Friday, November 13, 2009

Sources of Information

Where do you get your information? Which sources do you trust the most? In a library teleconference offered by the College of DuPage Press called "Millennials in the Library," which is part of the series "Library Futures: Staying Ahead of the Curve 2010" they talked about where millennials get most of their information. Not surprisingly, the number one source was from their friends, then their family, and then their employers.

Millennials share a lot of information with each other via text messaging. In my notes it said that they send 8,000 texts per month per person, which seems extremely high to me and causes me to wonder if I heard this statistic incorrectly. I do not doubt that teenagers and college students do send large volumes of text messages; I see it regularly almost everywhere I go. The teleconference indicated that millennials do like to collaborate, be challenged, and stay connected to technology.

Individuals in the marketing industry know that word-of-mouth-marketing is essential for business success. A couple of librarians have also begun to realize this. In fact, they wrote a book on it called Building Buzz: Libraries and Word-of-Mouth Marketing. Today just happens to be its release date, according to Additionally, Peggy Barber and Linda Wallace wrote an article in American Libraries about some librarians who involved word-of-mouth marketing techniques to promote their services. They involved circulation staff to demo databases, show how to do online reserves, and manage account records.

Judy Wright, the Head of Circulation at Winnetka-Northfield Public Library, describes what she learned from this effort:
We learned that this is one of the most successful ways to market. We've had better results from word-of-mouth than anything we've done--tangible results. We could see the statistics jumping. (39)

Where do you go for your information? Chances are good that you probably get plenty of information from friends, family, employers, and the internet.

Barber, Peggy, and Linda Wallace. "The Power of Word-of-Mouth Marketing." American Libraries 40.11 (November 2009): 36-39.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Changing Trends with Wikipedia

A short article in American Libraries cites statistics that Wikipedia's growth is slowing down. In 2007 the site averaged 60,000 new articles per month, and now it averages only 40,000. March of 2007 saw 820,000 editors creating and editing pages, but it vacillates from 650,000 to 810,000 per month currently.

Interestingly, "the most active 1% of editors make more than 55% of changes" (27). Some, such as Susan Beck the Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) president, wonder whether or not it is time for more librarians to step up and compose/edit articles.

Why are there fewer editors and fewer articles written? Do other online applications compete for Wikipedia editors? Who gets motivated to write Wikipedia articles? Just those with a special interest in the topic at hand? Has Wikipedia lost its newness?

G.L. "Wikipedia Growth Slows." American Libraries (November 2009): 27.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Should I use Wikipedia in my search for information?

"Don't use Wikipedia. Do not use any websites, except for .gov sites. Cite at least one print source." While teaching or helping some introductory English classes in Library workshops, I often hear these kinds of requirements imposed on the students. Instructors often have good reasons for setting these limitations. They want students to get out of their comfort zones. Students do fall back on what they know, using search engines to find their information. This may have worked well while they went to high school, but at the college level it usually does not suffice.

Typically, I like to talk about reference resources and how they can be useful for students when they begin their research. An encyclopedia article can provide background information, the kind that instructors may expect them to know already. College instructors expect more than a book report summary from college students. They want students to engage in the subject matter, evaluate sources, and analyze ideas critically. I suspect that some students rise to the occasion and begin to develop critical thinking skills when asked to look for quality sources.

Does this mean that students should not use Wikipedia? This ban of Wikipedia would not support appeals for critical thinking. Wikipedia, in many cases, provides background information that can be useful when starting a research project. Like other reference resources, it can inform individuals about the various aspects of the issue at hand, which can then prompt them to narrow their topic down a bit more. Additionally, its articles can bring to light keywords that would improve searching results when one goes to the article databases, or one's university catalog.

Most students are unaware of the fact that most academic libraries purchase subscriptions to online reference materials. Encyclopedia Britannica, Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia, and Oxford Reference Online are a few encyclopedias for which institutions purchase access.

I just finished a great article titled "Wikipedia: friend or foe?" written by Kathy West and Janet Williamson at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada. In 2007 they began a study to assess the quality of Wikipedia articles. As librarians, they had not used Wikipedia very much, preferring more authoritative sources. How did they assess the articles? "In the absence of credentialed authors, what criteria can be used to measure article quality? We suggest that articles which are objective, accurate, complete and clearly presented are quality articles" (268).

