Archive for the 'Instruction' Category

A fresh start

Monday, August 7th, 2006

I got busy a little while back and as a result I fell behind in my listserv and blog reading.  And, as a result of that, I’ve neglected my blog.  In any case, I decided to just stop reading these listserv and blog items where I’ve left off, mark all items as read, and start fresh (I love that feature!).  Because I’m a little behind the times right now, the first item I want to mention is old news by now.

As everyone knows by now, the Deleting Online Predators Act passed the House.  I had found out about the vote the morning it was to take place and made a feeble attempt at emailing my Congressman.  It doesn’t surprise me that he was one of the 410 to vote in favor of the legislation.  I knew that the bill was likely to pass, but I was dismayed at the fact that it passed by 410 to 15.  The bill has moved onto the Senate’s Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.  I know the Senate reconvenes in September.  This time I’ll be sure to keep a better eye on the voting schedule so I can try to be heard before the vote.  I’m thinking of including a link to Larry Magid’s article about DOPA.

*Note: If you want to take action against DOPA, check out the bottom of this post for some steps in doing so.  These were posted on the ILI-L listserv.

Speaking of legislation that should never have been passed… I found out that my state passed a statute requiring every classroom in public schools must contain a flag and a copy of the Bill of Rights and the Constitution.  I don’t oppose this legislation because I’m not proud of my country or am unpatriotic.  But in reading this article, I discovered this law will have a costly impact on schools (community colleges are specifically outlined in the article) to comply.  Personally, I think the money would be better spent furthering the education of the students.

On a lighter note, there are two great articles on the, um, reliability of Wikipedia.  One is by The Onion and the other is about Steven Colbert’s influence on the site.  These articles could be helpful in showing students not to trust everything they read - especially on Wikipedia.

~~Posted on the ILI-L listserv on August 7, 2006~~ 

We need your help defeating DOPA!  Listed below are six simple steps you can take to save your library from DOPA.  Also, YALSA has created and compiled three great resources for librarians, which are all available at  Click on the DOPA page for the: Legislative Advocacy Guide, DOPA Information Packet and Teens & Social Networking in School & Public Libraries Toolkit. 
1. Contact your Senator before Sept. 5th to: 
a. Tell him/her your opinion of DOPA (see the Legislative Advocacy Guide for quick tips on contacting your Senator). 
b. Educate him/her about the positive uses of Social Networking Sites (use the information in the Teens & Social Networking in School & Public Libraries Toolkit). 
To find out who our Senator is & what number to call, go to To email your Senator, go to and click on “Take Action.”  
2. Sign the online petition opposing DOPA at
3. Host an information session at your library about DOPA and social networking sites (see the Toolkit on Teens & Social Networking in School & Public Libraries for tips and ideas).
4. Tell us how you’re using social networking technologies at your library. Go to  From there you can add a link to your library’s MySpace space as well as join in on the discussion about how you’re using social networking technologies in your library.
5. Invite your Senator to your library while they’re home from DC between August 7th and September 4th.
a. Have teens on hand to demonstrate productive ways they use social networking technologies
b. Provide the Senator with a photo-op (e.g. giving a summer reading award to a teen or reading a story to kids)
c. Give the Senator information about social networking sites and show him/her what your library is already doing to keep children and teens safe online.
6. Personalize and send the following sample letter to the editor to your local newspaper, and encourage your library patrons to do the same.
Sample Letter to the Editor
(please feel free to make additions or changes so that it better fits any particular messages you want to get across)
Librarians care deeply about children and teens and are concerned about their safety online and in our community. While Congress’ effort to make children and teens more safe online is admirable, the proposed Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA) that is currently being debated by our nation’s legislators, will actually do little to make our kids safer. What it will do is block access to critical Internet resources and communication tools in schools and libraries that our kids need to learn how to use in order to be successful in college and the workplace. It also takes control away from communities like ours, and leaves the decision making about what our children can access on the Internet to the politicians in Washington DC.
DOPA seeks to further limit kids’ access to online resources at school and in libraries. That means it would prevent librarians and teachers from instructing students and their parents about how to use all kinds of Web applications safely and effectively. Because it is linked to federal funding, DOPA also hurts most those kids served by schools and libraries in low-income communities.
DOPA would restrict online support groups, email programs through which family members can communicate with each other, and educational tools used to provide distance education, squashing kids’ first attempts at becoming acquainted with applications that will soon be essential workplace tools. Just one example of what could be lost in a rush to legislate is a recent online field trip to Carlsbad Caverns in N.M., in which more than 10 million students participated and First Lady Laura Bush took part.
Perhaps the most troubling part of DOPA is the false sense of security it gives parents who are seeking solutions to the problem of online predators. Like dangers to kids in the real world, dangers on the Internet are not easily overcome. Teaching young people to practice safe behaviors and guard their privacy online the same way they would in public is critical if we want to protect them.
Please join me in urging Congress to make a real commitment to kids’ safety by abandoning bad legislation like DOPA and funding our libraries and schools adequately so they have the resources they need to empower our community’s kids to stay safe on the Internet.
[insert your name here]

The user isn’t broken. So it must be the OPAC?

