Alchemical Thoughts

Posts Tagged ‘professors

(Another crappy day at Blogger when it comes to saving posts and publishing them. is looking pretty good about now. Don't get me wrong, I like Vox, but the closed commenting system is a major hindrance to my two readers. Anyhow, I am posting the piece here so I can share it).

My boss forwarded this story out of The Chronicle of Higher Education to the librarians. The article highlights a study from Project Information Literacy, out of the University of Washington's I-School which finds that "most research-assignment handouts given to undergraduates fail to guide the students toward a comprehensive strategy for completing the work." You can find the full report at this link (note: PDF). I mostly did not have much of an issue with the article other than the following statement:

Alison Head, one of the heads of the Project, on some professors, "the latter group of professors may underestimate students' ability to process information, given their familiarity with the Internet."

I would have thought that someone like Ms. Head would be a bit more careful in making a remark like that given that the LIS literature does have various examples that say clearly that students, especially the digital natives she is discussing, are not always proficient in processing information from online sources. I have said it once, and I will say it again: just because they can use the Internet, it does not follow that they know what to do with what they find on the Internet. So, while it is true some professors underestimate their students, it is also a given that some librarians and digital native cheerleaders (like the twopointopians, to borrow the term from the Annoyed Librarian) go to the other extreme and overestimate those students skills. But you do not have to take my word for it. Here are some articles I have read just on that topic:

(Update note: Same day): This came into my inbox, which adds to the point I am trying to make. Link is to a press release from Northwestern University where researchers find, lo and behold, that "just because younger people grew up with the Web doesn't mean they're universally savvy with it." The press release is highlighting a study recently published. The full citation for the article reporting the study is as follows for those interested:

Hargittai, Eszter, "Trust Online: Young Adults' Evaluation of Web Content." International Journal of Communication. 4 (2010): 468-494.

It seems to be an open journal, so I am providing the link. I also saved it to read later.

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The ITHAKA Report (full title: "Faculty Survey 2009: Key Strategic Insights for Libraries, Publishers, and Societies") has been discussed in Librarian Blogsville ad nauseam, so by the time I got around to reading it (and yes, I actually read it), I did not feel a need to write about in my professional blog. Like many things in librarianship, once the big shots have pretty much beaten to it a pulp, I don't see much of a point covering it. However, since the tagline at The Gypsy Librarian (my professional blog) is "I read a lot of the library literature so you don't have to," and I did read this, I would be remiss if I did not at least make some notes. The bottom line for the report is pretty much doom and gloom as faculty are moving more to using and preferring electronic research sources; it is becoming an issue of "if it is not online and full-text, it probably does not exist." In a way, faculty are not that much different than the students they teach, which I personally find a little disturbing.

The report is done every three years, and it has been done since 2000. It is limited to "colleges and universities in the United States that grant bachelor's degrees or higher" (2). It is a longitudinal study that tracks faculty attitudes and practices. I assume faculty means traditional disciplines; in other words, I don't think it includes academic librarians who have tenure or are on a tenure line, thus designated as faculty. The study does not make that distinction. When you consider the study, the sample may seem pretty small:

  • 35,184 faculty were mailed the survey.
  • Only 3,025 complete responses were received (that is about 10% as I am "eyeballing it." The actual math according to the document boils it down to 8.6% response rate).

I do wonder how come they have such a low response rate. Are faculty really that lazy or just have that "I can't be bothered attitude" that they could bring themselves to complete a survey on a topic that is certainly very relevant to them? Then again, this is not inconsistent with other library and information science studies where results are based on very low numbers. So take it as it comes.

