Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Teaching Classification Systems

Today I get the privilege of teaching middle school students the difference between the Dewey Decimal Classification system and the Library of Congress Classification system. I plan on talking about a few basic differences. Dewey uses only numbers and, according to my colleague, is limited to only 100 classes. It seems to me that it has 1000 classes, but I could be mistaken. The Library of Congress has at least 676 classes; with each letter of the alphabet available twice that's 26 times 26, or 676.

In reading Ken Bain's book What the Best College Teachers Do, he asserts that the best teachers ask big-picture questions that are meaningful to students. These questions are often multi-disciplinary in nature. With this in mind it seems like a questions like: "What's your world view?" or "How do you look at and organize the world of knowledge?" The best teachers stimulate even more questions, so students leave with more questions than they came with. They do not just dump information off on the students and expect them to memorize it.

How do these classification systems influence our thinking? How do they influence what we find? By arranging books into topics, the user can find a book they like on the shelf in the library and then he or she can browse the shelves around that book. Many criticize both of these systems for being out-of-date with today's society and anglo-saxon oriented. These probably are valid criticisms, but the money involved in starting all over would be very large indeed.

The Library of Congress resembles Thomas Jefferson's collection as he donated his books to the Library of Congress after their library burned in the War of 1812. I intend to show a few websites, such as the following:
When I have more time I would like to update this post and talk more about the web sites selected here.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Instruction Meeting on Knowing Your Audience

Today I conducted an instruction meeting with my colleagues, and we talked about knowing your audience. After talking about a few laundry-list items, librarians split into groups of two and read two paragraphs each from my blog post "Information-Literacy Audiences." A spokesperson presented their ideas, comments, and observations to the rest of the group.

One librarian suggested that it is a good idea to sit in on a visiting instructor's information-literacy session that is held within our library instruction room. A librarian, whose job it is to keep up-to-date with the library's information resources, can correct any misinformation given during the session. Librarians tend to know more specific building-related information, such as hours, circulation policies, printing issues, etc. They also study the databases in greater depth and can provide insights into manipulating their interfaces better.

When we talked about the instructor who had attended a graduate-level, library-instruction session and complained about not having adequate time to conduct hands-on research during the session, we also considered why that may have happened. These graduate research classes usually occur in their first semester as graduate students, and many graduate students are not traditional students, meaning they are coming back to school after years of working outside the realm of academe. If such a graduate class includes more of these "non-traditional" students, they may need a more basic library-instruction session. In this case, the librarian is more than justified in adapting to the majority's needs.

We briefly discussed how a teacher might engage a student who feels they already know the material being presented. These students may put up barriers that prevent them from learning anything useful or different from the librarian giving instruction. One colleague suggested that getting those students to talk or explain something to the rest of the class would be useful. If a student feels comfortable explaining the use of Boolean operators in a search statement, let them teach their peers how it's done. Creating a group activity can also help these students understand why a librarian might cover so many things they already know, since the group activity will allow them to see that their peers do not know as much as they do. Of course, engaging students in group work requires some forethought and preparation, but I have found it to be useful in several ways.

When students collaborate with each other in groups, they tend to speak up more as they are more comfortable talking with a few people than presenting their ideas to an entire class (generally speaking). In a class where few people respond to questions or invitations for comments, group work can liven things up and oil the rusty parts, get their creative juices flowing. A lecture frequently produces the opposite effects. Peers identify with and trust each other more than an "authority figure." Group work may not be advisable in every situation, but sometimes it's just the thing a teacher needs to pull from their bag of tricks/tools.

To some extent, our instruction session may have been a therapy session in that we shared some personal experiences from within the trenches as library instructors. However, these experiences raised some important questions as well as confirmed the fact that teaching does not come natural to anyone. What do you do to help those students who feel like they know everything, because they have attended a number of library-instruction sessions? What do you do with unrealistic expectations? How basic can you get with complex stuff?

These last two questions deserve a few moments of consideration. Some instructors communicate a long list of things their students should know about the library, but librarians feel that to cover everything on the list in a 50-minute session does not do the students justice. Many of the databases are complex. Colleagues recommended that a second session of instruction and hands-on research be proffered to the instructor. At the least it seems appropriate for librarians to warn incoming instructors that all they want their students to know may be a bit much for a one-shot library session.

Anyway, we had a fruitful discussion that benefited most, if not all, present in the instruction meeting today. A colleague suggested that we can always ask instructors to send us topics that interest their students and even the names of the texts they require as reading assignments in their courses. This information can be useful in helping library instructors prepare relevant searches to demonstrate and increase the value of the instruction session as a whole.

Finally, I wanted to mention some jokes I shared at the beginning of the class. (1) "Why did the teacher need dark glasses? . . . Because her students were so bright." (2) "Why are fish so smart? . . . Because they live in schools." My motive in telling the jokes was to lighten the mood and get their attention at the beginning of the meeting, and I think it worked in spite of my poor delivery lack of experience in conveying humor. Hopefully, I can continue to incorporate humor in future teaching situations.

