Saturday 30 June 2012

Research, frogs and free thinkers

For the last day of the June Blog, here is my plain and bold statement: Librarians need to do research. It is necessary for us and good for the rest of the world. And here are six reasons why.

3 reasons why practice-based research is good for librarians

1. To save our skin. At a recent teacher-librarians’ conference, Di Laycock argued for the importance of research in school libraries and showed us a picture of a frog. If you throw a frog in hot water, she said, it will jump out immediately. However, if you gradually increase temperature while the frog is in water, the adaptable animal will boil alive. In a demanding information world, librarians are a bit like frogs. In order to save our skins, we need to monitor our environment regularly and systematically to be able to act accordingly.
2. To evolve through evidence based practice. In the complicated and sometimes dangerously hot information environment, we can’t afford to rely only on our experience and impressions. We need rigorously gathered evidence to inform our constantly changing practice. Gathering reliable evidence takes time but it is still faster than guess work. It is a bit like asking locals for directions – you stop the car, but get to your destination faster or make an informed decision about how to continue your trip. (I acknowledge that asking for directions is an impossibly difficult thought for some people.)
3. To broaden our career options and strengthen reputation. We already apply research skills in a number of careers outside our main domains. An ability to do primary research may open some new options such as participation as equal partners on research teams, particularly cross-disciplinary ones. Numerous possibilities will open as the demand for innovation and evidence-based practice in many professions increases. At the same time, benefits for our individual and collective professional reputation will be substantial.

3 reasons why librarians’ research is good for the world

1. To keep saving the free thinking world. In our information world domineered by a few big players and swamped by many smaller ones who are trying to get their piece of profitable pie, who is going to defend the right to free information? Librarians and Friends, of course. Knowing about information trends first hand and using that knowledge to be the best we can is something we owe to nothing less than Democracy and Free Thought. Librarians existed well before googles of the modern world, kept the record of civilisations dead and alive, and survived as one of the last civic places. At the time of tremendous changes, we are not going to trust you-know-who to tell us about information trends, are we?
2. To contribute insights from a unique perspective. By serving everyone every day, we have unique insights into the information world. We have been great curators of knowledge records, but now we have a special position to become great ethnographers of the fast-changing world of information and knowledge. We have unparalleled access to potential data about information needs and behaviours on a daily basis - and we have a reputation and tradition to be trusted curators and interpreters of that information. Our perspective is valuable.
3. To enhance our academic field. Academia traditionally saw itself as self-sufficient and all-knowing, but it increasingly recognises the value of connection with practice. This connection is particularly important in the library and information studies which, like it or not, is predominantly an applied discipline. Some important lessons can be learnt from other applied fields. For example, there are good reasons why most academics in faculties of medicine are practicing clinicians and why they have a well-developed system of university hospitals. The sooner our field recognises advantages of different types of research and practice, the sooner it will benefit from a stronger reputation, better career paths, an improved position in negotiating research grants, and increased enrolments in postgraduate courses.
If you agree with the 6 reasons in answer to ‘why research’, the next question is ‘how’. A beginning of a big answer may be just around the corner. On 10 July, the ALIA Research Committee is organising the workshop Research for practitioners: in a nutshell at the State Library of NSW. Due date for registrations has been extended. Check it out!
Suzana Sukovic
Head of the Learning Resource Centre at St.Vincent’s College, Potts Point
Research Associate, The University of Sydney

Friday 29 June 2012

Five reasons why the Art of Library Management is like the Art of Baking

I know what you’re thinking; what do Library management and baking have in common? I guess the answer is me. Last month I was successful in becoming the acting Library Manager for the City of Sydney Library service. I went from running a single branch at Surry Hills with a staff of 7 to overseeing the 9 branch libraries of the City of Sydney with approximately 120 staff.

Just before I was successful in getting the role, I found an old CWA cookbook on the library shelves and even though I had never baked before, I decided to try and make sultana scones. It was a complete success and my love for baking was born.

As I started to learn about my new role and more about the art of baking, I noticed the weird synergies between good management and good baking.

  1. Study the masters - enrich your palette
I don’t believe people are born managers; anyone can become a good library manager with the right skills. Most managers (like me), completed a University course, others paid their dues studying how the organisation works and rising through the ranks to become managers.

Whether your masters are information theorists, like Brenda Dervin or Elfreda Chatman, or existing staff who have been with the organisation for years, both groups can teach you so much about how a library works. It’s through both types of learning that you learn to push yourself and your talents and as a result become better at what you do.

It’s the same with baking. You can’t start baking without a recipe. Whether that recipe is from a famous chef’s cookbook or from your Granma’s handwritten recipes, either way you need to start from somewhere.

  1. Respect those who came before you
When you first start a new job, especially a management position, it’s a natural tendency to want to shake things up and make your mark on the position. I know I did. However; you first need to have an understanding of the organisation and how it runs, before you can start the process of change. It’s a fact of life that most people fear change and the quickest way to get everyone offside is to start changing things without an understanding of the service you  currently manage.

