Reading and thinking

I am having a rather unusual week this week. About five months ago I looked yet again at the rising pile of books and journal articles balancing on the edge of my desk in my office, and sighed because I never seem to get to really go into them. I decided to clear a week in November (generally a little less traffic in my office), to save up some of my dedicated research time, and to plan to read. And boy – have I read! My eyes are red, my fingers are numb with note-taking (I know, old-school). It has so far been wonderful to really dig in.

I almost always have to write to understand what I have read, and I write to organise my thoughts. Most of the blogging about the specific items I have sunk my teeth into will be written about on my Norwegian blog, but I thought I’d share something here, too.

These past years, I have been thinking a lot about standardising information literacy courses. I have thought a lot about pros and cons to these ideas, but I am interested in frameworks as maybe a good way to go. I have been digging into the ACLR Framework for Information Literacy in Higher Education in particular, and I have been writing about it here and there for a couple of years. One of the criticisms toward this framework has been that it is difficult to understand, and much less concrete than the previous ACRL Standards that were widely used in the US. I have been having some difficulties, too. But as I have read more, I am starting to connect more dots.

I have been reading “The Intersection. Where evidence based nursing and information literacy meet” and “The no-nonsense guide to training in libraries” this week. Earlier this year I read more about Paulo Freire and his “Pedagogy of the oppressed”, a classic within critical pedagogy. I also read Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science, an excellent book, btw. If I am trying to connect some ideas together here, it becomes a bit of a pattern. “The Intersection” forced me to think more clearly about the overlap between evidence-based practice (EBP) and information literacy (IL). A big part of IL is to be able to get information and to know what to do with it. That is also a part of “Bad Science”. “The no-nonsense guide” gives you an idea on how to teach IL to a public that may or may not know much about IL, or even to be aware that they do not have enough skills in this field. In “The no-nonsense guide” I got a reminder to use different activities to aid the learning process of a spectre of students, and very practical tips on group work (for example). This goes well with Paulo Freire’s ideas on better power distribution to aid deep learning. And all of these ideas can be found in the ACRL Framework. In “Bad Science” and “The Intersection” I am reminded that authority is not enough to understand the quality of a work. This is a big part of the frame “Authority is constructed and contextual”. Including the student in group discussions is empasised in both “The no-nonsense guide”, “The Intersection” and in the frame “Scholarship as Conversation”.

Learning theories and the whole pedagogy field is a messy affair, with lots of theories pointing in different directions. I still love it.

Reference list:

Allan, B. (2013) The no-nonsense guide to training in libraries. London: Facet Publishing.

Association of College & Research Libraries (2015) Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education. Available from:

Goldacre, B. (2008) Bad science. London: Fourth Estate.

Phelps, S. F., Hyde, L. og Wolf, J. P. (2018) The intersection : where evidence based nursing and information literacy meet. Cambridge, MA, United States: Chandos Publishing, an imprint of Elsevier.


The books I am attacking this week:)

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions”

Girl with appleI am looking into a few journal articles that I was recommended to read on faculty-library collaboration; a subject that has interested me greatly. I have recently written an article about it (in review process now), and when reading these articles I keep coming up against some of the same questions that these authors have asked: Why, when faculty clearly sees the importance of information skills (some studies shows that up to 97 percent of teachers view information skills as very important), are these skills so poorly integrated?

Some authors suggest that faculty find that students should learn information skills by “osmosis” (McGuiness 2006), something that they acquire naturally while being students, instead of skills that needs to be taught. This thought never even occurred to me before reading about it. Interestingly, as Bury (2011) noted, the percentage of faculty who believe that these skills are developed naturally, drops significantly the closer the faculty are to the students (ex. professors vs lecturers). So – I`ve always thought that the reason why information skills are not integrated into the subject contexts/syllabi/course descriptions is that teacher don`t know enough about it or that  they fail to see that it is something that students struggle with, but maybe it is simply a matter of different opinions on how these skills are acquired? I think I need to let this sink in a little..

To be fair, I am in daily contact with dedicated faculty staff that really want to see their students pick up on this and to help the students understand how to find their way through the academic writing jungle. I can respect that we have different opinions on how to do it – but I would really like to be let in on the discussion more.

