Friday, May 13, 2011

Finding Government Contact Information

At the reference desk we have a great resource for those looking to find contact information to government agencies, Congress, and a few nongovernmental organizations.

Washington Information Directory 2009-2010: The Definitive Source for Finding and Making Contacts at U.S. Government and Nongovernmental Organizations in Washington, DC.  Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2009.
Like many good reference resources, the directory includes a useful section on "How to Use This Directory" toward the front of the book. It interprets the various elements of an entry, telling which part indicates the parent organization alongside all of the contact information.  When no city is listed, the directory says to assume Washington, DC, so if any mail needs to be sent to a particular agency, the sender is advised to write Washington, DC before the zip code.  They do this to save on space within the directory. "Departments and agencies generally have their own zip code" (xi).  For example, the Senate's Office Buildings have the zip code 20510, and the House's Office Buildings have 20515 as the zip code.

They recommend that individuals with questions "first" call the toll free numbers whenever those are available.  "Often you can get the answer you need without searching any further.  If not, an explanation of your query should put you in touch with the person who can answer your question."  The directory provides fax numbers in case persons want to share more complex information that way, rather than over the phone.

Internet and e-mail can be effective means for communicating with government offices.  Lots of information can be found via government websites; however, the directory offers the following disclaimer if you will:
If you have Internet access, try the Web site, but bear in mind that this approach is not always faster or better than a phone call: connections can be slow, menus can be complex or confusing, and information can be incomplete or out of date. (xi)
Three indexes at the end of the book can prove helpful in locating information more quickly:
  1. Name Index
  2. Organization Index
  3. Subject Index
Organizational charts appear throughout the volume, particularly for the larger agencies.

Here's a sample entry among the thousands listed:
Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), 4330 East-West Hwy., #519, Bethesda, MD 20814; (301) 504-7908. Fax, (301) 504-0399. Nancy Nord, Chair (Acting); Patricia Semple, Executive Director. TTY, (800) 638-8270. Public Affairs, (301) 504-7908. Congressional Relations, (301) 504-7903. Product safety hotline, (800) 638-2772.
General e-mail,
 Establishes and enforces product safety standards; collects data; studies the causes and prevention of product-related injuries; identifies hazardous products, including imports, and recalls them from the marketplace.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission fits under the large umbrella of "Consumer Protection."  Other agencies and departments under this tent include but are not limited to:
 This directory includes a list of all the U.S. representatives and senators in the 111th Congress as well as all of the congressional committee assignments.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Catalog Blurbs

Items submitted for our bathroom bulletin.

Blurb #1: Email feature:

Want to remember some book titles you found in our catalog?  Email the records to yourself.  At the bottom of each page appears a box where you may enter your email address to send single or multiple catalog records to yourself.  Just check the boxes of the books you want.  You may also save books to a bookbag and keep a running list of titles you are interested in looking at later.

Blurb #2:
The library catalog makes it easy to view the newest books that have been bought by the Library.  Enter the online catalog and select the "New Books" tab near the top.  Choose any collections that interest you and select a range of time from the drop-down menu: last week, last 2 weeks, last 3 weeks, etc.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Information Literacy Display

Last week I completed an information-literacy display for the Library.  On the one hand I wondered why I had never done this before, and on the other hand I questioned what I should include in such a display.

Admittedly, I constantly feel like my displays could be a lot more attractive.  Nonetheless, while I was taking down my last display and inserting this new one a student I know commented that she always looks at the displays and finds them interesting.  This was nice.  As evidence of this statement, she said that she never knew that some academic journals cost so much, not having known that some physics journals cost as much as a brand new car. 

With this encouraging feedback I installed the new display, hoping that it was as informative and visually attractive as the previous one.  Occasionally, I do see students looking at these, but I like to think students are looking at them more when I am not around.

Back to my conundrum, what should I put into a display about information literacy?  Well, for starters it made sense to include some definitions.  Esther Grassian and Joan Kaplowitz's Information Literacy Instruction 2nd Ed. proved to provide quite a collection of these definitions from various places.

Definition #1:
An information literate individual is anyone who has learned to use a wide range of information sources  in order to solve problemsat work and in his or her daily life. 
--Paul G. Zurkowski
 The Information Service Environment: Relationships and Priorities.  Washington, D.C.: National Commission on Libraries and Information Science, 1974.
See also Esther Grassian and Joan R. Kaplowski's Information Literacy Instruction: Theory and Practice.   2nd Ed.  New York: Neal-Schulman, 2009. (3)

 Definition #2:

Information literacy is 'an integrated set of skills and the knowledge of tools and resources.  [...] Information literacy is developed through persistence, and attention to detail, and a critical evaluative view of the material found.'  It is also 'depicted as a problem-solving activity.'
--Paul G. Zurkowski
 The Information Service Environment: Relationships and Priorities.  Washington, D.C.: National Commission on Libraries and Information Science, 1974.
See also Esther Grassian and Joan R. Kaplowski's Information Literacy Instruction: Theory and Practice.   2nd Ed.  New York: Neal-Schulman, 2009. (4)

