Links of interest: December 6, 2010

(Yes, I try to do these on Fridays, but last Friday I had an interview, and the Friday before was Thankgiving. This week is busy too, so I’m doing this now.)

Last Wednesday and Thursday, I took part in a free WebJunction conference that focused on 21st century librarianship. There were lots of great ideas and discussions (and the WebJunction staff and software worked very smoothly). You can now see all the conference materials (including the presentations and the simultaneous chat sessions) online. I particularly liked Pat Wagner’s presentation on staying committed to great customer service, but there were lots of other good conversations.

On the topic of learning more, how had I missed the site fivebooks.com until now? They ask experts in a field (anything from architectural history to political satire to mysteries to .. well, anything) to recommend five books that would give someone a solid understanding of the topic. And why, which is in many ways the more interesting bit.

And Discover Magazine has an intriguing article about using a simple writing exercise to vastly improve student achievement in a challenging class.

What’s the goal of being online?

Several links I’ve come across in the past week or so have talked about both the powers and perils of online interaction.

Doug Johnson revisits an old post of his from 2005 that talks about why restricting online access in schools is problematic. What I find interesting is how much is still like that – but also how much things have changed in some schools.

And I love Scott McLeod’s post about the things we’d be doing (differently) if we truly supported educational technology. (I’m glad to say I’ve done more than a few of them.)

Common advice to authors these days is to be involved online – but how? A post from Betsy Lerner (an agent) looks at a few of the complexities.

I’m very fond of Common Craft’s explanations of media and technology – and they’ve got a new one about social media and the workplace. Particularly great if you know people in smaller businesses trying to figure out where to get started with the subject.

And BoingBoing shared a presentation that makes one think about the power of online tools, and the importance of teaching evaluation skills – and common sense. (The actual combination of events is, as commenters point out, unlikely, but at the same time, I think it’s an interesting case study in looking at other ways to send a situation.)

For librarians and library geeks:

Links of interest: October 29, 2010

Learning outcomes : Iris Jastram talks about an insight she had about using learning outcomes to do better user instruction, and Jenica Rogers has some more ideas about applying that to the work of the library as a whole.

Technology and the librarian : Michael Stephens, on the MLIS faculty at Dominican University, has begun writing a new column for Library Journal. His first column talks about the need for library students (and librarians) to be comfortable using (and use) online communication, beyond the closed systems of classes and workplaces. Various people, including Angel Rivera have commented about it. (I’ve got more thoughts about this one, but they’re still gelling.)

Steampunk considerations: Nisi Shawl has a great article at Tor.com on some of the issues of steampunk in terms of reflecting the experiences of people of color in that reimagined world. She talks about what she’s writing to explore that, and also links to a bunch of other fascinating resources.

When the library’s not handy: Hugo, Minnesota (a suburb of St. Paul) which has no town library has instituted a Library Express program: programmed lockers outside of City Hall which allow residents to pick up books they’ve reserved. A Wall Street Journal article talks about this and some other similar programs in other places, which also talks about the complications of shorter library hours due to funding cutbacks, and library patrons who still want to use resources.

Conference notes: Sarah Houghton-Jan of Librarian in Black went to the Internet Librarian 2010 conference and made lots of useful posts on presentations – everything on learning from failure to the community as center of the community, to great free tools for cash-strapped libraries.

Time-consuming reference: Brian Herzog talks about doing triage on reference questions in a public library setting. Not only having circulation staff handle some things, and then refer to reference librarians for more detailed needs (common if the reference desk is not obvious or as available as the circ desk) but also how to handle the much more complex questions that take 15 or 30 minutes to handle.

How much management is just right? Jenica Rogers has a great post on what she’s learned in her first 17 months as Director of Libraries. She focuses on the problems of micromanaging – or more specifically, how she doesn’t want to, but other people want her to give more direct guidance and direction on a day to day basis, and how that needs to be balanced against her own work.

Interesting resources:

  • Two additional ways to search Flickr: FlickrStorm goes beyond your initial search by finding other items that might fit and Compfight makes it easier to find creative commons items and original images.
  • OpenFolklore is a project of the American Folklore Society to make materials more widely available for study and learning.
  • The Wisebaden Codex of Hildegard von Bingen’s work is now available digitally. Click the manuscript page image to get into the document reader. (Things that make the medievalist bits of my brain happy!)

What is a reference question, anyway?

I’ve had a couple of interesting responses to my Ask This Librarian project (all in other spaces, not directly here): in both cases, the people asking (neither of whom are library staff of any type) were interested in what I’d call the liminal space between the reference question and the information literacy/instruction experience.

What is a reference question?

Think of it like a classic fantasy novel quest story. The reference question is the journey to the Quest Object (Grail, ring, spear, mystical statue. Whatever.) An arc of story and narrative. It’s not:

  • the worldbuilding behind the setting.
  • (nor created languages, as nifty as they can be.)
  • the deep dark secrets of every secondary character who wanders into a scene.
  • even necessarily about what happen *after* you find the Quest Object. That might be the next book.

It’s not that the worldbuilding, or the secondary characters, or the ‘what happens after’ aren’t important to the overall situation. They’re just not the focus right now.

People on a Quest can get cranky if you try and halt their quest so you can dump a long speech in their lap. Tolkien could get away with inserting long speeches and council sessions and all manner of other things into his quests while holding many people’s attention. But even with the ability to edit and revise, he still lost people.

Most of us are not Tolkien. (And dropping substantial information into a conversation on the fly, with no editing or chance for revision is even harder than doing it in writing.)

So, what do we do?

Continue reading What is a reference question, anyway?

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 Information Technology Librarian at the University of Maine at Farmington, the small liberal arts college model campus in the University of Maine system.

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