As DaCosta (2010) wrote: “As with the previous research it was anticipated that  faculty would show a positive response to whether students should be information literate. It is a bit like global warming and energy efficiency: The majority of people feel that we should all do more to “save the planet” but not so many are willing to give up their cars to do so!” (p. 207).

I certainly hope that faculty is not offended by my little epiphany here, but I just had to write up my thoughts here before it all fades away.



Bury, S. (2011) Faculty attitudes, perceptions and experiences of information literacy: a study across multiple disciplines at York University, Canada. I: Journal of Information Literacy, 5(1), s. 45-64.

DaCosta, J. W. (2010) Is there an information literacy skills gap to be bridged? An examination of faculty perceptions and activities relating to information literacy in the United States and England. I: College & Research Libraries, 71(3), s. 203-222.

McGuinness, C. (2006) What faculty think–exploring the barriers to information literacy development in undergraduate education. I: The journal of academic librarianship, 32(6), s. 573-582.

Teaching efforts spring semester 2014

teaching computer lab


I have previously been writing much about how teaching becomes a more important part of my workday, and I thought I just wanted to have a look at the numbers for the spring of 2014 now. So far this semester, I have spent 76,5 hours teaching and tutoring. My boss has spent 52,5 hours (mostly on EndNote) and Giulia has spent two hours. Combined we have spent 131 hours teaching.. so far (this includes preparation time).  The numbers for the same period last year was 136 hours, so basically the same as last year. The previous years we have had a very rapid expansion of our teaching efforts, and from 2005 to 2013 the number of teaching hours increased from 43 hours annually to 261 hours (including preparation time). The numbers seem to be leveling out now, and I think that this is a question of resources available at the library. We have reached a threshold.

The demand for teaching within our subjects have increased, and particularly within tutoring we see that there is an almost endless need. As Alison Head noted in her excellent LILAC14 keynote, librarians will probably be important “context-makers” (in lack of a better word) in the future. I thought about this a lot yesterday when I had three hours teaching for 70 nursing students – in a lecture hall. I was team-teaching with a teacher and we were trying to prepare them for a home exam they will have in a few weeks. When I was talking about how to find information and so on, very few of the students wanted me to demonstrate the databases; they were much more interested in the screening process and how to write their methods chapter, and they said that they wanted to talk about how to form good research questions. I know that this has been issues all the time that I have been working here, but still– I have never heard the students be so explicit about this before. They know how to handle the databases, but they don`t know how to use the results and how to describe what they have done. We have to help them find the words to describe what they are looking for and what they want us to help them with.

LILAC14 – day 2

kaffe og goderi og mac

All set for keynote: with coffee, candy and my Mac

Day 2 of LILAC opened with a keynote from Alison J. Head. This was the moment that I had waited for! I have followed Dr Head`s work for a few years, and I have been very impressed with her research, particularly the scale of it – really sound. The keynote was entitled: “Truth be told: how today`s students conduct research”. I have copious notes from the keynote, but I`ll do my best to summarize here.

Truth be told: How today`s students conduct research (Head)

Head said that her interest in how students conduct research was raised by a senior student asking her how to find research. The student had reached her senior year without knowing how to use the library. This led to Head`s interest and research on how students find and evaluate information, and the study: “Truth be told: how students evaluate and use information in the digital age” (pdf). (I used this report in my master`s thesis, so I knew the report pretty well, but still.. hearing Head talking about it (and her other projects) at LILAC was great.) “What can we learn from students?” asked Head. She had interviewed many students to find out what they do and what they feel when they (students) conduct research. Some findings:

1. Students find it harder to do research now than before. Why? We provide them with so many options and so much information that they are completely overwhelmed by it. The students who come straight from high school find the transition very difficult. Many are anxious, tired, stressed and afraid. 30 percent of first year students don`t come back for their second year of college. Students feel that there is more risk connected with everyday life research, rather than coursework research, mainly because the everyday life research they do usually involves purchasing (eg. new laptop).

2. Students find that getting started on their research assignments is the hardest part (69 percent find it so). They have trouble defining what they are going to write about. The second hardest thing is searching (41 percent).

3. Students lack context. They do not understand the meaning of the words they are supposed to use and they don`t know how to handle it. Google Scholar are the “training wheels” for database searching, and it is the first place to go for many first year students (and others too, in my experience). As Head put it: “It is the simple search for something that is not simple”.

