Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Lecturing & Participation

Today I observed an instruction session taught by one of my colleagues. She had fifty minutes to talk about how to do research and search the library catalog. While she said otherwise, I thought she looked and acted in a composed manner. She did not hurry through the material or raise her voice unnecessarily. She frequently asked the students if they had any questions and sincerely wanted to help them.

I liked her approach. She began by talking about her experience in doing research, particularly how she begins a project by gathering background information in dictionaries or encyclopedias. She brought reference materials for all to see, emphasizing the importance of gathering basic information. These resources can really be useful, because they generally include a list of bibliographic references that they can then go look up for more information. By looking in the reference materials, students can also find buzzwords they had not considered previously, and then they can use these keywords in their searches.

As she explained the importance of gathering background information in the early stages of research she drew an inverted triangle on the board. The broad part of the triangle represents the background-finding stage, and then students can start consulting books for more specific information. She did not write in the point of the triangle, but I speculate that students could consult articles for even more specific information. In the next class on Friday she will teach this same group about searching in the databases for articles. Of course, she might consider the student's thesis to be the point in the triangle, but I like the idea of articles as it most nearly matches the other options, that is reference materials and books.

Anyway, the instructional session went rather well if you ask me. In the future perhaps I could remember to go a little slower or talk a little quieter. My colleague mentioned how she was walking by the instruction room a few years ago, and she could hear the library instructor talking so high, fast, and so loud that she determined students could possibly be learning as well as they could otherwise.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Invisible Web

In the instruction sessions I like to talk to students about the "invisible web" or what some people call the "deep web." Instructors ask me to tell their students the difference between a simple Google search and a search in the databases. Basically, search engines can send out "crawlers" or "spiders" to gather links to their servers. They input this information into their own database, so a search on Google is actually a search on their database. They rank their results by relevance using an algorithm that determines to some extent how easily accessible or easy it would be to find a certain page. Theoretically, the most authoritative sources on a specific topic would have the most links to their web page. This does not happen in reality as many individuals or businesses create tons of links to their pages, so that their pages will climb the list of Google results. Some political or television persons tell people to embed links into their web sites to push their agendas. Several years ago, such a prank was pulled as tons of links included "miserable failure" in its html code with a link to the White House home page. Sometimes these are called Google Bombs:
Additionally, web search engines must follow internet protocols. This means that if one of their crawlers comes upon a web site with a robot extension, that robot is required to ignore that web site. Search engines do not have the authority to read and retrieve everything on the internet. Some information belongs to publishers and authors and must be accessed with a user name and password, which incidentally requires a fee. Databases house information that costs lots of money; perhaps it should be stated that the information cost a lot of money in producing and the publishers/authors must be compensated accordingly. Academic libraries, therefore, purchase multiple subscriptions to online databases to enhance the research efforts of the students and scholars they serve. Tuition money from students helps to pay for these databases, so students should take advantage of the vast amounts of knowledge that can be found in these databases.
Databases include newspaper articles, book reviews, popular magazine articles, and scholarly articles. College students should endeavor to find the most accurate and relevant information for their assignments. Often the most authoritative information can be found in the scholarly or peer-reviewed articles. Scholars critique other scholars' work before it can get published. Scholars that submit their work often must edit their work before it can be published. This rigorous activity helps to promote the advancement of truth and knowledge.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

New Librarian Mistakes

At the Reference Desk today I feel like I made a few mistakes that affected my confidence. One of the mistakes was that I did not smile as much as I should have, but the mistakes made it more difficult to smile. One of the patrons asked for help in sending an article they found in Google Scholar to their email account. They kept saying that it would not let them do this. I suggested that they copy and paste the URL and send that to themselves in their email account. She did not seem pleased. Later on I figured that she could probably save the page to the computer's desktop and send it as an attachment to herself, although I tried this out myself at one of the Reference computers, and it did not work. Frustrating! I still wanted to suggest this to the patron, but I perceived/imagined she was not pleased with my help, so I hesitated too long and she left. She was talking with her colleagues [they seemed to be a part of the same class], so I didn't want to interrupt at that point. What can I do better in the future? Hopefully, I can learn from my mistakes and better help others in the future.

Another student needed an MLA handbook for writing theses and dissertations. I looked in the catalog, but I could only find the one that is for undergraduates. I did walk with her to find the MLA Handbooks in the stacks, partly in hopes that we could find the graduate MLA handbook. She came back after a few minutes, and by then I had looked on the shelves behind the Reference Desk to find the most recent edition of the MLA Handbook, so I handed her that one. She said she would take it up to the second floor.

My colleague at the desk had been helping someone else at the same time, otherwise I would have asked for her input. Once she had a free moment I asked her about this, because I knew that another MLA book existed specifically for graduate students and that it was a hard-bound version. Of course, my experienced colleague knew that this hard-bound book existed also, and she knew it was not shelved next to the MLA Handbook. Now I know it is the MLA Style Manual shelved with the PNs, whereas the MLA Handbook can be found with the LBs.

The most embarrassing thing is that I have used the MLA Style Manual before [at least I should have used it frequently when writing my MA thesis].

On the bright side I answered a few questions correctly, but these seemed to be more on the directional questions side of things. Any suggestions, comments, and encouragements would be welcome.