It’s the same with baking, very few would start to change a recipe before you have tried it out, tasted the results and seen if what has occurred is a gloriously sweet confection or a sour flop. Respecting the collected knowledge of those who came before you is an essential skill in both library management and baking.

  1. Develop your own style
Every manager manages in a different style. The secret is making your style work in your workplace. I must admit I adopt a more consultative approach using active listing and communication with staff, as I find this instantly promotes dialogue and helps to work through issues. However, there comes a time when all managers will have to implement, do or say something that not everyone likes. It’s in these cases your management skills will really kick in.

This is where active listing and communication help to find out what the problems are and to solve them as best you can without getting staff offside. Of course you can’t keep everyone happy all the time and you need to fight the urge to get upset if this happens. Always remember you are the manager and the buck stops with you. If you think a decision is the best one, then run with it, but be open and listen to any feedback as it’s through discussion and debate that the famous middle ground is usually created.

I like to think I bake with my own particular style. I add more of what I like and less of what I don’t with all my baked goods. However I don’t always bake for myself so I always have to keep who I bake for in mind. What they like and what they don’t, so the result, what eventually gets eaten, will be a complete success.

  1. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes
Trust me you’ll make mistakes, everyone does. The trick is to learn from them and not let them define your career. It’s from these mistakes you learn more than with any of your successes. From the errors you make you are forced to re-examine how you work and this will give you a new perspective that you may never have thought about before. The only real mistake is making the same mistake twice.

Most chefs will tell you baking is a science and you need to have everything just so before you start. Don’t listen. Feel empowered to add or try new ingredients or make mistakes. It is from this experimentation new creations are born.

  1. Remember you are part of a community
Always remember there is a community of professional librarians and managers out there. So go to the conferences, attend the lectures and do some library visits. Get on blogs, explore the internet, and follow others on Twitter/Facebook; this will all help to enrich your knowledge and skills. This will keep you open to the plethora of different ways of managing and running a library. And always remember to share your knowledge with others. Be a part of the information web that binds us all together.

It’s like Jamie Oliver says about recipes: if you get a good one ‘Pass it on’. Go share a recipe that worked on the internet, look at the blogs, and talk to those at work about your baking.

As my first manager said to me when I started my career, ‘Knowledge is power’. So share the knowledge you have and be open to the collective knowledge of those around you. Always be willing to grow and adapt. Remember that if you manage a library or bake a cake there are always possibilities to become better at what you do by learning and developing your own skills through a combination of networking, ideas sharing and hard work.

Paul Garbin is the Library Manager, City of Sydney Library Network.

Thursday 28 June 2012

Releasing our Past and Sharing the Story

This time last year Mosman Faces had just been launched. Once again Mosman’s stories were out there but this time on screen, online and interactive for all the world to share.

Since then I presented Mosman Faces at last year’s SWITCH conference ably helped by the experts at the ALIA workshop and despite being second last on a full three day agenda managed a full house.

However Mosman Library’s search for a good story knows no bounds. Who wouldn’t be curious about an area of Sydney that can boast excavated Aboriginal sites from 3,750 years ago and brushes with First Fleet fame? And that’s just the really early stuff.

We’ve fast forwarded a little with our already existing online history projects. Mosman Memories, a place for past and present residents of Mosman to share memories of their street, Mosman Voices, which provides access to our oral history collection and of course Mosman Faces which is being edited as we speak to add some lively additions.

Still our curiosity does not stop there, the more stories the more insatiable our appetite and it is the sharing that brings the spirit of the story to life.
In light of this, Mosman Library once again applied for a Library Council of NSW Development Grant late last year and in May 2012 our latest online history project, the Mosman Great War project was successful!

Doing our bit, Mosman 1914-1918, the brainchild of Bernard, Mosman Council’s Internet Coordinator extraordinaire, will use linked open data to tell the stories of local service people. Who were they? What did they look like? Where did they go?

The aim of the project is to Connect  by linking and sharing information across archives, registers, libraries and museums, to Collect information by working with Mosman and the wider community to build and enhance the linked collections with stories, photographs and ephemera and to Compile a ‘living history’ of men and women with a connection to Mosman who served during World War I.

We are privileged to have Dr Tim Sherratt a.k.a. @wragge, inspirational historian and pioneer in the digital humanities, leading the project team. He was part of the wonderful Mapping Our Anzacs site.

To start the ball rolling we are having a Build-a-thon at Mosman Library on Saturday 11 August. Programmers, local historians, enthusiasts and willing volunteers are invited to come together to design and build the site, gather data and chart the way forward.

We’re looking forward to learning about linked open data, and how it can be applied in practice. You might like to come too. A key part of the project is sharing the work done behind the scenes. We want others to be able to use the tools and processes developed in this project for their own resources.
While essentially an online project, we also have workshops planned with genealogist and author Kerry Farmer and historian Dr Kirsty Harris and we hope those involved in the project will talk about their findings and experience later in the year too.

In November we’ll hold an Open Day and Scan-a-thon – a project get-together and ‘family history roadshow’ in one. It’s a great opportunity for people to come into the library and have their photos and ephemera professionally scanned and added to the site.

