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User-Evaluation Librarian?

I finished reading a study this week titled “Information Behavior of the Reasearcher of the Future.“  It was put out early this year and some of the findings were fascinating.  It once again reminded me of all the barriers that our users face as opposed to getting information from the free web.  These are things like waiting for an interlibrary loan, confusing search interfaces, poorly presented search results, etc.

I see this in my work as well. Yesterday I was helping a student who had found two e-books but she was having problems accessing them.  I was surprised that the student continued trying to access them.  I am sure that many just give it up and go to Google.  Speed seems to be the most important criteria for information these days.

One quote, though, really stood out as interesting and something that I had never thought of.

No private sector corporation would survive on the basis of failing to invest in consumer profiling, market research and loyalty programmes. No library we are aware of has a department devoted to the evaluation of the user, how can that be?

This seems like a very innovative idea.  Innovation can often be just taking something that is commonplace in one arena and applying it in another.  Why aren’t there any user-evaluation librarians?  Or why aren’t there more consultants that evaluate library user groups and make reccomendations for action?

I strongly urge librarians who are charged with the task of education to read this study.  Students are finding information faster, but they are questioning it less and not thinking in depth about it.

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Information Literacy for the 22nd Century

Yesterday, I attended the Burlington Book Festival.  The best session was one entitled Writing in the 22nd Century: A Panel Discussion.  It was a terrible title that did not really fit what they were talking about.  Nevertheless, it was a great session.  They were actually talking about the 21st century — more specifically the near future.  It was also not limited to writing.  It was a discussion about writing, reading, and consumption of information.

The panel was composed of Steve Benen a political pundit blogger from the Washington Monthly, Cathy Resmer online editor of Seven Days Newspaper, and Ann DeMarle, head of the Emergent Media Center at Champlain College.  It was moderated by Jeff Rutenbeck Dean for the Division of Communication and Creative Media at Champlain College.

One thing that got people going in the audience was when Jeff said that books were an inefficient means of communication. Publishing online is much quicker and people can interact and have a conversation with the information, whereas books take years to publish and you cannot interact with a book.  The audience got defensive and sentimental about books, expressing that they did not want them to go away.  Someone actually stated how books were one of the most perfectly evolved forms of media.  Jeff also passed around a Kindle for people to gawk at.  The guy next to me was ogling it for about five minutes.

Photo by davidking

Photo by davidking

What was especially interesting was the discussion that ensued after Jeff brought up the idea that textbooks are “so superficial.”  He said that for his classes, “you could get 90 percent of the information in the textbooks from Wikipedia.”  At this a student commented that he did not go to textbooks first.  He went to Google or YouTube or blogs or other online sources.  Barbara Shatara, a librarian at the Fletcher Free Library asked him the same question I was thinking: how do you evaluate this information for credibility?  His answer was that he evaluated by cross referencing.  If he found info on one blog he would look and see if it was confirmed in other places.  If there were more people agreeing with something than disagreeing then he would believe it.

This gives a good insight into how information is being evaluated in this era.  Instead of looking for some authority people look to the masses.  “Do a lot of people believe this?  Ok, good then I will too.”  A lot of people believe that evolution is a falsehood and that global warming is a fabrication.   A great danger with this is when looking to corroborate or disprove a piece of information on the web, it very much depends on how you are searching.  If you search with keywords only  related to creationism, or find a creationist website and start following their links, the information your find is going to be colored in a very specific way.  With a mindset such as this, the tyranny of the majority can then determine what is true and not true, and that is very dangerous.

There were a number of debates back and forth and everyone really got into the session.  I was surprised at how many people were engaged and actually caring about these issues.  I guess information literacy is a real issue that people outside of libraries or academia care about.

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We’re Getting Questions!!!

We have now gotten through the first few weeks of Instant Message Reference at Edgewood College.  We have not done any serious publicity for our site yet.  The only way people would know about it yet is if they went to the Ask a Librarian link on the libraries home page.  We are doing this so the librarians have time to become comfortable with instant messaging.  I believe that most of them are already comfortable, but this will also give us a little time to identify and get rid of some of the bugs.

The system is actually already being used.  We have probably gotten around five or six genuine questions through IM since the start of the semester last week.  A couple were missed, but by implementing a louder ringing sound for a notification I believe that most of the missed IMs will be solved.  I received my first question on Monday and it was pretty exciting.  It was an actual reference question about where were good places to find literary criticism.  I was able to help the patron and it probably took only about 2-3 minutes.  I am glad to see that this system will be successful and even more glad that it will be useful to patrons.

We may have to re-evaluate how we staff the service because one of the librarians was getting a bit overwhelmed while having to help two patrons at once (cyber-patron and meat-patron).  My plan is to have a meeting in a couple of weeks to ask how the librarians are adjusting to the service and to ask for any suggestions or concerns.  After that we can go fully live and publicize the snot out of it.  But I believe that regular reference meetings are going to be necessary to evaluate the IM service and what could be done to improve it.