Friday, February 28, 2014

The Draft Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education: Survey Feedback

The survey requesting feedback on the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) Draft Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education contains a series of opened-ended comment boxes. Here are the questions posed by the survey, and how I answered them.

My thoughts on the Framework are here. Please take the survey to leave your thoughts here.

Q2. In what ways will the focus on threshold concepts help you to generate conversations with other campus stakeholders (such as disciplinary faculty partners, members of the general education curriculum committee, and academic support services staff)?

In the Feb draft, threshold concepts aren't really fleshed out. However, I already see a tension between these concepts, which are bounded in disciplines, and the Framework's discussion of transdisciplinarity. The role of discipline-specific faculty will be very important here. Please expand on the relationship between students who are metaliterate, who think critically across disciplines and boundaries, and threshold concepts that (and faculty who) reify those boundaries.*

Q3. How do the sections for knowledge practices and assignments/assessments provide helpful guidance when considering implementing the new Framework? What else would you want to see in these sections?

I thought the Feb draft of the Framework was strong here.

Q4. We plan to include additional materials in a subsequent phase (described in the welcome message). What other elements would you find helpful that aren’t mentioned in our plans?

As presently constructed, metaliteracy is both an "anchoring element" and a desired outcome, which makes it both an independent and dependent variable. This is a tautology. Metaliteracy cannot beget metaliterate students. Please elaborate on what metaliteracy is, how it differs from "critical thinking," or "transliteracy," or just "information literacy," and place the concept in a content that is bounded by the rules of logic.

Q5. Is there anything else you would like for us to know?

The phrase "ethical participation" comes up in the Framework's definition of information literacy. As you envision it, what is ethical participation, and why?

Q6. Please share any additional information about your work that would help us in understanding your perspective on the proposed Framework.

This draft places much emphasis on collaboration between the library and its staff and other academic units. I hope your experiences in outreach to these academic units is the norm, while my experiences are those of a minority.

* People who have more knowledge of threshold concepts than I should really take their time on this question. Who determines what is a threshold concept in a given discipline? How? Why?

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Draft Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education: Some Initial Thoughts

The Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) released a Draft Framework for Information Literacy* for Higher Education (henceforth Framework), superseding the Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education adopted in 2000 (henceforth Standards). Having read through the new document and attended an ACRL webinar, I have some initial thoughts on the draft, which you can view in full here.
Information Literacy Umbrella via Dana Longley on Flickr.
Welcome trends:

I. A focus on creation and collaboration that may move us away from the dominance of research papers towards something that resembles the type of work projects students may encounter in the wild. The best curricula will mix these assignments where and when appropriate, and the nod to digital humanities in the bottom two paragraphs of the first page is most welcome.

The downside of this is a focus on job training, employment, and the like. The skills outlined by this document equally apply to "knowledge for knowledge's sake," but the words "liberal arts" appear nowhere in the Framework.

II. Historicizing past information literacy efforts
The Standards... focus attention on the objects of scholarship as mostly textual ones, reflecting the time in which they were written. Although the Standards pay some regard to other modes of scholarship and learning (visual, data, multimedia), the explosion of these modes and the increasingly hybridized, multi-modal nature of learning and scholarship require an expanded conception of information literacy learning and pedagogy beyond the mostly text-based focus of the Standards. In the proposed Framework, we hope to provide spaces for creative, integrative, flexible thinking about the dynamic information ecosystem in which all students live, study, and work.
The Standards also valorize the “information literate student” as a construct of imagined accomplishment, at the endpoint of a set of learning experiences, without the involvement of peers, tutors, coaches, faculty advisors, or other collaborators. (Framework, 3)
Whatever form information takes, the experienced researcher looks to the underlying processes of creation in order to ask critical questions about how and why it was produced. (14)
It is impossible to write the excerpted sections above without some knowledge of critical theory. Someone has been doing their homework. Bravo to whomever wrote those sentences.