4. Students use the same few “go-to” sources every time. They use curriculum first. They think that professors only provide “top sources” so they don`t have to be critical there (oh boy.. is it a fair argument on my point now to say that curriculum makes students passive??). After curriculum, students go to Google. Students use the three C`s: Convenient, close at hand and current. Strategy and predictability are important factors for the students.

5. “Wikipedia is my presearch tool”. Students use Wikipedia to get a summary, to find definitions and to get started on their assignments. They use Wikipedia for “big picture context”. They like the interface and it helps them get started.

6. Instructors are the students` coaches. The classrooms/ lecture halls are huge, and few students will contact the lecturer after class. Teachers can be very influential when it comes to research skills, but they rarely or never ask the students to go to the library, even the teachers who are library users themselves (wow.. I find this very suprising!). Teachers are angry and frustrated by students` lack of research skills, but they are not willing or have the necessary skills themselves to teach the students these skills.

7. The library is the students` sanctuary. They like the “productivity vibe”, and they use the library computers so that they are are not constantly interrupted by Facebook etc. The students use the library to be efficient, but also to relax.

Head thinks that our future will be to give the students context and to be “translators”. Critical evaluation is a 21 century skill; it is vital for handling the information load.

More publications from Project Information Litearcy (PIL) available at their website, and I recommend having a look there. Very, very interesting!

What can we learn from our first year students (Nikoi)

A positiv transition to higher education has a profound influence on retention. Students are bombarded with information on everything from housing and childcare to social events, finding the best pubs etc., yet something as simple as a reading list for the first semester is not in the information packages. What do we know about the students and their knowledge on IL when they arrive as first years? What expectations do they have regarding their academic work? What expectations do they have regarding the support systems at their institution? Research done at Aberystwyth (sp?) University suggest that students there felt confident in information gathering, but not academic writing. They feel confident that they know how to listen to lecturers, take notes etc. Many feel insecure about presenting findings for other students, but most feel confident about teamwork. Students use Google and their instructors to find information. The library (but strangely enough not librarians.. what does that mean, exactely?) comes high up on the list. Students were familiar with concepts like plagiarism, copyright and bibliography, but that does not mean that they know how to handle it in real life research. Conclusions: What students know when they enter college/university varies greatly: they think they have good cognitive skills, but they know they have bad academic writing skills, they know little about scholarly sources, and they know nothing about learning management systems.

Nikoi used the terms “cold knowledge, warm knowledge, hot knowledge”, where cold knowledge is something like a library guide on paper. What the students want is hot knowledge; knowledge in a context with people they can talk to.

At Aberystwyth (sp?) University they use the MAMA and PAPA network for first year students. PAPA= pre-application, admission, preparation and arrival. When students arrive: MAMA= meeting, anxiety, managing change and academic work.


Teachmeet was organised a little differently this year. The presenters sat at tables and the delegates ran (yes, ran!) around to the different tables to hear 5 minute presentations of different projects done the last year. The themes varied from using annoted bibliographies, to introducing Summon, to “research courts”. Teachmeet is a great way to discover what is going on in libraries now. You only get small snippets, but you are free to contact the presenters afterwords to get more information. It is a great way to get ideas to projects, great and small. I don`t have many notes from this session, as running around doesn`t leave much time for notetaking. I`ll just mention here two projects I would like to know more about: “Research court in session” and “Improving IL through annoted bibliography assignments: a collaboration between library and faculty”. I`ll follow up on these later.

I missed the first half of the session “Crossing the line with the students: is that you or the other lady?”, so I never really got what that was about. My last session of the day was “Hidden vegetables: a collaborative approach to embedding information and academic literacies in the curriculum”. I think I left by brain behind at Teachmeet, because I have three sentences of notes from the last session, and they don`t really make any sense. I am sorry! I should apologize to the speakers for not paying enough attention, but there are so many good ideas to digest at LILAC – I am still not recovered completely:)

Lovely conference dinner at Cutler`s Hall Thursday night. Really special place, and I wish I knew more about it. Congratulations, Jane Secker, with the Information Literacy award 2014. So very well deserved!

cutlers hall sheffield dinner

Photosync image of the conference dinner at Cutler`s Hall in Sheffield

LILAC14 – day 1

Winter garden in SheffieldBeing able to attend a conference or two a year is a great privilege, especially knowing that so many librarians struggle with an almost impossible budget that leaves them unable to attend any such arenas. Whenever I feel a little demotivated, perhaps due to stress or overload, I think of my next conference. This year, the LILAC conference couldn`t have come at a better time. It has been a crazy, crazy busy year, and that has led to less blogging, less learning and more repetitive teaching for me. I needed something to inspire me again..

