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Month: December 2012

Dreaming of libraries

There’s a recurring character in my dreams about work. He’s an independent researcher/hobbyist who’s obsessed with a particular artist. Both the researcher and the object of his obsession are fictional, as far as I know, but the fact that the artist doesn’t exist doesn’t seem to deter this non-existent researcher from being incredibly passionate about the research.

Often in my dreams the researcher is at a microfilm machine. Every once in a while in my dreams he comes to plead his case that we should acquire the definitive index of the artist’s work and of related criticism: Baker’s Index, or just “The Baker’s.” How can we consider ourselves a real library with out The Baker’s? Of course it’s expensive and unfortunately it’s out of print, but that shouldn’t deter us. His own work is crippled without it, and he’s sure many a student has turned away from important research paths for lack of ready access to The Baker’s. 

Last night in my dream, I was working at a microfilm machine, and he stood beside me until I finally asked what he needed. He launched into his familiar plea, and I countered (as usual) by reminding him that this is a curricular collection and that we don’t have any course-work related to his beloved artist. Important as the work may be, objectively, it simply doesn’t fall within our collection development policy. He brought over an encyclopedia that had an entry on his artist and showed me how pathetically inadequate that entry was, and the images of the artist’s work were so small that it was impossible to investigate them closely. I showed him ARTstor, and he railed against the fickleness of search.

“Search for ‘Is,'” he instructed.

“Really? Just the word ‘is?'” I asked, but did as he wanted.

Predictably, the results weren’t to his liking.

“What were you hoping for?” I asked.

“I was hoping it would bring back a famous photograph entitled ‘What is he doing, anyway.’ But your stupid search box is just completely unequal to the task, apparently.”

Since it turns out that he knew a lot about that photograph, I showed him the advanced search options only to look over and find that he was sketching out the various search boxes in red pen into the entry for his artist in the reviled encyclopedia.

At this point I stood up and said what I think I’ve been wanting to say to him in all previous dreams: “You are no longer welcome here. Please leave.” He had tested my patience through countless dreams, refused to listen to reason, and was so dismissive of our services and collection that he would rail at me while drawing in our encyclopedias. I’d had enough.

Such a feeling of righteous indignation, of spurned patience ending in entirely justified consequences that, in my dream at least, I had the authority to dispense on the spot. It was wonderful.

I wonder if I’ll ever dream of him again.

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What do I teach, anyway?

This morning I got an email from a librarian wondering what kinds of concepts I teach, particularly in 300-level courses, beyond how to search. As it turns out, that’s something I think about a lot! Here is what I wrote:

Well, I’m not sure I have much to add that isn’t on my blog already, so I’ll include a bunch of links here, but contextualize them a bit. And probably the closest I can come to telling you about 300-level courses is a four-part post on highest level course I teach before their thesis. Another class that I’ve written up is Critical Methods. These are both for the English department, but I’ve done very similar things for American Studies and languages. The concepts are pretty flexible, and I’m coming to think of them as some of the core info lit concepts for most non-laboratory research. They probably aren’t the ONLY concepts, but they may give you some ideas. Essentially, I have come to think of Information Literacy as being highly related to rhetoric, where the point is to participate as an expert insider within a discourse community, using evidence that makes sense within that community in ways that resonate with the community in order to add to the community’s understanding in some way.

Also, a concept that I flesh out and emphasize differently depending on the level (but which I teach more and more often due to the feedback I get and the research we’ve done) is a circular research process that appears in the middle of this post.
With upper level courses I emphasize that there is a ton of actual reading involved because they’re developing a sense of the scholarly conversation, mapping in out (here’s where mindmapping can come in), feeling out its boundaries, and learning its vocabulary. Sometimes we practice what I call Instrumental Reading and what Booth breaks down into three types of reading (in his Craft of Research, pages 91-96 of the 2003 edition).

And finally, I should say that I teach an awful lot about searching, but I frame it as if I’m not teaching searching, but teaching something more conceptual. Boolean and limiters and all those things come up with the examples we do together in class or examples I’m showing when I’m actually teaching them something else, and I’ll digress briefly to make sure everyone understands why I just wrote OR there before moving on. I say this just because when I first started moving away from “how to” teaching I felt guilty whenever I ended up showing those things, but now I think it’s the best way. The “how to” serves the higher order concepts, and they need both.