As I said earlier sharing brings the story to life and with the First World War centenary just two years away, more and more archives are digitising their Great War collections to preserve and to share. Whatever content we collect will be available to everyone. The content is from Mosman but the mechanics of  can be taken back to your own community. (The website, by the way, will be active from July/August. Sign up to our email newsletter for updates.)

We believe our project is something bold something new something different and everyone should know about it so what better place to start than the ALIA blogspot!

Berrol Lazar Mendelsohn
Berrol Lazar Mendelsohn of 67 Raglan Street, Mosman, who was killed in action at Fromelles in 1916. He was one of the lost Diggers who were positively identified using DNA in 2010 and re-interred at the new Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery.

Mary Lou Byrne’s work is mainly in Mosman Library’s ever vibrant Local Studies chasing stories from people pictures and place but also does her time in Reference and Circulation too.

Wednesday 27 June 2012

Undergraduate studies through distance ed

For ALIA’s Blog Every Day in June, I thought I would write about my undergraduate studies through distance ed.

Many many years ago I was going to do Year 10 work experience in a library, but did not follow through. My decision to change careers and study library and information management was in part to fulfil that long ago desire. I find knowledge and information management and communication a fascinating area and libraries can still give me butterflies in the stomach at all the learning opportunities and possibilities they contain.

I undertook the Bachelor of Applied Science in Library and Information Management (LIM) through Charles Sturt University distance education starting in 2008 and finishing earlier this year. The course has since restructured as Bachelor of Information Studies with specialisations in Librarianship, Information and Knowledge Management, and Records and Archives Management.

The greatest benefit distance education gave me was the huge amount of flexibility, which enabled me to accommodate my family and work commitments with my study commitments. For a degree that focuses on information connectivity there were times that communication with lecturers was difficult but I feel that there would have been similar sorts of issues with face-to-face study, albeit slightly different ones. I believe that maintaining a positive outlook was an important part of getting through the course work; again would that have been any different with face-to-face study? Probably not; I have certainly learnt self motivation skills in the process.

Looking at the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 2006, 2009 and 2011 Household use of Information Technology in Australia confirms the impact on every age group of the growing use of the internet within our society. Distance education capitalises on this usage.

I experienced firsthand the shift in how online services are provided and how educational information delivery has shifted exponentially in the last decade. The way students manage their course material, study notes and study load are in a continual state of flux through the rapid change we experience through the ongoing development of the World Wide Web, and the services it provides - like social software and cloud computing.

Overall I had a very positive learning experience from distance education. I would not hesitate to recommend this mode of study. Subject and reference material were accessible anywhere and all the time. The library services were excellent. The skill of working 18 hr days to meet an assignment deadline has also been developed. 

There were a few very dry subjects (best not to elaborate) along with the really fascinating ones. The subjects that worked best were ones where the material was well structured and the subject coordinator interacted on the forum regularly. When posting a comment or response; if the coordinator consistently gave feedback to comments no matter how minor, it builds on the sense of being part of an interactive student community. When an opinion is acknowledged it goes without saying that forums work best when then their coordinator understands the subject material in depth or had input into the subject matter. 

Coming from a Tafe Horticulture Diploma as my last educational effort; the experience of the LIM degree was most marked by the currentness of the reference and resource material. When writing an essay on information services any books over 4 years were considered too old as a reference because of the rapid changes in the interaction of library and information services with the internet and online services. This contrasts greatly with my experience of horticulture design and utilising resources that though old are greatly valued. A good example of this is the way online chat services have developed and their importance has waxed and waned. Huge shifts in library programs and service delivery, as well as the advent of ebooks.....using social software like Facebook to interact with library many changes have occurred in this field since 2008. It reinforces the fact that there is a continual change process occurring in delivery of services for the library and information field.

When studying practical horticulture I remember a high point was when maculata species changed genus from Eucalyptus to Corymbia - a different pace of change entirely to that of the library and information field. I currently volunteer at the Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens Library, and greatly value the chance to work on bringing records online with the faster pace of an ever-growing information environment.

I have certainly developed many skills that I am eager to put into practise, and am now on the journey of seeking work in the library and information management field; realising how useful a course on completing Selection Criteria for job applications would be!

Selena Douglas-Brown

Tuesday 26 June 2012

Connecting More with Less Resources

Is your library cutting hours, staff, and resources?  In the US this is a big trend among many large and small libraries alike.  In recent years the Long Beach Public Library has been shaving hours and services at a rapid rate since 2008.  More than ever libraries need to stay relevant and continue to be the central hub of your community’s information consumption.

As far as we can predict the economy is not going to be bouncing back for at least 2 more years and even when it does cities, counties, and institutions are not going back to restore our pre-recession budgets or going back to business as usual.  Transformation is crucial!

We have 3 initiatives we feel have made a huge difference when the idea of  the typical brick and mortar library is not likely to be open 9 to 9, Monday through Sunday anymore.  However our eBranch is open 24/7 anywhere in the world.

