Category Archives: academic libraries

Library Instruction West 2014 Recap #liwest2014

tl;dr Library Instruction West is a Marvelous Conference.

My brain is still buzzing and feels pleasantly tingly from all of the good thoughts, emotions, and interactions I had at the Library Instruction West 2014 conference. I walked away energized by the people I met and by the content they shared. Portland State University was a fantastic host and the organizing committee, led by Joan Petit, did a lovely job bringing brilliant people with excellent content together in a well-run event. <tips cap>

Three things that made #liwest14 a special conference:

Beyond my general glowing endorsement, I want to highlight specific aspects that made Library Instruction West 2014 stand out from other library conferences. To start, this conference draws from a specific and well defined community of practice and these are my people. The conference also stands out because instruction librarians are skilled and engaging presenters; spending our careers speaking with groups of students pays off with impressive presentation skills. The rewards of attending are both practical and intellectual; I left with two ideas I’m already using in my instructional design and with big picture thoughts that I’ll be reflecting on for a while.

These are my people.

Library Instruction West is about library instruction and not really anything else. This means that sessions are targeted and participants have a lot of shared passions and interests. If you are an instruction librarian, this niche marketing makes Library Instruction West much more valuable in terms of content than larger national or regional conferences. I was taken aback by the emotional impact I experienced listening to lovely colleagues talk about inquiry-based-learning, nurturing curiosity in our students, using narrative methods in our instruction, teaching format-as-practice [1], teaching with digital badges, assessing game-based pedagogy, and clever teaching hacks for survey software.I’m a bit of a utility infielder in library work. I do systems stuff; I do some web stuff; I do some instruction stuff; I’m trying to learn how to do more metadata stuff. That said, I came into the field as an instruction librarian and no matter how far my curiosity takes me, my core values come from instruction. Of course, as with most good conferences, the best information is transferred informally between sessions, at meals, or socially. I got to meet a lot of folks in person I’ve come to respect and admire through Twitter. I was able to put faces to Twitter names and spend a couple of days with some truly lovely people. It’s nice to be surrounded by one’s people, to feel part of a tight-knit community of practice.

Instruction librarians are skilled and engaging presenters.

It is a real treat to watch experienced presenters who have a good body of practice work with an audience. In my two days at Library Instruction West I learned as much from watching how presenters interacted with their audiences as I did from the information being transferred. This is a rare treat. At other conferences, I’ve learned AMAZING THINGS from people whose job descriptions don’t include being interesting at the front of a room and I’ve also realized after a talk that the charming and engaging speaker really didn’t say anything profound or useful, but attending a conference full of engaging speakers who are intentional about their presentation style is WONDERFUL. It is also nice to have sessions where attention is paid to active learning, various learning preferences or styles, and non-traditional visual presentation techniques. I had the opportunity to observe small break-out sessions with group work, activities based on physical objects, self assessment exercises, and excellent question and answer sessions. I also got to learn from people giving very traditional talks using slide decks that were well designed and rich with information. Being able to see, hear, and interact with really talented colleagues practicing excellent pedagogy is a learning experience that I really can’t duplicate by reading about it. So if my effusive praise above hasn’t already convinced you to attend Library Instruction West 2016 in Salt Lake City, this may be the most appealing aspect: you’ll have the opportunity to experience experienced and skilled library instructors demonstrating what they do best first hand.

I left the conference with two ideas I’m already using in my instruction and with big picture thoughts that I’ll be reflecting on for a while.

Idea the first:

In Zoe Fisher’s session Live the Question, Love the Question: Inquiry-based learning in the one-shot she described a method of helping students craft rough topics into functional research questions. This is exactly what I need for a very large multi-section class I work with. Each semester the largest barrier I see to student success is the inability to see a topic, research question, and thesis as three separate things. Zoe used inquiry-based learning theory to design an exercise where the students explain what they know and then using that foundation to tease out interesting questions. My History faculty have already signed off on using the “what I know / what I want to know” table she described in their Fall classes. Hopefully, this will help us move from the first spark of student curiosity to potential research questions more smoothly and naturally.

sample table for what I know | what I want to know excercise
Sample “what I know | what I want to know” table. Click for larger view.