III. The new definition of information literacy from the Framework is:
Information literacy combines a repertoire of abilities, practices, and dispositions focused on expanding one’s understanding of the information ecosystem, with the proficiencies of finding, using and analyzing information, scholarship, and data to answer questions, develop new ones, and create new knowledge, through ethical participation in communities of learning and scholarship. (bold is theirs, 4)
That "ethical participation" was included here is a huge step forward. It creates a discursive space in which it is possible to turn the library into a site of resistance, a bulwark against government and corporate surveillance, as well as an entree into a discussion of the costs of knowledge that are a part of scholarly communication. I hope this section of the definition is our point of departure to tackle these and related issues.

(Then again, I'm also unclear as to how the above definition differs from that of "critical thinking.")

IV. The emphasis on student-centered outcomes is also welcome, and empowering to those we teach. Knowledge creation, the ability to generate new questions and research agendas,... these are good things.

V. Collaboration

The section titled "Stakeholders" that begins on page 8 provides librarians with a convincing argument to work with faculty and other academic units.

On the other hand, how many times must we prove ourselves? How many times must librarians attempt to partner with other academic units on campus, only to be rebuffed or ignored?

Hang on while I roll this boulder up this hill...

Is the Draft Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education the appropriate place to fight for greater recognition and collaboration between and among librarians and faculty? Is it the best available place? The only place? The give and take that this document will provoke may lead to...

VI. Information literacy as existential crisis

Who has responsibility for teaching information literacy? Just as war is too important to leave to the generals, is information literacy too important to leave to librarians?
Information literacy has been a tremendous “win” for academic librarians. But it risks becoming, looking back, also a symbol of a great loss. If we do not refocus our efforts on the educational, cultural, and technological shifts in which “information literacy" per se becomes a somewhat arbitrary label for the very stuff of learning and information discovery in today's academic (and larger) world, we will have won the battle but lost the campaign. In other words, our potential loss may come from the need to cling to the programmatic success of information literacy as a program run from within libraries by librarians (Cowan, 28).
There is much space to negotiate here, and it's incumbent on librarians and library staff to prove themselves up to the challenge. Do we love information literacy enough to set it free? Are we confident enough in the rest of our abilities?

Unwelcome trends:

I. Jargon

"Greater need for sense-making and metacognition in a fragmented, complex information environment requires the ability to understand and navigate this environment holistically, focusing upon intersections." (Framework, 2)

That's not part of an effective elevator speech.

II. "Metaliteracy."

It's unclear to me whether metaliteracy means "information literacy," or "critical thinking," or "transliteracy," or none, or some, of the above. I'd prefer that we librarians use "critical thinking," if this is the case. Regardless, I don't like the word and I'm not alone in that. Tellingly, at least one vocal proponent of the concept doesn't think the word is appropriate to use in the Framework.

More confusing is whether the concept of metaliteracy is one of the anchors of the new framework, or if it is a desired outcome. As presently envisioned, metaliteracy is both an independent and dependent variable, which runs the risk of making the framework a tautology. I would like to see this logic cleared up, and a robust definition of metaliteracy that treats the concept as discrete, if possible.

III. Assessment über alles?

The move from a "granular, outcomes-based approach" to an "integrative, collaborative, and metacognitive model based upon threshold concepts," (8) means more assessment. How we are able to integrate that into our daily workflows goes unsaid. Maybe--wishful thinking alert!--we'll need more staff in order to implement the Framework. Might the title of "Assessment Librarian," or "Assessment Coordinator," become popular? The more likely scenario, however, is that though the assessment regime becomes more interesting, we librarians will be "doing more with less," which is a phrase that makes me

Via Reaction Gifs. Guess the movie, win a prize.

If you have thoughts on the Framework, you are more than welcome to share them here, but a better place to do so would be via the Framework survey. Note that my comments will appear in some form using that survey.

UPDATE: My survey feedback is posted.

*The term "information literacy" itself is problematic, but is also a widely-used term, so it has some intersubjective value.

Cowan, Susanna M. (2014). Information literacy: The battle we won that we lost. portal 14.1 (January). 23-32. DOI. 10.1353/pla2013.0049.