I found these two jokes at the following website: I really likes their reasoning for including humor in the library-instruction classroom: "We like jokes because they make our minds stretch to places we didn’t expect to go but when we get there it’s a pleasant surprise. That is the way we want you to think about the library. (Not as a joke but a place for pleasant surprises!)"

Yes, the library can and ought to be full of pleasant surprises always.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Bookmarking Web Sites

Have you ever wanted to keep a record of the useful web sites you have discovered? Do you wish to share with friends, family, and colleagues the sites you visit with greater ease? Perhaps you have already begun to use the bookmarking feature that Mozilla Firefox offers or the Favorites menu in your Internet Explorer browser. The social networking web site, (, allows its anyone to create an account that allows them to record and organize all the sites they visit. These sites can be accessed via this account from any computer in the world that has access to the internet.

For a tutorial in a slide-presentation format go to this web site: Many find that the help page in answers all the questions for getting started:

How do I get started?

1. Go to and register for an account.

2. It just requires a username, your full name, and a password.

3. Install the icons on the task bar of your internet browser. Click here to learn more about how to install icons. If you use Internet Explorer go here: For Mozilla Firefox users go here:

How do I use the icons?

1. The icon shaped in the form of a checkered square takes you directly to your account. Here you can browse other peoples’ bookmarks, organize your bookmarks with tags, and post new web sites to your account with the “post” link.

2. The “tag” icon allows you to save a web site address to your account as you work on the internet. When you return to your account you can see how many other persons have “tagged” the sites you have “tagged.”

What is tagging?

1. Tagging allows you to organize your saved web sites by describing them with keywords that you think are most appropriate.

2. Your “tags” or keyword descriptors appear as an alphabetical list along the right-hand side of your account or as a “tag cloud,” which looks more like a paragraph. Tag clouds give you the opportunity to visualize which tags you use the most, because the most-frequently-used tags appear in a larger, bolder font than the rest.

3. When entering your tags remember to exclude commas between your terms, otherwise those words will always appear with commas. If you want to keep two words together as one descriptor, you can do one of several things: do not enter a space between the terms, enter a period between the two terms, abbreviate the terms, etc.

How do I let others see the web sites I have saved to my account?

1. Give them the following link: This link can be included in an email or an IM. It’s that quick and simple.

2. Let them know your username, so they can type it into their browser-address box. To view mine just click on the following link: If you only want them to view a few subject specific web sites you can even give them the following link: For a real example, look at some of the web sites I have “tagged” or described as “books”: Note: if they do some clicking within your account they will have the opportunity to see the rest of your bookmarks.

3. Your friends can create their own account and “add” you to their “network” and vice versa, so you can each view what the other is finding on the internet at any given time.

If I want to browse everyone’s bookmarks within the whole system, how do I do that?

1. A search box appears near the top of your account and to the right-hand side. Enter a topic of interest and click the “Search” button to find other sites tagged by the rest of the community.

2. A drop-down menu allows you to choose if you only want to search among your bookmarks, delicious, or the entire web.

Where do I go to manage my account?

1. Click on the “settings” link to delete account, rename tags, delete tags, bundle tags, import bookmarks, integrate your delicious bookmarks with your Facebook account, send bookmarks daily to your blog, etc.

2. Also remember to use the “help” link to answer any other questions you may have.

Monday, March 10, 2008

How to Bookmark Web Sites Using a Account

If you have never heard of online bookmarking, remember you're not the only one. It's still relatively new. With that said, it's really great as a tool for recording your wanderings and purposeful searches of the vast internet that continues to grow by the second. Most internet browsers, such as Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox, allow their internet users to save their favorite web sites, which makes it easier to find and/or access them at a later date. Instead of having to type in the web-site address [URL] each time, or conduct a Google search, all you have to do is click on your "bookmark," or link under your list of "Favorites," and off you go to that site.

One of the clear advantages to using an online bookmarking system such as is that you can access your favorite web sites from any computer or electronic device that accesses the internet anywhere in the world. Additionally, you are not limited to a set number of bookmarks. An internet browser typically allows you to organize your bookmarks into folders, but sometimes that can even look awkward or inhibit you in the number of bookmarks you save. A account [official address =] does not restrict you to any number of web sites you can bookmark.

Today's world of collaboration invites this kind of internet tool into the mix. It's easy to share and see what other's are finding on the internet. Tagging, or describing websites with keyword descriptors, also increases access to relevant information. From your personal computer you can easily install icons that make it as easy as a click to save websites when you find them or quickly access the web sites you have already bookmarked. When you are at another computer you just need to login to your account and paste the URL [website address] into the right box--the one that comes up after you click on the blue word "post" along the top of the window.

