The Student Guide to Social Media: a Case Study in Collaboration
This was an interesting presentation about a collaboration between librarians and learning technologists from three different universities, who worked together in order to create an online social media guide for students. The project came about when Michelle Schneider from the University of Leeds was asked to produce guidance for students on social media and digital literacy, but rather than creating a simple list of dos and don’ts for her own institution, she opted to collaborate with others in order to create an online resource that could be used more widely by any university.
The resulting Student Guide to Social Media is a clearly laid out interactive tool which students can use to find out more about social media platforms and how to use these to undertake research, to network, or to build a positive online reputation.
Michelle described the challenges of working on a collaborative project where members of the team were split across different locations. After an initial face-to-face meeting to discuss their preliminary ideas and to develop their relationship as a team, further collaboration took place mainly via online tools such as Skype and Google Docs, with the exception of one last face-to-face meeting to decide on the final structure of the resource prior to the creation of the first mock-up.
Michelle argued that with any collaborative work, it was important to have a leader who would keep pushing the project forward; without this, there was a risk that the project could fail due to a lack of momentum. Setting strict deadlines and targets was also a good way to keep a project on track. Equally important in collaborative work was the willingness to be flexible and make compromises where necessary to keep the project moving forward. Michelle pointed out the importance of offering solutions and examples of alternatives rather than just naming problems.
When coming to the end of a project, Michelle pointed out that it was important to leave enough time for proof-reading and checking as this could sometimes take longer than expected. It was also important to consider the time of year when the project was due for completion, and whether there was the potential for busy times of year to impact on the project schedule.
Finally, Michelle noted that when considering a collaborative project, it was important to have an awareness of your own strengths, to know what skills you might be lacking, to have a clear understanding of your own tasks within the project, and to attempt to foresee any potential challenges.
Specialising in Information Literacy or Field Knowledge?
The purpose of this presentation was to consider whether teaching librarians should be experts predominantly in information literacy, information retrieval and electronic resources or whether they should focus their expertise more on subject knowledge of the academic subject area(s) which they were supporting.
We discussed the advantages and disadvantages of having librarians who worked as experts in a particular subject field. One key disadvantage was that expertise could be lost if a staff member who had specific subject knowledge moved on to another job. However, an advantage of having librarians with subject expertise was that they were potentially better equipped to anticipate the needs of students and faculty.
The presenter pointed out that specialising in subject knowledge could be challenging for librarians who looked after multiple subjects, as they would never be able to achieve the same level of expertise as someone who focused on one subject only. However, one attendee suggested that it wasn’t necessary for us to have an in-depth knowledge of a subject, but rather that we just had to remain one step ahead of the students in order to be able to instruct and support them.
It was generally agreed that some level of subject knowledge was useful when providing support for a particular academic area. The presenter concluded by arguing that it was our job as teaching librarians to bridge the gap between the two worlds of information literacy and subject knowledge.
Keynote Presentation: Kate Arnold – The Information Profession has got to Evolve: but How?
In the final keynote speech of the conference, SLA President Kate Arnold argued that we need to change the image of our profession. She pointed out that librarians are still associated with stamping out books within the public consciousness, whereas the work of modern librarians was far more likely to revolve around e-resources and databases. She argued that the role of the librarian had changed from gatekeeper and custodian to collaborator and facilitator, and that it was our job now to coach others to be able to serve themselves when it came to the pursuit of knowledge. However, changing the popular assumptions about our profession was seen to be an on-going challenge.
Kate identified some key future trends which she argued would have an impact on the library profession as we moved forward. She suggested that information literacy would grow in importance to become a prized life skill, while there would also be an increase in the relevance of life-long learning. She also argued that rising concerns around privacy, trust and big data meant that it was important for librarians to maintain an understanding of rules and regulations in this area. Meanwhile, the impact of technology on economic models could also have a potential impact on the services offered by libraries.
These trends were identified within a joint report that was produced by the SLA and the Financial Times. Based on the results of two surveys, which were circulated to information professionals and executives, the report also identified five attributes that needed to be developed within the library profession. These were:
- Communicate your value
- Understand the drivers (i.e. anticipate the needs of users and the overall strategy of your institution or business)
- Manage the process (i.e. clarify and manage expectations, use technology to speed up information retrieval processes, undertake training in project management)
- Keep up on technical skills
- Provide decision-ready information (i.e. the right information, in the right format, at the right time)
Kate pointed out that the report identified a gap between how information professionals perceive their own value, and how others perceive it. According to the report, 55% of information professionals said that they added a lot of value to their organisation, whereas only 34% of executives said the same. Kate argued that it was important for librarians to think about their relationships with colleagues in other departments and to consider these colleagues as clients too. She argued that the more we could understand how our roles fitted in with the strategies and aims of our institutions, the better services we would be able to provide. Kate encouraged us to read the full report for more information on these issues and findings.
