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Archive for the ‘ASIST’ Category

There are a lot of sessions at ASIS&T (and probably most conferences) with fairly impregnable titles. I’ve found myself sitting in sessions which were about something very different than I thought. But this session title is pretty straightforward: It was all about evaluating virtual reference services.

Marie Radford (Rutgers University) and Lynn Connaway (OCLC) spoke about a long-term research project currently underway in which they’re evaluating users, non-users, and librarians about their positive and negative e-reference (and non-e-reference, in the case of non-users) experiences. Some key points:

  • Librarians considered relational and attitudinal aspects of the reference transaction as much more important than users did; for users, answers (content) were key.
  • Librarians want to teach and users don’t always want to be taught. It seems, though, that users are more open to instruction face-to-face than virtually.
  • A great suggestion to work through the “don’t teach me” barrier: Provide the requested information, and then ask, “Would you like to know how I found it?” I think this is a GREAT idea, because it sounds almost like you’re offering a secret or something.
  • Oh, earlier, when I noted that relational aspects of the transaction matter less to patrons: That’s not entirely true. They just THINK they matter less, but customer services is still important. It’s just that good customer service can be invisible to users, because they’re able to focus on the answer part.
  • People are willing to wait longer for a subject-specialist.

And of course, all I could think of was my Reference course, in which we pretty much entirely focused on customer service and the theoretical implications of the reference transaction, but in which I didn’t really learn to do what users actually want: provide information. Sigh.

Jeffrey Pomerantz (UNC Chapel Hill—These UNC folks are everywhere!) talked about librarians participating in online answer boards like Yahoo! Answers. He was specifically talking about this Slam the Boards project, which involves, on the 10th of every month, librarians going onto these sites and answering questions. I’m not entirely sure why we’re only supposed to do this one day each month, but it’s an interesting idea. Jeffrey tried to evaluate whether librarians’ answers were better, or more specifically, whether they were rated more highly by question askers.

His conclusion was essentially that it’s really hard to evaluate librarian participation in online answer boards. There are approximately 100,000 questions posted to Yahoo! Answers everyday, their API for culling data doesn’t allow you to pull information for more than 5,000 questions, and as a researcher, one has to rely on users self-identifying as librarians. But his research raised some great questions and thoughts:

  • Are these boards places where libraries should be? Most of the questions are kind of silly, and it doesn’t really seem librarians are making a huge impact
  • In the midst of all these silly questions, there are some serious questions: How do we get the askers of these serious questions to remember their local library (or its online services) as a resource?

Lorri Mon of Florida State University and the Internet Public Library talked about blogging as a reference service, and about users’ needs and use in her area. She mentioned an article I’m going to try to read on the plane tonight: Pomerantz and Stutzman’s “Collaborative reference work in the blogosphere” (2006), and she primarily talked about how students in an online course used blogs and their comment sections to post questions, answer each other, and provide a sense of community.

She pointed out that most libraries are still not using social networking sites, and that of those they are, most of them are using MySpace (ugh). Her research shows that blogs are the most widely used technology tool in libraries, followed by wikis (which are mostly used as behind-the-scenes staff tools, as they are in my library). She talked a bit about the blurring of boundaries between different types of tools (chat embedded in blogs and facebook, chat reference in Second Life). Finally, she raised an interesting question: How is eReference being taught in library schools? Well, I can answer that from my own experience: barely. Sure, I read an article or two on it. But as she noted, there was no hands on experience, or even role playing, and that probably would have been easy to set up and helpful. But I think I already mentioned that I didn’t learn a ton in my reference course.

To close up the session, Joseph Janes responded to all three presenters and brought up some really excellent points. He largely talked about the differences between Yahoo and Google: Yahoo is about community, and Google is about answers. And in that way, Google Reference services makes more sense than Yahoo reference services. He argued that we need some hook into the mass of people with information needs, whether that’s a local hook, a subject-oriented hook, a site-based hook, or something else entirely (though I lean toward a subject-oriented hook and already have started thinking about how that might work. And I think it’s all about search engine optimization.).

