Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Midsummer Project Update

This blog's been quiet for awhile, for quite a few reasons.

You see, one of the downsides of having a largely self-directed workday, at least if you're me, is that you tend to take on too many projects. In my case, whether I take on a project has to do with whether a) I'm interested in it, b) I can see how it furthers the library's mission, c) I can see how it furthers the division's mission, d) I can see how it furthers the university's mission, and d) whether it's really within the scope of my position. That last one can be tricky, since I have tenure and promotion requirements to meet as well as professional ones. These do overlap most of the time, but it still means two sets of requirements to consider.

Anyway, here's what I'm working on now:
  • News portal project, complete with a meeting this morning with one of the digital media team to get this project moving to the next stage.
  • A possible article on, broadly speaking, the subject of cognitive authority. I don't think the article will be written this summer, but I've done a fair bit of reading and am starting to develop one or two possible lines of argument.
  • Crash course in copyright law as it applies to the library, which is mostly telling me what I already knew: copyright law is incredibly complicated and I should probably call my brother (who is an attorney specializing in intellectual property) more often. Take a look at this article by Peter Hirtle if you don't believe me.
  • A presentation for the faculty fall conference, on the changing library research landscape.
...plus the usual reference, collection development, instruction, and other duties as assigned.

How's your summer going?

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A media-literacy tool for the digital age

In the past week, two of my friends have called my attention to the PhotoShop Disasters blog.

We've all seen them: pictures that are funny, or just plain peculiar, and obviously--or sometimes not so obviously--improbable. Is it real life, or is it PhotoShop? Sometimes the illusion is so well done that it's difficult to tell.

Sometimes the results are funny. Sometimes, well, not so much.

Doctoring photos is nothing new; we can point to plenty of examples similar to the above in media from around the world, the U.S. included. PhotoShop, though, makes photo doctoring easier to do--though if the person doing the work isn't particularly accomplished at it, it can also be easier to spot.

When does such modification improve or clarify, and when does it deceive?

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

What's a gate count worth?

Today's Inside Higher Ed reports on an NCES report on academic libraries, specifically the news that library gate counts are holding steady.

The immediate question that springs to mind is one that a couple of commenters on this item have already asked: with so much information online, including library holdings, are gate counts still relevant?

I'd argue that they are--as part of a composite picture that should also include usage statistics for online resources, tallies of online reference transactions as well as those at the desk, and library instruction wherever it takes place. If the use of library space is changing, which it undoubtedly is, it's also worth knowing whether that change is successful.

The library on my campus is morphing into a multi-use learning space. It's the primary computer center on campus, a preferred study and group work space for many students, and a home for related services, such as tutoring and digital media. If we were offering all of that and people weren't coming in, that would be important, if disappointing, to know. So gate counts do still matter--because while the library is online, it's also (still) a building, and a building that people use.

Especially during finals, according to our gate counts.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The most important part of proper citation: read the article

If you're an academic librarian, chances are you teach--IL courses, research workshops, whatever. And chances are, somewhere in your lesson plan, there's some content on proper citation: not just how (with increasing options in citation export and management, many of which are free or come bundled with a particular database package, this is arguably becoming less important), but when. I've worked with students who understand the context of proper citation perfectly well, and students who just didn't get it, and every level of awareness and good practice in between.

As it turns out, misinterpreting, misrepresenting, or even failing to read cited research isn't a phenomenon restricted to students. Leaving aside for the moment whether the authors chiefly concerned here are being misinterpreted, or just don't like the way their work is being used, I have to say that anecdotally speaking, incorrect or misprinted citations are one of the things that keeps me in business. I recall a particularly egregious example when I was still in library school: an engineering paper someone brought to me for help tracking down the citations in its reference list. Several of the citations on the list were incorrect in their details; date of publication, page numbering, volume numbering, and so forth. I draw no conclusions as to whether the paper's author was being misleading, or just sloppy, but considering the importance of citation chaining to researchers--I'd argue that it's at least as important as searching a bibliographic database, especially when working across disciplinary lines--it's inexcusable either way.

More recently, a paper I wrote passed peer review with recommendations for revision. One of the recommendations was that I incorporate more work by other researchers into my own paper, both to provide context for the subject under discussion and to show my awareness of recent scholarship. I did, reading, digesting, and incorporating at least half a dozen articles and book chapters as appropriate. I can't claim that my understanding of these scholars' work was 100% correct--who could? Though of course I did my best. I can claim, however, that I read everything cited in my paper from beginning to end, and more than once at that.

If professors are going to demand proper citation practice from their students--and they should--it behooves them to practice the same themselves. It's just good scholarship--and if that weren't enough, the increased transparency bestowed by the Internet makes doing otherwise less and less feasible as time goes on.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Conference Venue as Place

I'd complain about ALA being held in Anaheim this year, but the Annoyed Librarian already did it--and quite well, I have to say. I wonder if we found the same local Mexican restaurant; it was in a sort of strip mall halfway between the budget hotels and the conference center, and was by far the cheapest and the best food I had the entire weekend. I think I wound up eating there three times, all three of which taken together were STILL cheaper than one dinner in Downtown Disney.

I have to agree with AL on the general pedestrian-unfriendliness of Anaheim, especially since I had recently returned from Greece, where the drivers are far more aggressive but there are entire neighborhoods off-limits to them and the city blocks are reasonably short, dating as they do from an era long before the car. This was the first ALA where I made extensive use of the shuttle-bus system; previously, I've always walked or relied on public transit.

I don't think AL went to Disneyland itself, where not only are there no decent bars, but as far as I can tell, there are no bars at all. (On the other hand, the Indiana Jones ride is fun. That by itself, however, is not sufficient reason to go to Disneyland.)

On the other hand, the conference center itself is one of the better ones I've been to; everything was much easier to find than at conferences past (though I've only been going to ALA for a few years at this point). I wish now that I had checked out public transportation options more thoroughly before I went, so that I could have explored some of the areas farther away from Disney.

Some notes on actual conference content will come later.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Signs of the Times

Back from ALA and blogging again...

This is getting to be a common story around these parts, and probably where you live too: demand outstripping supply at food banks. A few weeks ago I saw a similar story on the West Seattle Blog, which is my main source for neighborhood news. There are two food banks near me, one for West Seattle and one for White Center, the unincorporated area to the south of my neighborhood. Both are feeling the pinch. Rising food prices and rising fuel prices together are making life difficult at the margins, and as those prices continue to go up, those margins will include more and more people.

Meanwhile, the auto industry's attempt to gut California's emissions standards is dead. I can't say that I'm surprised or sorry. Like many of you, I was just in Anaheim, and even with the toughest emissions standards in the country the air quality was poor. (Not as bad as Athens, where I was a few weeks ago, but definitely eye-watering.)

In reading about the 8 different proposals for replacing the viaduct that runs above the downtown Seattle waterfront, I can't help but think of Dan Ariely's talk at the ACRL's president's program. Ariely is the author of Predictably Irrational, a book I added to the to-read pile after hearing part of his presentation. I had to leave before he was done, but garnered implications for everything from how I teach information literacy to alterations to my library's website.

Anyway, one of Ariely's points is that too many options tend to stymie people and decrease the possibility that they'll make the best choice. None of the P-I's readers appear to like any of the options, but I'm moved to wonder whether that's because none of them are viable, or because there are too many from which to choose.