Some findings and observations. I am sticking mostly with the ones related to libraries, since that is my area of interest and expertise, but the rest of the document may be worth a look:

  • "Since the first Faculty Survey in 2000, w have seen faculty members steadily shifting towards reliance on network-level electronic resources, and a corresponding decline in using locally provided tools for discovery" (4). This is not surprising. It has been happening, and it will continue to happen that if faculty can get their research materials from the comfort of their offices (or their homes), that they will not set foot in the library. This does raise the issue that they often are not fully aware of the costs of providing said resources (subscription, infrastructure, etc.).
  • "The survey found that scholars tend to prefer electronic resources specific to their own discipline over those that cover multiple disciplines" (6). This is where we get faculty that complain their subject area is not represented even though we do provide plenty of content in their area, often including all the major journals in their field, through a multi-discipline database. I am recalling a specific professor who wanted some obscure film database that was not full-text, nor provided as much coverage as some of the larger databases we did have at the time (and that included a list of journals she had provided). She wanted it because the database had "film" in the title (I kid you not) even though that product was inferior and had no full-text coverage. It took quite a bit of convincing on our part to show her we were meeting her needs. I mention this because very often such preferences seem a little idiosyncratic.
  • However, faculty still mention that they follow citations from journal articles and that they search full-text databases for their research needs (7).
  • I am pretty skeptical on this: "As scholars have grown better to able to reach needed materials directly online, the library has been increasingly disintermediated from research processes. . . " (8). In some places, faculty are NOT exactly better able to find anything online. This is the sort of reality that will give me job security because someone has to show them how to use the resources and find the information they need. That someone is usually an academic librarian.
  • The change in libraries as envisioned by the faculty: ". . .envision the transformation of the library from an institution focused on acquiring, maintaining, and providing services centered on a local print collection into a more electronic hub offering a variety of services to support campus needs for research, teaching, and learning" (9). Personally, I don't think the books and print will totally go away contrary to what the naysayers and twopointopians (to borrow the Annoyed Librarian's term). There may be less, but they won't be totally gone due to reasons ranging from certain things are just better or more efficient in print to students who come across an e-book wanting "a real book" (I get that one often) to "what happens when the power goes out? Oh yea, you reach for that book." Libraries will change, become more dynamic, what have you, but the books are not going anywhere towards extinction. However, we do need to have the conversations about change and about how libraries and librarians can provide new and better services to our patrons. One possibility is emphasizing how we add value via education and information literacy instruction. That would be one thing I would focus on if I ran things.
  • How faculty see us (and probably why I tend to be more comfortable in universities that see themselves as "teaching institutions."). "Significantly more faculty members who consider themselves as 'more of a teacher' rather than 'more of a researcher' rate both the library's teaching (67% vs. 45%) and research (62% vs. 51%) support roles as valuable. And faculty members at the very largest research universities are less likely to appreciate the library's research and teaching support roles" (10; emphasis in original). At least there is something positive out of all this for those of us who work as subject liaisons assigned to academic departments: "Taken together, these patterns suggest that the relationships built through engaging faculty in supporting their own teaching activities (which have been historically proven harder to scale at the largest institutions) may be an especially beneficial way to build relationships with faculty members more broadly" (10). 
  • A problem for us: "The declining visibility and importance of traditional roles for the library and the librarian may lead to faculty primarily perceiving the library as a budget line, rather than as an active intellectual partner" (13). You know things are not going well when the administration thinks you can put everything in a server room and just rely on the Internet (which may or not include subscriptions, and yes, I have actually heard at least one administrator say something along those lines, that all we need is a server room for the website, a guy to watch over it, and done) for research needs. 
  • Where the future may lie for us, which goes back to the idea of adding value I suggested above: "The two new roles in our most recent survey, teaching support and research support, suggest unique opportunities for libraries to further develop campus relationships" (14). 

Update note (6/11/10): Some of the dwellers of Librarian Blogsville that discussed the ITHAKA report, in case anyone is interested:

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I just posted a small essay over at The Gypsy Librarian entitled "Just Because You Have a Ph.D It Does Not Mean Librarianship Should Be Your Backup Plan." It was a response to a column I read in Inside Higher Ed (you can get the link and details over in my other blog). However, I have seen a couple of other postings and articles on the topic of going to graduate school. With the bad economy, a lot of people figure they can wait out the storm by going back to school. In some cases, getting an education, or additional education, can be a good idea if it means you enhance your skills and can get a better job. In many cases though, especially for something that can be as pricey as graduate school, the idea of waiting for the recession to pass while in graduate school may not be such a good idea. Anyhow, these are some of the posts I have read recently that have made me think, and they can be a little further reading for the post I wrote.

