Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Knowing What Kind of Chemist (or librarian) You're NOT

I took my first look at the preliminary ALA summer conference schedule this week, and immediately got overwhelmed--not only at the sheer volume of sessions and presentations, but at how much of it I just didn't care about.

Panicked, I rushed to the office of my nearest empathetic librarian, and fretted about how maybe I don't want to be a librarian after all. I mean, of course, library stuff is wonderful, and I am--more or less--enjoying school, but it hasn't yet been able to get me excited the way theology does. I don't gobble up readings the same way I did in undergrad. What if I've made a huge mistake???

As she so often does, the wise woman talked me down, saying, "It's not that you don't want to be a librarian. It's that you don't want to be that kind of librarian. And that's OK. Not every chemist is a biochemist."

She's right (of course). I am not fit for public librarianship. And heaven help any child or teen who wants to "book talk" with me. And that's OK. I don't have to terrorize children or teach immigrants how to find a job. I can focus on what I'm interested in and play to my strengths--which are unequivocally situated in academia.

Though certainly not in chemistry.

And I'm sure there will be plenty of conference sessions in which I will be interested.

Friday, February 10, 2012

It's OK to HAVE Time

As a first-year, online MLIS student, I might seem outrageously and unbelievably holier-than-thou when I say this, but I have to be honest: Sometimes I'm bored.

Not by the class material--it's very engaging--or by discussion board posts or readings--also interesting and enlightening--but sometimes I just get work done and find myself twiddling my thumbs.

Now, I realize I'm probably in the minority, which is why I generally don't voice things like this (I have an awful feeling I'd be lynched if I told my classmates how much time I don't spend studying on the weekends), but when I read this article on Hack Library School about having no time and finding ways to deal with that, it made me feel like I was missing out.

So let this be my cry in the wilderness to those of you who are doing just fine:

  • It's OK to ignore the stressed-out venting of your colleagues. Don't let it stress you out.

  • It's OK to listen to all the lectures at once so you don't have to do it later.

  • It's OK to skip readings if they are really, terribly, unacceptably boring.

  • It's OK to read books for fun. Don't let that "good grad student voice" make you feel guilty.

  • It's OK to look at the directions, do the assignment, and turn it in without comparing your work to everyone else's. If you did what you were supposed to do, you'll be fine. Promise.

For me, I think the most important thing I've learned these past couple quarters is that IT'S OK TO BE OK. I did a lot of stressing about why I wasn't stressing, and now I'm over it.

Library school isn't your life. It's just a part of it.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Melville House Hybrid Books

The press release for Melville House's HybridBooks came out like six months ago, but I just discovered it today, and I'm kind of excited about it--plus it kind of relates to my post yesterday about alternative texts.

A sample page explains that "HybridBooks are a union of print and electronic media designed to provide a unique reading experience by offering additional curated material--Illuminations--which expand the world of the book through text and illustrations." The press release says "the program offers extensive ancillary digital materials, such as essays, maps, illustrations, and other primary source material" to enhance reading and encourage multidimensional interaction with the text.

The additional materials are linked by QR code in the book. It looks like just one code will take you to all of the "Illuminations." While I think it might be more meaningful to have specific material linked on the pages to which it is relevant, I'm really interested to see how it works. I'd really like to get my hands on one.

Have any of you tried a HybridBook? What did you think?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Hand-Picked Textbook Alternatives

This idea being piloted by Temple University isn't exactly new--surely every student's been in a class with a cobbled-together "reader" rather than a traditional textbook--but I think they are taking it to a new and exciting level.

Faculty are mixing online material and items from library holdings, and bringing together disparate resources in something like a course website that students can access from anywhere. It's like a super-specialized, personalized class collection that's free and weightless.

Professor Keith Quesenberry, who's taking part in the program, explained in an article on the Temple website that “It seemed like the students were more engaged and less burdened, getting to and completing assignments earlier. The textbook was this thing they hated. This removed a barrier for them.”

I really like this idea of making relevant material accessible online rather than in a textbook. So many times I've bought textbooks that the class didn't even totally use--like maybe only a few chapters. This alternative textbook idea means that all the resources are relevant and being used, and the price is minimal. I imagine that even if resources aren't free, buying access or permission for them would still be a lower cost than what students are used to paying.

It does seem like a bit more work for faculty, but I'd be very interested in putting together alt-texts as a librarian. I just love the idea of curating special material for a specific class. I'm in a collections development class right now, and I've been captivated by the idea of micro-collections and bibliographing. Plus, a project like this could really bring together faculty and librarians--a relationship that is vital, but seems to be lacking.

What do you think about alternative, specialized "textbooks"? Do you think they're more useful as complementary supplements, or could they replace outdated, expensive, and increasingly less-useful textbooks?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

"You Can't Use Wikipedia"

In my many days as a student--and one growing up in the information age, at that--I've heard this countless times from teachers and professors. Wikipedia just isn't a "good" source. I always assumed this bias was due to its dynamic, unedited, free-for-all nature. And while I'm sure that's part of it (and maybe all of it for those instructors who don't believe in collective intelligence), turns out encyclopedias of any kind have long been frowned upon as sources for research. Who knew?

Here's what I found in Dennis Tucker's 1989 Finding Religion (in the Library):
"'For your research paper, you must use three different sources and you can't use an encyclopedia.' Surely every student has heard this from his teacher many times over during elementary and high school. Why the bias against encyclopedias? Are they inherently evil? What's wrong with them? Actually, nothing is basically wrong with using encyclopedias--good ones anyway--if they are used properly. But fifth graders (and sometimes college students and seminarians) tend to rely on them too completely.... Students use them heavily because they want their research pre-digested for them rather than doing it themselves from primary sources." (32)

Sounds exactly like the reasons to not use Wikipedia. Tucker goes on to talk about encyclopedias as summaries and bibliographic tools--a starting point, not really a source. Again, an apt description of Wikipedia.

So perhaps educators should take a break from the refrain of "Don't Use Wikipedia," and instead encourage its use for its actual purpose--a starting point, created  by collaboration.