Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Follow-up on Instruction Menu

My colleagues liked the idea of having an instruction menu, so I created one for the First-Year-Seminar instructors. I conducted a search via Google to find some sample menus online to help me get my creative juices flowing, and I found the following menu from Jus Cookin’s Restaurant. After sending it out for my colleagues to take a look, I received some feedback:
-- "You must have had fun."
-- "I liked your delicious menu."
-- "It’s a little cutesy and maybe a little overdone, but I do really like the options you’ve provided."

I would have to agree that I got a little carried away with the idea. I need to remember my audience. Another colleague gave some useful input, noting that many faculty will not want to read all the verbiage included on the menu as it currently stands. She suggested including more graphics while making certain that the description of the menu item was straightforward and easily understandable. With some of the adjectives in the menu now, it's possible that the meaning may be obscured.

She also put forth the idea that breaking up the menu might be more palatable for the FYS instructors, as they would have more leeway to choose what they wanted for their students. She encouraged me to stick with the menu idea; many instructors would appreciate something new and different, while others may not feel it's as serious as it ought to be. It's hard to know who your audience is sometimes; however, knowing your audience and tailoring your services to their "tastes" can increase your chances for success.

The meeting with the FYS instructors is on Friday, so I have a little more time to tinker with the menu. Ideally, it will attract more customers than it repels.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Library Instruction A la Carte: The InfoLit Menu

In recent weeks the ALA's Information Literacy and Instruction listserv had asked for those librarians who had helped create or who work under a "menu" system to post their "menu" to the listserv. Anyway, I learned that several librarians across the country have implemented a systematic program where professors on campus can choose from a menu of information-literacy options. Someone made mention of an article that explained how librarians from Radford University had created such a menu. Here's the full citation:

Benjes-Small, C. & Brainard, B. (2006). And today we'll be serving…An instruction a la carte menu. College and Research Libraries News, 67(2), 80-82. Retrieved Wednesday, November 15, 2006 from Library Literature and Information Science Full-Text database (200603203836004). [See also a brief summary of the article at the following site: Information Literacy in Higher Education: Annotated Bibliography. I highly recommend reading the article.

Take a look at the sites I have tagged with the word menu. I will only talk about two more of the sites in this post. Radford University's Instruction A La Carte Menu outlines a few basic information-literacy topics that their librarians are willing and able to teach. According to the article, they had professors who wanted them to teach something else the day of instruction in addition to what they had already agreed upon teaching. Now, they can point to the menu whenever a professor tries to get them to teach more than they are able in the allotted time period and say that another instruction session would be need to adequately cover the desired material, or they would need to cut one item from the menu.

Creating such a menu has opened the eyes of their faculty to the kinds of things their librarians can teach. In their own words Candice Benjes-Small and Blair Brainard note: "We had hoped that the menu would communicate to the professors the limitations of a single 50-minute session, but we found that the menu also served as a vehicle for sharing possibilities" (82). Faculty did not realize that their librarians could cover more than just finding articles in databases and books in catalogs. It's good that librarians share their expertise and be assertive in doing so. The Radford-University librarians seem to have succeeded in doing this in a consistent manner with the help of their menu.

Some librarians would disagree with a few items on their menu, such as the plagiarism item. Benjes-Small and Brainard claim that this has become a popular topic for librarians to discuss in recent years, but just because it is popular may not justify its presence in a library-instruction session. A campus Writing Center or a Freshman English course may be a better-suited venue for a plagiarism discussion. Speaking from experience, plagiarism discussions beg the question of how to properly cite and paraphrase sources, focusing on the mechanics of writing.