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Apparently the topic of tenure for academic librarians has been making the rounds in the librarian blogs. I am in the camp of those who do not like the idea of tenure for academic librarians (or any other hybrid idea), and I have my reasons for that, which I would prefer to outline at some later time. Part of it, to give an indication, is that I think it interferes with the extensive work we already have to do as librarians. That one of my colleagues is floating this idea around is not exactly something that pleases me, but let's keep that out of this blog. Anyhow, I have seen a few things that caught my eye related to the topic, so I am making some notes. I may or not develop this into a more substantial post or not.

  • While this one is not directly about tenure, it did catch my eye. In the long term, when you think about it, asking for tenure does involve some salesmanship on the part of academic librarians, so maybe the post is relevant. Anyhow, here is Steven Bell (who is tenured and does believe in tenure for librarians) on "Academic Librarians are not Salespeople–But They Should Be."
  • The Annoyed Librarian had a series of posts on this, mostly replying to others. If you go to her (I am assuming it is a "her").

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While I do have a healthy respect for some of the elders in the library profession, once in a while I have to wonder if they have been out of the trenches a bit too long. Steven Bell, who is an acknowledged advocate of minimal library instruction for information literacy, has a new piece out on faculty involvement. It all seems pretty good until he gets to this part:

But I can imagine some information literacy and instruction librarians asking themselves “if faculty do ever fully integrate this into their courses and teach it without me – what will I do for a living?” The possibility of librarians being made obsolete by faculty following the examples described above, I think, is highly unlikely. But even if the majority of faculty did, I think that academic librarians would still be needed to support the development and design of instructional activity and digital-learning materials. Our new opportunity would be back-end support – making sure faculty were up-to-date on the e-resources and well equipped with the tools to integrate them into their courses. This could be a whole new growth area for librarian educators. That’s where I’ve advocated the growing importance of instructional design and technology in the work of librarians. I don’t know exactly where academic librarians will be in the future, but if it wasn’t at the front of the classroom that would be fine with me – as long as we play a role in what happens there.

Just some librarians may ask themselves? You just pretty much said that our new role will be in the back-end support. You know, with the IT people and the others in the backrooms who never see real people? Is that really an area of growth, or are we looking at yet another way to de-professionalize and get rid of a few more librarians in the process? I do ask because, for example, here we have what is called an instructional designer who does, well, instructional technology and design. The person is not a librarian by degree or trade, but she would certainly be the sort of person that Professor Bell seems to have in mind. And why is it that being in the front of a classroom seems to be such a bad thing? Some of the best work we do is working with students and in front of their classes. And while educating faculty on things like e-resources is important, we do have a role as well in helping educate students and in the larger educational mission of the university. And statements like the one above can certainly be used to eliminate, or at the very least, keep librarians from the educational roles we should be engaging. Maybe the back-end is good enough for some people. It is not good enough for me, and I am sure it is not good enough for a few of my colleagues. Our instruction librarian would be a good example. Spent the last two years or so building an information literacy program from the ground up with extensive involvement with faculty in what was then known as the Freshman Seminar program. University decides to scrap the program, for some fairly dubious reasons, and we are back to zero pretty much. And while we could document our successes in reaching students, the university pretty much saw us as "the back-end" support anyhow. I am sure she would have a thing or two to say about taking librarians out of the front of the classroom to let the faculty do it, so to speak. I have seen the faculty do it, and it is not always as ideal as the selected examples Professor Bell cites in his post. At the end of the day, that is much of the problem with the library literature: you only see the positives, which at times are exceptions rather than representations of the rule. But hey, we can all just go work in the back-end.


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July 2020


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