Elsewhere on this site, related to information literacy:
From Here To Discovery
Orientation: Outreach Starts Here
Vine and Web-Based Library Instruction
Copyright for Educators
Chuck Brown and Information Literacy
On Digital and More Traditional Literacy
Transliteracy and Staying Positive in the Library

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Meanwhile, in the Archives: On the Society of American Archivists

If only life were fair. 
- Jackie Dooley, then-President of the Society of American Archivists (SAA), August 16th, 2013
Let's back up, and add some context.
"In many industries... internships are a normal part of gaining experience that prepares candidates for paying work in the field... In this job market, unpaid internship experience can be what makes the difference between getting interviews and job offers or remaining unemployed.” I couldn’t agree more. Indeed, not everyone can afford to work for free while in school. If only life were fair.
The discussion that followed lead to this comment:
"We have an association for archivists not archives (at least in name)." 
- Name withheld
Contrast that with the American Library Association, which is not a librarian association.

At the time of Dooley's speech, there was a significant amount of push-back, and discussion, on twitter. One could start here, as all tweets from the conference are archived (see what I did there?). The discussion beings about halfway down that page with this tweet.

Life is not fair, but it's more fair for some than for others. I do not think it's fair for a person in a position of power, a position that can affect change, to use "fairness" to "punch down" at graduate students, at new archivists, and at volunteers who may be doing something that is technically illegal (the Department of Labor on internships in for-profit contexts, pdf) in an effort to find paid work.

Via Hiring Librarians
In practice, what the above means is that if you purport to value diversity, you will not use, nor advocate for (see this pdf), unpaid interns. From the SAA Statement on Diversity:
SAA understands diversity to encompass:
  • Socio-cultural factors. These factors relate to individual and community identity, and include the attributes mentioned in SAA’s Equal Opportunity/Nondiscrimination Policy.
  • Professional and geographic factors. Concern about these factors reflects the Society’s desire for broad participation from archivists working in various locations, repository types and sizes, and professional specializations.
Unpaid internships also hurt mobility, that second bullet point.

I understand that funding is tight, and that budgets are cut, but please, pay people for work. Better not a lot, which I am guilty of, than nothing.

The acknowledgement of unfairness is a nice touch, a sort of kinder, gentler, enlightened lifeboating, but it's lifeboating all the same.
Lifeboater manifestos, on the other hand, are people from “on high” who stomp downward, and chastise us plebs for daring to use our outside voices while we’re drowning. (Via the great Rebecca Schuman
It also reminds me of the Old Academe Stanley meme.

As Sam Winn has expertly pointed out, there is a certain amount of professional privilege that comes with being established in a field. The SAA President should have some power here, even if it's symbolic. Rather than stating the obvious about how unfair life is, please do something about it. I am cautiously optimistic that this, including the comments, is a step forward, as is this.* At the most recent SAA Council meeting, employment issues were a topic of discussion.

However, some members of the SAA still don't seem, or want, to understand how much the ground has shifted on issues of employment, mistaking credible, structural critiques for "Millennial whining" or a chance to offer career advice that wasn't asked for. To wit, these discussions. If you don't want to wade through a listserv discussion board, allow Lance over at New Archivist to glibly sum it up.
Person #1: Here is what I think of this nuanced issue
Person #2: Not only are you wrong, but you must have something wrong with you, character-wise, to even hold that view
Person #2: What don’t more people have discussions on this list?
Again, Winn is worth reading here as well, and the article also provides actionable initiatives.

So long as we are talking about using power for good, as well as statements on diversity. the SAA should have a conference code of conduct, just as the American Library Association now has. Recent actions

* Kudos to those places of employment that are examining their practices concerning internships.

** Thanks to an archivist who will remain nameless for bringing some of these issues to my attention, and for their comments on an earlier version of this post. All errors are mine.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

February 11th, 2014: The Day We Fight Back


In January 2012 we defeated the SOPA and PIPA censorship legislation with the largest Internet protest in history. Today we face another critical threat, one that again undermines the Internet and the notion that any of us live in a genuinely free society: mass surveillance.

In celebration of the win against SOPA and PIPA two years ago, and in memory of one of its leaders, Aaron Swartz, we are planning a day of protest against mass surveillance, to take place this February 11th. Together we will push back against powers that seek to observe, collect, and analyze our every digital action.