Set up Librarian Chat/IM: Meebo Messenger up to recently* was a totally free service allowing libraries to sign up free.  Chat with the librarian is a very effective way to maximize your connections with the public using staff at their workrooms and enticing the nextgen of MLS.  Librarians who enjoy working behind the scenes flourish in these environments, especially when telephone reference might be going away. Since Meebo was purchased by Google recently we also suggest Mosio as a good alternative.

Create a Mobile App: Mobile apps are hot there is no way around it.  This year for the first time our mobile app hits have surpassed all other databases combined.  In addition, we have included our Summer Reading Program where patrons can register, review a book and post it on Facebook.  Boopsie is our current vendor and has worked with many libraries public and academic.  If your staff are techie enough you can have them develop one in-house; but if there is something I would recommend for your library’s next year’s plan is having an app!

Cloud Based e-Books: My last recommendation is adding a basic cloud based e-books service.  Not having to download large files (in particular audiobooks) is a blessing for mobile users on limited data plans.  Your patrons will notice right away!  We have several different vendors that have been very successful and well received by savvy patrons.  One particular popular platform is Tumblebooks and Books24x7.

Unfortunately many librarians continue to be skeptical about ebooks and remote services but at this juncture where we are expected to serve at the same level as pre-recession times we have an opportunity to shine and get elected officials to notice the great work of the 21st century library.  For further information join the Facebook ALA Think Tank and start innovating!

Francisco Vargas is the Youth Services Officer at the Long Beach Public Library; you can contact him @barriolib

*Meebo was recently bought by Google and will be shutting down July 11.

Monday 25 June 2012

International librarian of mystery

On the eve of my return to Australia after 2 years in the UK I thought I would reflect on my professional time here for ALIA’s awesome Blog Every Day of June.

For my first role in the UK I went back to working in a type of library I know and love: the public library. I worked with Lancashire County Libraries, the home of the amazing Get it Loud in Libraries, for the first 10 months I was in the UK. A library in a tiny market town, where King Charles II is alleged to have spent the night in the Royal Oak pub during the English Civil War (1642-1651), called Garstang; it was the most fantastic introduction to life in North Lancashire.
In the spirit of public libraries everywhere Garstang library was a place for local people to borrow books, to meet, and to be involved in all the free activities on offer: knit and natter, baby bounce and rhyme, toddler rhyme time, reading groups and craft and chatter sessions.

Get it Loud in Libraries is an initiative run by library staff to encourage young people into libraries. If they love music and come to an event, such as Low, Warpaint, Florence and the Machine, and The Wombats, then they will come into the library to access recorded music, sheet music, books, and all that public libraries have to offer. It was always a novelty to see bands performing amongst the bookshelves and hopefully something that will catch on in public libraries the world over.

*Warpaint at Lancaster Library. They use rolling stacks to allow for a stage to be built and space for the audience*

Next up was a foray into institutional repositories, open access and metadata.
I worked at the University of Salford Library with the digital developments team as Metadata and Repository Officer. The Library was full of great people and is a really innovative service pushing boundaries wherever it can. Some really interesting services have been implemented such as RFID, the mostly un-staffed MediaCityUK and the library (There were students filming and recording all over the university building when I visited for Open Access Week 2011, on the stairs in the computer labs. They also have those cool interactive touch tables which are surely there for Pac-Man rather than work), the institutional repository USIR, with an open access mandate with the high profile backing of the VC, Martin Hall.

Working with the repository and open access really opened my eyes to a really important information tool available to the public and the academic community. The challenge of working with academic colleagues in this emerging area was also really interesting, a major part of the role was to work with research and academic staff towards developing an understanding of open access initiatives and how these could provide greater exposure of research. I was able to work with some really inspiring staff with a real passion for open access, repositories, and digital developments. My time at Salford was really influenced by their enthusiasm, expertise and friendship.

*MediaCity UK and the University of Salford campus*

My work now has a macro level perspective of higher education in the UK as I work with the membership organisation: Universities UK. As part of my role with UUK I have laid the groundwork for my successor to implement the open source information management system, Koha. As part of the process I visited a number of libraries to benchmark our service against libraries that have already implemented Koha or are part of membership organisations. It was a great way to get out and meet professional colleagues and to further develop my understanding of our profession. I would recommend actually getting out and visiting libraries and library staff, it’s a great way to benchmark services and policies and to meet other library folk.

I am soon to return to Australia and the best professional tool I am bringing home with me is the idea of professional networks, of the social media and the in-person kind.
I’m looking forward to meeting you when I’m back in the country!

Samantha Hutchinson

*Coaster art near the UUK office*

Sunday 24 June 2012

Lessons from a new library building

Robots, resources & people ftw!
Robots, resources & people ftw!
It’s almost a year since the new library at Macquarie University opened – here’s an overview if you want some more detail. The new library created a lot more space for library users by housing much of the collection in an automated storage and retrieval system (ASRS). The experience is very different to the previous library.

