with a decade or more of experience would be any less helpful: another mentor I have from when I was in library school is always supportive when I need some guidance and has scads of great advice to offer. Some of my mentors I don't even consider formal mentors, but I've admired them in some way or another, gotten to know them, and feel comfortable asking their opinion. It's invaluable to have a variety of perspectives as you make your way through your career.

One thing I was worried about when signing up for a formal mentorship program was that I didn't want the relationship to be all one-sided... I didn't want to feel like I was just taking and not giving anything back; but I do know in sharing experiences, and also offering a confidential ear, a mentoring relationship can certainly be useful to both parties.

If you're not sure where to start in finding a mentor, try looking at the associations you have membership in and see which offer mentorship programs; ALA Connect also has an option for your profile to add you to the mentoring community. If still in school, you can see if there is any faculty mentoring available or find a librarian on campus you can talk with. Being brand new doesn't have to be a scary thing, and even librarians with more experience seem to have mentors throughout their whole career. Building a great support network will get you through confusing times and build you up when there are exciting things to share.

July 14, 2011

MMMMetadata, ephemera, and image aggregator culture

I just read a zine/art text from Edition MK: DDDDoomed—Or, Collectors & Curators of the Image: A Brief Future History of the Image Aggregator, which forms Vol. I of VIII of a series titled Img Ctrl—texts regarding the contemporary image world.

Looking back at Image Aggregators (or IA, as it's referred to) from the supposed future, the argument is made that Tumblr et al destroyed contemporary visual art and the art of curation. The main culprit seems to be the IA, FFFFound!, inspiring the title, DDDDoomed. FFFFound! is an aggregation of images, mostly random, that tend to fit a certain aesthetic. Tumblr and its ilk started out inoccuous enough, but turned into an "all out style-fest." This aesthetic seems to fit what the text refers to as "hipster capital," (as opposed to cultural capital) sort of hilariously exemplified as,
"They would've effortlessly clicked their little 'like' and 'reblog' buttons in response to some viral image, posted by some anonymous, reactionary IA supporter on his Tumblr blog, of some skinny, half-naked, tousled-haired, Brooklyn-girl, shot Terry Richardson style and wearing a screen-printed t-shirt emblazoned with some snarky referential one-liner like 'I FFFFind Therefore I Am" (p.3).
To better explain the microblogging platform Tumblr, or other IAs, in the sense they are being referred to here, they are kind of like scrapbooks... but scrapbooks without any contextual meaning. On Tumblr, you can collect and compile a variety of images, quotes, or video, which can be original, swiped with or without attribution, or "reblogged." If you see another Tumblr with an image you like, there is simply a button you can click to have it reposted, or "reblogged" on your Tumblr. You can also "like" content. This could be considered curation, but DDDDoomed quotes Christian Brändle to counter this with, "Those who curate... also comment...; they evaluate, and thus it is indispensible that collectors know the background of their objects" (p.3). Although this is in regard to museums, the text argues IA's curation contributions are to the World Wide Web.

However, DDDDoomed compares IA "curators" to "wealthy collector[s] of Renaissance painting[s] [rather] than with the visual anthropologist out to record our cultures" (p.17). So with this collecting of hipster capital, the argument is made that  the purpose of (most of) these IAs is more so to feed a personal brand, rather than to contribute to culture.

IAs promote anonymity and the erasing of authorship through their format, which the text relates to playing telephone.These IAs, could have used "ordering interventions" that contemporary artists employ to respond to visual overload, such as appropriation, archiving, collage and bricolage, and typology (p.48-50). Instead, the IA is, more interested in,  "solidifying their own authorial claims on the selection and arrangement of images that were, in most cases, never theirs to begin with" (p.67).

I enjoyed reading this zine because I do have Tumblr accounts, one being Librarian Wardrobe, and also a personal one that I have more recently abandoned. I also think it's both good and bad how IAs erase metadata and make content more "free." Sometimes, it can be used in the sense of culture jamming; regardless of understanding the creation story of the artifact, using it in a different context can provide revitalized meaning; at the same time, not understanding the background of an image makes appropriation of it somewhat irrelevant. Often, Tumblrs are "style-fests," but some have intrinsic value.

What are your opinions from the perspective of libraryland? What are your favorite Tumblrs and why; do your favorites have a specific curation mission or are they based on style alone?

Edit: from brief, yet engaging discussion on Facebook, seems happy medium is appreciated, where Tumblr is fun to look at, but can also view high art and "professional" curation, too. Doesn't have to be all good or all bad. Agree!