Together, we will make it clear that such behavior is not compatible with democratic governance. Together, if we persist, we will win this fight.


If you're in the US: Thousands of websites will host banners urging people to call/email Congress. We'll ask legislators to oppose the FISA Improvements Act, support the USA Freedom Act, and enact protections for non-Americans.

If you're not in the US: Visitors will be asked to urge appropriate targets to institute privacy protections.

Source for the above text: 

Friday, February 7, 2014

The Anti-"Beer Review," Westbrook Gose: The Session #84

Photo by the author
"You're going to run lactobacillius through your brewery's canning line‽"*

"Ah, so you can make an obscure, German-style sour wheat ale? Of course that makes sense."

You might know this bacteria from yogurt, where it causes a sourness and tang that may cause your jawbone to tingle, not unlike some tannins in red wine. Briefly, here's what happens when lactobacillius gets introduced to beer: taste those aspects yogurt in your mind, and apply it to beer. Getting thirsty? Dooug, kumis, and kefir are drinks that use lactobacterial fermentation as well.

Lactobacillius belongs to a group of bacteria that is "regarded as most harmful for brewing industry and are the cause of most of bacterial spoilage incidents." (Sakamoto, 4). Indeed, one kind of lactobacillius, brevi, was, as of 2002, responsible for more than half of all bacterial beer spoilages. (5)
Most hazardous for the brewing industry are those belonging to the genera Lactobacillus and Pediococcus. In the period 1980-1990, 58-88% of the microbial beer-spoilage incidents in Germany were caused by lactobacilli and pediococci (Back et al., 1988; Back, 1994). Also in Czech all beer-spoilage bacteria detected in the breweries belonged to lactic acid bacteria (Hollerová and Kubizniaková, 2001). The situation in other countries seems to be similar although for commercial reasons little statistical information has been supplied. These lactic acid bacteria spoil beer by producing haze or rope and cause unpleasant flavor changes such as sourness and atypical odor. (Sakamoto, 4) 
Now picture a brewer introducing this bacteria on purpose, and then running it through a canning line, risking infection in other beers.

But, you say, aren't hops somewhat antiseptic and antibacterial? Don't they act as, in part, a mechanism against spoilage? You'd be right, except that lactobacillius brevi is particularly resistant to hops, and the style of beer being made at Westbrook, Gose (pronounced go-suh), isn't heavily hopped, registering just five International Bitterness Units (IBU).**

Westbrook goes (puns!) through all this trouble to make a beer that didn't exist for two periods of the last century. Between the end of World War II and 1949, nobody in the town of Goslar, from which the beer gets its name, or Leipzig, where the beer became locally popular, brewed Gose. It vanished again in 1966, only to come back in the mid-1980s, according to Wikipedia's admittedly problematic page. But thanks to a new generation of German brewers and Americans looking for the next "thing" in craft beer, Gose is back. How does the beer taste? Look at the description on the can.

What did you just read? Oliver J. Gray thought it would be a good idea for people to review a beer without actually reviewing the beer.
So for my turn hosting The Session, I ask all of you to review a beer. Any beer. Of your choosing even! There’s a catch though, just one eentsy, tiny rule that you have to adhere to: you cannot review the beer.
I know it sounds like the yeast finally got to my brain, but hear me out: I mean that you can’t write about SRM color, or mouthfeel, or head retention. Absolutely no discussion of malt backbones or hop profiles allowed. Lacing and aroma descriptions are right out. Don’t even think about rating the beer out of ten possible points.
Blame him. This has been

To prevent infection and contamination, brewers run boiling water through their lines, killing bacteria.

Sakamoto, K. (2002) Beer spoilage bacteria and hop resistance in Lactobacillius brevis. University of Groningen dissertation.

* Yes, of course that's an interrobang.
** The relationship between hops and bitterness is more complex than this, but it is now not uncommon to see double or imperial India Pale Ales that exceed 100 IBU. Apologies for the bad science all the same.

Elsewhere on this site:

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

From Here to Discovery

The following is a presentation given at the 6th Annual "Bridging the Spectrum" Symposium, hosted by the Catholic University of America's Library and Information Science program. More information on the Symposium here.