Why should librarians teach plagiarism or academic honesty? Librarians are trained to find and evaluate information. On the other hand, if instructors believe their students will take the plagiarism discussion more seriously from someone who is not their teacher, perhaps it is justified, yet the stern nature of a plagiarism discussion makes it so that the librarians look like the bad guys in front of the students, further exacerbating the bad reputation librarians have been bequeathed as stuffy, they-don't-like-to-have-fun people who live in a romanticized world full of books. Well, we do get the privilege of interacting with books--one of the greatest pieces of technology ever, but that doesn't mean we should be the ones teaching about plagiarism. Chances are that I might re-write this post, because it shows evidence of my frustration with professors and instructors who do not respect the work of librarians, those who act non-plussed to be in the library and only come because it's a requirement for their freshman seminar class. No doubt I have misinterpreted body language from instructors, but the perception of being under-appreciated [the Spanish word "menospreciado" seems to capture my meaning more closely as it is somewhere between being under appreciated and despised] is certainly not a good one to experience. Let us do what we do best = help people find and evaluate research materials and information to suit their needs.

[If someone writes a post or article justifying why librarians can or should teach a plagiarism session, please let me know. Even as I re-read the previous paragraph the idea occurs to me that information literacy involves analyzing sources and ideas for their validity = the positive side of learning and research. Information literacy to some extent is the antithesis of plagiarism, so maybe plagiarism is justified as a library session. Still, I would rather focus on the positive, creative efforts of finding and evaluating information than on the negative don't-do-this-or-else type of plagiarism discussion.]

The Radford menu shows that there are plenty of items to please a large number of professors. Again the Benjes-Small & Brainard article inspires me: "The menu has become a powerful marketing tool. After being shown the array of choices for library instruction available, professors are now much more likely to request a second library session for their classes" (82). Hurray! This sounds like a positive step in the right direction--a step that I feel would be good for most, if not all, academic libraries to take, particularly if they value library instruction. When I presented the idea of having a menu in our program, my colleagues seemed to agree that it would be worth doing. We will probably even create a specific freshman-seminar menu, so instructors can choose what they want, rather than being forced to follow a particular program.

The University of Alaska Southeast has create a similar Information Literacy Instruction Menu. They have presented their menu in a somewhat similar style--with a question such as "Will your students need to select and narrow a topic?"--as the Radford-University librarians, although it is manifested a bit differently on their website. They allow for their instructors to click on boxes next to the menu item, so a request can be sent to the librarians with all the desired items.

An important element that each website includes is the caveat that the menu only speaks to the most popular selections of the group at large--not the individual needs of a specialized class. They reserve the right to cook up specials for a professor's class; this would require that a professor express their unique needs to the assigned librarian who could then tailor the instruction session to fit the tastes of the clients in question.

For those instructors who desire hands-on activities for their students, the cost [accounted for in number of minutes] would increase. Quantifying instruction in such a way really goes a long way in justifying to instructors the necessity of bringing their classes in for more than one fifty-minute session.

Please post a comment to my blog. Let me conclude this post with a quotation from Albert Einstein on the positive thrill of teaching: "It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge." Quote found at Quote World. This particular quote was found here.
It speaks about the real teacher, someone who can actually "awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge." These are the kinds of teachers that light fires for people, inspiring them to learn, be creative, and be movers and shakers--productive with their lives. This is something worth aspiring toward.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Finding and Sharing Good Books

National Library Week begins on April 13th, and libraries around the country will showcase their collections and services. Idaho State University's Oboler Library will promote reading for its own sake--for FUN! Displays will highlight appealing elements of great fictional titles, such as character, plot, setting, and language.

Nancy Pearl, a famous librarian, has written books to direct readers to great books: see Book Lust (2003) and More Book Lust (2005), which can be found in our catalog. If you want to find a great biography of George Washington, or a horror book that isn't terrifyingly scary, she's the one to consult. Pearl subscribes to a theory articulated by Joyce G. Saricks and Nancy Brown in their book Readers' Advisory Service in the Public Library (2nd ed., American Library Association, 1997). They claim that the majority of readers do not choose books based solely on their genre type, rather they read a book because of its appeal in one of four areas or elements: plot, character, setting, and language.