LILAC (Librarians` information literacy annual conference) is, as the name suggests, an annual conference for librarians involved with information literacy. The last time I attended was in 2012, and I think I walked around with a big smile on my face the entire time. I still think of some of the things I learned at that conference. I was so excited when I got the funding for LILAC again this year (..though getting to Sheffield proved to be an ordeal..).

Anyway. Some notes and thoughts from day 1 of the conference:

Supporting information literacy: Reflective pedagogic planning (Sen & McKinney)

Using reflection as a tool to change and improve teaching practice. Too often, we focus on the negative experiences – the things that did not go as planned or that did not work, but that is not necessarily all we should focus on. Donald Schön wrote about “reflection in action” and “reflection on action”. “Reflection in action” is about changing things as you teach. It can be when you see that students are confused or overwhelmed, or when they don`t understand what you are talking about – you make a change and explain things in a different way or use an assignment or similar. “Reflection on action” refers to the post-teaching assessment. We can learn from both of these (“in action” and “on action”). Reflection is a good way to learn, and it can help us manage personal and professional development, stress etc.

Inquiry-based learning is student centered learning; learning by asking questions. It is based on constructivism and it can be a good tool in information literacy training, e.g. by analysing an article they are interested in, interviewing fellow students about their information needs, searching and presenting etc.

Sen and McKinney let us (the delegates) try one of their reflective exercises. We were handed a sheet with three boxes. In box 1, we were supposed to describe a recent teaching experience, pure descriptive, in 5 minutes. Then discuss our experience with the person sitting next to us. Afterwords, in box 2, we could reflect on our experience and try to think about what happened, how it made us feel, how it affected others and what we learned from the experience. We could also write something about what changes we would like to do and what impact these changes could have. These reflections were shared with the person sitting next to us, and the other person could ask questions or share his/her own thoughts on your reflections. Box 3 was to help us think about inquiry-based learning (IBL) by choosing one or two aspects of IBL and trying to identify where improvements could be made (still based on the experience from box 1). It was a very interesting exercise.

Sen and McKinney talked about how important it is that we teach our students to really reflect, because most of them (and us) only ever write descriptively. Many therefore, remain on the surface of things instead of digging deep. Reflection can help us discover the deeper issues of teaching and learning. Jenny Moon`s (2007) model of reflection  shows four levels: Descriptive writing, descriptive writing with some reflection, reflective writing 1 and reflective writing 2. The goal is to get to the top level (reflective writing 2).

I think I`ll start using Sen and McKinney`s template with the three boxes a little more, even start a reflective journal perhaps – just to track my own teaching more. Maybe I`ll discover something that I can change and improve? I think so.

Moon, J. (2007) Getting the measure of reflection. In: Journal of Radiotherapy (6), pp. 191-200

Publication without tears (Secker & Jackson)

Jane Secker (who won the Information Literacy Award this year, btw. Well done!) from London School of Economics and editor of  Journal of Information Literacy (JIL) and Cathie Jackson from JIL talked about how to get things published in JIL. It was a very good session for those of us who are thinking about maybe writing something for JIL. Main points made by Secker and Jackson were:

  • Read the author guidelines
  • Make sure that your article is related to information literacy
  • Originality is important
  • Proof read before submission
  • Blank our your name, name of institution etc. before submission (due to peer review process)
  • Use relevant literature and place your own work in that scope + reference right
  • Use the template that is posted on their website, remove EndNote formatting etc. before submission

Keynote: Bill Thompson

The title of the keynote was “Information science and the 10 cultures”. The title alludes to the old joke: “There are only 10 kinds of people in the world; those who understand binary and those who don`t”. (10 is binary for the arabic number 2, for those who are in the second group here).  I must admit this keynote went a little over my head, or maybe just in one ear and out the other. Thompson did ask some fundamental questions, though, like “Who decides our future?”. Thompson talked about the industrial revolution vs. the scientific revolution, and used Snow as an example of someone who foresaw that the scientific revolution would be even more important to the human race than the industrial revolution. Thompson made the point that we all should understand code (and referred to the Heartbleed fiasco). We don`t all have to be programmers, Thompson explained, but we all have to understand the basics so that we understand what happens with our personal information etc. Those who rule the bits, rule the world, Thomson said.

