Monday, June 4, 2012

Information Masters and Slaves

Fons Wijnhoven knows how to attract attention. Wijnhoven's article in JASIST has interesting language. To describe the information providers or authorities and information seekers Wijnhoven writes,
 ...these authorities may be named information masters, and the people who need to be informed may be called information slaves, because they are dependent on the master's resources to become well informed. This inequality of informing resources results in opinion-influencing power of the masters, from which it is difficult for slaves to emancipate.
After the dramatic language near the start of the article, straightforward source evaluation techniques are framed with Hegelian dialectic. I prefer simplicity to the 17-step flow chart in the article. On the other hand, it's possibly that I'm eliminating important steps when I boil things down to a handful of steps for myself and for students.

I like one step of his method that I don't use or teach enough. The step is to formulate an antithesis, the mortal enemy of your thesis, and to look for and evaluate information supporting the antithesis. That step could counteract confirmation bias.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Waiting for Word on a New Dean

[June 4 Update from the Provost's Office:  A campus announcement is forthcoming. Pending the relevant approvals, the library will have a new dean on July 16.] 

I admit it; I'm jealous of other academic units on campus that are between deans. Those three colleges have updates in the Daily Egyptian about the selection stage for their replacement deans. The library's dean search didn't make it to the article. At Morris Library, the interviews for a new dean have been completed, but no one in the library knows* whether a new dean is "to be determined" or is "to be announced."

* By "knows," I mean has an official confirmation that can be shared. I heard a rumor from someone who knows someone who knows someone who knows someone, but I don't know in any official way what has happened since the decision process went to Anthony Hall.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

E-Books + Access over Ownership = A Pretend Price Panacea

NPR had a story about e-books in libraries this morning. For a quick news story, they did pretty good. Soon after the story mentioned dubious claim that libraries could save money by using e-books, it mentioned the difficulties and costs of e-books.

To recap:
  • Many (most) e-books are not purchases. The content disappears when the library stops sending money.
  • E-books are provided to libraries through licensing agreements, and e-book providers put restrictions on their use that they can't put on physical books. The big one is lack of interlibrary loan. 
  • E-book prices for libraries aren't like e-book prices for individuals or prices for print books. They can be much higher. 
At public libraries, they are more willing to compromise on the lease vs. buy, access vs. ownership issue than academic libraries are. They know that at some point, their copies of Harry Potter will stop flying off the shelf and may need to be removed to make space for the Next Big Thing.

Academic research libraries, at least traditionally, have taken it upon themselves to worry about maintaining a record of the past, and not just what's popular now. Lack of money is pushing libraries like Morris Library to move away from that model of an academic research library and archive and toward being just an academic access library. To do that, the library pays for what is most needed and most used and borrows or leases the rest. The obscure and the unpopular can be borrowed via interlibrary loan or got some other way. If someone else will be the archive, lack of interlibrary loan on e-books, combined with the lack of ownership is a problem. There has to be a "someone else" out there that can supply the material at a reasonable price. 

CARLI, the consortium behind I-Share, is working on consortial purchasing or licensing of e-books. That approach can certainly improve the access to a wider range of content than individual libraries could get on their own, as at least there's a form of interlibrary sharing among consortium members. The consortial approach doesn't guarantee a price reduction, though.

Academic libraries are developing best practice guidelines to encourage publishers to license e-books with the same benefits and limitations as print; interlibrary loan is fine; simultaneous use by more than one person costs more; and access to content is for the long-term and isn't a year-by-year payment.
At SLA last year, one of the sessions I went to described e-book licensing as a jungle, similar to what journal licensing was fifteen years ago. The short version of the journal licensing story as that libraries have done pretty well at pushing publishers (with some exceptions) toward licensing restrictions that work for academic libraries, except for the price issue.

The starry-eyed optimism from the early years of the Web that technology would make journal publishing cheap, and therefore journal content would be cheap is laughable today. It would be nice to think that librarians would have learned from that experience to be more cautious about believing that switching to e-content would save money. In the past month, I've heard librarians make that claim, so I know we haven't all learned that lesson.

If academic libraries are to do more with less through cooperative collection development and also are to save money on space and shelf maintenance through e-books, something has to change.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Teaching Information Literacy or Just Pieces of it?

I was happy today when I saw a ProfHacker post in the Chronicle of Higher Education using the phrase "information literacy" and was not written by a librarian. A couple years ago, I read letters to the editor in the Daily Egyptian from SIU faculty that superficially were about climate change. They seemed to me to really be about information literacy. Not one of them ever used that phrase. Maybe it's finally catching on -- just in time for librarians to switch to the phrase "information fluency."

Granted, an assistant professor of English is not that far afield from a librarian, but it's a step in the right direction. The comments on the post so far have come from librarians and composition instructors, and they seem to understand that information literacy is more than how to use the library or how to find information.

The Google resource that the article is about, on the other hand, is not so clear that the people at Google understand what else is involved in information literacy. Admittedly, most of my one-shot sessions in classes focus on those two things too. In the long run, though, those two things aren't the most important parts of information literacy for students to take with them after they leave college.