Definition #3:

The information literate individual [is] someone who has the ability to recognize an information need, and can locate, evaluate, and use information effectively.  The emphasis is on preparing people for lifelong learning: 'Ultimately information literate people are those who have learned how to learn.'
--American Library Association Presidential Committee on Information Literacy
"Final Report."  (January 10, 1989).  (1)
See also Esther Grassian and Joan R. Kaplowski's Information Literacy Instruction: Theory and Practice.   2nd Ed.  New York: Neal-Schulman, 2009. (4) 
 Definition #4: 
The information literate student [is] one who accesses, information efficiently and effectively, critically evaluates the information, and uses it accurately and creatively.  There is an emphasis on independent learning and also an element of social responsibility.  The information literate individual is someone who contributes positively to the learning community and to society.  Underlying this definition is the belief that an information literate populace is the cornerstone of democracy.
--American Association of School Librarians' Association for Educational Communications and Technology.
Information Literacy Standards for Student Learning.  Chicago: ALA, 1998.
See also Esther Grassian and Joan R. Kaplowski's Information Literacy Instruction: Theory and Practice.   2nd Ed.  New York: Neal-Schulman, 2009. (4)
From her it made sense to set up some scenarios to demonstrate information literacy behavior; the first scenario looks at an example from personal life, while the second one portrays a scenario from academic life.

Scenario #1: Buying a Car

Recognize an Information Need in Personal Life
  • Scenario: you have realized that you spend a lot of time walking, asking people for rides around town or back home, and that it is cold to walk in the winter.  You want a car.
  •  Information needs surface when you start asking questions:
    • What kind of car do I want? Large? Small? Good gas mileage?
    • How much money can I spend?
    • Should I get a loan?  What kind of loan can I afford?
    • Should I buy a used car?
    • How can I find a good car and not a lemon?
    • Who can I go to for advice?
    • How do I know when I have enough information? 
Photo by David Sickmiller. Chevy Belair
 Locate Information Effectively
  • Among your social network, who knows about cars?  Can they assist you throughout the process?
    • Car salesmen?
    • Mechanics?
    • Car aficionado?
  •  Which internet sites would you use to find out about makes, models, and year of different cars?
Sample page.

Evaluate Information Effectively
  • Who is posting the ad?
  • Does the ad give me enough information and match my interests and needs?
  • Does their asking price match Kelley's Blue Book stated for that make, model, and year?
  • If it is under the blue-book price, does that mean it is damaged?
  • Is there a picture? What does the picture tell me about the car?
  • Is there a phone number or email address given to allow me to contact them in order to see the car?
  • Do I understand how to search on their site? What can I do to search the site better? Are there helpful links that permit me to narrow the search?
  • What kinds of questions should I ask when I go see the car that is for sale?
  • Will they let me test drive the car?
  • Will a mechanic be able to look over the vehicle when I test drive it?
 Use Information Effectively
  • Can I use the information in Kelley's Blue Book to my advantage during the negotiation of the car?
  • Will I act quickly and contact the current car owner to set up a time to see the car?  (Some cars get sold rather quickly once they are placed on Craig's List or in the newspaper.)
  • Will I avoid offers that require money transfers, Western Union wires of money, or pleas to buy the car soon from individuals who claim to be going through a divorce or have a member in the military?  (They want you to buy quickly.  These are often fraudulent schemes.)
  • How will I remember the key bits of information gathered during my research?  How will I know which information is the most important?
  • How will I use the information my mechanic shared with me?   
See Kate Miller-Wilson's article titled "Negotiating Tips for Buying a Used Car."  These tips found a place in the display on the periphery as incidental information for anyone who might be curious about this.
As I review these points it occurs to me that I might be confusing points, particularly in the sections about evaluating and using information.  If you see a bullet point that you think belongs in a different category, please say so in the comments section here.