July 6, 2011

ALA 2011 reflections

After getting caught up with everything after ALA 2011, I now have a chance to reflect on the conference. There are some other excellent reflection posts recently done by Aaron Tay and Andromeda Yelton, and Patrick Sweeney has some inspiring vlogs up on his YouTube channel. This was one of the best conferences I've ever experienced (not that I've been to a whole lot, but still). Being more involved in programs, and meeting and reconnecting with a ton of great people really made the conference experience; it helped that stale professional development advice come to life, where I realized oh wait, I was just networking or wow, I just stepped outside of my comfort zone.

If I were looking back to my (student) self in 2008 who attended ALA Annual in Anaheim, here is some advice I would give myself:
  1. Get involved: apply for special programs (like Emerging Leaders), participate on panels, contribute to unconferences, plan a party or event, make/do something. Being an Emerging Leader this year, as well as being on REFORMA's How I Landed My First Librarian Job and What I Did 'in Between' panel were not only just good experiences to have, but gave me even more interesting things to talk to people about. (By the way, the REFORMA panel will be available as a free webinar in October if you missed it and would like to catch it next time.)
  2. Don't play hard to get: I officially met some people that I've been following online for awhile and felt kind of fangirl-ish when the opportunity arose to connect with them in person. Believe it or not, people actually like compliments! It might feel awkward and stalkerish to say, "Oh yeah I [read your blog] or [noticed your work on x committee] or [love your stylish outfits] or [etc] and I think you're great!" But if it's the truth, and you're not actually a stalker, it's always nice to make people feel good about themselves, and hey you started a conversation.
  3. You know more than you think: Just because you're not an expert in such and such librarianship with 10+ years of experience doesn't mean you have nothing to contribute. Look at Hack Library School and all they're doing, it's fantastic! I love reading Bohyun Kim's blog where she talks about early career issues and what she is learning along the way. 8bit Library / #MIH has found a niche and are known for what they write and create about videogames in libraries. In fact, JP and Justin were my Emerging Leaders team mentors, and now that our group has done this project we also have contributed a lot to the topic -- and two of us will be continuing on with more research that we're very excited about.
  4. Other suggestions I can't take full credit for: From the Emerging Leaders session, it was reiterated by Peter Bromberg, Maureen Sullivan, and other ELs in our group discussion to think of librarianship as a gift culture (be generous), volunteer for things (say you'll do something and do it, committees and others will be pleased), and always have a drink in your hand (open body language + interest in talking to others = ability to make friends).
Last I'd say, as networking is really a big part of conferences, to not think of it as networking. It is what it is, but I really just thought about it as making new friends and talking to interesting people. Librarians and other info professionals are often fun to talk to; just strike up a conversation, and if you keep those other suggestions in mind, you'll have a lot more to talk about (less awkward is always good, right?).

April 28, 2011

Let's talk about SACS, baby

Recently, I’ve been appointed to the Office of Planning, Assessment, and Research during part of my time to assist with accreditation for the college. Texas is in SACS territory (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools), so we are following their guidelines for reaffirmation. I am assisting in collecting, organizing, and creating both a paper and digital library of all accreditation documents. This is something entirely new to me, so it’s really helpful to learn more about the college and I’m getting to interact with more faculty and administrators than I would have been able to otherwise.

Although learning in library school that comprehension of the parent institution’s mission and goals is essential in understanding the library’s connection to the college, that understanding didn’t go too much more in depth on the institution side.

How accreditation works is that there are various compliance numbers to consider, such as -- 

Core Requirement 2.9: The institution, through ownership or formal arrangements or agreements, provides and supports student and faculty access and user privileges to adequate library collections and services and to other learning/information resources consistent with the degrees offered. Collections, resources, and services are sufficient to support all its educational, research, and public service programs. (Learning Resources and Services)

-- for example. This one in particular is geared toward the library, of course, but there are others like...

Comprehensive Standard 3.3.1 The institution identifies expected outcomes, assesses the extent to which it achieves these outcomes, and provides evidence of improvement based on analysis of the results in each of the following areas...

So for each, the college needs to gather evidence and also write a narrative reflecting how the standard has been met and incorporate how the evidence proves this to be true. So as for the library and many other areas of the college, instruction, physical space, staff, and more don’t just have their own assessment to consider, but also assessing an area or a program for accreditation purposes.

The tricky part for what I’m working on is that there are hundreds of pieces of evidence, with more being added as time goes on. On top of that, certain pieces can be used for multiple compliance numbers. Although much of our evidence is housed online, I have learned that SACS prefers to view the materials in an offline format (read: PDF), so simply providing URLs is not an option. It’s also preferable to SACS to be able to easily find cited portions of documents in the evidence (save the time of the user). To improve this capability, I am creating one master copy in a master evidence file, and then in each compliance number file, a document with extracted pages (if necessary) and/or highlighting is saved for easy access. This comes in handy when there is a 100+ page piece of evidence! Likewise, in a born-print format, documents must be digitized. As this is the first year a digital and official paper library is being created, there is a lot of organizing and archiving at the outset.