Knowing how to order a book from the McLafferty Annex or how to use Boolean operators will help them in the short term. After graduation, students won't need to think about the McLafferty Annex again. Online searching is moving toward something more like weighted text matching of search terms and less like the set operations that most library databases use today, so I don't know how valuable Boolean operators will be in the long term.

In the long term, it's more helpful for them to be able to recognize limitations in their knowledge and that research is needed. It's more helpful for them to be able to discern differences among sources. It's more helpful to use that discernment to decide how much trust to place in their sources.

Now the challenge for me is to keep the long term in mind when I'm doing one-shot instruction. I want to make sure that the students can handle the basic (but convoluted) mechanics of getting information sources from the library. Too often, I lose the long term in that.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Success and Failure of New Journals

The last couple weeks had me thinking about new journals. 

I "attended" a webinar from bepress, the company that supplies the software for OpenSIUC, called "Journal Make-Over: Practical Steps to Better Journals." A lot of the webinar was about helping fledgling journals develop. The gist that I got out of it was that editors for new journals need to build up a steady stream of submissions and articles to publish. Approaches that would make the journal look desperate could backfire. The stream has to be built through personal networking with potential authors and editorial board members. 

A few days later, a librarian encouraged other librarians on an email list. He encouraged people to contact Thomson Reuters to include a fairly new journal (started in the last five years) from a scholarly society publisher in Web of Science.

I also saw  "New Journals in Education and Psychology: General Trends, Discoverability, and Ubiquitous Journals of the Decade, 2000–2009" in College & Research Libraries. In it, Bernadette Lear found that new journals in education and in psychology from big for-profit publishers were more likely to receive coverage from indexing and abstracting databases and be listed in library collections than new journals from colleges and universities, small for-profits and societies.

One of Lear's other findings was that more than 83% of the new journals in her study that started in 2000-2005 were still publishing in 2010. To put that in perspective, Lear provides a footnote that over half of new magazines fail in the first five years. Heck, the high rate of new business failure is the stuff of urban legend -- though research puts it at about five ninths failing in the first four years.

To me the success rate defies economic logic. How can so many new journals appear year after year with so few failing? Why don't more of them fail? Where would libraries get the money to pay for the new journals? A few big research libraries can find a way to subscribe to new journals (maybe), but college and university libraries aren't faring that well. With the high inflation rate on existing journals, new subscriptions have to be offset by cost cutting somewhere else. Are the costs of production so low that the commercial publishers can release new ones ad infinitum and turn a profit on them from a handful of subscriptions?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Information Literacy Fail

Which of the following statements comes closest to representing the point of view expressed by the American Library Association (ALA) and presented in class or in class readings?
a.    Do No Harm: A library collection should not include any materials that would be harmful to the most-vulnerable members of the community the library serves.
b.    Neutrality: Libraries should carry only materials that have been vetted as fact and should avoid controversial materials.
c.    Freedom to Read: Libraries should include materials that express diverse viewpoints and should oppose censorship.
d.    The Best Thinking: Libraries should carry materials that represent the best thinking on topics and should not carry materials that contain bad, unorthodox, or dangerous ideas.
e.    All of the Above are statements of principle from the ALA.

This semester, I promised myself to spend more time with my students on evaluating information sources. After last semester, when one of the students who earned an A in the class didn't notice any potential bias in a source funded by groups promoting low taxes and reduced government intervention, I thought that I hadn't done enough for them. I felt like I had failed them in this area.

I feel like I've failed again. This semester, we looked at The Freedom Read Statement. I tried to convey to my students that the statement includes emotional language like "censorship," "coerce," and "freedom" and that language conveys a particular point of view. I tried to explain that a site that would take the opposite point of view would not describe what they are doing as censorship or coercion and would use positive language. When I wrote this exam question, I made sure that the answers all had details to make it clear which answers were contrary to the Freedom to Read Statement. Nevertheless, E was a popular answer choice for this exam question. 

What can I do next time to get them to see when sources are not neutral and to see the stands that writers are taking?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Books Coming Back

Today's Daily Egyptian reports that the books in the McLafferty Annex soon will be returned to the Morris Library building. I'm excited about the books coming back. Since my first couple months at SIU, I've looked forward to the day that I no longer have to answer the question, "What part of the building is the McLafferty Annex?" As excited as I am, I try not to grin too widely in front of Dean Carlson.

The McLafferty Annex is just one of the storage facilities that the library has. The renovation and expansion was not designed to be big enough to hold all the materials in those other buildings. "Another concern is two of the storage areas are in horrible shape, he said, causing recent mold problems to affect thousands of books. Although the books have been taken care of this time, Carlson said he worries about more problems it may cause. He said the storage facility on Marion Street has caused the most trouble and is in the worst condition. Carlson said these buildings were only intended for short-term storage." On top of that, with the 6th and 7th floors of the library incomplete, space for new books will run out within a few years.

The dean's hope was that after the books were returned from McLafferty, the library could continue to have McLafferty for storage. Materials in the other storage buildings could be moved to McLafferty Annex building, and the library could vacate the other storage buildings.  Fisheries labs are going to move to the basement of the McLafferty Annex. Other units on campus eying the McLafferty building for their own space needs, including to get out of other buildings that are in horrible shape. Prospects for the library being able to keep the rest of the McLafferty building do not look good.