Lorri Mon made the comment that “people are looking for their personal librarian,” and I jumped on this one. I’ve talked before about embedded librarianship in the academic community, and I think we need to set each student up from day one of their college careers with a personal librarian. What if we assigned a librarian to students the way we assign them advisors? Subject-specialist librarians could be personal librarians for people in specific departments (for example, when you declare your major, you’re assigned a reference librarian affiliated with that department). I think just the personalization of that, the introduction to a librarian, would make it less intimidating, and would make people think about going to the library for their information needs more readily than they otherwise might.

This was one of the most inspiring sessions I attended, in that I came out of it with ideas, papers to read, things I wanted to experiment with and research. So, thanks to all these great presenters! As though they will ever see my lonely little bloggity blog. :-)

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(But first, an aside about conference internet access: It is crappy. And I’m a poor graduate student who can’t afford to spend an obscene amount of money everyday for a decent connection. There is free “access” in some parts of the conference hotel, but it goes in and out like crazy and it’s not available everywhere. Maddening. It does make me realize how spoiled I am for access and how hard it is to not be able to get information or do my work when I want to. Ok, aside over.)

Yesterday afternoon I attended a session on the good and the bad of the online world. The speakers were William Jones of University of Washington, Fred Stutzman of UNC Chapel Hill, Cathy Marshall of Microsoft Research, Gary Marchionini of UNC Chapel Hill, and Allison Brueckner of cALiCo Information Consulting. My notes on this are a bit briefer than for the earlier two sessions (I was getting tired), so I’ll just share a few thoughts I jotted down, mostly, again things I want to look up or look into.

Fred Stutzman brought up the hypothesis that young people might be more accepting of loss of privacy on the web because they’ve been raised in a more closely surveilled society, that that political and social change made the kind of online disclosure we’re seeing now possible. Intriguing. He also pointed out that we’re beginning to see more negotiation of privacy: in each specific social space online, people are controlling who can see what and when and where with greater specificity.

Cathy Marshall talked about some of the myths of digital archiving, and I wish she’d been able to present a bit longer, and get into some more detail about the subject, as it’s quite timely in relation to my Digital Preservation class. She said, at one point, “Benign neglect has its virtues in that it automatically culls itself,” and I’d love to hear more about her ideas around beningn neglect and the fact that we’re trying to save too much. Another interesting myth she refutes: “Kids will know what to do.” I talk about this a lot, the assumption or idea that the younger generation are information experts, just born knowing how to deal with the digital.

Gary Marchionini talked about a great concept: proflection. He draws together the intentional identities we present online, and the intentional ways people talk about us, with the “ambient” or unintentional ways that we present and are presented online, and molds them into this concept of the Proflected Identity. I really like his concept of the ambient identities on the web, the way you are known through the things you buy, your click streams, your search histories, your citation webs, etc. He also mentioned a tool, a personal web crawler created by a student at UNC Chapel Hill, called the Context Miner.

Allison Brueckner spoke last, and talked about Second Life, utopias, and dystopias. She brought up some interesting points about the utopian vision that the web was when it was created, before technological barriers reinforced class barriers and we realized that, despite its promise, it tends to recapitulate the barriers to information and community that exist in real life.

As I mentioned, my notes on this presentation were more scant, and I’m sure I’m doing real justice to these presenters, but I did find their ideas useful. I would have liked to hear a little more from all of them, but they wanted to include a solid amount of time for group discussion, so I felt each speaker was a little rushed. There was a lot of good stuff there, though.

After the presentations, there was an evening of receptions, and while the receptions I’ve been to at other conferences were awkward and boring, both Tuesday night receptions were fun. There was good food, tango dancing demonstrations, raffles, meeting people, wine, socializing…all good times.

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The second session I attended yesterday dealt with tagging, another subject I’ve been drawn to during my year in library school.

Heather Pfeiffer of New Mexico State University gave an overview of ontology building. She used the framework of language—syntax, semantics, and pragmatics—to talk about how we construct ontological frameworks, and she placed tagging within these varying frameworks to show how tags are constructed within a specific context.

Emma Tonkin of the University of Bath took Pfeiffer’s ideas and went a step further. I will admit that I was feeling a little out of my element, but here are some thoughts I jotted down during her presentation: She talked about the ways that building an ontology relies on the ideas of what is important to a very specific community, and about the way that each community creates its own ontology. I wondered what happens when one community has control over the ontologies, and the languages, of other groups of people. How and when do we define the world for other people?