To find more readers-advisory books, you might consider conducting a subject-heading search in your library's catalog using the following subject headings: "Best books" and "Books and reading--United States." For the first subject heading there were 88 titles in ISU's Oboler Library catalog, and only 25 titles for the second subject heading. I would venture to say that most public and academic libraries keep readers advisory books on hand as a service to their patrons and also to support their librarians, who do get asked for book recommendations.

What if you want to browse a few titles to find a good book before going to the library? What if you want to share all the books you have ever read with family and/or friends? Lots of online, social-networking sites make this possible. These websites allow you to create your own account and keep track of what you have read and what you want to read; in this post I will only talk about two--aNobii and GoodReads. They allow you to rate the books, comment on them, and share them with friends. LibrayThing even allows you to catalog your books, and some users buy scanners to make this possible, reducing the amount of time it takes to input the information. is very user friendly and easy to learn how to use. You can browse anyone else's bookshelf, and when you find a book that you have read you can click the link that says "Add to... My shelf." If there's a book title you might like to read, then click the link "Add to... Wish list." It will appear immediately on your shelf. When you create your account, and after you have uploaded books to your shelf, you can write comments about the books you have read, tell where you got the book, rate the book, and browse other peoples shelves. When you browse others' shelves you can click on a link below that person's name and add them either as a "Friend" or "Neighbor." It explains that a "neighbor" may be someone you do not know, but you would still like to keep track of the books they are reading as they may have similar book-reading interests. works almost exactly the same as They distinguish themselves in the way they allow you to rate your books, put them on your shelves, and how you view any given shelf. GoodReads allows you rate a book with five stars, while aNobii only allows you to choose four stars. It allows you to choose how many books you view per page, but aNobii always shows you only ten books per page. GoodReads will send you emails every time a friend comments on a book, unless you tell it otherwise. For those who use Google's Gmail, you can immediately invite all of your friends to start using GoodReads. aNobii allows you to generate RSS feeds to anyone's shelf, allowing you to keep up-to-date with the books your friends are reading.

LibrayThing offers a unique feature in its package; it allows its users to find dissimilar books. If you like a particular book, then you enter the name of that book in the "Unsuggester" search box. It returns books that you would likely not enjoy reading. I believe it compares the book title with the ratings its users have given it, as well as analyzes the shelves of others who did not like the book you entered or have never read it.

These online applications can really spark your interest in reading and remind you of long-lost friends/books you have not visited for a while. It certainly can help you build a long list of books you would like to read. Give it a try, and you will find out what your friends and family like to read as well as discover new friends with similar reading tastes who can point you to books you never knew existed.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Teaching English 101

This week I received a request for assistance. A graduate student wanted me to come give some instruction to her students on doing research for their papers, but most of all she wanted for them to have time to conduct their own research. I said we could do this. I received the email from a colleague who had been working the Reference Desk on Monday, emailed her, and received a response back on Tuesday. I called her and we decided that I could come to her class to give a basic refresher on Wednesday and open up the instruction room on Friday for her students to do their research.

Wednesday's class went fairly well. I handed out the CRAAP Assessment handout. It includes the same information that can be found on one of the Oboler Library's webpages titled "Evaluating Information--Applying the CRAAP Test." We talked about the importance of evaluating the sources we find when doing our research. I told them this handout reminded me of the Spiderman movie when Peter Parker takes his photos to the editor at the newspaper. The editor quickly dismisses Peter's work, saying "Crap, crap, crap" as he flips through the photos. Peter knows they are high quality photos, so he has the confidence to take them back to try somewhere else. Students can likewise gain confidence that their work represents high-quality research if they also follow the assessment criteria in the CRAAP Test:
  1. Currency: the timeliness of the information
  2. Relevancy: the importance of the information for your needs
  3. Accuracy: the reliability, truthfulness, and correctness of the informational content
  4. Authority: the source of the information
  5. Purpose: the reason the information exists
I conducted a few searches in our databases and asked them to pick a source that might be useful for them, according to the search question I had in mind. Then I invited them to tell me why they think this information would be good.