Idea the second:

In Kevin Seeber’s session Teaching “Format as Process” in an Era of Web-Scale Discovery he delivered a well-founded argument for a turn towards teaching process and away from teaching formats. Process being the critical thinking steps that make up scholarship and formats being the packages information is delivered in. He sums up his reasoning as: “the way we search is changing, we need to teach things that are constant” and “don’t teach the interface, teach the results.” His entire line of reasoning is a treat, so please don’t miss reading the whole presentation. Using what I learned from Kevin’s talk, I’m going to embrace the statement “Information literacy is not about knowing “how.” It’s about knowing “why.”” and do as much as I can to re-write the instructions for an assignment in the course mentioned above to explicitly refer to process instead of to formats. For example, there won’t be a “Finding Newspapers” section, but there will be a section that uses newspapers to “Find current information on your topic.” The reason for this shift is to reinforce the scaffolding in a semester-long assignment. Students are too often jumping through hoops to complete the assignment, I want to reinforce that the hoops are part of a method and not just arbitrary busy-work.

Big picture thoughts:

As I listened and interacted with the presenters and brilliant librarians around the event, I found my mind returning to a couple of big-picture concepts that I’m going to need some time to chew on. The first was the subject of Anne-Marie Deitering and Hannah Gascho Rempel’s talk, methods to engage student curiosity in research. Allie Flanary also had good things to say about curiosity in conversation between the sessions. She’s working on a sabbatical project on student curiosity, which I’m anticipating with great interest. Engaging curiosity is a big reason I’m a teacher and it’s the most rewarding aspect of the work. Seeing librarians identify curiosity as the keystone of our instruction work is inspiring and I want to explore where this line of thinking leads people.

A second big-picture thought that I came back to at several points during the conference is the impact of web-scale discovery tools on library instruction. This is a topic that I’ve been fixated on for a few years now. Search interfaces for web-scale discovery tools closely resemble search interfaces for single databases or catalogs even though the underlying architectures are very different. At what point should we teach students that this is a different kind of search? It’s not obvious, but it’s significant. The search we do now is increasingly different from searching a single index and the gap widens every day. For a great reading on this, see Aaron Tay’s excellent post Why Nested Boolean Search Statements May Not Work As Well As They Did. Even though search interfaces look the same, the underlying math is very different. Web search and discovery layers look more simple than a database search, but underneath they are MUCH more complicated. I realize not every student needs to be an expert in big data, but “How much does a competent searcher need to know about how these new tools work?” is a live and relevant question that we don’t have an answer to.

Wrapping up

Library Instruction West is a small, intimate conference focused on issues of library instruction, the librarians who do this work, and the students we work with. It is full of excellent content and is attended by fascinating librarians who are there to share the best work being done in the field today. If this sounds like your cup of tea, the 2016 edition will be hosted in Salt Lake City. I hope to see you all there.


Notes

[*] For what it’s worth, I thought the shiniest spark in a brilliant couple of days was Kevin’s presentation. (back)

The Mobile App Design Process: A Tube Map Infographic

**This post was originally published in ACRL TechConnect on March 4, 2013***

The Mobile App Design Process Tube Map:

Last June I had a great experience team-teaching a week-long seminar on designing mobile apps at the Digital Humanities Summer Institute (DHSI). Along with my colleagues from WSU Vancouver’s Creative Media and Digital Culture (CMDC) program, I’ll be returning this June to the beautiful University of Victoria in British Columbia to teach the course again [1. http://dhsi.org/]. As part of the course, I created a visual overview of the process we use for app making. I hope you’ll find it a useful perspective on the work involved in crafting mobile apps and an aid to the process of creating your own.

topological map of the mobile app design process
A visual guide to the process of designing and building mobile apps. Start with Requirements Analysis in the upper-left and follow the tracks to Public Release. (Click for full-sized image.)
Creating the Tube Map:

I’m fond of the tube-map infographic style, also know as the topological map[2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Topological_map], because of its ability to highlight relationships between systems and especially because of how it distinguishes between linear (do once) and recursive (do over and over) processes. The linear nature of text in a book or images in slide-deck presentations can artificially impose a linearity that does not mirror the creative process we want to impart. In this example, the design and prototyping loops on the tube-map help communicate that a prototype model is an aid to modeling the design process and not a separate step completed only when the design has been finalized.