Plagiarism school 101 (Earp)

At Kent State University in Ohio they have started a “plagiarism school” (shouldn`t it be the “anti-plagiarism school”, btw?:), a program done on individual basis for all who get caught plagiarising. There is communication between teacher, student and librarian. The teacher can decide whether to let the student hand in the assignment again, fail the student for the assignment, the course or the semester. The “plagiarism school” consists of a session where the student is taken through the university policy on plagiarism, a review of the paper that the student had handed in, common mistakes (citations etc), case studies (help the students see what is considered plagiarism and what is not) and they get “homework” (usually correction a couple of pages of the assignment that they had handed in or analysing a couple of articles and writing a reflective essay about it).

Many librarians ask themselves if they are qualified to handle these kind of courses. Some are ok with teaching how to avoid plagiarism, while others have reservations. Many are also asking how much time librarians should spend on this, because if there are many students each semester it can become very time consuming (as it is done on individual level – due to privacy issues).

Earp noted that many teachers use plagiarism charges as an excuse for punishment, and that many hardly ever mentions it in class other than as a punitive measure. “If it`s that important, why don`t they talk to us about it?”, a student had asked. Good question.

Evidence-based instruction (Carbery & Leahy)

Carbery and Leahy wanted to find out more about the impact their instruction had on their students, and they used rubrics and citation analysis. They wanted to base their assessment on real student coursework (=authentic assessment) instead of standardised tests and worksheets made by librarians.

Carbery and Leahy have made a checklist that use for analysing the students`bibliographies, and they discovered that students use a large variety of library resources, but that they rely very heavily on online sources, and they do not know the difference between a primary and a secondary source.

The main problem is not to find things, but what to do with the information. We can spend less time showing them how to use the databases and more time teaching them how to use the information they find.


And this concluded my first day at LILAC14. The other blog posts from the conference will be shorter – promise!

Very nice, informal networking event on Wednesday night:)

Expectations: the freshman perspective on entering college

This morning I read an interesting blog post about the freshman experience concerning the amount of information they have to handle. Most of us who have been studying for a while and perhaps even worked in a university/college have experienced what the information flow can be like, and most of us have adopted some sort of coping mechanism. This is not so for the freshmen. Most of them are overwhelmed by the information suddenly available to them, particularly for students coming straight from high school.

I have never liked the term “digital natives”. There are several reasons: 1. there is no such thing as a homogenous generation. In my generation there are computer geniuses and computer illiterates. I suspect that it is the same with every generation since the mid 1960s at least. 2. the fact that most young people can type faster than they can write by hand doesn`t mean that they can handle information in a critical and ethical way. 3. the fact that we have named a generation (or two) “digital natives” makes the teachers (most of whom would not fall in to this category) believe that students have information skills they do not possess. They do not teach the students how to deal with searching in databases, evaluating sources and using software like Word, EndNote (and similar) – because they expect them to know it before they enter college. And while some students may know how to use styles etc. in Word – most don`t! That is my experience anyway. This fall, I spent the better part of two weeks formatting Word-documents for students in a particular course.

My point is that these students are stuck between a rock and a hard place, because we expect them to know more than they do, and when they get here there is nobody to teach them how to do it. It can be as easy as showing them how to use Word a little (just a little) smarter, how to search two databases of real importance, talking about how the research system works. But making this happen we need first to acknowledge that it is a problem, then finding out what the students need, then deciding who will fix it. For some groups of students, a quick video will do. Others may need tutor sessions, lectures, assignments, support and comforting to strengthen their “computer self-esteem”.

I know that I keep hacking away on this subject, but just as learning to read is the basis of almost everything else one is to learn in school, I think that learning how to handle information is the basis for mastering college/university.

Read the blogpost I mentioned, though. Well worth the time! (Oh, and have a look at Project Information Literacy (PIL) publications. Interesting stuff!)

New information literacy survey from Credo

planet med informasjonskoderA small note in “Research Information” (Apr/May 2013) caught my attention. “Students lack basic information skills, says survey” was the heading. My first reaction to this was “Well – duh!” – nothing new here. I still found the original press release from Credo (the company that performed the survey) and I have signed up for a copy of the survey results (to be published in April).