Scenario #2

Recognize an Information Need in Academic Life
  • Understand your assignment, problem, or question thoroughly
  • Examine general information sources (e.g., encyclopedias) to increase your familiarity with the topic
  • Identify key concepts and terms you will use to search for the information you need. ("Information Literacy."  John Spellman Library.)
  • Create a plan or a road map
  • Ask for clarification from your instructor
I define a research project as any task that requires, or would benefit from, factual information or opinions you do not already have.  --Mary George.  The Elements of Library Research (15).
Locate Information Effectively
  • Recognize the various types of information you can use (e.g., popular and scholarly articles, primary and secondary sources, government documents, statistics, standards and codes)
  • Identify possible search tools (e.g., library catalog and databases, search engines)
  • Understand the difference between primary and secondary sources
  • Recognize the purpose and audience of potential resources (e.g., popular vs. scholarly, current vs. historical)
  • Find information in a variety of formats (e.g., book, periodical, multimedia, internet, etc.)
  • Develop and try different search strategies to extract relevant information from the best sources for your needs.
  • Understand that the use of keywords, truncation, Boolean operators, and controlled vocabulary affect your search results.
  • Have your search tools and strategies supplied you with the information you need?  
  • Have your search terms yielded relevant results? 
  • Have you used appropriate search tools for your information needs?
    (“Information Literacy: Access & Retrieve Sources.”  John Spellman Library)
Need books?  Search the library catalog.
Need articles?  Search the databases.
 Evaluate Information Effectively
  • Apply criteria for evaluating information and its sources.
  • Analyze the structure and logic of supporting arguments or methods in each source.
  • Examine and compare information from various sources in order to evaluate reliability, validity, accuracy, authority, timeliness, and point of view or bias.
  • Recognize the context (cultural, political, business, etc.) in which information is created and understand the impact of context on interpreting the information.
  • Organize and use information from multiple sources to reach an informed conclusion that answers your question, solves your problem, and/or meets the requirements of the assignment.
  • Assess the quantity, quality, and relevance of your search results to identify gaps and determine if follow-up searches are required. (“Information Literacy: Examine and Apply Content.”  John Spellman Library )

Newsweek is an example of a popular news magazine.
Journal of Sport History is an example of a scholarly journal.
The New York Times has been a respected news source for many years. For some odd reason they have published many articles about the Yankees over the years.  This manifests a local (yet justified) bias.
 Use Information Effectively
  • Integrate what you have discovered and learned into your existing body of knowledge.
  •  Effectively communicate your conclusions to others via oral, written, or media technologies.
  • Keep track of all pertinent citation information.
  • Attribute information to its sources so that others may access them and evaluate your work.
  • Follow specific citation style guidelines (e.g., APA, Chicago, MLA) to cite your sources.
  • Assess whether you have accurately documented your sources.
  • Consider whether anything is missing or unclear in your research or logic.  ("Information Literacy: Present Findings." John Spellman Library.)

"Diagram of the Library Research Process" also finds a place in this display to show that information literacy is a process.  Library research takes time, and the earlier that students begin their research, typically the better their research project will be. 

 It seems that when students understand the process they can better advance from one stage to another without getting discouraged.  Knowing the stages of research can help them identify what they may be forgetting in the process and may also bring home realizations of weaknesses or challenges they can work to improve.

This is the internationally recognized logo for information literacy.  It found a nice spot in the display as well.
Since I have been developing a for-credit, information-literacy course, I also added a flier advertising the details regarding this course.
See this flier link for a larger image.

    Monday, May 2, 2011

    "Take Time by the Forelock"

    Ever wondered how authors think of certain phrases, know how to make allusions to just the right legend, or how they find a word that perfectly matches their meaning while still being obscure, fresh, or interesting? Perhaps they find great reference books and while away afternoons searching for that nebulous idea or concept that they can vaguely imagine until they find the crystal-clear concept.

    If I were an author looking for a phrase to match my novel, then I don't think I could go wrong in consulting Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase & Fable. This lengthy tome lists a plethora of entries worth looking at. For example, the Times Square entry describes the "garish heart of Manhattan, New York City, famous (and infamous) for its lurid neon advertisements, its theatres and cinemas, and its prostitutes and pickpockets." It tells how this well-known site grew out of the commercial district there and received its name after the New York Times built its building close by in the early 1900s (1331).

    Another example tells what the phrase "Take time by the forelock" means:
    Seize the present moment; CARPE DIEM. Time, called by Shakespeare 'that bald sexton' (King John, III, i (1596)), is represented with a lock of hair on his forehead but none on the rest of his head, to signify that time past cannot be used, but time present may be seized by the forelock. The saying is attributed to Pittacus of Mitylene, one of the WISE MEN OF GREECE. It is also suggested that the statue of Opportunity by Lysippus inspired the phrase. (1331)
    Terms or words in all caps have their own entries in other parts of the book.

    Other entries that caught my eye:
    • Timbuctoo or Timbuktu
    • Wars of the Roses, The (1401)
    • Waltzing Matilda (didn't know that this phrase meant "carrying or humping one's bag or pack as a tramp does," although I believe I had heard A.B. "Banjo" Paterson's name in connection with the phrase, which he made famous (1399).)
    • Wandering Jew
    • Wearie Willie and Tired Tim (1408)
    • Weasel words (1408)
    • Wedding anniversaries
      • 1st anniversary = paper
      • 7th anniversary = woolen
      • 30th anniversary = pearl
      • 35th anniversary = coral
      • 45th anniversary = sapphire
      • 50th  anniversary = golden
      • 55th anniversary = emerald
      • 75th anniversary = diamond (1409)
    • Werewolf (1413)
    This photo was taken by thisisbossi and can be seen on Flickr.
     In short, this dictionary has been around a long time and seems to be quite a gem.

    Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase & Fable, 18th Edition.  Ed. Camilla Rockwood.  Foreward by Philip Pullman.  Edinburgh: Brewer's, 2009.  Call number: PN43.B65 2009.  We keep this one at our reference desk.