So that’s where I am right now in my teaching. I didn’t arrive here all at once, and I hope I’ll keep evolving and learning how to teach because there are a whole lot of rough edges yet. But for me it has been liberating and satisfying to think more and more about information literacy’s relationship to rhetoric and about the deep concepts that interest ME about information literacy. If I’m interested in what I’m teaching, I have a much better chance of interesting my students, and a FAR better chance of feeling fulfilled in my work.

And since I’m a librarian at heart, here is a bibliography of my current favorite/formative readings on the topic.
  • Bean, John. Engaging Ideas. 2nd ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2011.
  • Bennett, Scott. “Libraries and Learning: A History of Paradigm Change.” Portal: Libraries and the Academy 9, no. 2 (2009): 181–197.
  • Bizup, Joseph. “BEAM: A Rhetorical Vocabulary for Teaching Research-Based Writing.” Rhetoric Review 27, no. 1 (January 4, 2008): 72–86.
  • Elmborg, James. “Critical Information Literacy: Implications for Instructional Practice.” Journal of Academic Librarianship 32, no. 2 (2006): 192–199.
  • Elmborg, James K. “Libraries in the Contact Zone: On the Creation of Educational Space.” English 46, no. 1 (2006): 56–64.
  • Fister, Barbara. “Teaching the Rhetorical Dimensions of Research.” Research Strategies 11, no. 4 (1993): 211–219.
  • Harris, Joseph. Rewriting: How to Do Things with Texts. Logan: Utah State University Press, 2006.
  • Head, Alison J. Learning Curve: How College Graduates Solve Information Problems Once They Join the Workplace, 2012.
  • Kapitzke, Cushla. “Information Literacy : A Review and Poststructural Critique.” Australian Journal of Language and Literacy no. July (2001).
  • Kruger, Justin, and David Dunning. “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-assessments.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 77, no. 6 (1999): 1121–1134.
  • Leckie, Gloria J. “Desperately Seeking Citations: Uncovering Faculty Assumptions About the Undergraduate Research.” Journal of Academic Librarianship 22, no. 3 (1996): 201.
  • Lloyd, Annemaree. Information Literacy Landscapes: Information Literacy in Education, Workplace, and Everyday Contexts. Oxford: Chandos Publishing, 2010.
  • Norgaard, Rolf. “Writing Information Literacy in the Classroom: Pedagogical Enactments and Implications.” Reference and User Services Quarterly 43, no. 3 (2004): 220–226.
  • ———. “Writing Information Literacy: Contributions to a Concept.” Reference and User Services Quarterly 43, no. 2 (2003): 124–130.
  • Oakleaf, Megan. The Value of Academic Libraries: A Comprehensive Research Review and Report. Review Literature And Arts Of The Americas. Chicago, 2010.
  • Saunders, Laura. “The Future of Information Literacy in Academic Libraries : A Delphi Study.” Portal: Libraries and the Academy 9, no. 1 (2009): 99–114.
  • Shannon, Claude E., and Warren Weaver. “Communication Problems at Level A.” In Mathematical Theory of Communication, 9–12. U of Illinois P, n.d.
  • Simmons, Michelle Holschuh. “Librarians as Disciplinary Discourse Mediators: Using Genre Theory to Move Toward Critical Information Literacy.” Portal: Libraries and the Academy 5, no. 3 (2005): 297–311.
  • Wiggins, Grant P. Assessing Student Performance. Vol. 15. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1993.
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An ebook plan by Iris Jastram and Steve Lawson

Reposted from 5/9/2011*

For obvious reasons, we have been thinking about ebooks recently. We thought that the new HarperCollins policy of setting an arbitrary limit of 26 checkouts was absurd. Librarians have lost no time in pointing out just how absurd it is, showing that most books can withstand scores or even hundreds of circulations without wearing out.

But that can be a dangerous argument to make. Twenty-six circulations is unacceptable, but you say some books can go for a hundred circulations? So it should be fine if HarperCollins sets a 100 checkout limit, right? Honestly, this is not the conversation we want to have. The problem is not that the number of circulations set by the publisher is too small; the problem is that no publisher should be able to control these aspects–really any aspects–of the library’s workings.

