Information and the Future

This is the blog of the Information and the Future task force of the Rolfing Library at Trinity International University. The IF task force exists to explore the role of libraries in the future of Christian higher education.

Friday, September 29, 2006

9/29/06 Meeting - College Students Perceptions of Libraries

Minutes of 9/29/06 Meeting
College Students Perceptions of Libraries

I. Announcements
A. The meeting schedule is now on the blog.

B. In October, we are planning to have a panel discussion with TIU students. 2 graduate and 2 undergraduate students will be invited, preferrably ones who are well-networked, so they can speak not only for themselves but for their peers. It was decided that $10-15 would be given as reimbursement for these students. We will also possibly video tape students beforehand to get a variety of perspectives on certain questions. By next Friday (Oct. 7) everyone should submit 2-3 questions. A task force of Rebekah, Everett and Matt will review the questions and decide which should be included.

C. In November, there will be discussion of the book Gutenberg Elegies: the Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age by Sven Birkerts.

D. A lecture on Nov. 1 on campus by Quentin Schultze on "Using Technology Wisely in Our Lives, Work and Churches." Would we like to try and do something in conjunction with this lecture? We would like to see if Schultze can come to a meeting with us, so we'll contact him about his schedule. Gail and Matt will look into this more.

II. OCLC Report
What got your attention in this report?
  • 89% start with search engine, 2% with library website
  • Students assume the library website is not good, or don't know the library has a website
  • Like the convenience of search engines, and assume library is difficult - along with assuming they know everything about it
  • Want things fast
  • Students want large, federated search engines, but they don't like Google Scholar, because they have to pay or do more searching to find it. They want free full-text.
  • There were contradictions in what students wanted: want both access & longer circulation periods, more books and better facilities, want more librarians to help but they don't use the librarians and think they're stuck up, idea that libraries are free vs. the fact that they actually pay for it.
  • We should get things to show up in Google with a link resolver. We don't have to think of our relationship with search engines as competitive, but cooperative.
  • Students rely on themselves to judge if something's valid. If that's so, how are they ever going to hear an outside opinion. Is it our role to educate them, push them in a different direction, and provide a diversity of perspectives? It depends on what they're asking for - if they have a simple question, answer that. If they want more help with the search and evaluation process, you can guide them in that way.
  • We should build different levels of competence. Doctoral students will need more expertise with the databases, whereas with freshmen we just want them to see it's there and use it.

What do we want our "brand" to be on campus?

  • The myTrinity brand moved from books to the "world of information."
  • Maybe we should resist branding because it is part of our marketing / consumeristic culture. Is that the way we want to be thought of? (Look at "The McDonaldization of Libraries" in College and Research Libraries.) But it could be inevitable, since we do live in a capitalistic culture.
  • Some public libraries have done a good job of increasing conception that libraries are more than just books - they also have movies and CDs.
  • How does having a different conception of libraries change what people will expect? They would know that there are online databases to use, and that they can use the library website from outside the library.
  • Some students might have broader needs. Seminary students can't do their research online.
  • People often just want the answer, and get upset if we try to give them more. But we can use this desire to provide students with the best resources possible.
  • Shape the marketing of ourselves, to improve the image of librarians as not nice. Make it more friendly. "Service is our brand." Do a better job of convincing people we are there to help them. For example, signs that say "Bother me." The library desk can be intimidating - take of the top part.
  • Listen to what patrons want and get their input. Do more surveys. Have a suggestion box on the website, and post people's questions and the answers. Have a public way for students to recommend books.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Video Games and Education pt.2

The cover story of this month's Harper's Magazine is a discussion entitled "Grand Theft Education." The article is a transcript of two teachers and two programmers discussing the educational value of video games generally and specifically if video games can teach the skills usually taught in an English writing class.

This article is available in to Rolfing patrons via OCLC's PerAbs and I think worth looking at. Some interesting quotes from the article follow:

General role of games in education:

What you're doing in [the video game] doesn't matter outside it, so it's okay to fail. You're forgiven. One of the problems with standard pedagogy is that it all matters too much, there's a pressure to succeed. ...

It's really interesting to think of actual soccer as an interface between your body and the ball, etc. But should we be cautious about such metaphors? Don't the privileges of reality need protecting? ...

On the ability to teach argument:

So could an intensively rules-based game like Civilization IV help kids learn to make arguments about the course of civilization, in much the same way that a good book might? ... [Answer from the article is mostly yes. Goes on to discuss video games inspiring writing and possibly academic research]

On plot:

I would say that game design is closer to architecture than it is to novel writing. The designers do create resistances to certain types of behavior and encourage other types of behavior within space, but first and foremost they're creating a space that can be explored and occupied in multiple ways. ...

On characterization:

I do think there is something special about the screen. In video games you get to be the star on screen and to be the spectator at the same time. There's a huge narcissistic charge to that. ...

[Video games are] very me centered. The player isn't curious about the outside world and how to fit into it; it's the world that has to fit into his game. ...

On greatness:

One of the signs of how important gaming is now, I think, is that video games have started to influence our ideas of narrative instead of the other way around. The best example of this is the television show Lost. ... [also discusses Da Vinci Code as example]

It seems, then, as if video games might serve ideas better than they will serve art.