Here are a few things we’ve learnt along the way:

  • Having resources in an ASRS hasn’t been a big deal for library users. Carefully planned collection storage principles including consultation with academics have ensured most students get all the resources they require from traditional shelving and rarely need to request anything from the ASRS. It makes sense - a large recent study by OCLC indicates that 80% of circulation in an academic library is driven by just 6% of the collection.
  • Fears about the loss of serendipitous discovery have hardly registered in client feedback, as tools such as a virtual bookshelf within the catalogue provide this type of discovery AND include electronic resources.
  • The library was designed so that the furniture would suggest behavior with configurations indicating collaborative spaces or individual study spaces. While this has been largely successful, reminders about noise in some of the quieter individual spaces have been required. (But aren’t they always?) 
  • Quiet, individual study spaces are just as popular as ever. Much has been written about libraries as collaborative spaces, and these spaces are extremely popular, but the demand for more quiet, individual spaces has been even stronger. We have reconfigured furniture to create an extra 200 individual study spaces in response to this demand. 
  • More space means more people. Lots more people. We knew the new building would be popular, but daily library visits have almost doubled compared to the previous building. Yep, the new library has certainly taken its place at the centre of the University.

People + space = more people 

Brendan Krige is Communications Coordinator at Macquarie University Library

Saturday 23 June 2012

ALIA Biennial

The ALIA Biennial conference is nearing, and I can feel the excitement building! 

I am lucky enough to be on the social media committee for the upcoming ALIA Biennial, along with Ellen Forsyth from the State Library, Cathy Johnston from Coffs Harbour Library, Sophie McDonald from UTS Library and Jeff Cruz from the City of Sydney Library.

The thing about this group, is that 4 of us are in Sydney and one of us is in Coffs Harbour, so I haven’t actually had the pleasure of meeting Cathy face-to-face as yet, which means that we’ll be meeting for the first time at the conference itself, while we’re flitting around adding to the conference’s presence via our social media streams. (If you see us in person, say hi. If you’re not attending the conference, say hi anyway, via any of our social media streams!)

That’s the beauty of social media- you don’t have to be in the same city, or even in the same country to form a group, network or add to your PLN. I digress.

The ALIA Biennial social media committee has been experimenting with lots of different social media, including Pinterest, Tumblr, blogspot, Flickr, Springpad, Google + and of the tried and true old favourites, Twitter and Facebook. You can see a list of our efforts and their links here.  

And while you’re at it, why don’t you head over to the ALIA Biennial blog, to check out our Blog Every Day of June efforts over there? We’re focusing on discovery and what it means for us in our daily lives and from a work sense. We’re also interested in hearing your thoughts, so I invite you to submit a short 30 second video or a photo on your take on ‘discovery’. You can find out more here

- Crystal 

Crystal is the convenor of ALIA Sydney and is also on the ALIA Biennial social committee. She’s an academic librarian at the University of Sydney Library and she tweets @crystalibrary.

Friday 22 June 2012

Redesigning, Rediscovering, Rethinking, Rebooting

How does the changing nature of client behaviour etc influence the way we deliver our services? What sort of staff do libraries need?

In recent years client behaviour and expectations regarding information and access to information sources has changed drastically. Technological developments have given access to many information sources that were once the preserve/domain of specialists such as librarians.

Clients expect digital access to all forms of information and entertainment. Many people who would have once looked to the library as a source of reliable, affordable and up-to-date information are now able to gain access to this information themselves. This leaves librarians with the option of reinventing their role or disappearing.

Redesigning, rediscovering, rethinking, rebooting are all part of the picture of reinvention. But what sort of staff does it take to fit in with this new redesign of libraries, librarians and the services they provide?

Libraries and library staff cannot control the circumstances that led to the change in the way in which people seek information, but libraries can control how they react to the changes.  

Seth Godin describes the new library as a creative space, a place where ideas flourish, technology is available and a sense of community exists. Whether management are looking at existing staff or newly recruited staff the same essential characteristics need to be there. 

That is an openness to new ideas and a willingness to try something new that may not have been done before are all traits that are necessary for library staff in an age of fast change. What worked last year may not work this year, we must be ready to adjust our attitudes and be in touch with what our client base is seeking from a library service in order to retain significance as an entity.

Libraries such as the City of Sydney display a willingness to explore new ideas regarding the use of library space and exhibit a desire to discover how they can best serve the city. They are proposing a 24-hour library, one that meets the needs of the city's population and provides services to all ages.

The currency of knowledge has changed, people no longer rush to the library to find answers to questions that can be researched by the individual on their own computer. What the library can offer is a community space where reliable information can be sourced, technology accessed and creative ideas shared. 

Library staff that display flexibility in attitude towards their roles and the function and purpose of the library space will find themselves still relevant in an age where the importance of libraries is sometimes questioned.