These maps are also fun and help spur the creative process. There are other tools for process mapping such as using flowcharts or mind-maps, but in this case I found the topological map has a couple of advantages. First and foremost, I associate the other two with our strategic planning process, so the tube map immediately seems more open, fun, and creative. This is, of course, rooted in my own experience and your experiences will vary but if you are looking for a new perspective on process mapping or a new way to display interconnected systems that is vibrant, fun, and shakes things up a bit the tube map may be just the thing.

I created the map using the open source vector-graphics program Inkscape[3. http://inkscape.org/] which can be compared to Adobe Illustrator and Corel Draw. Inkscape is free (both gratis and libre) and is powerful, but there is a bit of a learning curve. Being unfamiliar with vector graphics or the software tools to create them, I worked with an excellent tutorial provided by Wikipedia on creating vector graphic topological maps[4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Graphic_Lab/Resources/Draw_topological_maps]. It took me a few days of struggling and slowly becoming familiar with the toolset before I felt comfortable creating with Inkscape. I count this as time well spent, as many graphics used in mobile app and icon sets required by app stores can be made with vector graphic editors. The Inkscape skills I picked up while making the map have come in very handy on multiple occasions since then.

Reading the Mobile App Map:

Our process through the map begins with a requirements analysis or needs assessment. We ask: what does the client want the app to do? What do we know about our end users? How do the affordances of the device affect this? Performing case studies helps us learn about our users before we start designing to meet their needs. In the design stage we want people to make intentional choices about the conceptual and aesthetic aspects of  their app design. Prototype models like wireframe mock-ups, storyboards, or Keynotopia[3. http://keynotopia.com/] prototypes help us visualize these choices, eventually resulting in a working prototype of our app. Stakeholders can test and request modifications to the prototype, avoiding potentially expensive and labor intensive code revisions later in the process.

Once both the designers and clients are satisfied with the prototype and we’ve seen how potential users interact with it, we’re ready to commit our vision to code. Our favored code platform uses HTML 5, CSS 3, jQuery Mobile[4. http://jquerymobile.com/], and PhoneGap[5. http://phonegap.com/] to make hybrid web apps. Hybrid apps are written as web apps–HTML/JavaScript web sites that look and performlike apps–then use a tool like PhoneGap to translate this code into the native format for a device. PhoneGap translates a web app into a format that works with the device’s native programming environment. This provides more direct and thus faster access to device hardware and also enables us to place our app in official app stores. Hybrid apps are not the only available choice and aren’t perfect for every use case. They can be slower than native apps and may have some issues accessing device hardware, but the familiar coding language, multi-device compatibility, and ease of making updates across multiple platforms make them an ideal first step for mobile app design. LITA has an upcoming webinar on creating web apps that employs this system[6. http://www.ala.org/lita/learning/online/HTML5].

Once the prototype has been coded into a hybrid app, we have another opportunity for evaluation and usability testing. We teach a pervasive approach that includes evaluation and testing all throughout the process, but this stage is very important as it is a last chance to make changes before sending the code to an app marketplace. After the app has been submitted, opportunities to make updates, fix bugs, and add features can be limited, sometimes significantly, by the app store’s administrative processes.

After you have spent some time following the lines of the tube map and reading this very brief description, I hope you can see this infographic as an aid to designing mobile web apps. I find it particularly helpful for identifying the source of a particular problem I’m having and also suggesting tools and techniques that can help resolve it. As a personal example, I am often tempted to start writing code before I’ve completely made up my mind what I want the code to do, which leads to frustration. I use the map to remind me to look at my wireframe and use that to guide the structure of my code. I hope you all find it useful as well.

 

(This was originally published on the ACRL TechConnect site. If you care to comment, please join the conversation there.)