In order to see someone else's bookmarks, it's important to know their username. Click on the link called "your network" then type their username into the box next to the "add" button, then click on the "add" button.

Undoubtedly, there's more to this bookmarking system, like grouping your tags into specific bundles, so give it a try and explore it yourself. Conducting some searches on Google, Yahoo, YouTube, and other search engines for this topic " bookmarking" can also help you find useful information on how to take advantage of this social networking tool. It's a Web 2.0 tool, just as Facebook, Myspace, CiteULike, blogs, etc. are.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Information-Literacy Audiences

Somewhat recently an instructor in the English department requested to use the library instruction room to give his class research instruction. Our policy states that nobody use the room without a librarian present, and we reserve for instruction of library resources or information sources. In my view it's an information-literacy room. I could not see any valid reason for refusing him the room, as he did intend to use it to teach his students how to conduct research using the library resources.

I sat in on the instruction session myself to observe his approach to library research. He actually talked about Boolean terms. In fact, he asked the students about the term, and someone even dared to say that "AND," "OR," and "NOT" were the correct Boolean terms. He even asked them what they were used for ["What do they do for us?"], and another student said they are used to connect keywords in a search. Sometimes I assume students do not know these things, but many have already had library instruction, so they have heard it already. This instructor, Dr. X, had asked how many of the students had attended a library-instruction session in their English 101 course, and most of them indicated that they had. Librarians would do well to ask questions to see how much their audience already knows. In fact, we should be asking the right kinds of questions of the instructors before they bring their class into the library for instruction. As this instructor said, "We all know how to diagram the word 'assume.'"

He did not dwell on things for too long, because he wanted students to have time to conduct research while someone [us] could help them. He showed the library quick links to find the catalog and the databases. He showed the call-number link that shows the names of the books that come before and after the one clicked, so you can browse the shelves virtually. [I'm still not sure this always works exactly in this way, because many different items are located in different parts of the library with very similar call numbers, such as reference books, periodicals, items in special collections, etc. But it's pretty good, since there are lots more books than journal titles and reference materials.]

It was great to see him point out the Resources-by-Subject pages with their different sections, namely books, web sites, and articles. Come to think of it, he did not mention contacting any librarians for help. Perhaps I should encourage him to do so the next time he brings his class to the library.

This leads me to my most important observation in this post. Why did he not want a "reference librarian" to teach his class? He willingly told me after the class had finished that he has been to library-instruction sessions where the librarian takes the entire time explaining how to do research. He feels strongly that students need time to do it in the class. Like he was saying, students leave the library session and do not do any research for a while and in the meantime they forget what they "learned," so when they try it themselves they stumble and cannot find anything. Their recourse is to Google the information--something they know how to do already. They need time to practice, run into roadblocks, and ask for help when their instructor or librarian is close by and ready to offer it.

He attended a graduate library-instruction session last semester, and he tells me that the librarian talked for two and a half hours about how to do research. In his view, a valid one in my opinion, he felt he knew how to do research already otherwise he would not be where he was = in graduate school. I appreciate the feedback he gave me, because librarians who do give instruction need to be aware of their audiences. We are often chomping at the bit to show them everything we have, that we overlook some of their basic needs and desires, like just trying it on their own. During that two hour and twenty minute session he tried to write down ideas for his own research.

Chances are that some of his colleagues liked the workshop heartily and did not complain; however, many probably wished that they had an opportunity just to practice and start doing some research where a librarian could assist them directly with a specific question.

One of the things I liked the most about his class was how he emphasized evaluating the results of search in determining which ones will be used. "Do you pick the first five if five is what you need? How do you select sources?" This is definitely something I need to do better at myself.

Earlier in this post I mentioned that librarians should be asking the right kinds of questions of instructors before they bring their classes into the library. Here are some questions that we might ask, depending on the situation. If anyone reading this post has more questions along these lines, please add them as a comment to this post.
  • What would you like me to focus on during the 50-minute, library-instruction session?
  • How much would you like me to focus on the article databases, library catalog, citation resources, developing a search strategy, evaluating search results, showing the library web site, etc.?
  • How much time would you like for your students to conduct hands-on research?
  • What did you like most about previous library presentations given to your previous classes?
  • What did you like least about previous library presentations that I should avoid?
  • Where do your students need the most help with their research?
  • How do your students learn the most?
  • What is the biggest question you hope students will strive to answer in your course?
  • What one important thing do you hope your students will gain from their visit to the library?
  • What can I, as a reference/instruction librarian, do to help you and your students?
  • What are some of the topics that interest your students?
  • Which texts do you use/require in your course?
Clearly, not all of these questions should be asked of every instructor, but as a faculty member I want to help the university accomplish its research and learning mission. The library, its resources, and staff know that they can contribute to this worthy goal and advance information literacy = critical thinking + knowing how to find the best, most-accurate information needed.