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Posts Tagged ‘students’


Massey University library just completed a user survey and the comments make very interesting reading.  The main issues seem to be

  • lack of computers
  • students spending too much time on said computer on Facebook/Bebo, etc and not studying
  • not enough electrical outlets for laptop users
  • lack of study space
  • too noisy

The third one is indicative of the age of library buildings.  When they were built there were no computers or any need for lots of power outlets.

But is this last one the result of libraries becoming too PC and creating a more sociable environment?  Students are uncomfortable with telling others to ‘shut up’ so they can study in peace.  Yet librarians are reluctant to become ‘law’ enforcers.  What’s the answer?

Just my thoughts on a Friday afternoon.  It’s been a long week.

Have a good weekend!

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A teaching student comes to the desk of my public library. She comes across as intelligent, capable, library friendly – she knows what she’s looking for and how to articulate it.

She’s looking for information on different types of pen through the ages as a backgrounder to a lesson plan. She’d like book references if possible, and they have to be useful to her and potentially useable with primary age children as well.

As is often the case, what we needed wasn’t there – there were no works to hand on the subject itself, the how it works books didn’t cover the full range of options and the titles on writing only had a limited amount of information on writing instruments.

I asked if she had looked on the web. She said she had but she hadn’t found anything useful. I suggested we start with a quick look at Wikipedia.

“Oh no,” she said “we’re not allowed to use it.”

I’d like to tell you that I felt a professional conflict, but I didn’t. This interaction wasn’t the first time I’d been asked by help for students whose instutions wanted them to stay away from Wikipedia, or google, or any number of modern bugbears. My response is tailored to the student’s age and need, but is generally the same: a touch of subversion for the better good.

Thus, I explained that her institution was right, and that she oughtn’t use Wikipedia as a final reference, but that we might use it as a secondary source, and go better armed from there. As I had anticipated, the site had an excellent page on pens giving us not only the full list of pen types (including reed pens, new knowledge for me) but an exhaustive coverage of the subject. I finished the interaction by strategising with her how to proceed with her online research using terms and links garnered from the source.

Educational institutions with an aversion to wikipedia/google/etc. is not a new thing. Schools lock these sites out of their inhouse computer systems, but I had felt that culture had become less entrenched over the last few years.

I recent post to one of the listservs I read showed that the issue is still bubbling away under the surface. The author, a school librarian, cited a recent incident in which a parent doing some background research for her child on Newberry Award winner Mrs Frisby and the Rats of Nimh on Wikipeda found “pornography”. The article was cited as justification for the kinds of hands-off policies educational institutions have towards internet sources. (Why the article wasn’t about how children can only learn by doing their own homework I can’t tell you).

This is a hard one to respond to. Pornography, particularly when notionally directed at children, is a hot button. As the earlier interaction was still on my mind I decided to investigate further. Fortunately, with Wikipedia, this is eminently possible.

Wikipedia holds a revision history for the Mrs Frisby page, as it does for all the pages it contains. It tells us that at 1.36 PM on May 19th this year, an unknown user from IP 173.28.107.171 (ie someone locateable if a true offence is being committed) altered the page to include some obscene material.

I say obscene rather than pornographic, because the half-paragraph of text while offensive is clearly not written to arouse. I would estimate the writer’s age to be between maybe 10 and 14, probably male. Read the text yourself if you’re interested.

While I can understand that an adult reading this would be offended, it occurs to me that this random mishmash of meaningless acts is exactly the approximation of adult concerns children invent for themselves on the winding path from complete innocence to full agency. Try reading a Goosebumps sometime. Aimed at primary age children, and absolutely shocking to an adult.

An hour and three minutes later, SilentAria, a Wikipedia editor of what seems to be good, longstanding reputation reverts the page to its last good revision. He or she sends the anonymous vandal a politely worded message explaining the philosphy of Wikipedia, encouraging their positive contribution and warning of their banning should they continue. The vandal has not posted since.

Now, I’m not saying we should expose our young people to this kind of content. What I am saying is that this content was there for one hour, a blip in the evolution of a page that has existed since October 2004. I’m reminded of the comparision of the risks of flying in an airplane versus crossing the street – in this case, the television that’s on in the home every night  is far more likely to bring potentially upsetting content to children than this hour’s worth of transient and well-hidden filth.

A concept I intend to explore more fully at a later time is that of information literacy education needing in the modern information culture to go beyond a set of procedural rules – and believe me, “no wikipedia” is one of the most blunt, basic procedural rules an institution could put in place in this context – and change our approach into on vastly more dynamic.

Let’s not ask “is this source reputable”; let us learn to ask “is this source reputable today.

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Several librarian blogs have recently mentioned the very interesting and useful research report by Char Booth entitled “Informing Innovation: tracking student interest in emerging library technologies at Ohio University” which is available free to download in PDF format. Like many libraries, Ohio University libraries have experimented with many Web 2.0 applications in order to stay relevant to students. But the question remained “if we build this, will the students care?” So Ohio University libraries have begun to veer away from the “technolust” towards a “culture of assessment”. The report presents findings of an environmental scan to investigate what motivated student interest in emerging library technologies. Essentially the findings indicate that libraries should not focus too much on Web 2.0 technologies as a means rather than the means to an end and that students still need some “library awareness” to make full use of any medium which pushes information. Some of the technologies may not be needed or effective. Naturally, then, libraries should survey their users to find out what may or may not be useful before adopting a new technology for the sake of keeping up with the trends.

This struck a chord as I have found myself wondering at times whether libraries should be quite so keen in adopting Web 2.0 applications for their users. Some experimentation is fine but often I wonder how useful they are to library users. The generalisations which apply to different generations are just that – generalisations. Not all members of the Y generation are into blogs and instant messaging, for example. This was brought home to me when a friend of my teenage daughter asked me last year what a blog was. She’d never heard of one. I then reflected on the applications my daughter and her friends use. They occasionally use instant messaging and social networking sites and visit Youtube, but they don’t read blogs or Twitter or use RSS aggregators, for example. They may not be typical of her generation but it’s still important to remember not to lump everyone in the same category. Then there are the more mature library users. What do they use or find useful? Libraries surveying their own users is therefore very important.

Char Booth’s excellent and highly relevant report includes a survey template which libraries can use to do a similar environmental scan. Very handy!

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