Rhonda Tyrrell

Seth Godin

City of Sydney

Thursday 21 June 2012

Backward Design: Rethinking and Planning Library Instruction

Sarah Graham wrote a fantastic post on June 7th (“Why brainstorming doesn't work”) about introducing debate instead of typical free-association exercises to engage students and encourage creativity. In her discussion, she briefly mentions the obstacles of deeper instruction given limited time and only “one shot” in which to teach. But what if you had the opportunity for more frequent contact? In this regard, my colleagues and I have been somewhat fortunate.
My big project this past year has been leading the redesign of two online credit-bearing information literacy courses. While they have been very popular, they’ve undergone only minor changes since they were developed at The Ohio State University over a decade ago. However, technology and research into student information behavior has made large strides, and it was time for a major revision. In this post, I’d like to the share a little about the backward design process we used to revise the course.
Curriculum developers and instructional designers may be familiar with this three-stage approach to course planning that runs counter to longstanding methods. Instead of starting with content and figuring out how to assess students on the content, it starts with assessment goals and then determining if the content meets those goals. Or as Wiggins and McTighe (2005) depict the general process:
1.       Identify desired results
2.       Determine acceptable evidence
3.       Plan learning experiences and instruction
The first step of identifying desired results is more than just coming up with a student-centered outcome to be accomplished in the fourth week of the course; it’s trying to figure out what your “big rocks” are, or what your students will say or remember about your course long after it has concluded.
Eventually, you develop granular objectives based on those broader goals. Once you do that, then you can figure what constitutes evidence (tasks or activities) that your students produce to meet those objectives. Finally, you decide what content is necessary in light of your goals and tasks as well as how to organize everything.
These ideas (along with cognitive research about learning and retention) have challenged our thinking and resulted in drastic changes to the existing courses. For instance, evaluating sources is part of library instruction, but how do we do we do it? Within the course, we administer a 10-question reading comprehension quiz on an online reading and a couple questions on the final test. What happens when we take the backward design approach instead?
Identify desired results
Our team believes that one of the broader goals of the course is something like the following: Students will bring a critical eye to information sources they encounter.  We want students to not only recognize bias or analyze for authority, but instill a habit of mind so they are constantly thinking about whether sources meets their need (or are trustworthy enough to be repeated at a party). We still have the practical sub-goal of teaching an evaluative framework, but we don’t want to forget our larger goal in the design of the rest of the course.
Determine acceptable evidence
So what tells us that they understand and are able to use this framework for evaluating information sources? If we’re being honest, a quiz is probably not the most effective means—at least not as the sole assessment. For many, learning artifacts commonly come in the form of term papers or presentations.  For one of our two courses, a major component of the new final project is the annotation of cited sources in a Wikipedia. It provides an authentic (real life) experience while providing formal evidence for student understanding.
Plan learning experiences and instruction
This is where everything comes together and we’re able to ask (among many questions): What do students need to know to complete the Wikipedia annotations and what’s the most effective way for them to learn it? Now that you’ve established goals and evidence, you can figure out what activities will be appropriate and how everything is organized. Maybe it is an interactive tutorial, or to steal from the aforementioned blogger, a debate-type activity could contribute to active learning and long-term understanding of the content.
While I’ve largely spoken about the role of backward design in course development, it’s certainly transferable to one-shot instruction, online tutorials, and other such tasks. What’s important to remember is that it isn’t a prescriptive process—it’s just a way of thinking that I believe opens up a largely unexplored avenue of creativity in all parts of the library. Those of you familiar with other ISD process models may find this useful as it speaks a little more directly to educational contexts. However, I’ve also grossly oversimplified what turns out to be something very messy, and I encourage you to read “Understanding by Design” by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe if you’re interested in learning more.
Brian D. Leaf (, Instructional Design Librarian Resident, The Ohio State University

Wednesday 20 June 2012

Did you want to be a librarian when you grew up?

Did you sort your personal book collection as a child? Or maybe order your DVDs, CDs or cassette tapes by title, genre, series, or musician? I wonder about these early signs as an indicator of people more likely to work in libraries, and how some now-librarians found their calling so soon in life. To try and find out how people just “knew” their career path, I informally surveyed 46 library workers in Australia about their childhood career dreams, as well as asking 29 preschool children in Canberra about their career dreams.

Many librarians spoke of their personal libraries from childhood, where short term loans were managed with the scrawl of “Libry – 3 days” on the back of books, ownership defined with bookplates, or owning a set of flimsies for writing due dates (from this revelation, I learnt the term flimsies, which is a word that sounds better suited to an impractical petticoat).

If you felt affinity for libraries early on, you may have revelled in the joy of a Little Librarian kit, “…the first personal library kit made just for kids!”? These DIY homemade library kits have great potential as propaganda tools for instilling library principles and a love of organising information. Library branches could also sponsor kits so that the brand imprinting stays with people for their borrowing life! Building on this, there are even “home library kits” for adults to play library at home and organise book collections.

My personal book collection was not a good predictor of a future librarian - it was modelled on my family’s sorting method. This is the debatable finding aid of spine height (descending order left to right) and the even fancier criterion of spine colour. However, the book rainbow display method is gaining traction in design circles. Plus, my family visited the library on a weekly basis, so I knew that books were ordered in different ways (but had no inclination towards personal Dewey labelling!).

Exposure to library thinking in early childhood could help more people to consider a career in libraries, or look at sorting books as a gateway to full-on information management. Something that worked in many now-librarians’ favour were frequent trips to the local library to foster a love of books, as well as librarians in the family (with obligatory unpaid work).