  • How do libraries and universities define the world of knowledge for students?
  • Should we invite them in to re-define that world? Would that happen through tagging?
  • Can tagging provide the flexibility that library classification systems lack in a rapidly changing academic landscape?

I think what I mostly pondered as Emma talked was the question of sharing, and of who we’re letting in to build this world of knowledge in academic communities. How can we find a balance between a too static ontological system and a too flexible one?

David Millen of IBM’s TJ Watson Research group presented on patterns of collaborative tagging in the enterprise environment. He talked about varied goals of social sites, and I found his framework useful: Most people want to find, re-find, or explore, and their goals have a big impact on how they use them, and in turn how useful social bookmarking sites are to other people with different goals.

He mentioned that he found more similarities between users within IBM than differences, and I wondered whether that could be extrapolated to the academic community. Are there more similarities between users in the university than differences?

He mentioned toward the end using games to encourage people to start tagging, and I’m interested in exploring this a little further, especially in the context of adding tags to the library catalog or library resources.

Mark Lindner of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign talked about language and communication within LIS. He used Roy Harris’s theory of integrationism to talk about how we communicate through tags. I was particularly interested in looking at the differences between tagging for your own individual use, which can be seen as tagging as personal communication, and tagging for a community, where there are more constraints.

Finally, Margaret Kipp of Long Island University spoke about communication practices in groups. Some points of interest:

  • We usually engage in the activity of deciding on semantic meaning without realizing we are doing it, or thinking about it, which is amazing because it’s a very complicated practice.
  • We’re always placing something into a personal context, even “official” classification systems, because that is how we think.
  • Tagging something, or deciding on what it means, can be important for the process of understanding something and sense-making itself.

I thought about the way LibraryThing can show how my books have been tagged by other people, and it’s very interesting to have this tool to essentially compare ontologies or personal classification systems. You can start to understand what categories are important to you, and what is important to people in your community, by looking at these comparisons.

Another thing I thought my be worth exploring is related to the way people tag things with form-related words (book, article, etc.) and subject-related words. I thought it might be interesting to create a system where people have different categories of tags. For example, I could tag a particular website with a subject name, a form name, and a task-related name (to use, to share, etc.). How could we enhance information-seeking by allowing for these combinations of concepts that relate to a document to work together? Perhaps that’s just a silly idea, but in my dorkitude, I saw immediate usefulness. :-)

Overall, the presentation made me want to do a bit more reading into understanding how students think, how knowledge is created, and how our current technologies can change the ways knowledge is created. I think there are definitely some good areas for exploration, so expect to see more on this from me in the future.

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I was up bright and early this morning for the first session, and am so, so grateful I’m staying in the conference hotel. It just makes life so much easier.

This morning’s session (well, one of the several) was on information literacy and how students judge credibility when they’re researching, whether it’s for school or recreation. Teaching students to evaluate information is one of my pet subjects, and the researchers presented some interesting research and brought up great ideas.

The first speaker, Heidi Julien of the University of Alberta, talked about research among upper-level high school science students. Some of her findings:

  • Students do use Wikipedia and Google primarily (interesting research in related to questions I raised last week)
  • They use these sources for both personal and academic information needs.
  • They tend to judge accuracy based on whether they see the same information across multiple sources
  • They privilege information sources their teachers suggest (so yes, teachers still have some authority!).

Julien’s research also revealed that students say they learn from previous experience, rather than from explicit IL instruction. Though part of me wonders if students always know when they’re receiving IL instruction, and I kind of think that teaching would benefit if IL instruction was embedded in subject matter instruction seamlessly.

She suggested that future research should look into what information searching and evaluation skills teachers have, and how we can change teacher education to include these skills. And she points out that teachers often neglect teaching these skills because they aren’t examinable, which to my mind just means we need to find better ways to assess students’ learning. But they, hasn’t NCLB taught us that already? (Oops, sorry for the politics. I won’t do it again.)

Louise Limberg of the University College of Boras in Sweden spoke next, about cognitive authority, how well students judge it, and how those judgments are related to learning outcomes. She uses Wilson’s theory of cognitive authority (which I want to read more about now), which highlights the relationship between the user and the source as a foundation for how authority of the source is determined (um, I’m probably not getting that entirely right, but I did my best).