Their thorough search of the literature, conscientious methods, and careful analysis of the results deserves some praise. I appreciate that they approached this study professionally, they they did not seem to let bias cloud their perspectives. For example, they acknowledge some flaws in their methods that influenced the results. In order to do a good analysis, they captured 106 Wikipedia articles as pdfs. They did not check the hyperlinks that would have explained certain concepts, and as a result they admit that "this significantly affected our ratings of individual articles' accuracy and completeness in that it limited the ability to achieve a full understanding of the articles. [...] Had we been able to view the outward links, the completeness scores would have been substantially higher" (267).

Go read this article. They give a listing of reasons why Wikipedia may be considered a friend, according to the results of their article assessments:

  • "its breadth of information including a substantial amount of unique information;
  • its ability to cover truly current events;
  • its ability to meet the diverse needs of both general and specialist readers;
  • its objectivity;
  • its reasonable accuracy; and
  • its accessibility -- it is available 24/7 from our desktops at no charge" (269).

How might it be a foe?
  • "its inconsistency--there are articles which are poorly written, contain unsubstantiated information, and/or provide shallow coverage of a topic" (269).

It appears that the authors' perceptions of Wikipedia improved as a result of doing this study. They consider Wikipedia to be improving as well. Fewer cases of abuse are occurring i.e. vandalism. "In addition, more references are being added" (269). This last point hold true in my experience. On occasion, I will go to an Oxford Reference Online (ORO) article in class, encourage students to look for background information, find keywords, and look for a list of references. Too often it seems that there are not any cited sources in the ORO or the Encyclopedia Britannica, but there is frequently a list of references in the Wikipedia articles.

Students should be allowed to consult Wikipedia as a launching point for their research project, but they need to remember not to use it as a source for their paper. Rather, they should consult the references and cite them. It is not necessary to cite background information or common knowledge. That's what researchers are expected to know already. Cite the books and articles instead. Use criteria for analyzing your sources and develop critical thinking skills.

Full citation: West, Kathy and Janet Williamson. "Wikipedia: friend or foe?" Reference Services Review 37.3 (2009): 260-71.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Advancing Your Interests and Achieving Your Goals

Today I can sigh with relief. Yesterday I completed final touches on a promotion portfolio and delivered it to the correct office. Over the course of the last two years I endeavored to keep files and save materials for this portfolio, but I still had to spend a large amount of time organizing and composing documents to fulfill the requirements of our promotion and tenure document.

Now I have time to catch up on some professional reading. Like anything in life, if a person wants to become better at something, he/she can seek help from various sources, such as a friend, a family member, a colleague, a book, a programmed presentation, etc. For example, if I wanted to go backpacking, I could search out and even subscribe to a hiking/backpacking magazine to learn some tips and find out about equipment that may increase your chances for an enjoyable adventure.

Likewise, anyone wanting to progress in their chosen career might do well in reading the professional literature. Frequently, membership dues to a national association include a subscription to one of their magazines or journals. The Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) publishes College & Research Libraries News on a monthly basis.

They often print great articles for their intended audience--academic and research librarians. Not surprisingly, one such article by Mara L. Houdyshell caught my eye: "Ten tips toward tenure: Advice for the professional journey." She gives ten tips that are worthy of posting on the office wall, well, for those who seek tenure of course, though after I look at them again I believe they merit a spot on every faculty member's office wall. We could all benefit from occasional reminders now and then.

Though I would like to mention all ten, let me just mention two or three.
Tip #1: "Be reliable, flexible, and professional. People appreciate it" (470).
Tip #3: "Pay attention to your department and institution's guidelines for tenure. [...] If it is suggested that you do 'x, y, and z,' in a particular review, don't fritter away the time leading up to your next evaluation mulling over what you should do, do 'x, y, and z'" (470 emphasis retained).

So while I can take a momentary sigh of relief, I still need to move forward, publish, and keep working. For now, I ought to find a tack and put these ten tips on my wall.

Work Cited: Houdyshell, Mara L. "Ten tips toward tenure: Advice for the professional journey." College & Research Libraries News 70.8 (Sept. 2009): 469-70.