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6 Lessons We NEED to Be Teaching December 10, 2009

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I’ve been avoiding this personal diatribe for some time now so as to avoid being the whiny, criticizing librarian who sees fault everywhere but does nothing. As librarians, we are all too aware of the habit to tend toward myopia, often forgetting that most people do not understand research as we do, hence our livelihood. And though we may acknowledge that we often breeze past the simplest (but often crucial) building blocks of research, we do little to address it. With this list I am attempting to argue that bibliographic instruction needs to be rethought and needs to address the sources of research so that students understand why, for example, articles need to be peer-reviewed, other than the fact that their professor requires it.

Here is the only disclaimer I give: as a new employee and only half a year out of library school, I don’t find it in my best interest to criticize well-established methods. In time I do hope to share my ideas, but for now I’ll vent here and present the 6 lessons we NEED to be teaching to undergrads in the library.

1. What is a journal/journal article?

More often than not, bibliographic instruction (aka information literacy instruction) includes a section on how to search databases, including which databases should be used for certain subjects and how to locate them on the library’s web page. The students type in a few words and presto–there’s a full-text article directly in front of them. To a student who is embarking on her first research paper in college there is not much difference between this and Google, which leads to a plethora of misunderstandings down the road. My suggestion is this: we bring paper (yes PAPER) journals into the session; maybe even walk the students down into the stacks where the periodicals are kept so that they understand that these digital articles are things that have actually been vetted and published, thus distinguishing them from much else on the web.This brings me to my second point–

2.The nature of databases.

Now that the student understands why journal articles are superior to Google’s search results, they need to understand that certain databases cover only certain journals. This will avoid a typical problem I have encountered, that of a student asserting that they only use EBSCO…yes, but which EBSCO product? (If only these databases changed their interface for different products, how it would help us!)

3. Databases are not the same as the Internet.

Students tell me that they need research sources, but are forbidden to use the web. When I pull up a database to find peer-viewed articles they insist that these are not allowed. After I explain that the library pays for these published sources, they usually acquiesce, though lingering suspicions tend to remain.

4. The relationship between articles and URLs.

Students are savvy, resourceful, and green. Many of them will find an article and create a list of URLs for easy access to the articles from home so that they are not weighed down with stacks of paper. This practice most often occurs after bibliographic instruction and it is only when the student tries to retrieve the articles that he is left embarrassingly and frustratingly bereft of all his hard work. Embarrassed at his apparent lack of tech-savvy, and assuming the librarian knows less than himself, what are the chances that he will ask for help? That is why it is imperative we explain the proxy-server, and that journal articles can only be accessed from campus or with a password, explaining that databases create unique URLs to avoid unlawful sharing of resources. Students must realize that (once again) these are not free articles on the web and that there is a process to access them.

5. The Web is not Evil!

This statement might seem at odds with my earlier declarations, but it is important for students (and perhaps arcane professors) to know that the web is increasingly a place for good information, with the caveat that students learn the skills to identify what constitutes “good” information. With more and more respectable periodicals putting their articles online (New York Times, Time, Business Week, etc.), the Directory of Open Access Journals,and Google Books, just to name a few, the web has become a source for serious research, a place that professors should not spurn.

6. Cite! Cite! Cite!

Nothing makes me cringe more than watching students use Google’s image search to mindlessly copy and paste into a power point presentation. Students need to understand that images are intellectual property just as much as an article from JSTOR. The source of these images needs to be cited in a bibliography, yet even professors seem mute on the subject. Perhaps it’s time we all took a refresher course on copyright. Just because it’s for educational purposes doesn’t mean it doesn’t have to be cited.

Though I realize that librarians are acutely aware of these oversights, especially in one-on-one reference sessions, they remain to be addressed. Let’s start the revolution now!


Help the Pentagon Find the Red Balloons December 4, 2009

Posted by dataduchess in Uncategorized.
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Starting tomorrow morning, the Pentagon’s Research Agency, DARPA, invites you to help it study the capabilities of the internet. They will release 10 red 8-foot balloons in random places around the country, and internet users (aka social networkers) will have to work together to collect the GPS data for each balloon.

The first person to submit correct data for all 10 balloons will win $40,000. The competition will explore the roles the Internet and social networking play in the timely communication, wide-area team-building, and urgent mobilization required to solve broad-scope, time-critical problems.