Abstract: A discovery service is a single and unified index of a library’s holdings across multiple media. As more academic libraries are implementing a discovery service as the primary online face of the library, library websites have evolved with them. Website changes, however, are relatively unexamined. This briefing reports on one library’s experience with a discovery service, EBSCO’s EDS, and the effects of the discovery service on the library website. It compares these changes to those made by other academic libraries. It answers the question of whether there exists a set of best practices for academic library websites upon implementing discovery services, and addresses what happens to online public access catalogs (OPACs), individual databases, and other items frequently found on academic library websites. It also discusses how to market and promote website changes to academic communities.

From Here to Eternity, by James Jones.

What is Discovery?

It is not two French robots that play disco.

Daftpunk Robots from
Single searching across databases, with results ranked by relevancy
  • The ability to sort said results
  • Full text
  • Features for end users
Via Hoeppner, A. (2012) The Ins and Outs of Evaluating Web-Scale Discovery Services., Accessed 29 January 2014

Our library chose Ebsco's Discovery Service (EDS) in large part because we found it the "least bad." EDS' use of metadata to retrieve relevant results seems to be more robust than the other options we examined, Primo and Summon.


In addition, librarians judged the results returned by EDS superior to those returned by other discovery services, though this study is not without its methodological issues.
“On the quantitative benchmarks measured by this study, the EBSCO Discovery Service tool outperformed the other search systems in almost every category.”
- Asher, Duke, and Wilson (2013) Paths of Discovery: Comparing the Search effectiveness of EBSCO Discovery Service, Summon, Google Scholar, and Conventional Library Resources. College & Research Libraries. 74(5) 464-488.
This is our first semester using a discovery service, so we're eager to see what happens.

You've seen this gif elsewhere on the site, astute reader. Via Reaction Gifs
Though people have many goals using discovery services (some more realistic than others), including promoting local collections, replacing Google as the primary place people do research, and expanding the universe of available resources, among others, our main goal is to reduce friction for people who use our library website.

From Reddit
With that in mind, here is our lovely library website. Keep in mind thanks to unfortunate protocols in academic information technology, we at the library are somewhat "locked in" to this format. We use WordPress throughout the university.

Please note our mission statement front and center, because of course when people go to a library website, that's among the first things they want to see.

When I see a mission statement on the front page I’m like

Via Reaction Gifs.
We have some "stuff" on the left-hand side of the page that is rather important. A goal is to get this stuff front and center.

Let's take a closer look.

Note that we're trying to use plain, natural language. Regrettably, at the moment we're not able to do that with our discovery search box, but we are very open to suggestions here.

Here's our current search box, along with another friction point that applies to off-campus users.

Here's what will replace it, the discovery search box.

Again, we're trying to take the stuff from the left-hand side, and put it front and center.

Here's our old online public access catalog (OPAC).

See, I made a meta-funny. Right now our community searches our catalog, doesn't find something, and then clicks on a link to search the catalog of the consortium we're partial members of (like Facebook says, "it's complicated.").

And here's what it's going to look like.

Note where our consortium is circled on the right. If you do a keyword search in our catalog, it will trigger a keyword search in the consortium catalog, displayed on the same page. If you search by author, that consortium widget will do an author search as well, and so on. 

Our databases move from the left-hand side to the center.

As do our subject research guides, our in-house version of LibGuides.

We're trying to reduce friction here, get people where they want to go on our site, quicker.

Via Reddit and DatGif.
One of the things I'm most proud of about our move to discovery is the open access (OA) search feature.

That definition comes from the Budapest Initiative, by the way. I don't expect this feature to get much use, however, I do think its presence is important. I want it to jump-start conversations, to provoke thought around issues of access to information, academic publishing, and scholarly communication. In short, we want to create a discursive space for these issues.

Here's what the OA search output looks like.

Note not only the consortium widget, but also a Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) widget.

The OA search is the primary reason why we've taken so long in implementing discovery. We really wanted to push Ebsco, our vendor on this, and to their immense credit, they responded. I know that I'm sometimes guilty of painting the library-vendor relationship as adversarial, but that's not always, and even not often, the case. As far as I know our library is the only one out there to ask for this from a vendor, but there's no reason why your library can't do this, too. This is how collaboration is supposed to work.