#DigiWriMo #acwrimo 2012 What I’m doing

Ok, so the title of this post may be misleading. I’m not certain I know what I’m doing, other than I’m doing #digiwrimo and #acwrimo this year. This means I’m going to focus on getting a metric shitte-tonne of writing done in the month of November. Follow the links above for the official rules, but I’ll be breaking those. These are my rules:

  • I’m going to write for at least two pomodoro units each work day. This isn’t very much.
  • I’m going to make progress on at least my accepted Online Northwest presentation and an article I should have written 18 months ago.
  • I’m going to include non-text-entry parts of writing such as editing my own writing and others’ work and also my own project management as “writing” tasks
  • Twitter and other social networking doesn’t count. (They don’t move me toward my productivity goals.) Neither do things like writing Goodreads book reviews. (These are things I do instead of writing.)
  • I’m going to pursue a thought I’ve been chewing on until I either have a draft or I’ve decided it is stupid. The thought is that library public services can be split into two approaches: UX design and the hacker ethic. One has few barriers to access but incentivizes  a passive approach to receiving pre-digested information. The other is more difficult and has technology and skill barriers but incentivizes an active approach to creating and integrating new knowledge. For now I’m calling the two approaches “Jobs” and “Woz.”
The Main Project

The main project I want to progress on is a paper on the effects teaching search engine architecture and SEO have on students information literacy. I’ve presented a few times on this subject but need to write an actual paper. It’s based on my classroom experiences, but I’ve also started a review of textbooks used to teach search in Information Science / Information Management graduate programs to track how much information architecture librarians are provided with in their graduate education. My hypothesis is that searchers who understand how both keyword-relevance algorithm search tools and traditional databases, indexes, and well-ordered sets of metadata are structured are able to make better practical decisions in their search processes.

What I need to do is to gather and collate a couple years of divergent projects and false-starts and squish them together into a cogent outline.

Side Project One:

I have promised to build some training materials for the ACRL LITA Code Year Interest Group on working w/ APIs. I’ve decided to work w/ OCLC’s Worldcat Local API to solve an annoying problem with our catalog. (OK, the problem is in the DATA, not in the tool that searches the data.) Currently, government documents in electronic form are cataloged as books. So, when students search our catalog looking for locally held books they can check out, they have to wade through pages of electronic government reports, white papers, and hearings. Weeding out these items that are not physical books on our local shelves takes an insanely complex series of Boolean operations that I once discovered by failed to write down.

My project will be to write a simple search web-app that can be used either as a search box on a web page or as a mobile app that automates this complex search as a simple “find books I can find on the shelf” search box. As I build this, I’ll record the steps and publish a training guide to simple deployment of OCLC’s Worldcat search API.

Side Project Two:

I mentioned I’m looking into the hacker ethos and UX design as competing priorities in public services librarianship. Perhaps they are in a dynamic balance instead of directly competing, but this is something worth thinking/reading/writing/mulling over.

Side Project Three:

Library Boxen. I’ve orderd a couple of the routers used in the Library Box project and I have an implementation plan for one of them. I’ve just hacked a spare home wifi router w/ DD-WRT, so I think I”m ready to install Open-WRT on the hardware, then the Pirate Box software, and then Jason Griffey’s Library Box code on top of that.

I’m hoping to deploy my first Pirate Box at the Fort Vancouver Historical Site in support of the CMDC’s mobile project there. My CMDC faculty colleagues Brett Oppegaard and Dene Grigar have been developing mobile apps to help present rich historical content available to visitors at the site. The historic fort is remote and out of range of wifi and most cellular broadband signals. The Library Box would be a solution to offer visitors the chance to download the app itself or rich media content to help make their visit to the site more informative.

This is primarily a making/hacking project, but I’m betting I’ll find some way to write (yack) about the project before I’m done.

Side Project Four:

I’m currently a blogger for ACRL’s TechConnect blog. I’m struggling to get my work in on time. (Translate: missing deadlines pretty badly) If I sit down to write every day, there is no reason I can’t hammer out a couple of posts to keep on hand, giving me a buffer. This week, in fact, I’d like to finish my piece on the Hacker Ethos and Librarians. This will detail both mindsets and tools librarians can use to empower us to remake our online and physical environment to meet our needs. No longer will we have reason to complain about our tools. If they don’t meet our needs: remake them until they do! I recently gave a talk to a class of undergrads new to digital media on the ethics of hacking and I’d like to modify that content for my library colleagues.

Yack Yack

If I get half way through half of these things, it will be a highly productive month. I’m not interested in 50k words in 30 days. I’m interested in building new workflows that get some work done. I’ve got plenty of interesting things to think about, #digiwrimo and #acwrimo are, for me, a chance to DO THINGS instead of just keep lists of interesting possibilities.