Here’s the Official Site – its not too late to register!
Also, see this article from Monday’s New York Times.
(via New Scientist)

Web Trends to Watch in 2010 December 3, 2009

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Pete Cashmore, CEO and founder of the social media blog Mashable and now a writer for CNN.com, has come up with his list of the “10 Web Trends to watch in 2010.” While my eyes usually glaze over by point three of such lists, I was happily surprised to find myself agreeing with Cashmore’s prescient points. Particularly compelling are his points on the soon-to-be ubiquitous GPS, information overload, and convergence of functions in one device. Cashmore, unlike other netizens, intelligently (I believe) predicts a short faddish life for the kindle. He also argues that more information, while seemingly attractive, may not always be helpful. Cashmore closes with his most compelling argument, one that has already been a hot topic among librarians, teachers, parents, copyright lawyers, artists, and anyone else interested in privacy. He states, “We’re seeing the ongoing voluntary erosion of privacy through public sharing on Facebook and Twitter, the rise of location-based services and the inclusion of video cameras in a growing array of devices…Expect personal privacy — or rather its continued erosion — to be a hot media topic of 2010.”

What do you think will be the hottest web trend in 2010?

As the map grows dark… November 24, 2009

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By now you know I love data visualization and that’s why I feel compelled to show this dynamic map of unemployment statistics from January 2007 to September 2009. The choice of colors from pale yellow to black  make a dramatic impact as the map turns darker and darker. For some reason this reminded me of Dagney Taggart’s view as she flew over the world at the end of Ayn Rand’s  incendiary novel, Atlas Shrugged.

Do My Eyes Deceive Me? November 21, 2009

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You know that old rule that things happen in threes? Fact or fiction (or hindsight bias)? It seems to me that once the press notices interest in a certain topic or a certain occurrence they learn to focus on that particular issue, making us, the unsuspecting public, draw some weird inferences. David McCandless, the creator of InformationisBeautiful.net and author of Visual Miscellaneum, proves just that by this interesting chart comparing 2008’s drug poisoning deaths in the United Kingdom to popular press coverage. Take some time with this one.

What’s most interesting to me is the three drugs that gained over 100% of popular press coverage: ecstasy, cannabis, and aspirin. The reporting of aspirin deaths can probably be explained by the media’s well-known love of sensationalism, aspirin being as common and trusted as sliced bread in most households. But if ecstasy and cannabis, why not heroin and morphine? Why did the press inflate cannabis deaths by 484% when only 9% of  heroin and morphine deaths were reported (and only 2% of alcohol deaths??) ? This issue is compounded by the fact there were only 19 (“highly questionable”) deaths from cannabis and an astounding 897 deaths from heroin and morphine. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

Make sure to read the article on the graph here.

AI was just the beginning November 18, 2009

Posted by pupfiction in Amazing.
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To prepare you for Friday’s niche blog post I’ve found this video on TED.com that shows David Hanson’s newest robot prototype–one that can read and mimic facial expressions, or as he states it, a robot that can “empathize with you.” Videos of some of David’s other robots (he has made 20 in the last eight years) are astounding and quite spooky. It would also seem, from this presentation, that you can find much more of his work on YouTube. He ends the video with the prototype of a toy-robot designed as a “childhood companion for kids” and priced at $299. Whatever happened to the kid next door?

When “links” were made of paper November 11, 2009

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Here’s a great deconstruction of the “Choose Your Own Adventure” (CYOA) books we all remember so fondly from years ago. While the article is a bit lengthy, it makes interesting comparisons between CYOA books,  (paper) reference works and online links. The compilers of this information also look at the evolution of CYOA books over time, color-coding pages based on their purpose to better show lay-out and number of different endings, among other things.

Make sure to click “play” in the upper left-hand corner to enjoy a virtual CYOA!

Picture 5

The Wire at Harvard November 5, 2009

Posted by dataduchess in Books vs. TV.
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A new course being developed by a sociology professor at Harvard will use the HBO show “The Wire” as “a case study for poverty in America.”

I think its an interesting concept to develop a class based on a television show – one that I can’t imagine is particularly popular among ivy league universities. But, is any old book really better than a well-researched and written television show? Does the mere fact that the information is presented as a narrative through the medium of television make the information any less valid or authentic? I don’t think so. What do you think?

(via OpenCulture)

Guilty Until Proven Innocent November 4, 2009

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A section of the internet portion of a secret Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement has leaked onto the web (how ironic) and basically states that the rules governing copyright on the internet will deem you (and your family and anyone else using your ISP) guilty immediately upon suspected infringement of copyright and cut off all access to the web. As access to the web is increasingly considered a legal right (Finland goes as far to consider broadband a legal right) I think this agreement is clearly in violation of our rights as Americans! Check out what exactly this entails in the words of Cory Doctorow.

World Usability Day is fast approaching! November 3, 2009

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World Usability Day will be celebrated on November 12th, 2009. I had never heard of this day before, but I think the mission sounds great. in short:  “World Usability Day was founded in 2005 as an initiative of the Usability Professionals’ Association to ensure that services and products important to human life are easier to access and simpler to use. Each year, on the second Thursday of November, over 200 events are organized in over 43 countries around the world to raise awareness for the general public, and train professionals in the tools and issues central to good usability research, development and practice.” Check out more about the day and how you can make a difference here.