This plays into the virtual revolution I was describing earlier. Everyone in the overdeveloped world will have the [tools] they need to create this amazing stuff, whether it be blogs or films or games. None of it will rise to the peaks that we associate with names like Joyce or Proust, but a great deal of it will be fantastic.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Got Game?

I've been seeing a lot of online discussion about libraries and video games lately.
Some of that discussion is about public libraries hosting video game nights to try and attract young men into the library. Also a library in an online gaming universe recently won second place in a library technology competition (post).

But there is also discussion of video games as educational. The library at the University of Illinois now has a video game collection. "World of Warcraft is an ideal learning environment" claims the post "I want a gaming librarian" from McMaster University Library. Video games are seen as teaching problem solving and technology skills and, as the gaming paradigm shifts from single player to online multi-player, collaboration and teamwork.

I enjoy video games occasionally but would not consider myself an avid video game player. I have thought from time to time, that despite parental skepticism, video game playing was helpful in developing skills that I use at work. Both the problem solving skills and the patience required to excel at video games, I believe has served several of my peers well as they moved on to computer related jobs.

Still I retain a certain suspicion of video games as a legitimate hobby. I've been thinking about the similarities and differences between video games and more traditional hobbies. Is there a significant difference between constructing a video game civilization and constructing and operating model trains? I may share some of my thoughts later but I'm curious what you think.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Reality, Virtue, and Virtual Reality

I've been reading a couple of books by Albert Borgman (Power Failure and
Holding on to reality: the nature of information at the turn of the millennium) on the philosophical and theological import of technology. Although I'm still working my way through them I would like to share some of the ideas here.

An important adjective for Borgman is "focal." Here he defines focal things and activities:

"Generally a focal thing is concrete and of commanding presence. A focal practice is the decided, regular, and normally communal devotion to a focal thing." (Power Failure, p.22)

For example musical instruments are focal things. First they are intriguing physical artifacts that we tend to want to touch or look at. Second, playing an instrument requires us to engage them physically, mentally, and emotionally. It also requires patience and discipline. Playing a CD by contrast does not require patience, nor does it demand attention and physical exertion.

In another example he compares whipped cream (a focal thing) with Cool Whip. Whereas the ingredients and origin of Cool Whip (where does non-dairy whipped topping come from?) are obscure and removed from our physical context. Whipped cream is rooted in biology and we can conceive of its origins (though we may prefer not too!).

Borgman acknowledges that Cool Whip is healthier than whipped cream, is easier to preserve, cheaper to produce, has a more consistent taste and texture etc. He would say it is more available (PF, p.19). Similarly a CD player makes music more available than a guitar and interstate highways and airports make cities more available. But turn travel (a focal activity) into transportation a passive non-focal activity.

I don't think the point of this is too denounce technology and I don't read that in Borgman. Instead, I am challenged to think what kind of life do we want to live and as an educational community promote and how do we appropriate technology towards those ends. If we accept the dominant consumer paradigm we can use technology to produce cheap, safe, available experiences tailored to our preferences. I'm intrigued by Borgman's argument that we need focal practices to center our life and that virtue is acquired by these practices.

I could probably go on and on but will stop here. I'm not to the part of Power Failure where Borgman explicitly talks about Christianity but I found that fascinating as well the first time I read this book. As always I'm curious on your thoughts and questions. I'm trying to decide if part of this would make good IF reading material.

Thursday, September 07, 2006


I think Rebecca brings up a lot of interesting ideas in her post yesterday. I'm especially intrigued by the following:

"Have blogs for different subject areas with books, news and useful things for that discipline."

I think that this idea has a lot of potential. Especially if we were able to include information that was not readily available in the Catalog or other sources such as our own reviews or links to reviews and biographical information on the author. We may also be able to tailor information to specific classes that are meeting or assignments that have been given. If we want patrons to see us as a valuable resource, maybe we can be more aggressive in giving them valuable information. We might also think through ways we could partner with the faculty in providing assistance to both the faculty and the students in their class.

One potential hurdle to what Rebecca was talking about is the number of people who have no idea what RSS feeds are. However, I think that the MyTrinity portal has the capability to recieve and display feeds. The first time I logged on, I was recieving the RSS feed from though that seems to have been removed from my MyTrinity. So we may be able to leverage the new web software to make this stuff available.

Like Rebecca said, there is a lot we can do if we are willing to invest staff time and effort to learn how.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

NSLS workshop on blogging

This morning I went to an NSLS workshop on blogging. It was great - I came away with some good ideas for how blogging and other new interactive technology could be used in the library. The presenter (Jenny Levine) put her slides online:

Here are some of the ideas I found most interesting:
- Use a blog for "what's new." It's quicker and easier to update than a traditional web page, since it does all the formatting and archiving automatically.
- Open up a blog to allow comments from patrons, encourage discussion and complaints. Let them say what they want to talk about.
- Make the catalog a blog and have comments from patrons on a book's usefulness.
- Have blogs for different subject areas with books, news and useful things for that discipline.
- Using RSS feeds, you can automatically pull information onto your website, such as news headlines, new books, and articles.
- It's possible to create a new books page using RSS feeds to automatically pull new items from the catalog.
- Some databases now allow you to use RSS to pull new articles. We could put new articles on subject guide pages.
- Library Success: a Best Practices Wiki was recommended to see what other libraries are doing:
- Do instant messaging for reference. The younger generation prefers instant messaging to email.
- All of this is free! It only requires staff time.