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Month: October 2009

Why I Love the New APA Style Guide

There have been several scathing indictments of the new APA style guide. And by “scathing indictments” I mean “well-thought-out and insightful dissections of how the newest edition fails to uphold the underlying goals of scholarly attribution.”

But while I take a moment to thank the library gods who made me a librarian for languages and literature, which means that I rely on an only mildly dysfunctional citation style, I’d like to thank the folks at APA for their stellar work. I realize it was a professional risk, printing all those errors and then flat out missing the point on a bunch of rules, but in the end you’ve successfully gotten us to think about just what the points of those rules actually were in the first place. Styles that too self-evidently conform to the rules of providing the least amount of information that will allow your readers to quickly evaluate and be able to find exactly what you saw, and that do this in ways that map to their discipline’s epistemology… these slacker styles that don’t make us rant and rave and then scratch our heads in utter bafflement do nothing to help us understand why attribution is structured the way it is, and what its fundamental goals really are. Kind of like you’d never think to wonder why a table top works best if oriented horizontally unless a company came out with a new and improved table top with no horizontal surface.

So thank you APA. You’ve got us all talking. Which means it’s about time to go back and do an actually useful revision now, don’cha think? Now that your devious mission has been accomplished?

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Course and College Integrated Instruction

It has been an odd but inspiring week at work. It was odd because my department members and I took one entire day to sit down together and write a couple of documents on a very tight deadline. It was inspiring because one of these documents mapped our experiences with last year’s first-year seminars to the goals of our newly devised first-year seminars (which the college is calling “Argument & Inquiry” seminars), forcing us to articulate what it looks like to be an instruction librarian for first-year students at a liberal arts college.

It was doubly inspiring because immediately after drafting that description of instruction librarianship in the liberal arts, I got to go and actually do that work with a 100-level course that is one of my perennial favorites: Linguistics 110.

I love this class because it absolutely embodies one point we made in our document: “Locating discussions of content relevant to the course within the context of library instruction makes explicit the connection between information gathering and knowledge production.” The professor teaches his class, talking about the different cortical pathways used to process kanji and kana (with a healthy dose of the convoluted history of Japanese writing systems and vocabulary). Meanwhile, I jump in every once in a while and show how to find out if the article he’s used as the basis for this lecture is still being cited in the literature and is still thought to be credible (he supplied me with the article information ahead of time), how to use terms from that paper to find more papers on similar topics, and how to evaluate the web site that popped up when he used Google to find images of these cortical pathways. Meanwhile, he riffs off of the papers that we find to talk about how they either confirm or complicate what he already knows, or how they relate to other concepts they’ve covered in class.

This feels so much closer to the way real research happens. It’s not set aside as “library day” when students will step outside of their roles as Students Of Linguistics and step into their roles as Students Who Must Soon Write a Paper. This is thesis development that’s built on class discussion and lecture, sprinkled with “but is this really credible,” encouraging the habit of taking facts and asking “but how would I find out more about that” and “what do I do with what I’ve found,” and always circling everything back around to how the new information informs thesis development and relates to the course content.

This model wouldn’t work for all courses, certainly, but every Fall I look forward to the call that will schedule this particular session.

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Low-Key Cooperative Continual Professional Development

A few years ago, my library decided to start a cooperative blog where we’d alert each other to developments in the wider world of librarianship, highlight interesting things we’d learned, and generally help each other keep up. There was enthusiasm, there was drive, there was an interesting blog… and then it died.

As far as I can tell, it died for three reasons: some people weren’t comfortable writing posts for it, people who rely on RSS to read blogs couldn’t deal with a blog that was locked down and therefore had no RSS option (one of those people was me me… no matter how useful, the site was dead to me without RSS), and everyone found they couldn’t get in the habit of clicking that bookmark and logging in to see if anything new had been posted recently.

Meanwhile, each of us continued to keep up with our own corners of the profession, some through email lists, some through professional journals, some through online social networks and blogs, and most through some combination of the three. But we all missed out on the richness that can come from hearing about things that affect our own worlds but originate in another person’s, and we all went back to been less and less aware of what interests and inspires our colleagues.

So this year we’re learning from the mistakes of our past effort and trying again, this time with more flexibility. I’ve set up a portal (still very much in progress) for those of us that really want a “home base” to check. There’s also a bookmarklet that will let people send annotated screenshots of web pages directly to my email account (using ToRead) for people who like that method of marking what they find, a Delicious tag for people who already use Delicious, and a general invitation to email me or pop in and tell me about interesting things that have come up.

So hopefully the collection piece will give people enough options that they don’t have to either conform or not participate. Hopefully there’s at least one option that will fit into each person’s existing habits, and people who are interested in experimenting with new-to-them options can do so without feeling locked into those options for all time.

Meanwhile, I’ll take whatever comes up and write a periodic blog post that glosses the things we’ve found (and behind the scenes, I’m going to see about getting password protected web-pub space on the college network so that I can link from the wide open blog to locked down documents that we aren’t comfortable sharing beyond ourselves). People can either subscribe to this newsletter via RSS or email, depending on their newsletter-reading preferences and workflow. It’ll also get fed into the portal for the “home base” folks. Just to round out our options, we’ll have low-key, face-to-face, brown bag lunch sessions once or twice a term for people who really prefer to discuss rather than read.

So hopefully the dissemination piece will also have enough options that people can work this seamlessly into their existing information-gathering processes.

The biggest challenge, then, will be striking the right balance between having a broad range of topics in each post/newsletter without overwhelming people with too many things that aren’t applicable to them. The idea is to have this be fun and interesting, not irrelevant and overwhelming. Wish me luck!

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