 

As the (tenth) Doctor says: “Allons-y!”

My #ALA12 Conference Report

My #ALA12 Conference Report

(Or how I discovered LITA, said goodbye to ACRL, and rediscovered a joy and engagement with library professional involvement)

<!– Conference Report –>

(tl;dr version: LITA has some kick-ass interest groups.)

This year at the American Library Association’s annual meeting in Anaheim #ala12, I decided to change-up my standard method for dealing with the conference and was greatly pleased with the results. I found engaging new content and interesting projects that are worth the effort of engagement. Read on:

Continue reading

King James, Gutenberg, and Information Abundance

Libraries are solutions to the problem of information scarcity

Libraries, broadly speaking, are solutions to the problem of information scarcity. Given a world in which information is rare, difficult to acquire, and expensive; collecting information into a central location where it can be shared with a population of users is a very good idea. People who on their own could not afford to purchase all of the books they want to read can pool their money and build institutions that collect, house, and share books. Libraries are genius solutions to the problems posed by information scarcity.

More and more often, however, I’m left wondering what happens when information scarcity is no longer the overriding information issue? It is still a big issue, mind you, and for the present, libraries are still appropriate solution to information scarcity. However, digital information products, the Internet, WordPress and other free self-publication platforms, and Wikipedia have changed this. Or at least have changed this for people w/ computers, smartphones, tablets and ubiquitous broadband connections. As one of my favorite librarians has pointed out: the IMDB app on a smartphone has changed bar-bets about movie casts forever. Wikipedia on a smartphone changes ready-reference for ever. We’re still figuring out the full extent of the disruption, but for many of our patrons this means that they no longer need libraries to discover that Lima is the capitol of Peru or that Val Kilmer starred in Real Genius.

Continue reading

The user becomes the collection

(This is a previously unpublished post  from my WordPress drafts folder. I’ve cleaned it up and finished some thoughts, but mostly it stands as written in November 2010)

The user becomes the collection

At this Fall’s ACRL Northwest conference, I had the good fortune to participate in a panel discussing the future of libraries. We were asked what we thought the theme of the conference would be five years in the future. In the month or so since the panel took place, I can’t seem to stop mulling over the answer that I gave. I said something along the lines of “The user becomes the collection”, meaning that libraries, instead of providing access to static content will instead provide access for our users to connect with networks of like minds. I predict this trend will continue to the point where libraries become more about curating networks and connections between thinkers and creators of information and less about the static content we store in our collections.
Continue reading

Imaginary Libraries

I was asked recently to write a response piece to an article written by one of my CMDC colleagues John Barber. John is a Richard Brautigan scholar and has recently proposed creating a digital archive in the spirit of the library described in Brautigan’s The Abortion: an historical romance. My response focused on three questions. What was the essential nature of Brautigan’s library? Is this a sound model for a contemporary digital archive? Is John’s proposed archive both in keeping with Brautigan’s model and a practical solution for today’s archival needs? Our pieces will be published in a upcoming issue of Hyperrhiz.
Continue reading

It’s not about the book

If you want to have game rooms and pingpong tables and God knows what — poker parties — fine, do it, but don’t pretend it has anything to do with libraries” – Michael Gorman

The L.A. Times recently published a story about the future of libraries. It contained the sorts of things you would expect to find. A comment about the relevance of libraries in the age of Google? Check. Discussion about the relevance of libraries after information goes digital? Check. Michael Gorman antagonizing his fellow librarians by using his status as a former president of the American Library Association to advance a narrow and anachronistic definition of what a library is? Check. So what is new here? Is it really worth re-hashing the Blog People incident all over again? At first, I had a hard time finding the energy to care. Library bloggers at 8-Bit Library and Agnostic, Maybe offered up spirited defenses of the place of games in library collections, does more really need to be said? This is a blog, so of course something more is going to be said, whether it needs to or no.
Continue reading

State of Academic Library Gaming: Response to Paul Waelchi’s Letter

State of Academic Library Gaming

Paul Waelchli of Research Quest recent sent around an email to some academic librarians who have shown an interest in gaming. I encourage you all to read the original letter and chime in with your views. As I wind down my week and prepare to head up to Seattle, I’d like to offer my $.02 USD on the subject and publicly thank Paul for getting the conversation started. So here is my stab at responding to Paul’s excellent questions. (I apologize for the hasty scrawling, but, if I give in to the editing impulse, I’ll never get it posted before ACRL.) Mary Broussard also has a response to this conversation posted, and I have a sense that more contributors will be coming forward soon.