Having taught information skills in this college for almost eight years I know I shouldn`t be surprised at anything here, but.. the survey found that 46 percent of the 1500+ respondents of the survey admitted looking for the Copyright symbol – as they used it for determining the accuracy of a source. Whaaaat?? (I am less surprised by the fact that over half of the respondents were unfamiliar with the purpose and basic characteristics of scholarly journals.)

Anyway – I look forward to read the rest of the results. Of course, Credo is a commercial company trying to sell solutions, so analysis and conclusions may be tainted by that, but still.. the data could be of interest.

“Engaging first-year students in meaningful library research”

I finally got around to reading “Engaging first-year students in meaningful library research: A practical guide for teaching faculty” by Molly R. Flaspohler last week. Although I found nothing groundbreaking about it, it was a good read. Many of the issues presented in the book were well-known, but there is some comfort in knowing that others struggle with the same things.

Many students enter higher education without basic knowledge, like books have indexes and that there are different levels of academic journals etc. This means that students fall behind from the first day of school. Assignments are seen as something they do just to please the teacher, not as part of a learning process. Many show very little interest in research and learning processes.

Younger students, in the book often referred to as “Millenials” (i.e. “digital natives”, “gen Y” etc.), underestimate how much time it takes to read, evaluate, reflect, and effieciently use information. They do not use library databases, even when specifically asked to do so by their teachers, and they end up doing random Google searches. The library courses do not have the desired effect because students expect research to be quick and easy.

Questions we have often heard in the library:

  • Can you find a couple of sources for my bibliography? I have already written the paper, but I need a couple of sources..
  • Is it OK that all information for my paper was taken from the same website?

The lack of critical thinking abilities becomes a real problem for many. Students need thorough feedback on their texts and it is important that teachers and more advanced learners (like student peers) engage themselves in this process. We have to stop thinking that the new generation students have research skills just because they are tech savvy. (How true!)

Librarians often become the link between the student and the teacher. The students want the librarian to choose a topic for them, interpret assignments and formulate research questions. Teachers must predict the students` research problems – otherwise there will only be frustrations on all parties.  Most students have never been exposed to research before entering higher education. They are used to text books, suggested reading lists and lecture notes. They do not think they need an information seeking strategy, they only have a coping strategy. The students must be exposed to situations were they need these strategies. Practice makes perfect.

The destiny of the academic library depends on faculty staff. Success depends on collaboration. Teachers and librarians have different strenghts and weaknesses, and we need to understand eachothers roles better.

“The information literacy program should be introduced as an enterprise-wide solution to an enterprice-wide problem. To cathch the attention of faculty and academic administrators, information literacy must be a part of the academic effort rather than just a toolbox of skills that students learn in order to use the library” (p. 36)

So – how do we train the next generation of students? How do we get them to make sense of all the data? Students have a hard time asking relevant and fruitful questions, and to know the difference between knowledge, information and meaning. They generally assess information from three criteria: the source is easy to understand, the source is easy to find and the source is available.

Another intersting thing is that students do not see that information skills are important in their lives. They tend to think that everyone below a certain age is born with these skills and that everything can be self-taught.

Flaspohler uses Carol Kuhlthau`s model of the information search process to illustrate how students work with the information gathering, and how the students cognitive, affective and physical processes work during these steps. There is a lot of insecurity during the first steps of the process, and Flaspohler writes that these early stages are perfect for teacher and librarian intervention.

We must give the students assignments that feel relevant and meaningful in the students` lives, but it is hard to do because their backgrounds and previous experiences vary so much.

Flaspohler suggests several different pedagogical approaces to teaching:

  • Cognitive apprenticeships
  • Communities of practice
  • Discovery learning
  • Goal-based scenarios
  • Problem-based learning
  • Situated learning

The main topic of the book, however, is that collaboration between librarians and teachers is crucial to make any sort of impact on student learning when it comes to information skills. We need to form better networks and both formal and informal collaboration arenas.


DeadlineThis blog has “suffered” under my heavy work load this semester. It is not always easy to make the time to write down thoughts and experiences, but I constantly think of new things that I want to blog about. I still think that it is a great way to digest impressions and experiences, and to learn more from the things that I do.