So how many now-librarians had any inkling of their professional field during childhood? From 46 surveyed librarians, there were 69 career aspirations (39 when accounting for duplicates), which showed a number of different options at different life-stages.

Childhood career dream responses from library staff
Childhood career dream responses from library staff

As you can see, the most common career dreams were librarian (10), and teacher (11). I think this shows the impact of regular contact with particular professions. It could also show further scope for looking at the teacher-librarian career pathway. Some of the other professions really do overlap, and many respondents observed the commonalities between their different careers and the highly transferable skills of librarians.

Even though my “survey” was only one question “Did you want to be a librarian/library technician when you grew up, or something else?”, it was leading and I should have better articulated that I was interested in the most vivid career aspiration, rather than at a particular age. My sampling was also fairly biased towards government/special libraries and the National Library, rather than public or university libraries. I’m sure that the results would change with a more scientific method!

From 29 preschool children (ages 4-5) surveyed, there were 30 career aspirations (21 when accounting for duplicates). None mentioned roles involving library roles. There was also some crossover with the librarian results, such as teacher (3) and ballerina (6). Their sample provides an interesting snapshot of their personal interests and the professions that are important (or prominent) in their lives at the moment.

Career dream responses from preschool children

Marketing libraries and library services is part of our professional branding, but I think we overlook the need to market the profession itself. There could be a lot more people interested in library careers if they were actually promoted – but another complication ties in with library anxiety, and exposure to negative library experiences during childhood. Observations about the possibility of a library career were that it wasn’t even on the radar (throughout life), or that people didn’t know what librarians actually did – unfortunately we don’t actually explain what we do, so lots of adults are still uncertain about our role! Additionally, no one in either the adult or child groups mentioned “library technician” as a career dream, and I think this demonstrates the decreased visibility of different roles in libraries, or perhaps it shows that we don’t need the traditional demarcation between library roles.

A more telling study is what kind of careers people choose after librarianship, as one librarian mentioned a future career dream. Nerida Hart is conducting a study of librarians who have moved out of the library space, you can find out how to contribute here.
In the meantime, keep an eye on your kids’ and friends' children’s book collections – are there signs of a future library career?

Sonja Barfoed is an artist and librarian in Canberra, Australia. From the age of 6, she decided to be an artist and mermaid – librarianship happened of its own accord!

Tuesday 19 June 2012

Law Library Landscape

My experience for nearly the last 10 years, has mostly been in corporate environments. I have gained my working portfolio in law libraries, both mid tier and top tier more recently. Even though I have continued to work as a Reference librarian in different law firms, I have found that the thinking, management and culture are distinct and diverse in each organisation’s library. This kind of experience is invaluable to building an understanding of how law libraries operate and create value for the organisation they provide information services to.

What adds a further dimension to gaining an overview of the law library landscape is my direct involvement with the Australian Law Librarian Association in NSW. The beauty of being embedded in a committee is the unique opportunity to develop professional relationships that can often become endearing friendships. What’s more, is your conversations are often a mash of life and aspirations for the direction of your library that you dare to discuss and ponder the possibilities of.

That aside, the position of President I have found myself dedicated to, has really propelled my understanding of the much larger context that law libraries are in. From interacting with the industry at large, my attention has been focused on becoming aware of driving issues influencing the operating activity and future plans in law libraries.

Some current issues experienced in this sector are

  • Redesigning delivery of information services such as reducing hardcopy materials and facilitating a change in user research behaviour in a highly online environment, as well as tailoring current awareness services to reduce information overload and making more efficient use of automated delivery tools.
  • Reworking the roles of a library team to accommodate changing duties as a result of more automated processes in delivering information services to future proof libraries.
  • Technology developments including e-books and social media. Law libraries are testing how their organisations are using e-books and social media and look for ways to implement these tools to assist users to access information and build knowledge more readily. Uniquely e-books are challenging traditional models of loaning requiring law librarians to work with publishers to provide solutions in this kind of environment.
  • Staffing. This factor is probably universal. Law libraries are unique in their specialist knowledge, filling vacancies particularly at higher level positions as retiring librarians are moving out of law libraries is calling for communication skills, leadership and the ability to deal with more political internal environments. There are also gaps as existing law librarians move into higher level positions. Follow on positions for new staff to fill existing reference roles are requiring a focus on training, particularly where roles are filled by librarians without law backgrounds. There is also a focus on succession planning in some law libraries, requiring creative position developments to ensure new librarians are equipped with good legal working knowledge to respond to dealing with law research queries.
  • Redundancies. Sadly in the last few years there have been a number of management positions as well as sole librarian roles removed from law firms and university law faculties.
  • Mergers taking place in law firm environments. With the change in the international economic landscape, a number of law firms have merged with international firms. An interesting effect on libraries is negotiation with publishers regarding extending licensed content to meet information needs of lawyers in new offshore offices.
  • Outsourcing of library services is a real factor impacting libraries in the US and UK as a solution to meeting increasing demands of clients of law firms to put down pressure on the cost of legal services. This trend is slowly being documented in literary sources and presented on at conferences. Australian law libraries are following this closely.