Her research showed that students were very aware of the credibility issues that arise around a lot of information seeking on the web, and she discovered that (shocker!) surface assessments of the authority of a source, assessments that are based on superficial qualities rather than content-based qualities, lead students to show lower performance on various learning outcomes. Limberg quoted one of her student’s statement that (paraphrased) there is no objective information because everyone is biased. I balked a little because it seemed that Limberg was showing that this critical perspective resulted in higher learning achievements, and, well, I just don’t think it’s any better to believe that there are NO objective information sources than to be completely gullible about everything you read. It reminded me of my first year in my undergraduate when I started learning about subjectivity and knowledge production, and I was suddenly so convinced that everything was relative and no one was objective and even science was produced from bias, which, eh, has elements of truth, sure. But as I’ve matured (I like to think) I’ve come to realize that there are levels, so to speak, of objectivity, and that some information sources are more credible, and are worth looking at as objective sources. So applauding students who learn to be super-critical of information sources can, perhaps, go too far.

The next speaker was Soo Young Rieh of the University of Michigan, and I was very intrigued by her research methodology. She did a kind of ethnographic research project in which she had students from higher education institutions keep track of one information seeking moment in their day everyday for 10 days, and to relate how they found information and how they judged its accuracy. She argued that for most of us, judging credibility is something we do unconsciously (which kind of relates to my earlier thought about students perhaps not realizing they were receiving IL instruction). Rieh’s research showed that judging sources is something that is embedded into the information seeking process, and that we do it in different ways depending on the type of information we’re looking for. Rieh pointed out that credibility judgment always happens in a social context, and in some situations (er, in the classroom, for instance) people will substitute someone else’s standards for credibility (the professor’s) for their own. Her research was great and I’m looking forward to reading more about it when I get home, because I think it really could inform some of the ideas I have about embedded IL instruction.

The last speaker, Olof Sundin of Lund University, talked about information literacy practices as socio-cultural practices. He brought up some great points based on three research questions:

  1. What do pedagogues think about expertise in Web 2.0 tools?
  2. What do students think about expertise in Web 2.0 tools?
  3. What do producers think about expertise in Web 2.0 tools?

And of course, he points out that these roles sometimes overlap. His research used student-produced blogs, questionnaires, and, um, some other things (doh, I’m bad at taking notes) to assess students’ information seeking behaviors as they worked on long term projects. Some interesting points:

  • Wikipedia is used even by students as background for research, but they don’t cite it, even if the teacher doesn’t specifically disallow it.
  • Most students express a digital/print dichotomy. They don’t critical evaluate print resource anymore, because the focus of our IL teaching has shifted so completely. This one I find really interesting, and definitely worth looking into more. And I can see exactly why this happens, and can even see myself privileging print resources as I learn to provide reference and instruction services. So, good thing to keep in mind when I eventually have an instruction-related job.
  • The boundaries between teachers and librarians are becoming less fixed. This is also super interesting to me in relation to my ideas about embedded IL instruction. Librarians are being seen as teachers and teachers as information providers. I think this is great, and I’m really interested in potential future roles where these things are more merged, but those are thoughts for another day.

One of the last things Sundin mentioned was a project in which students from a variety of language backgrounds compared Wikipedia articles on the same subjects to see how they differ in the various language versions. Awesome, and I would love to see these students’ final project.

So, essentially, a lot of this information isn’t entirely new. Information evaluation is very contextually based, students’ ability to judge information varies a lot depending on the subject, how familiar they are with it, and what they’re seeking the information for. Students don’t always have the skills necessary to judge information, no matter the medium. Their knowledge of information sources is often superficial. Teachers have neither the time nor the resources to teach them IL practices, and with fewer and fewer librarians in schools, well…

One final point that piqued my interest: Someone during the discussion session asked about students as information providers. The panel talked about how students can begin to see their role as authorities on a subject, and I am really interested in this in relation to college students seeing themselves as part of a discipline. I think it’s important for undergraduates to do research, and to see themselves as people who can contribute to a field (that was the best aspect of my undergraduate experience). So I wonder how we can begin to inculcate this idea of students as information providers through IL instruction. Encouraging students to create research guides or edit Wikipedia pages might be really beneficial for them to begin to see themselves as part of a bigger project, which is the growth of a discipline.

