Link post: August 27, 2010

An interesting post – with links to other ideas – from Joyce Valenza about things she wishes school librarians would unlearn.

I definitely agree with several points on her list, including the Wikipedia one. My comment on it to students has always been that it is a starting place. From there, you can learn:

  • useful terms and phrases common in that subject area (fantastic for me when someone asks a reference question about a topic I’m not already familiar with.) Better terms = better searches.
  • names and dates of relevant people involved (useful for getting broader context)
  • links to further sources, so you can go look at the initial material yourself.
  • and sometimes other things, like recent books about a topic or other resources that can help you dig deeper.

The search that brought this home to me was comparing the Encyclopedia Britannica and Wikipedia a couple of years ago (right around the time The Other Boleyn Girl movie came out) on the subject of Anne Boleyn – scarcely a minor figure. The Britannica version was 500 words, didn’t mention most of her family by name, didn’t give any background on a number of topics – her brother and sister, her interest in religion and philosophy, background issues and politics of the time.

In contrast, the Wikipedia article (at something like 2500 words), gave all of that, plus included links to current biographies with a summary of their main focus and theories, a link to an analysis of the choices that Phillippa Gregory had made in her writing of the book (and the subsequent changes in the movie) and how that fit in with different scholarly theories.

Which one do you think is most useful to high school students who got interested in Anne because of the book or the movie? And which one do you think starts a better conversation about how we study history, and how our own interests and focus and choices affect what we see in that history? Even more importantly, the Wikipedia article showed that real people – people like them – could do that kind of analytical work too, and contribute to understanding how all the historical fragments might fit together in various ways. Not bad for 2500 words.

I think a lot of people remember what Wikipedia was like initially, and forget (or don’t know) that in the past few years, they’ve done a lot to improve citation requirements, address some of the problems of prank edits, and other such things. It’s not perfect (and like all online sites, there are still quirks) which is why you still need to go look at the original sources.But that’s always been true, regardless of your tertiary source. Growing up in an academic family, I’ve long been aware that the ‘authoritative published sources’ (like traditional encyclopedias) have the potential for flaws. There are politics and person wrangling and pet projects, and all sorts of other things that introduce bias and inaccuracy there too. They’re just much more hidden from the end reader.

Michael Stephens shared an updated assignment for the class he teaches on Participatory Service and Emerging Technologies: to read one of the selected books and either do a report (the old fashioned option) or to do a media presentation (podcast, video, all sorts of other options.) That part’s great – but the list of books is also useful (and a good reminder to me: I’ve read about half of them, and should read the rest.)

And to go with my post earlier this week, LifeHacker has a top ten list of Facebook fixes you might want to look at. (including videos on how to adjust privacy settings, if you prefer that to text instructions.)

Links of interest: June 18, 2010

First in a series of collected links of interest, of posts I’ve found particularly intriguing over the last week or so:

The myth of browsing (an article from American Libraries, the journal of the American Library Association) takes on the idea that being able to browse a collection is essential for scholarly knowledge. I’m of two minds: I adore browsing for the sheer joy of it, the things I find that are also of interest to me, outside of my research in a particular focused topic. But I do agree with the issues of storage and practicality, and the point that a browseable collection of 20,000 volumes might do very well in almost all circumstances.

I’m a huge fan of danah boyd’s writing, and particularly liked her recent post on How COPPA fails parents, educators, youth for a clear explanation of why all these websites require you to be older than 13 – and why it’s not as helpful as you’d think.

For people who love both libraries and lists (via Jessamyn at librarian.net) comes an article from American Libraries about a new book by George Eberhart called The Librarian’s Book of Lists. Check out the lists article for a few samples.

Starting accounts on various sites can be complex, but so can leaving them. A nice round-up of the steps and relative complexity of deleting accounts on a whole bunch of commonly used sites is a handy thing to have around. (I like their explanation of why you can’t delete accounts on some sites, and what you can do instead, too.)

And, in the realm of ‘being better humans helps everyone’, a link came across my line of sight that’s been making me think ever since: it’s about how sick systems develop, how to recognise them, and ways to remove yourself from them. Most people I know have been in such a system at one point or another in their life (whether that’s in a relationship, family of origin, work, or some other commitment), but I found the description and analysis here particularly clear and of potential use. Check out How to keep someone with you forever .

Hi, I’m Jen

Librarian, infovore, and general geek, likely to write comments about books, link collections, and other thoughts related to how we find, use, and take joy in information.

I'm the Research Librarian at the Perkins School for the Blind

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