Law libraries are certainly a dynamic environment to work in and we are trying to make sense of our landscape and develop solutions to ensure we remain relevant and provide value in our organisations.

Cindy Martin
ALLA NSW Division President

Reference Librarian

Monday 18 June 2012

Google Reader Roundup

Hello ALIA Sydney Readers! Today I’m going to share a quick roundup of good bits from my Google Reader, and take this opportunity for a good reflective think-out about blog readers.
The best thing about Google Reader is that you don’t have to use it all the time. You can dip into it occasionally or regularly, according to your needs. Recently I’ve been re-learning the flexibility of the ‘social’ in ‘social media’, especially with respect to my reading of blogs in and around the LIS field. If I read every interesting thing all the time, I’d get nowhere, unless I was undertaking a PhD on discourse analysis of LIS blogs. (actually that’s not a bad idea…) At present, Google Reader functions more like a trusted local cafĂ©. I don’t have to go there all the time, or even regularly, but when I do there’s usually someone there to catch up with and have an interesting discussion.
I’ve shaped this roundup to include 7 useful blog post genres, and I’ll summarise them here for your (time management) convenience:
1. The LIS Reflective Practitioner Post
2. The Specific Call Out For Responses Post
3. The Managing Information Not Necessarily in LIS context Post
4. The Conference Roundup Post
5. The Online Participative Event
6. The Post about Teaching
7. The Scathing Rant

1. The LIS Reflective Practitioner Post
My first anniversary

After one year in the post as a college librarian. Cara Clarke reflects on her experiences working at a higher level and within a new library context  - a College Library – in comparison to her background in school libraries. The main value of this kind of post is the   candid nature in which Cara talks about her work environment and realities of professional life. It provides a useful insight into ‘on the ground’ work activities.

2. The Specific Call Out For Responses Post
‘repackaging’ information education – your input needed!

This blog post genre is characterised by a direct need for interaction. In this case, Kate Davis is seeking responses to 3 questions for ‘a context-setting/provocation video for a workshop that [she] is facilitating at the upcoming Australian Information Education Symposium on ‘repackaging’ information education’. If this is your bag, and you’ve got something to say, head over there now!  Seeing as I’ll be attending the Symposium, commenting on this blog is top of my list, but I have a post here to finish first!

3. The Managing Information Not Necessarily in LIS context Post
Twitterror, via

This blog post poses an interesting idea to include strike through option on tweets. I can see why it would appeal to the latent proof reader and social historian in all of us. You can deal with your own misinformed tweets by ‘transparently’ adjusting them accordingly, rather than accepting the sometimes ambiguous vacuum left by a deleted tweet.  Ultimately it’s a translation of a live blogging /journaling trope whereby you can say exactly what you mean under the guise of deletion. I’ve seen it used to much hilarity in fanfiction communities that I belong to on dreamwidth. As the Twitter designers argue (quoted in their ubiquitous 140 characters), it would cause massive problems for their core function. However, as the author has demonstrated, it can also add a layer of discourse more suited to the boys' own shower room gossiping. Which is not how I prefer to engage with Twitter. Obviously any person on Twitter will tell you that people gravitate to their own groups and through constant negotiation develop rules and etiquette for discussion.

4. The Conference Roundup Post
University Science and Technology Librarians Group Meeting #USTLG

Blogs provide an excellent forum to share reflections from a conference tour, or even a big day of presentations. In this example  Librarians on the loose Sarah and Emma report on a twice yearly meetup to share information and good practice. And look, they’ve also shared the twitter hashtag if you want to look up the twitter archive.

5. The Online Participative Professional Development Event
Thing 7: Real life networks

The cpd23 is a blog-based summer online event (UK) which explores 23 things related to professional development for librarians and information professionals. It’s in its second round this year and looks to be a great way to develop your skills in social media relevant to LIS. Primarily because you’re exploring these tools with a network of geographically disparate people at the same time! That is, if you’ve scheduled the time to do it.
This week focuses on real life networks and commends participants to reflect on the place of professional organisations on their career path. There’s even extra credit for investigating new groups and organisations!

6. The Post about Teaching
Teaching: Design Anthropology via
This post features a wonderful list for “How to be an Explorer of the World”, in a post which reflects on teaching design anthropology, with many salient points for learning, teaching and sharing knowledge within an educational setting. I often think that education and design fields are perfectly complementary to library and information science, and there’s much to be gained from the convergence (but not merging!) and overlapping of common threads.

7. The Scathing Rant
Libraries: crowdfunding our asses off

A bombastic rant reflecting on the reputation of libraries and the impact of the digital economy enabled by the globalisation and late capitalism. Censored genius is your go-to librarian when you want to get all riled up about the state of libraries today. I particularly love the effing librarian for their delivery of high quality invective on issues in the library profession. No blog roundup would be complete without this kind of blogging.

Obviously, this is a partial and highly selective list. Do you have a favourite blogger that you turn to for any of the above genres? What other contenders might there be for blog post genres?

Over and out,
Liz Stokes
ALIA New Grads Coordinator NSW