1) What is the current state of games and learning in academic libraries?

Games and learning exist on the margins of academic libraries. I’m not sure this is a bad thing, but my experience, which includes publishing and presenting about games and learning in academic libraries as a major aspect of my tenure and promotion process has taught me a few valuable lessons. First, academic librarians are willing to listen to ideas and research about the current and forthcoming generations of students. Tying gaming to the learning preferences and culture of students is an excellent way to justify studying learning in games. I haven’t noticed that most librarians are interested in gamers per se, that is to say, generally we don’t see a role for games being collected or played in the library. I have noticed a high amount of interest in games being taught librarians as a path to understanding the learning preferences of today’s students. Games are one tool that can be used for specific purposes. For now, I think this is an appropriate reaction. As games or interactive media take on a larger role in information transfer and communication, as I forsee they inevitably will do, that role will necessarily evolve.

2) What are some of the factors to that current state?

Besides those mentioned above, I think the content of games has a lot to do with the rate that they are assimilated into academic libraries. Despite the potential of the medium, games are largely designed and marketed to children and young adults. To horrifically oversimplify, a major mission of information literacy instruction is to help young scholars move beyond uncritical reliance on popular media and become critical consumers of scholarly publications in their discipline. On the surface, focusing on games is a move in the wrong direction. A way around this is to focus on pedagogy and critical thinking. If we can show our sceptical colleagues that game designers have developed innovative ways of building skills and reflective practices then we have built a bridge between meeting our students where they are today and where they need to be in order to successfully complete their undergraduate education.

3) Based on your experience and research, what are the next steps?

The next step is to build a scholarship of game studies that focuses on information literacy instruction. Perhaps a collaborative project might include building an annotated bibliography out of the scholarship we have done so far. We’ve all read a lot, processed a lot, and produced some good work. We can make it easier for our academic colleagues to follow our conversation if we provide a roadmap or at least a trail of bread crumbs that led us to where we are today. I also think it would be useful for us to do some talking about niches. Games have become a mature media. Perhaps it is no longer useful to lump in game analysis with designing useful games for the classroom or teaching to a gaming generation. Many game scholars are dividing into camps of ludologists and narratologists, those who focus on the game-play mechanics and those who focus on the narrative action of games. The time may be ripe for librarians to become equally specific in our work.

4) What are the factors supporting or preventing those “next steps?”

I think there is a lot of work to be done. Outside of Media Studies or Digital Technology and Culture programs, there may not be a lot of widespread acceptance for games and interactive media being a serious and significant area of study. On the other hand, I don’t think there is much to be gained by arguing that point. Perhaps the best way to convince skeptical colleagues that a focus on games and learning is in the best interest of the library is to do work with games and learning that enhances student learning and furthers the mission of our libraries.

On the bright side, there do appear to be rich opportunities to perform scholarship in this area. In my personal experience, after writing and presenting on games and learning in academic libraries, I’ve begun to receive invitations to present my research in new venues. There is clearly a market for library scholarship on games, gaming, and gamers on the local and national level and in peer-reviewed library journals. If we truly want to build a body of scholarship surrounding games and learning in academic libraries, it is my belief that the publishing market will support us.

5) What do the financial and economic situations at many institutions mean for instructional gaming in libraries?

Now is not a good time for unproven projects that cost a lot of money. For example, given the choice between purchasing a Wii, a monitor, and a gaming lab and cutting one less journal subscription; I couldn’t responsibly not save the journal. The financial situation is bad and I can’t imagine asking for funds with a clear concience any time soon.

6) What other issues/questions should we be considering?

I’ll save this conversation for ACRL and the next round of discussions. My angle on games in libraries is fairly limited, and I’m sure that others are focusing on many areas that I’m blind to or unaware of.

Thanks Paul, for getting the conversation started. I look forward to seeing and or meeting more of you all in Seattle this week, if you are fortunate enough to travel. Seattle is fairly local, so I’m car-pooling up and staying w/ friends. I’m sure its harder for folk who have further to travel.