This is certainly a project I will be reporting on as time goes on!

February 23, 2011

Fanzines book has no fans

I'm a little slow in catching up to post this, but there are some interesting discussions surrounding Fanzines, a new title by academic professor, Teal Triggs. The main discussion I'd like to direct you to is a blog post by Jerianne of Zine World, where she explains the problem with this new text and its implications.

This new book documents zines, with visuals and historical information. Although it is true an academic book about zines and zine history could stand to further legitimize the medium in research and academia, there are some problems here, which I learned from Jerianne's post. These problems center on copyright and accurate factual information. I won't repeat everything Jerianne discusses in her blog post, but do want to point out some key information:

  1. Zine images were used without notifying zinesters prior to publication (in most cases, if a zine creator even was contacted, it was an afterthought).
  2. Perhaps related to this snafu (lightly-stated), there is information about the zines and zinesters covered in the book that is incorrect.
This translates to: well, zinesters being pissed, and rightfully so due to someone profiting financially and profesionally off their DIY/not-doing-it-for-profit ethos; as well as now having a text covering a topic that is not highly documented -- that will be imprinting incorrect information into history (with not much else in formal print to contest it).

Jerianne quotes Tobi Vail:
As Tobi Vail pointed out in her blog entry about the book: “I think there should be a way to contest ‘false information’ in published works. Because once it’s in a book, it’s a ‘fact.’ People will use this book as a source for further writing on the subject matter. … Because once something is in print, it becomes an authority.”
This is true, and I see it often in student research. If information is printed, it will often be repeated without question. So, what good could come of this situation? It looks like there is no effort or interest on the author/editor or publisher's part to rectify the situation, so what to do? Using this as an example in teaching critical thinking skills in information literacy is a start; I'm not suggesting to purchase the book at all, but explaining the issue to students and showing them how misinformation can appear in authoritative-seeming sources, even by a credentialed professor, is possible.

This example could also be used to show that research is truly a discussion. Look at Wikipedia, with all the arguments that spawn out of incorrect information in entries, or even just differences of opinion. Of course, the book in question is not a matter of opinion, there is simply factual information that is incorrect, but it could be a good segue into also showing Wikipedia can be useful for the zeitgeist and basic information, but it's still necessary to double check, consider motivations, and question "authority." Wikipedia is not the only source that can have faulty information, but could serve as familiar grounds for comparison. And, hopefully, someone with more accurate information might consider publishing a book to rival Fanzines.

January 13, 2011

Takeaways from ALA MW 11 Emerging Leaders Session

ALA Midwinter 2011... wow. This was my second ALA conference, the first being an Annual while I was still a student. What a huge difference. My main impetus for going was that I was accepted to the 2011 Emerging Leaders class this year; I  feel like it's a great experience so far.

Before starting the program, I read some of the criticism out there to get an idea of what I'd be in for and what to be cautious of. Kim Leeder wrote a great article at In the Library with the Lead Pipe: All Dressed Up with Nowhere to Go: A Survey of ALA Emerging Leaders , where much of the problem sounded like unmet expectations of the day-long program itself, as well as the reach and scope of the projects. I have to say those involved in the program really listened to former EL class concerns, because some of these issues were addressed, and some changes were clearly made. And I am very excited about the project I am working on, which is creating a collection development policy for videogames in libraries. I think this project will not only be interesting and even fun, but have a lot of reach, too.

We got some fantastic information on leadership from Maureen Sullivan, Peter Bromberg, Leslie Burger, and Keith Fiels. Andromeda Yelton, another Emerging Leader, has a great write up of what we learned on her blog:

The main takeaways, as Andromeda notes, are:
  1. Be scared everyday (and have a drink in your hand)
  2. Be generous
  3. There is no spoon
  4. Relationships
This all really relates back to all the brainstorming we did on good leadership qualities. What works well for us, and what positive attributes we find in those at the top. A big theme that stood out for me is creating buy in. You have to foster relationships with those around you to get anything done; we were told at the session that the reason we were all meeting face-to-face early on was so we could be friends first to be better able to work together in our groups. On creating buy-in, you must also trust in others, which includes being generous enough to offer others opportunities and not micromanage. Working to make ALA yours (or any situation yours) takes effort, and it's true: there is no spoon. As my EL groupmate, Abby Johnson, says in her blog, "ALA is not your mom." If you're not scared everyday (or even almost everyday), what's the point? Trusting in others is a leap, as is trusting in yourself in new, uncomfortable situations. As I commented in Andromeda's blog, I'll often say yes to things before I even have a chance to be nervous. You can always be nervous, but you won't always have a chance to say yes to some of these amazing opportunities.

A couple people were asking me at the conference what I think of the program so far since they were considering applying next year -- at this point in time, I say two thumbs up.