Empowering Students to Critical Thinking
The presenters in this session were from Norway and had worked together on a website project called Sok & Skriv (Search and Write), the purpose of which was to equip students with adequate and relevant tools for academic writing. The website was split into sections for searching, evaluating sources, writing and referencing and had been published in both Norwegian and English.
The presenters argued that students often lacked self-confidence when it came to doing research. Alternatively, they sometimes had a misplaced sense of confidence in their researching abilities when in fact they relied on Google to perform literature searches and were unaware of alternatives. The presenters suggested that a lack of self-confidence also prevented students from engaging critically with what they read, meaning that they had a tendency to accept arguments at face value and to attempt to memorise facts. A central aim of the Sok & Skriv website was to encourage students to engage in reflective critical thinking and to develop their own voice within academia.
To support students with some of these issues, the Sok & Skriv website spelt out what students needed to know in a simple, straight-forward manner. Students were encouraged to read texts several times in different ways and with different objectives, for example to skim-read for meaning, to engage in deep critical reading, and to consider the text within the context of their assignment. The website also advised students to evaluate carefully the sources that they planned to use in their research and to ensure that they could give reasons for choosing particular sources. In addition, students were shown how to identify arguments and counter arguments within a text and were encouraged to be aware of these constructions when writing their own work.
The presenters reported that the website had been well received in Norway and that there had also been some international use of the resource too. However, although the website worked well as a stand-alone tool, in an ideal situation the content would be delivered within the context of a taught programme. To this end, the presenters had produced a teacher’s guide to help teachers familiarise themselves with the website and to offer suggestions on how to incorporate the material into their teaching.
Designing One Information Literacy Website for Many Types of Information Seeking Behaviour
In this final presentation of the day, Melissa Man from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore spoke about her department’s need to create a single website for information literacy instruction. The website was to be used as a means to consolidate the department’s various online library resources into a single repository, including YouTube videos, plagiarism guidance, subject guides, email updates and notifications about library events. Melissa explained that they had also wanted to create a website which was more interactive, as the existing web page for the library was static and did not permit engagement from users.
Before they designed the Learning @ NTU Libraries site, the project team considered the information seeking behaviours of their users and referred to the ACRL framework for information literacy for guidance. They built the website using WordPress and recreated their previous IL email updates as blog posts on the site. They also created an embedded Google calendar on the site in order to advertise the timings of the library workshops, added Youtube playlists for library video tutorials, and created a tab where students could request help from a librarian. Important information, such as details about the library workshops, was linked to within several different places on the website in order to maximise discoverability. Google Analytics was used to track usage statistics for the site.
Melissa reported that the advantage of creating an independent WordPress site for the library was that she had complete control over the design and submission of content, rather than having to request approval from a webmaster. Melissa explained that the next step in the design of the website would be to embed more learning objects and e-learning modules, as well as to involve subject librarians in the project in order to expand beyond the topics covered by the existing library workshops.
LILAC Conference Panel Discussion
The very last event of the conference was a discussion during which delegates were given the opportunity to present questions to a panel of information literacy experts. On the panel were Nancy Graham, Kate Arnold, Alan Carbery and Debbi Boden-Angell. During the discussion, the panel received questions on emerging IL trends, cross-sector working, inviting non-librarians to attend LILAC and other library events, and ways to share the knowledge gained at LILAC with other colleagues and peers.
The panel advised that writing a report and emailing it to colleagues was not necessarily the most effective way to share knowledge from LILAC; instead, they recommended a departmental meeting and brainstorming session to share information and discuss new ideas. I’ve decided to do both, so that we can have a useful discussion meeting as well as keeping a written record of knowledge gained from LILAC. I think that the latter will be useful for future reference. This is also the reason why I’ve blogged about my LILAC experiences at such length – I often use my blog as a handy repository of things that I’ve learned, and I’m hoping that it will be a useful resource to refer back to if I ever decide to go for Chartership!
My first LILAC conference was a great experience and I was lucky to meet so many interesting people. I’m still digesting all the knowledge that I gained from the conference, but I hope that I will soon be able to start collaborating on some brand new information literacy projects within my own library department :)