It is all about priotitizing, of course. Making the time. I feel the same way about all my other projects and other work stuff, too. That is why I smiled when I read this blog post by Meredith Farkas. Clearly, setting priorities is an issue for librarians.

I have often asked myself, and collegues, what we should emphasize and who we should prioritize. Should we try to gain access to teachers and try to improve their information skills, and hope that they will somehow transfer some of this know-how to students? Or should we try to reach as many first year students as possible in order to make them as self-reliant as we can so that they can manage their studies better right from the start? Should we focus on the PhD-students seeing as they are our future researchers, and to some degree teachers? We cannot reach them all..

The current strategy has been to try to reach as many as possible, with few other criteria than “they asked for help”. I wouldn`t go as far as saying that it doesn`t help, because I think it does – to those who get help, of course. But it isn`t enough. We need a better strategy to handle 1) the increasing size of the student body and 2) the increasing number of things that librarians are asked to do. As to the first: Since I started working at GUC in 2005, the number of students at this college has more than doubled. We think that this is great, but it also puts pressure on our services. The second: I am very happy that I am more than a curator of books. I don`t think that it would have suited me well to be limited to that. I am a teacher, a tutor, a web master (well, sort of.. for the library, anyway..) and a project participant/administrator. The library has become the place where students ask for help with software, copy/print, and how to structure their academic papers and reports as well as the more traditional referencing and information seeking questions. At times the demand is so great that we struggle help everyone and keep the general services running.

Here are some ideas that I have about setting priorities:

  • I think it`s time to focus on the teachers, espesially those who teach large classes (e.g. nursing students). I will try to get a course up and running as soon as possible, and just hope that those who need it most will turn up/ show interest.
  • I think we should emphazise our video tutorials more. I know that there is some dispute on whether or not this works, but I think the students like to be independent and self-reliant, and the videos can be especially helpful to off-campus students. It is not the answer to every problem, but at least we have somewhere to “send” the students when we have staff shortage or peak times at the library
  • We need to stop thinking that the “digital natives” are able to master all IT related issues themselves. They are not! They may be application savvy, but many are not IT savvy. And quite a few of them have never used their computers for academic work, believe it or not. We need to teach them how to do it.

LILAC12: a conference for teaching librarians (day 1)

There are several good conferences for academic librarians out there, Librarian`s Information Literacy Annual Conference (LILAC) is just one of them. This week I attended this conference for the first time. Travelling to Glasgow was a little tiresome with a long stop-over in London. It was a really intensive programme and I was unfortunately not able to experience much of Glasgow, but I managed to have afternoon tea at the Willow Tree. Hurrah!
So anyway, back to business.. I was really impressed by LILAC. It was such a focussed conference and I think all the sessions were well suited to teaching librarians. I hope I will be able to return later.
We (teaching librarians) all seem to be facing many of the same problems:
  • One-shot instructions that are detached from the academic setting
  • We are boring ourselves and the students trying to fit too much information into
  • these short sessions
  • Getting good collaborations going with faculty staff
  • Making good decisions about what tasks we can let go (prioritizing)
  • Managing an ever increasing work load

There is some comfort in knowing that there are many of us dealing with the same problems, but the main thing is that so many great librarians are working on solving some of these issues. I went to a lot of lectures these days, and I had the pleasure of hearing about big research projects, papers and longitudal studies as well as those small projects and tips and tricks that just makes your work flow a little smoother. Even though I cannot write about all the lectures, I will present a few here.

Pre-conference workshop

I attended one of the pre-conference workshops: “This house believes that librarians and their services are the barrier to information literacy”. Although the presenters were a little too intense for my liking, the workshop was interesting. We sat in groups and talked about the barriers to IL and some possible solutions to the problems. Some problems that were mentioned were:

  • We use a language not understood by our patrons
  • Who are we speaking to? We need to assess our audience in each setting
  • Who are we supposed to be teaching? Should we “ditch” the students in favour of the teachers?
  • Many librarians feel lost in a pedagogical setting, and feel uncomfortable being a teacher.
  • We are too dependent on individuals. We build personal relationships to a particular teacher, and when either the teacher or the librarian leaves the workplace, we have to start all over again building a new relationship

Some solutions we talked about:

  • We have to put ourselves in the students` shoes. What are their needs?
  • All teaching librarians must have some pedagogical training
  • There is a need for both a policy on IL (a top-bottom approach) and a bottom-up approach where the initiatives come from the patrons and librarians
  • We have to participate at conferences where the teachers and academics are. It is important to get out more from our own sphere.


