Twitter, Academic Conversation, and the Research Paper

I have been thinking a lot recently about the research paper as academic conversation. Conversation is where ideas form and are honed and exchanged–and this is what good academic research papers do. To me, this is both a very simple and very important concept necessary to academic pursuit as well as to life. I think it is an important thing to teach in our present (and hopefully future) climate of transliterate ¬†library instruction, where many different types of media are used to not only join in on the conversation but to create conversational opportunities. But how do we teach it and its importance? Conversation and idea exchange can be such ephemeral concepts. Not only that, many students (and, let’s admit it, people in general) want the ultimate truth: the final, correct, black or white answer, not the greys of the back-and-forth of discourse. But sometimes this isn’t possible in academia. Isn’t this the whole point of academic research? To advance further? To keep questioning and “conversing” with the discoveries and ideas that have come before yours?

What began my train of thought on conversation? Twitter. Twitter itself can create a visual of conversation and that’s what it did for me. Last Fall there was a (admittedly small) firestorm of conversation on Twitter about Malcolm Gladwell’s article on social networking’s lack of effect on social justice. I know I saw plenty of response in mine. People were also posting response articles they had seen to the Gladwell such as Maria Popova’s. Perhaps, then, Twitter is one way to teach and describe academic conversation: the back and forth; point and counterpoint; original thought and “retweets”–aka the thoughts of others with credited attribution (and hopefully one’s own commentary to build upon others’ thoughts). It seems to me there’s something about Twitter and the way it’s used as conversation in text that could help librarians and other academics teach about academic conversation–but I’ve not yet worked out how. If anyone has any thoughts or current uses along these lines, I’d appreciate your comments!

Speaking of Twitter and conversation, you might also check out this excellent and insightful article about Twitter’s interesting mix of orality and literacy from “Technosociology”¬†.

ALA 2010: My conference experience

It’s been about a week since the American Library Association’s annual conference in DC, so I thought it was about time I shared what I saw and learned. Here are some of my personal highlights:

  • I met so many interesting young librarians who have been out in the professional field for a few years now and are doing amazing, interesting, and cutting-edge research (and practice) in libraries. Having just graduated from library school, this was an inspiration. On Saturday, I wandered into a poster session down at the far end of the exhibit floor and ended up meeting librarians involved in building online community through a digital academic repository/clearinghouse and studying and promoting the use of ebooks and mobile devices (from Holly Tomren and Lisa Carlucci Thomas, who were both an absolute joy to meet). I have decided that poster sessions are excellent places to meet and connect with other innovative librarians and I would highly recommend that other newly-minted librarians (or, really, librarians at any stage!) do the same when attending conferences.
  • Listening to David Lee King, Bobbi Newman, Toby Greenwalt, and John Blyberg talk about “Designing Digital Experiences” for users was a treat (click the links for David, Bobbi or Toby to see some of the presentation material). It was also pretty exciting because I’d been hearing about all of them on Twitter or in my classes for quite a while! They all had thought-provoking things to say about creating a holistic user experience for library patrons from the website to the brick-and-mortar. I particularly liked what Toby Greenwalt said about making the digital experience more human by combining digital and human interaction at “pinch points” (aka providing service where things get difficult for patrons). At his library, there’s a chat window located on every page of their online catalog. He also talked about using QR (“Quick Response”) Codes (I heard a decent amount of buzz about these at this conference) as another way to marry the physical library to technology at a point of service. For instance, as part of a physical display for a teen photography contest at Greenwalt’s library, patrons could scan a QR Code with their smart phones and get a video interview relevant to the physical display they were standing right in front of. (Sidenote: It seems to me the creative possibilities for the use of QR Codes is endless).
  • I learned a lot about the importance of needs assessment in terms of information literacy instruction, especially at the ACRL Instruction Section’s session on Evidence Based Practice in information literacy instruction with Megan Oakleaf and Diana Wakimoto (read Diana’s blog post on ALA including her overview of the EBP session). They were both engaging and dynamic speakers who really brought home the importance of pre- and post-assessment for any library instruction endeavor. What does that mean? To me, it means that to guide your patrons/students in the best way possible, you must find out what they need to know and learn — really, that’s what assessment and evaluation is all about. Don’t just guess at what you think they need — find out! As Diana said, Evidence=Good, Anecdote=Bad, When in doubt, ask! Having grumbled my way through an evaluation and research class as part of my library degree, it was good to see the relevance and importance of needs assessment and evaluation in a part of librarianship I want to practice.
  • This post is getting quite long now, but I want to make a quick mention of two other highlights. The “Starting Out? Start With You!” session, with Lisa Carlucci Thomas and Karen Sobel gave some good advice to those of us starting out as librarians (e.g. Ask yourself these questions: Where are you now? Where do you want to be? What’s your expertise, talent, niche? Make it so — build your brand). And the “Yours, Mine, and Ours” session covered a hot information literacy topic that I’m particularly interested in: the transition from high school to college and how instruction librarians can help. I’m glad to see this topic receive more and more attention!