Wednesday, July 5th, 2006

I had a bit of an ”ah-ha” moment in library school when we learned about mental models.  Mental models, in an oversimplified description, provide a way for people to grasp new and/or abstract concepts by applying related concepts they already know and understand.

When the latest issue of Library Journal was routed to me at work last week, and I saw that two of the articles discuss OPACs, I started thinking about how mental models might play a role in their use and understanding.  As a “NexGen” librarian, I’m old enough to remember card catalogs, but young enough that the transition to OPACs took place while I was still in school.  The OPAC interface, especially in its early days, was essentially designed to act as the card catalog.  The user was prompted to search by title, author, or subject.  Although the computer offered a level of interactivity in searching, the mental model of the card catalog transferred to the OPAC and made it simple to use. 

However, the OPAC has given way to online catalogs with access points hyperlinked within bibliographic records and the ability to move beyond simple title, author, and subject searches to include keywords and more.  And, eventually, there will be a generation of library users young enough to have never used a card catalog.  The card catalog mental model that originally assisted patrons in understanding how to use the OPAC will become a thing of the past.

Although I don’t think online catalogs are used effectively, I’m hesitant to say that they are broken.  OPACs were originally intended to provide a catalog of the library’s physical collection.  In this sense, they still work.  But library collections have grown beyond physical resources.  And patrons, who are accustomed to purchasing books through online retailers such as Amazon, want more information from the online catalog than subject headings and call numbers.  There are suggestions for ways to improve online catalogs, such as Scott Condon’s article, that take into account the various resources that would need to be cataloged and the metadata that could potentially be cataloged for these resources.  But these changes are extensive and it could be years before libraries see a standardized approach to implementing any improvements.

While waiting for this to happen, I’m curious as to how we can teach our patrons to better understand the online catalog structure that is currently in place.  At the public law library where I work, our technical services librarian discovered that patrons were using the online catalog to search for online resources, such as statutes and case dockets.  In other words, their mental model of the online catalog was not a catalog of the library’s physical resources found online.  Instead, they expected it to be a catalog of online resources.  After figuring this out, she included links to the more common resources directly beneath the search box.  The links worked, and the number of “improper” searches dropped drastically. 

This simple approach shows that by accommodating the patrons’ search habits, the catalog can be useful and less frustrating.  Another approach, though it might be considered more radical, would be to teach patrons the basics of the card catalog.  Perhaps if they have the appropriate mental model, they will understand why the online catalog is set up like it is and they might find it easier to use.

Please. Leave it to the professionals.

Monday, May 22nd, 2006

I’m catching up on my Library Link of the Day emails (I keep forgetting to switch over to their RSS feed), and began reading the article “ref*er*ence pub*lish*ing,” which discusses the shift in reference materials being made available online.  Much of the article is from the point of view of the reference “big boys” – World Book, Encyclopaedia Britannica, and Merriam-Webster.  Eventually, part of the discussion (of course) involves Wikipedia and its free, anyone-can-edit site versus the subscription-based, credible reference sources. 

Now, I have to admit that I use Wikipedia when I’m simply trying to wrap my head around a new topic.  However, once I get my basic information, I’m going to seek out the same information from a credible source (whether from a subscription-based reference source or otherwise).  This is the reason that I agree with part of the article.

According to the World Book folks “While these types of sites offer an interesting community-based Internet experience… World Book competes in a different space that is focused on providing reliable, expert-authored and reviewed articles for particular audiences looking for usable answers to pressing questions.” 

While I agree that Wikipedia and subscription-based encylopedias are on different levels in terms of credibility and authority, I am also a librarian that has been professionally trained to understand these differences.  This makes me wonder how many library classes/workshops (regardless of whether they are called bibliographic instruction, information literacy instruction, library skills, etc.) are including these two types resources in their discussion of web site authority.

I continued to read the article and discovered that Merriam-Webster is attempting an Open Dictionary, which allows anyone to submit words and definitions.  Oh my.  If you haven’t seen this, you have to check it out.  All I can say is that this is a slang dictionary at its worst.