The keynote, held by Megan Oakleaf, was very interesting. She taked about how we must take a more holistic view of the entire student experience and integrate IL in the courses (hear, hear!). The title of her keynote was “Play the ACE: Assessing, communicating and expanding the institutional impact of Information Literacy”. The focus has moved from the collections to how the collections are used, Oakleaf said. The libraries do not exist in a vacuum and there is always a context where the library must belong. We cannot just believe that things are a certain way – we must prove our worth and our value. That means that we must define some goals, work by them and assess ourselves to see if we met our goals – and these goals must be aligned to the institution`s goals. I think this is very important, and I love the fact that this now seems to really “sink in” in the community. We do not know enough about how the students learn their information skills, what they learn and if their skills are transferable.

Oaklef gave us a form where we could have a look at different learning goals and the means to get there, and we were asked to answer what we thought had impact. It was a useful tool, and I think I`ll introduce that here at GUCLibrary.

Megan Oakleaf`s form on impact

Megan Oakleaf`s form on impact

Oakleaf also taked about a report she wrote for the ACRL on the value of academic librarianship. The report can be found here.

The roving librarian

When the librarians at University of Huddersfield realized that the students weren`t coming to the library, they thought “Well then, we`ll come to them”, and that was when the idea of the roving librarians were born”. The librarians got tablets and positioned themselves at the students` coffee shop etc. They discovered that they suddenly could contact non-library users in a new way. They needed a logo and had a designer make “Roving librarian” logo that they use in marketing, e.g. “The roving librarian will be at the Street Café at 2 pm on Wednesday” – “Bringing information skills to you” was the byline.

The librarians mentioned some success criterias:

  • Timing and place (a cafe or any other place where it is easy to meet students and easy to talk)
  • Regular times (students know when to expect to meet a librarian)
  • Have an opening phrase to get the conversation startet (e.g. “What do you think about Summon?”)
  • Have some free stuff to give them (candy, pens..)
  • The librarians must have some understanding of the subject areas
  • Make it personal!
  • Walking in pairs – get help from collegues

Reading lists – time for a reality check?

That was the question asked by librarians at University of Northampton. They analyzed reading lists at their university, and the findings where discouragingly bad. Only 42 % of the information given on reading lists were correct – i.e. lots of “bad information” out there. 23 % of the books where out of date. 25 % of the books where available in e-format, but only 3 % were labelled as e-books, and 73% of items on the reading lists were books. The average number of items on the reading lists were 35,5 items. Studens find the amount daunting, and teachers think it`s hard to get students to use other sources than the ones on the reading lists.

The librarians at the university re-developed a couple of reading lists and made them annoted, using symbols to label the e-content and “staff picks” (the items specially recommended by the teachers). Some may argue that this is to “spoon-feed” the students, but these reading lists were used by first-year students and they needed a place to start. This was just meant as a starting point for the students, and the librarians observed that it is possible to learn information skills with help from such a reading list.

Interesting lecture. I wish I had the time for a similar project here!

The last lecture of the day (for me) was:

Web scale discovery

Librarians from the University of Sheffield talked about what we want from discovery services. We want:

  • Single search entries
  • Good, modern GUI
  • Enriched content (like book covers etc)
  • Recommended content
  • Etc.

There are some pros and cons to one-stop information shopping. Is it just “dumbing down” the information search process, or is it a way for librarians to use more time on advanced searching instead of helping patrons with simple searches?

John Dove from Credo talked about the different kinds of reference searches: 1. the known item searches and 2. the exploratory searches. The exploratory searches are searches where the students lack the knowledge on where to get started and lack the terminology to know what to search for/understand the retrieved lists.

The question is: even though we are trying to make it easier for the students to search, are we not in fact just adding another layer? Are we making searching easier? It was a question that I took with me out from the lecture hall, and that I don`t know the answer to. I guess it depends on what kind of search you are doing? Maybe discovery services can be great for exploratory searches, but annoying for a known items search?

Anyway, it was a great day with lots of input, and I hope I get time to do some follow-ups here. I`ll at least try to read the report that Megan Oakleaf wrote for the ACRL. I think it will be worth the effort!