Via Giphy
As presently constructed, our library sits between full collection discovery and full library discovery. In the former, libraries use discovery services to promote their collections. In the latter, the discovery search not only encompasses collections, but also locally hosted items that are on the library website, but are not part of the collection. Think room reservation forms, requests for materials, and the like.

We're going to market discovery services in several ways, chief among them, perpetual beta.

Post Perpetual Revolution by Patrick Camut, Photo by Alison Reken.

We'll also use library instruction one-shot sessions to talk about discovery, as well as table toppers in the dining hall, and I'll make a few appearances there as well, armed with a computer and a projector to promote the services.

We're going to dive right in and make mistakes. We'll tinker with it, and solicit feedback. We may tweak the relevancy rankings to excludes newspaper articles and reviews... or we may not.

A current debate among proponents of discovery is how best to express search results.

3 ways libraries try to help improve search results in discovery services.
Musings About Librarianship.
Villanova, above, and North Carolina State University, below, both use what's termed a "bento box" model of search results output.

3 ways libraries try to help improve search results in discovery services.
Musings About Librarianship
Note that the results are compartmentalized, broken down and presented using controlled vocabulary.

Via Giphy.
At present, we are not using bento. This is because our community is familiar with Ebsco's blended interface, in which the results are presented as a list, ranked by relevancy based on the available metadata. Moreover, bento, to me, looks a lot like Yahoo!'s hierarchical website organization structure, whereas the native Ebsco interface looks more like Google's. Rhetorical question: which of those won out? (Pause.) That's what I thought.

Discovery is not without its critics, and they are justified. They are aimed more at undergraduates than at faculty, graduate students, and librarians, so these three later groups may not like it as much, as they are more advanced searchers who will use individual databases to find what they want. With that in mind, we may not want to "throttle" results by filtering out things like newspaper articles and reviews, as those are important parts of the research process for undergraduates.

The metadata that Ebsco uses in its databases is privileged in its discovery service, so Ebsco resources are promoted, sometimes at the expense of a better resource from another, rival database.

We've asked Ebsco to play nicer with other vendors here, in terms of metadata integration, as Primo and Summon have, and there are some encouraging signs.

One study found that a custom Ebsco search box, trawling only Ebsco databases, would be nearly as robust as EDS, again, because of how Ebsco's metadata brings their local results to the top.
Would an custom EBSCO search box do pretty much the same thing as EDS?
- Calvert, C. (2015) Maximizing academic library collections: measuring changes in use patterns owing to EBSCO Discovery Service. College & Research Libraries. Anticipated Publication Date: January 1, 2015. Manuscript#: crl13-557. Available from 
In some sense, are we just spending money for the sake of spending money? It's a cynical question, but a valid one all the same. Often times we librarians don't get an increase in funding unless we ask for something shiny and new that will improve our communities, as opposed to increasing funding for existing initiatives. In this sense, it almost doesn't matter whether discovery works or not, because it represents a semi-permanent budget increase.

The Tim and Eric Show, via Reaction Gifs.
In sum:

Be empathetic
  • Use the language of the user
  • Reduce friction

Via Giphy.
Clear goals and outcomes
  • work toward them, or
  • backwards from them.
Via Giphy.
Is your goal to improve the user experience, to promote your holdings and databases, to expand the searchable universe...? Different goals require different strategies and tactics.

Mistakes are okay
  • If you fix them quickly
  • We are in an academic library, not dealing with nuclear launch codes. The far majority of mistakes one might make can be easily corrected and fixed.
Via Giphy.
And that, my friends, is the end of the presentation. Thank you.

Two very useful sites on discovery services:
Aaron Tay, Musings About Librarianship and Unified Resource Discovery Comparison.

Related, on this site:
On Failure: "Elizabethtown: Embedded Librarianship as Overreach."
A Rant on Library-Vendor Relations
Copyright for Educators
A Modest Defense of QR Codes in the Library
UPDATE, July 8th post: More Thoughts on Discovery, Plus a Poster