There were some things about the conference that could have been better. Mostly, I have to agree with Buffy Hamilton (who I am SO sorry I didn’t get to meet) that there could and should have been better spaces, both virtual and real, for social and professional networking and informal learning opportunities. I love what she says about crafting the conference experience to be closer to the three Ps to make it more portable, participatory, and personalized. Buffy has some great suggestions on how this could be done – like having a better-designed Networking Uncommons space (which didn’t seem very welcoming to me at this conference), space for division or topic-specific lounges for hot topics and emerging themes, and expanding the Unconference to more than one day. I would have loved to have more of a chance to participate in the Unconference, but I couldn’t be at ALA on Friday while it was happening.¬† And certainly, the ALA conference website could be better designed and more social-media friendly. Buffy mentions redesigning the site to pull together social media streams for the conference, which I think is an excellent idea. Twitter is just one of the places people seem to find out the most about what’s happening at the conference — surely the ALA website could make better use of that fact. And I think many of us can agree that HUGE telephone book of a conference program does not make life easier for anyone. I also think it makes those new to the conference experience feel more overwhelmed.

That’s my experience. I definitely encourage you to seek out posts from others who attended, too, since there’s no way one person can cover it all at a conference as big as this one. And please feel free to share your experience in the comments or in your own post!

Users Creating for the Library AND Each Other

It is exciting to see all the ways libraries are collecting and utilizing content from users/patrons. When you think about it, gathering user-created content means that libraries are not only adding value and interest to their online presence and collection for themselves and their users, but the users are adding value for their fellows as well. In a lecture for the class I take from Meredith Farkas‘s, I learned about Penn Tags and how it can be used as a “treasure map” (Meredith’s term) for students doing research. If another student has already created a tagged, “annotated bibliography” on the same or a similar topic, there will be a beautifully laid out list of resources for them to start with and, perhaps, build upon. What an interesting way to help fill out the research guides reference librarians already create! I think it would be interesting to have students within a major or a specific class create subject guides for classmates or future students via wiki or Libguides. It would be a collaborative assignment that librarians and professors could put together as an ongoing user instruction/information literacy initiative. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are people already doing this, it’s not a terribly original idea, and it could be a fruitful undertaking if it were done right.

I also learned about what Danbury Library and Bedford Public Library did with their catalogs and LibraryThing. I linked here to the record in each for Margaret Atwood’s Year of the Flood. It’s interesting to see how patrons tagged them, and I really like that “similar books” are provided (I’m not completely sure these are generated by LibraryThing and, therefore, the “crowd” – anyone know?). It’s neat to see the published review blurbs on Bedford’s site as well, but it would be REALLY cool to see reviews from actual patrons of those libraries and to see what books those in your community would recommend having read that book – readers’ advisory from your users themselves! Again, I bet there are libraries doing this that I have missed. Certainly, other libraries have places on their sites where patrons can write reviews of books (e.g. Denver Public Library’s Evolver site’s reviews by teens). But it would be great to see reviews integrated into catalog records as well.

At Emerson College’s Library (full disclosure: I work there) they have started an outreach/marketing campaign for National Library Week so that people visiting the library’s website can submit their own stories on the subject “How the Library Saved My Life”. (Submission happens via LibGuide widget.) The stories will be moderated, similar to the way blog comments are moderated in that the story will need to be approved before it gets officially “published” – I think on the library website, but since it’s a new thing I’m not totally sure where it will be published yet. This is such an interesting way to get students to participate and “sell” the library to their peers. You might also enjoy checking out the superhero-style posters they’ve created in conjunction with this campaign introducing each librarian and their “lifesaving” superpower!

I realize some of my suggestions might be a bit technically naive if they haven’t been done already – maybe pie-in-the-sky. But it’s fun and interesting to think about the new and collaborative ways users can be induced to create content for the library and, ultimately, themselves and their fellow patrons. From what one is always reading about the characteristics of the Millennial generation, collaborative creation with the library could be on the upswing – or at least welcome.