It would have been nice to hear more next steps and solutions from the researchers, rather than just to hear their research pointing out how students do and do not know how to evaluate sources. But considering that I just asked last week whether students know how to take next steps in their research, it was timely and worth hearing.

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Attending a conference where there are people you know is a million times better than one where you don’t. I’m a shy person (shocker!) so without a liaison or two to introduce me to new people, the sad truth is a probably won’t meet new people. And I will wander around awkward and alone until I get so fed up I go home early and miss something potentially interesting. So I’m awfully glad that there is a good-sized Simmons contingent here in Columbus this year.

I attended the New Members Brunch yesterday, and really appreciate that they hold an event like this at the beginning of a conference, before sessions begin (ahem, ALA). I did start to understand this whole SIG thing a little better, and heard over and over again that ASIS&T is a strong community, that people consider it a professional home, and that once you get involved you’re probably going to be involved for life. :-) There are a few things that I think would have made it a little better: It would be nice if they labeled the tables with the actual SIG names instead of acronyms. Sure, each table had a cheat sheet on it, but you didn’t realize that until you’d already picked a table to sit at based purely on chance. It would also have been nice if there was an ASIS&T veteran at each table to introduce her/himself to newbies and introduce them to each other so there would potentially not be so much awkwardness (again, maybe I’m just a shy and awkward person…but I didn’t feel alone in this yesterday morning, so…). Finally, I would have appreciated hearing a little more about how to navigate the conference and what events are really important, etc. rather than hearing about veteran members’ favorite memories or most embarrassing moments. They were entertaining stories, and certainly served to show what a strong community ASIS&T is, which is appealing. But it also made me, at least, feel like a bit of an outsider. And I still felt a little unsure how to navigate the conference.

The plenary session after the brunch was fascinating. Of course, I didn’t take notes, and having been up since 4 am, I was a little sleepy. The speaker was Genevieve Bell, from Intel’s Digital Home Group, and she primarily spoke about an area of research I haven’t given too much thought to in the past: a sort of anthropology of internet users. She talked about how people experience the internet, and how that, in many places of the world, is very different from how Western, hyper-connected, (wealthy) people experience the internet. I really appreciated her challenge to broader my perceptions, and to really think about how use will be different, will be changing, in the future. Very interesting stuff in relation to questions of the Digital Divide, and in relation to changing tools and access mediums (mobile devices, GPS devices, etc.). I’d love to find some books and other sources that look at the internets from this anthropological/ethnological kind of perspective.

Howard Rheingold (author of Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution, among other books) and Andrew Keen (author of The Cult of the Amateur, among other books) gave their reactions and thoughts in relation to Genevieve’s presentation, but I have to be really honest. I was WIPED OUT and had a really, really hard time paying attention, and an even hard time remembering what they said. Grr. What I mostly picked up was a bit of debate around elitism in terms of perceptions and uses of the internet, and how it’s impacting cultural production. But…yeah I was drifting.

I decided not to attend any of the afternoon sessions, figuring it would serve me better to rest, and it did. I check into my hotel room and read email and generally enjoyed sitting for a few hours. The Welcome Reception was at 6.30, and it was mostly chaotic and very stuffy, but it was still nice to chat with other Simmons folks who are here and I did manage to meet a few people while waiting in the drink line. I was actually kind of surprised to discover how few Masters students are here. The students are mostly PhD students, and there is, I think, a prioritization of research that goes on here. People kept asking me what my research is on, and I felt kinda lame saying, “Oh, I’m doing research, I’m in a masters program to become a librarian.” But whatever.

SIG Management (don’t remember the acronym; I’m not quite there yet) were kind enough to invite me out to dinner, which was the highlight of my day yesterday, largely because I felt like I really met some new people, instead of simply engaging in awkward chit-chat while standing in line. We went to Buca di Beppo, which are all over Southern California, but I’d never been to one before. Definitely a fun spot, and the food was good, though, y’know, I’m an Italian food snob, so… :-)

All in all, a wonderful welcome to ASIS&T.

UPDATE: Spinstah took much better notes than I did at the plenary session, and I would recommend you get over there to check out her notes immediately.

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