Many librarians say they want the library to own the ebook, not simply lease or license it from the publisher. If we are to do this, we need to recognize that it’s hard to own something that lives on a for-profit corporation’s servers, whether that corporation be the publisher or Overdrive or some other vendor. Yes, there are publishers who currently sell ebook or ejournal content outright, but how many of us host those books on our own servers? If those companies went under, how long would it take us to get access for our users up and running again? Libraries cannot afford to enter into licenses that leave publishers and vendors holding all the cards. How many books in an average library are out of print, or printed by publishers that no longer exist? We believe that the publisher should publish, and the library should own, lend, and preserve.

We also understand that most libraries aren’t interested in creating their own digital “stacks” to hold all the files that make up their ebook collections. For those libraries–probably most libraries–ebook files could be hosted by a trusted not-for-profit service. The important thing is that the books would be hosted by the library or by a site or service that is working for the library, not for a publisher or vendor.

Neither of us love the current state of copyright in the United States. We believe that copyright lasts too long, protects the rights of the creator way out of proportion to the rights of the user, and leads people to limit their uses of copyrighted material far more than necessary. The solution, however, is not even more restrictive licenses. We envision a system, like the one under which paper books are bought and sold today, that does not depend on licenses. Instead, publishers would have recourse to the same protection they have had for years: copyright.

Lastly, we think that publishers have a right and a reason to be scared that libraries lending ebooks will lead to rampant and uncontrolled unauthorized copying. (And even if we didn’t believe it, it seems that they are, and it seems that we need to address that.) Accordingly, we think there is a place for digital rights management technology (DRM) to keep users from casually making unauthorized copies of ebooks. However, this, too, we believe needs to be under the control of libraries. Libraries will be likely to use the least DRM necessary to accomplish the goal of preventing unauthorized copies–in fact, it wouldn’t “manage” “digital rights,” it would simply be copy protection. Patrons could trust that there would be no library “rootkits” on library-loaned ebooks. The current state of DRM for library loans is incoherent and confusing for librarians and patrons alike. Imagine having separate loan and photocopying policies for the different print books in a library’s collection.


Those are our main ideas. The result is a plan for libraries to buy, lend, and preserve ebooks which looks like this:

  • Libraries will purchase e books from publishers or other sources. Libraries will not license ebooks.
  • Licenses are not necessary. The entire process will be based on copyright. The publishers’ control over the ebook ends the moment it is sold to the library. This does not mean that the publisher loses the same rights it has today to sue for copyright infringement and damages.
  • Most libraries will employ a third party to be responsible for both access to and preservation of ebooks. Some libraries–probably very large public libraries or research libraries–may prefer to go it alone rather than contracting with such a service. In either case, the entity that actually keeps the files, the loan policies, the patron information, and so on, is either the library or a group working only for the library, and not for a publisher or vendor.
  • Most libraries will choose to add DRM to ebooks in the form of copy protection in order to satisfy publishers’ desires not to see unauthorized copies proliferate. Copy protection that is acceptable to libraries will be largely invisible, platform-independent, and will serve only to prevent the creation of additional complete unauthorized copies.
  • Copy protection must not interfere with readers’ rights to fair use.
  • Copy protection will never be applied by the publisher, but by the library, or by a third party hosting the ebooks under contract from the library. When dealing with paper books, we don’t allow each publisher to determine different check-out and photocopying policies for each book. We set a single policy to encourage copyright compliance for all books in the collection.

We can’t pretend this is the final word on ebooks; we aren’t even sure we are the first to propose such an idea. We know that embracing copy protection–however limited, however under library control–will be unacceptable to some librarians and activists. While we have tried to look at things from the publishers’ point of view, we realize they might find a plan such as this to be laughable.

This plan isn’t perfect. But we think it’s progress.

[Thanks to Marianne Aldrich for suggesting that it is “copy protection” rather than “digital rights management” that we are talking about.]

*Originally published on March 9th, 2011 over on Steve Lawson’s blog, See Also. Since that blog is now gone, I’m republishing the post here.



Four or five years ago, my supervisor gave me a little Christmas Cactus planted in one of those little gift pots with gold foil around them. Thank goodness it’s a cactus because I remembered to water it approximately 3 times since then.

officeplantsWell, I finally potted it for real, in real soil with a real pot and a real drainage-catching saucer. I also brought half of my unkillable house plant from home (which has its own tales of neglect and hardship to tell) to keep it company.

And look, it’s starting to stand up above the soil. And I bought a beautiful watering can that will be a pleasure to use. Often.

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